Just Read: On Eating Meat, by Matthew Evans

My generation of physicians trained in an era when our profession lacked curiosity about the world around it, with devastating results (see photos at the bottom of this post).

It caused us to have insatiable curiosity.

We’re now in the era of diabetes reversal. Many of my physician colleagues don’t seem to know that we are. If animal based foods were not part of the solution for many reversing their diabetes, I would be less interested in this topic. However, they are, and I’m still interested in the threat that climate change poses to human and planetary health. Both/all not one or the other, it’s how family doctors think. Insatiable curiosity…

This book is by Matthew Evans, himself a farmer and chef. It is definitely not a treatise about eating more meat (he actually advocates eating less). To me, the book is more an accounting of meat in our society today that’s encouraging, rather than discouraging, of all humans understanding food and where it comes from, and respecting the beings present on our planet and on some of our tables.

Some important points for me:

Today’s Meat, Less Flavor, More Plentiful, at a Cost

It may seem sacrilege to those who have fallen in love with the lack of flavour in modern chicken meat, but surely soft, insipid meat, often sold marinated, and as a great vehicle for other flavours – surely that is merely animal tofu? Do we really think 650 million lives should be created and lost each year so we can have something that tastes like the soy sauce and lemongrass we soak it in? Can we justify the sheds reeking of ammonia to rear chickens, and justify the jobs of those who slaughter them at our command, when all we want is chicken that is resonant of the tomato and oregano we put on it, or the crumbs we coat it in?

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 49). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

In photography, there’s an idea that one should take a photo using minimal in-camera processing, and then exert maximum control in one’s photo editor of choice. And yet, cameras are getting better at capturing and enhancing at the same time….

The cost of breeding for lack of flavor, to then produce seasons and sauces is notable to me. Evans points out that this may cause people to eat more meat on the one hand, and on the other contribute to food waste because less intensively farmed animals are less desirable in our society and could be flavorful additions to the human diet.

The Environment

…what we should be worried about is new carbon being released into the atmosphere – carbon that has been safely locked up for millions of years.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 127). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

He’s talking about fossil fuels, and he does not exonerate animal agriculture for its effects on the environment.

He does examine some of the arguments about negative impacts that have a stronger basis in dogma than in science, including water usage and methane emissions (which I covered in this recent blog post).

In other words, what we should be worried about is new carbon being released into the atmosphere – carbon that has been safely locked up for millions of years. Because it persists in the environment for so long – about 40 per cent will linger for thousands of years – any new carbon dioxide released into the environment will have a far stronger cumulative effect on climate change than methane. Any new methane (assuming animal production doesn’t increase, but the gas emitted today is added to the gas emitted yesterday) means the greenhouse potential persists, but doesn’t increase as drastically. It’s technical, but important…

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 127). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

Animal Farms or Pharmaceutical Factories

Noting here that the literature that I am reading on this topic typically addresses only one side of the equation, planetary health OR human health, not both together. I have yet to see an analysis that combines the lifecycle of both, especially again in the era of diabetes reversal.

Evans is not a physician and this is not in the scope of his work; this is a great place for physicians to engage.

What I see as a result are policies like this, which I call “Meat: No, Diabetes: Yes.”

2019.06.27 Low Carb and Low Carbon, Washington DC USA 1780005
2019.06.27 Low Carb and Low Carbon, Washington DC USA 1780005 (View on Flickr.com)

Because when you eliminate meat, you replace it with something, and studies have shown that this is usually carbohydrates and sugar:

2018.04.29 A Lower Carbon Diet is a Higher Carbohydrate Diet 381
2018.04.29 A Lower Carbon Diet is a Higher Carbohydrate Diet 381 (View on Flickr.com)

Diabetes and its sequalae emit carbon into the atmosphere too; lots of it.

2018.08.07 Low Carb and Low Carbon 520
2018.08.07 Low Carb and Low Carbon 520 (View on Flickr.com)

To live, humans must eat something that has already lived

Evans carefully describes the opacity of the animal farming industry and doesn’t leave the reader with a perspective that it’s humane or morally superior.

So the best chicken farms are reminiscent of a storybook. The worst chicken farms? Well, they remain closed to me, closed to you. But you can imagine what they must look like. And smell like.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 175). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

This is tip of the iceberg in the book….

At the same time he points out:

Let’s start with peas … Collydean (not its real name, but a real farm) is a 2700 hectare mixed farm in northern Tasmania. They grow beef cattle, some sheep, do agroforestry, have barley and some years grow peas. A LOT of peas: about 400 tonnes a season. And to protect the peas, which end up as a frozen product, they have some wildlife fences, but also have to shoot a LOT of animals. When I was there, they had a licence to kill about 150 deer. They routinely kill about 800–1000 possums and 500 wallabies every year, along with a few ducks. (As a side note, and in my mind to its credit, Collydean only invites hunters onto its farm who will use the animals they kill – for human food, or for pet food – and not leave them in the paddock, as most animals killed for crop protection are. They hate seeing the animals go to waste.) So, over 1500 animals die each year to grow about 75 hectares of peas for our freezers. That’s not 1500 rodents, which also die, and which some may see as collateral damage in the big picture. That’s mostly warm-blooded animals of the cute kind, with a few birds thrown in.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 108). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

Ethical Eating and the Role of Food

To some, especially those in the more militant animal welfare groups, there’s no such thing as an ethical omnivore. But I would argue differently – that it is more important, nay, essential, that meat eaters step up and take charge of animal welfare, because what happens to farm animals happens because we are the ones who actually pay the farmer to farm.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 243). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

The role of food is to fuel our bodies, but more so, it is the role of food to build culture. To help ease our way in relationships, to bring joy and hope, and cement families and communities. And that is what matters when we sit down to eat. It’s not about feeling guilty, or being angry at the food choices of others. Sharing food is about more than just the necessary act of getting enough carbs or protein, but also allowing us to hear each other’s stories, to unite humans.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 275). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

If you would have told me in medical school that

  1. Diabetes and insulin resistance would be on track to consume our population – in 2019 it is now abnormal to be an insulin sensitive adult in the United States.
  2. Diabetes (Type 2) and prediabetes would be reversible with food, not medicines
  3. Physicians would engage in food as therapy (as well as architecture, energy production, equity and diversity…)

I’m not sure I would have believed you, but I would have been very excited about the opportunities to lead in all aspects of health, aka why many of us went to medical school.

Diabetes had a 2.5 % prevalence then, insulin was more affordable, and a low-fat, mostly-carbohydrate, industrial food diet was taught to us to be the healthiest for humans.

And yet here we are. We were also taught to engage in lifelong learning, which means to me that it’s okay to understand what was wrong in the past, as long as we don’t continue to believe it was right.

One day, I hope the baseline for animal welfare …. will be founded on what we as a society want as the community norm, not something foisted on us because of our ignorance or absence from the debate.

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 277). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

As American scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the TV series Cosmos says, ‘The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.’

Evans, Matthew. On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it (p. 114). Allen & Unwin. Kindle Edition.

Insatiable curiosity is a good thing.

Here’s a collection of photos I’ve acquired or taken, some before my time, some very recent, that remind me of the times when our profession lacks curiosity. If we don’t engage, who will?

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