When so-called health experts imply that a vegetarian diet is the preferred way to eat, it’s time to ask them some tough questions — and then feed their answers right back to the activists.

After sitting through a two-hour presentation by a prominent health “expert” the other day, someone who appears on a local TV station and on a major cable network, an “authority” who touched on every aspect of wellness without once ever uttering the word meat — or, god forbid, suggesting it might be included in anyone’s diet — I am forced once again to return to my main mission in life: refuting the vegan proselytes who insist that food must only come from plants.

Their position is contrary to history, tradition and science, yet it gains traction among even well-educated people — like the health expert noted above — to the point that now, even being a conscientious consumer who sources whatever morsels of animal protein they allow in their diets from alternative, free-range, organically certified producers isn’t good enough.

Vegetarian advocates have made a living demonizing what they label as factory farming. But it’s really all livestock “farming” that they oppose.

Here’s a sample from one of the popular vegan websites, urging veggie believers to new heights of purity:

“Many people are considering free-range products as an alternative to factory-farmed animal products. But before you consider any particular farm to cause significantly less suffering for the animals, please investigate it and the slaughterhouse at which the animals are killed.”

Note the use of an inflammatory tone, and the word choices that would be well-suited to a district attorney’s closing arguments as they urge the jury to convict the defendant. Even under the best of circumstances, buying and eating meat from the most eco-conscious producers on Earth only “causes less suffering for the animals.”

Nice try, carnivore, but with every bite of your so-called family-farmed animal flesh, you’re still guilty of causing animals to suffer and be slaughtered. Deal with that while I enjoy my free-range tofu-and-soy-cheese stir fry.

It’s time to push back on the phony positioning that anti-industry types always adopt: We just want to “reform” the system; we just want to allow animals to enjoy their “natural” lifestyles; we just care about reducing the abuse and suffering farm animals endure no matter how they’re raised.

For all the blather about wanting to promote cage-free poultry and outdoor housing and humane handling and all the other buzzwords activists use, the bottom line for vegetarians activists remains the same: Convince people that eating any animal food — no matter what the source, no matter who’s involved and no matter how “humanely” it’s produced — is morally wrong.

It’s time to make that clear. The debate over meat-eating isn’t about nutrition or wellness or weight loss or any other benefit that has always been part of the equation. It’s about making people feel that their food choices are the equivalent of committing a crime.

Asking the relevant questions

Think that’s an exaggeration? Here are some questions to pose to any vegans you might chance to encounter (followed by the response you’re almost certain to get back):

  • Would consuming animal foods be acceptable if cruelty could be truly, completely eliminated from all livestock and dairy production? (Answer: No, of course not!)
  • If we could turn back the clock 400 years to America’s pre-Columbian Native cultures, would it still be unacceptable to consume meat, fish and shellfish? (Times have changed; we’ve progressed beyond hunting and fishing.)
  • If veganism is now humanity’s preferred, “natural” diet, when precisely did that transformation occur? (Answer: The date’s not important; it’s the diet that matters.)
  • For the billions of indigenous people around the world who currently subsist on a diet heavy in animal-derived nutrition, how do they transition to a vegan lifestyle? (Answer: The same as everyone else—start buying soyfoods and fresh produce.)

Of course, none of those “answers” are remotely plausible, but the point isn’t to force people who claim to be vegan or vegetarian to abandon their dietary preferences on the basis of a cross-examination. The goal of asking tough questions is to establish that vegan diet is a thoroughly modern construct without roots in anyone’s cultural traditions.

Eating like a vegan is like driving an electric car: It’s economical, it’s ecological, but it’s also an option that is possible only because there have decades of high-tech R&D, buttressed by massive amounts of corporate capital.

Any self-respecting vegan would express loathing for both of those developments, but that is exactly how and why the vegetarian diet even exists. Sorry, veggies, but there aren’t hordes of eco-sensitive, small-scale, back-to-Nature family farmers out there growing organic wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, or tending orchards or produce farms large enough to feed the world.

Just like there aren’t enough rare metals and other scarce elements needed to manufacture enough batteries to supply the world’s four billion motorists with electric vehicles.

Being an omnivore, not a vegan, is what’s natural. Meat and dairy and eggs are sustainable foods, not formulated soy products or test-tube proteins. And combining animal husbandry with food and feed production is how farming has always been more sustainable than growing plants alone.

You don’t need a “health expert” to figure that out.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator