It’s the political season, when arguments over policies and politicians can break out on a daily basis, even among friends, neighbors and co-workers who ordinarily get along just fine.
For those of us who enjoy verbal sparring, debates — even heated ones — can be quite enjoyable, as long as they remain somewhat civil, of course.
In that spirit, I like to spark discussions with those folks who profess to be supporters of such theories as “Meat-eating is human’s natural diet,” or “Plant-based foods are better for the planet,” or perhaps most commonly, “We don’t need to eat meat to be healthy.”
Realistically, it’s tough to win an argument over the viability of animal agriculture and meat-eating on the basis of scientific studies or nutritional research. There is so much misinformation and pseudo-science, and so many half-truths floating around that citing studies, data and statistics isn’t very effective.
Instead, here are three “discussion topics,” that advocates of meatless diets as humanity’s natural, normal and preferred lifestyle will struggle to refute:
› Home Sweet Homestead. This argument doesn’t need to go back in time to caveman days to justify the Paleo Diet or to contend that human evolution — larger brains, use of tools, development of language — was fueled by the calorie-dense availability of animal foods.
Instead, let’s revisit more recent history from a couple hundred years ago. It’s been said more than once in the current presidential campaign that the GOP is “The Party of Lincoln,” so let’s turn back the calendar to the era of Abraham Lincoln.
Imagine being one of the tens of thousands of homesteaders given access to lands in the West following the Civil War. Heck, imagine inheriting 10 or 15 acres of land here and now, in the 21st century — only with the proviso that, like those earlier pioneers, you have to totally support yourself and your family on that land with only the belongings packed into a couple of covered wagons.
No supermarkets, no restaurants, no refrigerators, no microwave ovens. No canned food, bottled water, or frozen entrées. In such a situation, what would you do to survive?
The short answer is: You’d forget about a vegetarian diet, that’s for sure.
As a homesteader, you would need to raise chickens, a couple cows, perhaps a few litters of pigs every year, not only to supply meat, milk and eggs for essential nutrition that wouldn’t be dependent on successful harvests of vegetables or fruit, but also for the fertilizer required to raise the food and feed crops essential to a working farm.
The bottom line is that in such a scenario, a vegan lifestyle wouldn’t even be an option.
› Veggie Come Lately. Now let’s return to modern times, in which a horde of self-titled “experts” on diet and health are proclaiming on a daily basis that plant-based diets are preferable — not just because they’re (allegedly) healthier, but because they are so easily adopted that one need not consider whether they’re historically appropriate.
That line of reasoning is like arguing that automobiles are so convenient, so ubiquitous, why would anyone even question whether riding in cars is the preferred mode of human transportation?
The answer in both cases if the same: Because neither automobiles nor vegan diets could exist without modern science and technology applied to manufacturing and food production, respectively.
It would be next to impossible for people to survive, much less thrive, on a purely vegan diet if not for the development of high-intensity farming, high-efficiency food processing and highly developed transportation, distribution and retailing infrastructures. Soybeans don’t magically turn themselves into meat analogs or the protein ingredients needed to manufacture the veggie food products anti-meat-eating activists insist we all should be eating.
I’m all for vegetarian alternatives, even full-on vegetarian diets — as long as the advocates of such choices acknowledge that, like cars, trucks and RVs, they’re a product of modern science, not the legacy of “natural” lifestyles” from earlier eras of history.
› Animal Farm Revisited. The final argument accounts for the reality that vegetarian diets, as defined by anti-industry activists, depend on the utilization of arable farmland, irrigation and the infrastructure needed to handle harvesting, storage, processing, packaging and distribution. Problem is, those assets are unavailable to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.
More to the point, the vegetarian diet obviates the productive use of millions of acres of semi-arid grasslands around the world that cannot support the cultivation of row crops, but can and do support cattle, sheep, goats, and other grazing animals.
Vegetarian activists simply cannot explain how the billions of people in regions of the world unsuited for conventional farming are supposed to survive in a world without farm or food animals.
In more than 30 years of initiating such discussions with the strident advocates of a meatless planet, I’ve yet to hear one cogent argument that explains how those billions of people are supposed to exist on the soybeans and salads that veggies in the developed world blithely embrace, as if everyone can hop into their car, drive to Whole Foods and fork over big money to stock their high-tech refrigerators with ready-to-eat entrees, tropical fruits and nuts and manufactured products engineered to resemble the meat and dairy products that have sustained the world’s populations for centuries.
Try one of these arguments with your veggie frenemies sometime. You probably won’t win them over, but at least you may have a more productive conversation than one that’s focused on politics.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.