Are humans wise to eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy products? Or, is it “better” — more healthful? more eco-friendly? more moral? — to avoid animal products altogether? Each of us must evaluate many complex factors to answer these questions. Certainly, the inhumane and unsustainable factory farm systems that now dominate our food supply do not deserve our support, regardless of how much meat we choose to eat.
One key factor all conscientious, healthy eaters should keep in mind is the role of omega fatty acids. Emerging research reveals that omega-3 fats, found in high concentrations in fish and pastured meat, are essential to optimum brain function. Omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to a startling list of mental health conditions, including low IQ, violent behavior, memory loss and depression. The current industrial food system’s reliance on feeding mostly soy and corn to livestock is resulting in human diets with a severe imbalance of omega fats.
Wild fish, wild game, and foods from livestock raised on perennial pastures, on the other hand, have high levels of omega-3 fats. Until recently, health writers have usually been unaware of this new information regarding essential omega fats. This means that much of the last five decades of research about the pros and cons of eating grain-fed meat is mostly irrelevant to the question of eating grass-fed products.
Eating only industrial meat, or opting to exclude even grass-fed meat and dairy from your diet, may put you at risk of an omega fats imbalance. We must find ways to make essential nutrients available to everyone. Eating more omega-3-rich fish would be a good option, except that our current global population of more than 7 billion is already overharvesting and destroying ocean fisheries. To keep the ocean ecosystems healthy, we need to harvest fewer fish, not more. We believe a wiser choice is to support your health, improve treatment of livestock, and protect the environment by consuming animal products from producers who use humane, sustainable, grass-based systems.
But if enough of us come to understand that higher intakes of omega-3 fats are essential, we can push for grass-based livestock production. Such a shift will also mean less erosion, lower energy use, reduced use of harmful agricultural chemicals used to grow feedlot rations, and a lower carbon footprint for meat-eaters. It would also promote managed intensive grazing, which can restore fertility to damaged grasslands and sequester some of the carbon that is causing climate change.
Clearly, there are limits to how much quality food the planet can produce. Is it wise to continue to assume that the human population will increase even as we allow the quality of our diets to decline? Or, is it wiser to figure out what kind of diet supports optimum human health, and determine the human population level the planet can sustainably support while still making a quality diet available to all?
We believe these are two good reasons to see the consumption of pastured meats as a moral choice:
1. Eating high-omega-3 foods from livestock grazed on perennial grasslands is an essential part of an optimum diet for humans.
2. Grass-based production can be more sustainable and more humane than current systems that rely on soy and corn.