Do Vegan Foods Really Save The Planet? - Steve's Healthier Britain Blog

So let me start by sharing why I wanted to cover the topic this week. This infographic was posted on the BBC website this week. And it is totally misguided nonsense, well certainly the part about vegan diets.

Now before you think I am having a go at vegans/vegetarians, I am not.

I have many wonderful colleagues who, due to their faith, are strict vegetarians. I
also have other friends who are vegetarians for what they believe are ethical, moral, environmental and/or health reasons. While my Primal beliefs and principles suggest that meat and poultry should be consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle, I have no intention of trying to convert any vegetarian into becoming a meat eater, but I would like every single person to know the TRUE facts upon which will shape their dietary habits.

I will share with you some more information in a moment, but for now let’s look at the normal motives for being a vegan or vegetarian...

It’s healthier right?

If you are avoiding eating quality organic meat and animal produce for health reasons, then you have simply been misled. We are designed to eat meat. It has numerous health benefits and has been the staple diet of humankind since day one. 

Its kind to animals!

If you are avoiding eating meat on ethical or moral grounds, then I admire your restraint and motives, but before committing yourself to a life of abstaining, I would recommend you read a book by Lierre Keith called The Vegetarian Myth, where she explains why being vegetarian may not be as kind to animals as you might think. After spending 20 years as a vegan, she explains how she concluded that cultivating land is the biggest and worst effect man has made to the planet, and how the ploughing of fields destroys complete ecosystems, dislodging and killing many kinds of animals and birds.

Its better for the planet!

Well the BBC reported this week, “Nearly two-thirds of vegans listed the environment as a motivating factor for going vegan in a survey”. So it’s official then; it must be better for the planet. But no, it is NOT! It is yet another myth created by corporate greed (there is way more money to be made in virtually all processed vegetarian food than in selling natural meats) and what I ask you to do is read on and then pass on the info…

Let me share with you some quotes from podcasts I have recorded with some of the most brilliant minds on the subject of food and being vegetarian…

Professor Tim Noakes 

I asked Professor Noakes about being a vegetarian and health..

"If you look at humans, it’s very clear that we are carnivorous. And anyone who tells you we aren’t is not looking at the biology. The biology is so clear. We have a very acidic stomach; we have a very long, small bowel and a very short, large bowel, and we just don’t have the bacteria to digest starchy foods. And by that, I mean the resistant starches, the cellulose, which is all done by anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria. 

And the big guts of the chimpanzee and the gorilla is because they are full of these digestive bacteria that are changing the cellulose into saturated fatty acids. And that’s the irony of it all. The cows and the sheep and other ruminants are converting grass, which is a carbohydrate into saturated fats. Why would they do that if it’s going to kill us? And that’s the issue. We are absolutely adapted for meat consumption and not for vegetables and grains.

And it frightens me this push towards eating more vegetables. You simply can’t get the nutrition. Humans would have to be eating like 12 to 14 hours a day. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian if you are not eating 14 hours a day, what nutrition are you getting?"

 

Dr Robert Lustig

I asked Dr Robert Lustig about Vegetarians and the planet...

"I am not against veganism, if vegans want to be vegan that’s fine, if people want to go keto, that’s fine too. The funny thing is both the vegans and the ketos are in agreement; they think they are in a war; the matter of the fact is that they are actually on the same side. They are on the side against the processed food industry. If they stopped battling against each other and worked together, we might solve this problem.

Earlier in our interview, you mentioned that the food we eat has a big impact on greenhouse gasses. How do you see the link between eating well and solving the environmental issues?

People talk about greenhouse gasses as if they are all the same; they are not. It turns out there are three greenhouse gasses: 

  1. Carbon Dioxide. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 1. We need carbon dioxide, we would die without it, but there is too much. 
  2. Methane. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 25. And it is true that ruminants produce methane. But the point is that the amount of methane the ruminants make is only about 5% of the methane and most is coming from industry and cars etc. 
  3. Nitrous Oxide. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 210. Nine times greater than methane. This is the one that nobody gets. Where do you get nitrous oxide from?

Well, it's in every field, and the reason is because that is what happens to the nitrogen runoff, from the nitrogen fertiliser that was needed to grow the crops. Because the animals who use to fertilise the crops, because of their manure, because that's nitrogen-fixing, now aren't there because the cattle are in Kansas and the corn is in Iowa. So you have to spray the corn with the nitrogen, which becomes nitrate oxide, which causes way more greenhouse gas emissions than the methane ever did and guess what, you have to do that for vegans too."

 

Patrick Holden CBE

I asked Patrick the same question about the planet (he ran the soil association for 20 years - so if anyone knows the answer it is Patrick)

"The question of which sort of food should we eat to be sustainable, this whole plant-based thing over the past 5 to 10 years, where there is now a whole generation of young people who think it’s the right thing to do to become vegan or vegetarian. When in fact you cannot produce healthy vegetables, without first building soil fertility with a crop rotation, which involves clover and grass. And the only way to turn that clover and grass into something we can eat is to graze it with cattle or sheep, ruminants; that means they have a stomach that can digest the cellulose material in the clover and grass. If we don’t support those farmers by buying the livestock products from that system, they can’t make this natural rotation work. 

There are thousands of livestock farmers in the west of Britain right now thinking, what do we do? The price of beef and lamb is crashing, beef consumption has halved since the 1980s in the UK, and it appears no young people are eating lamb, they are all giving it up thinking it’s the right thing to do. When in fact of all the meats we could eat, lamb is probably the healthiest and the most sustainable. Virtually all the lamb we produce in the UK is grass-fed, and even most of the beef is grass-fed. Now feed-lock beef, which is what characterises the American system, that is part of the problem, because all of those grains the animals are eating are grown in genetically modified soil, in an unsustainable way. 

So we need to become very educated and sophisticated and be able to differentiate between the livestock products that are part of the problem, which is intensively produced chicken, intensively produced pork and, yes, dairy products from these mega dairy herds; from those that are part of the solution, which means grass-fed lamb, grass-fed beef and dairy products only from grass-fed cattle. 

It is true that cows emit methane, they always have and probably whatever we do, feeding them garlic or whatever, they still will. But that methane cycle is an ancient cycle that’s been going on as long as there have been ruminants on the planet. But the methane which is critically responsible for climate change is that from burning fossil fuel. And if we use ruminants (cows and sheep) to build soil by grazing grassland or as part of a rotation, digesting the cellulose into food that we can eat, the soil carbon gain offsets the methane emissions. If cows and sheep are used to maintain the soil carbon bank, which is the second-largest carbon bank on the planet only after the oceans, then they are part of the solution, not the problem. If you look what’s happened to the world now, we use to think that the rainforests and the primal wilderness was where we could hopefully keep the planet healthy, but now the planet is covered with farms, so the farms are the metabolism of the planet. And if the farming is wrong, then the planet is in an unhealthy condition, that is sadly where we are today. So if we want to address climate change and take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil, we need to change the way we farm and that will only happen when we change our buying habits. 

When it comes to the EAT-Lancet report, not one of the 37 authors were a farmer! All these people are telling us what to eat without knowing about agriculture. How strange is that? Bless his heart, even David Attenborough, who is a national treasure, said on some program recently, “I am trying to cut down on red meat”, I wanted to shout at the television and say no, please differentiate between the red meat which is part of the problem and that which is part of the solution. We should be eating real meats to support hard-pressed livestock farmers and the arable farmers who want to farm in a more sustainable way."

 

Patrick mentioned the Eat Lancet report which many journalists still use as a basis for their meat bashing articles. Let me tell you my view about it. Firstly, it is important to know that the Lancet is one of the most influential medical publications on the planet. Two years ago they published a paper suggesting that the entire human race should move to became virtually vegan. They suggested we could eat meat, but their recommendations effectively equate to a singular burger or a rasher of bacon per month. 

The research was conducted by 37 authors, all experts in their field, who were bought together to answer one question, “Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries”? The report carried so much theoretical credibility, that shortly after the results were released, the recommendation of their near vegan diet became headline news on the BBC. Now what is surprising, is that 37 medical experts could recommend a near vegan diet, which does not provide sufficient magnesium, iron, choline, potassium, B12 and many other crucial vitamins and minerals. How could these 37 medical experts come to advocate a diet known to be deficient in nutrients? 

Effectively what they proposed was an unhealthy diet full of CARBS. Not only did
they claim that eating meat was bad for health, but they also claimed that all of these belching cows were extremely harmful to our planet too. Why would these 37 medical experts submit a document to possibly the most important health journal in the world, with these findings? Well, it turns out that most of the authors are either vegetarians, vegans or vegan activists. Now, does that sound like unbiased, unconflicted research? Leading the charge was Walter Willett. Reportedly he has received over $1 million in sponsorship from plant-based companies. Could that maybe cloud his judgement? Who funded the research? The Wellcome Trust. What industries is The Wellcome Trust associated with? How about the pharmaceutical industry, who of course are out of business without unhealthy people using their products? 

I feel it’s fundamentally important and only right that you know this stuff. You see, this bang up to date so-called scientific research paper, that all of the major newspapers are quoting and our beloved BBC too, is based (in my opinion) on completely inaccurate health advice. Advice that will continue to further the movement towards vegetarianism and away from healthy natural fats and proteins.

I suggest always following the logic and not the money!

Summary: vegetarians and the planet

The issue is not whether meat eaters are harming the planet, but how was that meat produced? If it is natural meat, from animals allowed to live and eat as they were intended too, then meat-eaters are part of the solution not the problem. If the vegetarian is eating non organic food, created with fertilisers, they are part of the problem, not the solution. So as Dr Robert Lustig pointed out, the question is not plant-eaters vs meat-eaters, but real naturally produced foods versus those that did not grow naturally.

Summary: vegetarians and health

Again, highly processed meats, the Italian sausages and even the mass-produced English sausages, along with cattle fed an unnatural diet, may be detrimental to human health. But as Dr Tim Noakes points out, we are designed to eat meat. 

Summary: vegetarians and animal welfare

As we read in The Vegetarian Myth, how the ploughing of fields to grown more corn, wheat etc, destroys complete ecosystems, dislodging and killing many kinds of animals and birds. If you are a vegetarian because you love animals, do bear this in mind.

Conclusion

My final thought is that if a vegetarian or vegan understands all of this and still chooses to avoid meat, then that is fine. I applaud their conviction. Am I biased? Well, if anything, as an owner of a supplement company, financially I should promote veganism, because vegans do need to take a lot more nutritional supplements than meat-eaters. But morally, and for the state of the planet we leave behind, it is more important to move the conversation away from vegan vs. meat-eaters and towards real unprocessed food, than that which is created artificially. 

What made me happiest this week

Getting home from my holiday and picking my little dog, Bear, up from his doggy hotel.

What upset me most this week

The BBC infographic above!!

Favourite customer comment this week

I received this lovely message from Helen who recently joined our Health Reset course. Well done Helen, great progress indeed.

"Hi Steve,

Just wanted to put on recorded how amazed we are with this course and our results so far. Both my husband and I are steadily losing weight, both at or around the 2 stone mark as I write. The information you present is amazing and opened our eyes to many astonishing facts not least of which is the lack of care for our health shown by most food manufacturers. On your advice we have cut out all packaged and tinned food and are expanding our recipe range to ensure we can continue now we’ve finished the course. Thank you so much for bringing this to us and we wish you every success with it in the future and will be recommending it to friends and family as well as sharing it on Facebook. Regards Helen."

Favourite recipe this week

All this talk of meat and supporting farmers got me thinking about my rack of lamb recipe. Don’t go buying the New Zealand lamb that gets flown half way around the world to get on your plate, instead support British farmers and buy local. It tastes better in my opinion and it is certainly better for the planet!

Primal rack of lamb

This is such an awesome dish and very English indeed. Now while you can make it in a more traditional Sunday Lunch way, I prefer to make it with a tray of roasted salad and a onion and aubergine stack.

For the best flavours, if you have time try and marinade the lamb the day before, or if not, at least a few hours before you cook it. Marinade with crushed garlic and rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil. When you are ready to cook, first brown the lamb in a saucepan for a minute or two, to lock in those delicious flavours.

While you are browning the lamb, preheat the oven to 200C.

In the tray I put bell peppers, garlic cloves (no need to peel them), baby tomatoes, red onion and celery. I toss them in olive oil, salt and black pepper and add them in the oven below the lamb. Place the lamb on a wire rack so all of the juices fall into the salad below.  

Now cooking lamb is more like cooking beef than chicken. You get to choose how pink you want it. If you like it pink, cook for about 10 minutes. Or if you like it very well done, leave in the oven for about 25 minutes. 

While the lamb is cooking, slice up a large onion and aubergine and fry together in olive oil, a little garlic and rosemary. If you love India or Moroccan cuisines, you could add a mixed herb blend instead. Thinking about it, you could add a little to the salad vegetables too. Make sure the aubergine doesn’t dry out by adding more olive oil or a splash of water. 

A Healthier Britain 

At the Bennett Health & Happiness Group (BHHGroup.co.uk), In everything we do, in everything we create, our purpose is to prevent and reverse health problems by helping people understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of their health and put them in charge of reaching or even exceeding their health potential.

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