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The Impacts and Ethics of Eating Meat — with Diana Rodgers


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It seems like almost every week there is a new article published documenting the negative environmental or ethical implications of consuming animal foods. But there are a lot of inaccuracies and misconceptions on this topic that get repeated by the mainstream media. So this week I spoke with Diana Rogers, a dietician and organic farmer who regularly writes about animal welfare and environmental issues in the food system, to set the record straight.

Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

In this episode we’ll cover:

  • 06:35 The true environmental impact of meat production
  • 14:29 The differences between cropland and pastureland
  • 18:20 Herbivores vs. omnivores
  • 19: 38 Factory farms and superbugs
  • 22:36 Carbon emissions and water usage
  • 27:23 The ethical and moral considerations of eating meat
  • 39:18 Should parents be allowed to feed their kids a vegan diet?

Chris Kresser:  Hey, everybody, it’s Chris Kresser. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio.

Today, we’re going to be talking with Diana Rodgers. She’s a registered dietician with a private practice seeing people via Skype and in her offices in Concord and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lives on a working organic farm. She’s the author of the Homegrown Paleo Cookbook and Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts on the Go and hosts “The Sustainable Dish” podcast.

Diana frequently writes and speaks about the political social justice of animal welfare and environmental issues in the food system, and she runs the blog SustainableDish.com. Diana has recently written a series of articles about the environmental, moral, ethical, and social issues surrounding meat consumption and dietary choices that we make in general.

So, I wanted to have Diana on the show to talk to her about this because I think for many people, at least at this point, they no longer believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet is the best choice from a nutritional perspective, or at least they don’t necessarily believe that it’s superior to an omnivorous diet that is nutrient dense and excludes processed and refined foods, sugars, etc. But they’re so compelled to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet on the basis of environmental reasons or moral and ethical reasons, and it seems like almost every week there is a new article published documenting the environmental atrocities of consuming animal foods, like water consumption and land use and things like that.

In fact, there was just an article published in The Washington Post called Meat Is Horrible.” It was written by an intern who just graduated from college and really unfortunately wasn’t qualified to write that article, but nevertheless, it got a lot of airtime and it was filled with inaccuracies and misconceptions that are quite common now amongst the general public and in the mainstream media. So, I wanted to have Diana on the show to talk about this because she has a unique perspective both as a dietician who understands it from a nutritional perspective but as someone who own and operates a working organic farm, is closely connected with the cycle of life, raises animals, food for her own family and also for other people, and has written and spoken about this extensively.

So without further ado, let’s dive in.

Chris Kresser: Diana, thanks so much for coming. It’s great to have you on the show.

Diana Rodgers: Thanks for having me.

Chris Kresser: So I want to talk all about eating meat, producing meat, the environmental, ethical implications of that, and then by extension, the implications of avoiding meat because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding on this topic, whether we’re talking about the amount of water that you need to produce meat, to the impact of meat production on carbon emissions, to some of the ethical considerations, which I don’t think there’s so much of a misunderstanding there as much as perhaps just not a complete analysis. So, I know that these are all huge topics. We could spend an entire show easily on each them individually, but I wanted to just have a one-place view—kind of an overview of all of these to—and then we can point people in the direction of more information in the show notes for those who want to go deeper.

So, why don’t we start with the environmental considerations of meat production because there seems like a new article in the mainstream press about this on a weekly basis. In fact, there were just a few that you can probably mention that provoked you to write a couple of responses.

Do you struggle with the ethics of eating meat? Learn more…

So, why don’t we start there and then we’ll progress to ethical and maybe even public health considerations.

Diana Rodgers: Yeah, well, first of all I just wanted to say thank you for all your nutritional research on meat because I have been linking back to you in all of these posts and I feel like the nutrition argument has been won, and I can just send them to you, so that’s awesome.

Chris Kresser: Pleasure.

Diana Rodgers: And also, I should mention that Robb Wolf and I are working on a book. We’re just starting the outline now but we should have all these things buttoned up, and definitely, the environmental argument is really misunderstood and the moral argument seems to be the one that just always goes there.

So, the environmental argument, really, there was an article that came out recently in The Washington Post that’s called “Meat Is Horrible,” and it was written by … I did a little research on who wrote it and she just graduated from college this year. She is an intern. I was surprised that The Washington Post actually had her do such a complex topic because I’ve been living on a farm for a long time. I went to school for nutrition, and even I don’t feel like I fully understand everything. 

The True Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Diana Rogers: Basically, the vilification of meat tends to come from people who have these moral issues with meat and they’re just kind of cherry-picking information to back up their claims. So, there’s a lot of different angles that they hit the environmental piece with, so the first is that, land use, that it takes all these acres per cow and what they’re not really looking at is that there’s a difference between pastureland and cropland, and you can’t grow lettuce everywhere. In northern Africa, really great for olives, really bad for lettuce because of the water issues there. Lots in California used to be okay for growing lots of vegetables, and now you guys are totally running out of water, and so vegetable production is not this holy saint that everyone’s making it out to be and that’s a whole another set of things. But pastureland is a separate type of land that can’t be used for vegetable production, and the grazing of cattle on pasture actually helps improve the soils and so—

Chris Kresser: How does it do that?

Diana Rodgers: Okay, the cows are pooping on the ground and their manure actually has a lot of bionutrients in it, and microbes, and all kinds of great stuff that goes into the soil and actually inoculates it. And actually, on a side note, I should say that people are realizing this and they’re actually, instead of—some people, instead of using cattle to do this are actually just walking around with these big syringes and inoculating soil with cow manure. It’s just so dumb to me, why not just have cows on it?

Chris Kresser: Well, the alternative is also chemical fertilizers, which have been the de facto standard here in the US, right? And what are some of the problems with that?

Diana Rodgers: Right. The problem with that is it completely depletes the soil, I’d like to say, it basically kills—so, soil is not just sand and it’s not just like what people think of as dirt. It’s actually lots and lots of living things, and so we want biodiversity in our gut flora, we want biodiversity out in nature, and we want biodiversity in soil because that biodiversity actually helps sequester carbon.

So, as the plants are going through photosynthesis, carbon is channeled into the plants’ roots and then there’s between 5 and 21 percent photosynthetically fixed as carbon into the soil, and then the fungus and all the other microbiome of the soil actually helps transfer nutrients to the plants, and so we’re having this big problem right now with nutrient depletion and people are suffering from lack of minerals and that’s because we’re not farming properly in nutrient-rich soil. That can really only happen when the soil has a mix of all the stuff soil needs. Basically, lots of compost, deep-rooted plants, and things like that.

So, in addition, these deep roots and all this great stuff that’s happening in the soil actually helps with water retention, so that when the rain falls, the water doesn’t just run away. And so, that’s what’s happening in a lot of really arid places that have turned into sort of dust bowl areas, so they’ve been overgrazed or they’ve been monocropped forever and completely void of any sort of life living in the soil, and now when it rains, the water just flows right away instead of going deep into the soil and being able to be held in the soil.

Chris Kresser: So, none of this is particularly new information is it? Organic farmers, people who were farming prior to the advent of chemical fertilizers, which is for the vast majority of human history, where we’ve been farming and raising animals the last 11,000 years or so, these were the standard practices, using bone, and blood, and manure.

Diana Rodgers: Definitely in vegetable production. And then, the loss of herbivores, the killing of the bison actually contributed a lot of our loss of prairie land all through the middle of the country as well.

Chris Kresser: Wait, there were—how many bison roaming around? What is the estimate there?

Diana Rodgers: I think, well, I see different numbers. I think I’m comfortable saying about 30 million bison.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, so that’s a huge—we should’ve had our atmosphere catching on fire.

Diana Rodgers: Right and it wasn’t just bison. That was just one of the species that was roaming around. We had elk, we had deer, we had all kinds of these “awful” methane-farting animals running all over the place. So the amount of cattle that are here today being raised for food production is—

Chris Kresser: A tiny fraction of that.

Diana Rodgers: Right. So most cattle aren’t just raised in factory sheds and barns like pigs and chickens are. (So actually, if you were to have pick one evil animal to eat from our industrial food system, I would actually argue that cows are the best choice above chicken and pigs, just because chicken and pigs are 100 percent indoors, where most of the cattle actually start on grass.) So, cows are grass fed and then usually, the last portion of their life, they’re moved to a feedlot. But when we’re moving them to the feedlot, they’re standing around and everyone knows what these images are because we’re flooded with them all the time from all these vegan propaganda movies, but it is not great. So, all the manure is completely concentrated in this very anaerobic environment. And the rules are that the manure has to sit for, I believe it’s 90 days, before it can be spread on crops, but that’s pretty much the only rule about it. And so, that’s a really good Petri dish of toxic bacteria that then just gets sprayed directly on our spinach and things like that. So, when we hear about all these E. coli outbreaks and everything, that’s how it happens.

Chris Kresser: Right. So now we’re talking about the problems with conventional meat production are to a large extent symptomatic of a kind of divorce from the natural cycle of input and output that should be happening.

Diana Rodgers: Correct.

Chris Kresser: And you mentioned earlier, I just want to go back to this and highlight this for people that that is also happening in terms of how we use and misuse land. It was understood even by early farming peoples that just growing one crop in a particular place over and over again was not a recipe for preserving soil health, and they also knew how to make use of different kinds of land that weren’t necessarily suitable for plant production. So, one of the arguments we often hear against eating meat is that we can’t possibly feed the planet if everyone’s eating meat and that land use and water use are often pointed to in support of that argument, so let’s talk a little bit more about that.

The Differences between Cropland and Pastureland

Diana Rodgers: Right. So we’re utilizing not very much of our available pastureland by percentage, and I forget off the top of my head what the percentages are (I presented on it at AHS and I should have that presentation up so I have the numbers in front of me). But what people are thinking is that if we just eat only vegetables, then we’ll be pure and we don’t have to have any death and we can feed everybody this way. What they’re not realizing is that well then we’re not using the pastureland at all, because you cannot grow very good vegetables in much of Africa. You can grow some root crops and there are some areas where you can grow vegetables, but there’s a lot of places on the globe where it just doesn’t make sense to grow the variety of vegetables that we need in order to be healthy. And if we’re not going to utilize the pastureland for grazing animals, we’re going to lose the pastureland and it’s just going to turn into dust. And so, if we’re going to preserve the pastureland by utilizing herbivores in order to sequester the carbon and to help grow grass…

So I’ll just walk through what happens when an herbivore is on a piece of pasture. So, as they’re walking around, their hoof prints actually making little indentations which help hold water, and they’re chewing on the grass which stimulates growth. When you cut grass it grows. We don’t want the grass to just biologically break down on its own. We want it to be chewed, digested, and spit out the other end with microbes in it, and that’s really the healthiest way to do it. And then, we want to be moving them around, so we don’t want the animals on the same piece of land all the time. We want to be mimicking what natural herds have been doing forever because they’ve been migrating, and moving away from predators. We can do that now with electric fencing. So, on our farm and Joel Salatin’s farm, and all the really truly sustainable farms, the animals are moved all the time.

On our farm, the sheep are moving around the farm. They’re usually followed by the chickens, which are mobile chickens, who actually can eat some of the parasites that are there if there are any from the sheep, and that actually makes the sheep healthier because it cuts down on the parasite load. If you keep the animals on the same piece of land all the time, once that sheep… it will inoculate all the sheep and make for poor soil. So, by moving them around a lot, you reduce their parasite load, you keep healthier soil and you have healthier animals.

Chris Kresser: That makes an incredible amount of sense.

Diana Rodgers: What you really want to do is instead of having one animal on an entire acre all the time, you would have 30 animals on an acre and then just move it constantly. So, when you hear these numbers of, well, it takes all this land to raise whatever herbivore, a cow, or a sheep, you can’t really compare that to wheat production or corn production. It’s just not fair.

Chris Kresser: Right. The number I think you used in one of your articles, it was from the Tufts study on the sustainability of various dietary produce, was that two-thirds of the surface land in the world is not suitable for vegetable production, and they found that vegetarian diet may be sustainable, but a vegan diet is definitely not sustainable from a land-use perspective.

Diana Rodgers: Yeah, and then I actually e-mailed the professor and asked him a little bit more; if we cut down our consumption of grain-eating animals and increase our consumption of herbivores, how might that look? And he didn’t get back to me on that.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Herbivores vs. Omnivores

Diana Rodgers: But I think that we need to consider that. Here at our house, we eat a lot more herbivores than we do chicken or grain-fed animals—we’re more into the grass-eating animals here.

Chris Kresser: Well, it makes more sense from a number of perspectives. I mean, one consideration, which we will talk about more later, the ethical and moral argument, is a single cow can feed a lot more people than a chicken can.

Diana Rodgers: Right.

Chris Kresser: And just from the perspective of maximizing caloric density and value, the large herbivores are a lot more efficient that way than the smaller animals, and as you said, it’s almost impossible to do it yourself, to buy completely pasture-raised chicken or pork.

Diana Rodgers: That’s the number one seller here actually, above lamb, is our pastured pork. Pastured chicken, it’s just really hard for people to wrap their heads around paying $30 for a chicken.

Chris Kresser: For a scrawny little chicken.

Diana Rodgers: A scrawny, stringy, chicken. So, people are just so conditioned, unfortunately.

Chris Kresser: The breast-augmented chickens that we’re used to buying.

Diana Rodgers: That will have a heart attack and die at five weeks if you don’t kill them first.

Chris Kresser: And like topple over forwards because they’re so breast heavy.

Factory Farms and Superbugs

Diana Rodgers: Right. And we haven’t even discussed—I feel like we’re going in a million directions. This is such a complex topic, but we haven’t even talked about antibiotic-resistant superbugs which are just—it’s really scary what’s happening in CAFOs. If you wanted to have a perfect environment for a major public health crisis, it would be one of these chicken or pork factory farms.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. And let’s be clear, I mean, we’ll get back to what we were talking about. This is an important diversion though, and I’ve written a lot about the difference between CAFO and pasture-raised animal products before, and maybe we’ll do a separate show on that again because I think it’s time for an update, but let me just be 100 percent clear. I in no way endorse or support CAFO meat, and that’s one area where I agree with vegans. I think it’s not sustainable, it’s cruel, it’s a health train wreck waiting to happen, especially because of the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which I think is probably the single biggest reason to avoid eating CAFO meat if you can, of all of the reasons, like the scariest, most potentially serious reason. And so, that’s, I think, one potential area of common ground where we are all recognizing that this modern food system that we’ve created, actually, whether you’re talking about animal products or plants—vegetables, it’s not sustainable.

Diana Rodgers: Right. And I think one thing when vegans say, “Well, I won’t eat meat because I don’t believe in factory farming,” it’s like saying, “I won’t eat vegetables because I don’t believe in monocropped GMOs.”

Chris Kresser: Yeah. You better stay away from wheat and soy. And since soy is in just about in any food that comes in a bag or a box, that eliminates virtually all packaged and processed foods, even vegan cookies, for example, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and a lot of that kind of stuff. So yeah, let’s just agree that this system is not sustainable, but let’s get back to what is sustainable. And so, we’ve touched briefly on water, we talked about land and land use and the importance of herbivores to soil health. I think some of the statistics that I saw in one of your articles were that agricultural soils have lost somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of their soil organic carbon, which is just devastating. I mean, this is like “the stuff of life” that we cannot just easily replace, that we can’t just go to the soil organic carbon store and buy this and easily put it back in, but regenerative grazing of cattle can produce 30 to 40 percent improvement in soil carbon. So, let’s talk just a little more about this in terms of inputs and outputs.

Carbon Emissions and Water Usage

Diana Rodgers: Sure. And I should mention in these studies too about water and the difference between green water and blue water as well. So, when these studies come out, they’re not really looking at what you said, the inputs and outputs, so a true life cycle analysis is where they’re actually looking at the whole entire picture and not just, for example, carbon emissions. So, if they’re looking at pure carbon emissions, yes, cows emit a lot of methane, but then you take into account the carbon sequestration that cattle can have on the land plus there’s microbes in the soil which can also help mitigate some of that methane, it’s actually in a gain, so people have to look at the entire picture. And it’s the same thing with water, when you hear it takes, and again—you’re really good at reciting numbers, I’m not, but maybe you have more—so it takes, I don’t know what, is it 50,000 gallons of water for a pound of beef or something silly, whatever the number is, it’s silly.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Diana Rodgers: And so, what they’re not realizing is that these studies are also looking at, they’re including rainwater in the mix, so there’s a difference between green water and blue water. So, green water includes precipitation, runoff, water needed for the crop growth, and water that is sinking into the ground, so all of that water is being calculated in order to produce that piece of hamburger that everyone’s vilifying so much. And when you actually look at the blue water, so that’s just fresh surface ground water like lakes and rivers and aquifers that the cattle are drinking, the number of gallons per pound of beef is actually a lot more.

Chris Kresser: 410 [gallons]. Yeah, I got that number in my head.

Diana Rodgers: Yeah. I remembered that number too, you beat me to it.

Chris Kresser: All right, so 410, and how does that compare to some other foods?

Diana Rodgers: So, it’s very similar to rice, sugar, avocados, almonds, a lot of these foods that I’m not hearing a whole lot of complaining about. And then, when you look at 100 percent grass-fed beef, Nicolette Niman, in her book Defending Beef, explains that grass-fed beef is a lot closer to 100 gallons of water per pound of beef.

Chris Kresser: So, a quarter of that is required to grow rice and avocados and walnuts and sugar. So yeah, that paints a very different picture, especially when you consider, as we’ve been saying all along here, that these animals are not just completely separate from the rest of the system of cycle of production, that they’re actually improving soil health, they’re sequestering carbon to where there’s a net sequestration of carbon rather than an emission of carbon. They’re increasing biodiversity and they’re essentially depositing into that bank account if we consider the soil as a bank account, which is an analogy that you’ve used. Cropping and planting vegetables is what’s drawing nutrients, but these herbivores are depositing. They’re putting stuff back in.

Diana Rodgers: Correct. And the other thing that just kills me, and this goes back to the nutrition piece, but when people compare beef and the water usage to something like rice or avocados, it’s like “Hmm …” That’s not really even fair because of the nutrient density of beef compared to these other things. And then, you look at these lab-grown meats that they’re making, a product like Tofurky, I have not seen a life cycle analysis on these things, and I have been trying to pin somebody down to do it for us just so we have the numbers for our book. But how much water is needed in the processing and growing of all the soy and wheat that’s necessary to make one package of Tofurky or these lab-grown meats, which I think people are somehow thinking are just created out of magic and no inputs at all. Who is paying for the lab? Who is paying for all the trucking, all the storage required? I mean, even just storing that product requires a ton of energy.

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The Ethical and Moral Considerations of Eating Meat

Chris Kresser: Okay. So, I think we’ve given an overview of the environmental considerations of meat and how it is much more complex than these mainstream articles make it out to be. There are often missing key components of the equation. Having said that, we both agree that CAFO meat is just like, CAFO or conventional farming in general, is not sustainable and really it’s difficult to defend.

So, let’s move onto the ethical and moral considerations of meat because I think some people who are really well informed, who are vegetarians and vegans, people I know, for example, who are friends of mine, they’re fairly convinced on a nutritional front and may supplement and try to take steps to mitigate some of the potential nutritional downsides. They’re even—although some may be concerned about the environmental considerations, the people I’m thinking of are open-minded enough to have read other accounts that include these kinds of variables and they may not be convinced that it’s a bad thing, particularly sustainable, local, small-farm meat production. But the ethical and moral considerations are where they diverge, just the idea of killing another animal in order to feed themselves is objectionable, and that’s what stops them from doing it.

So, we’re now entering territory that’s less about scientific studies and data and objective facts and more about subjective considerations, but I do think you raise several interesting points in the article. You wrote about this on Robb’s website that was coming from your experience as a farmer and someone who raises animals for food, both for your own family and for other people. So let’s talk about a little bit about this because I think there are some things that maybe people haven’t considered.

Diana Rodgers: Right, and I actually did find a study on this out in Finland where they were interviewing ethical meat and non-meat eaters and what was their driving force, and the moral piece is the biggest piece and I remember just messaging Robb like, “Oh my God, we really have to pay a lot of attention.” Even though he and I are both are “poo-poo,” we really have to be very sensitive to this because it’s a really big piece to this. And so, I’ve been asking a lot of people because I don’t really get it personally, because I’m so connected and understand so well that we need animal inputs in order to have vegetable outputs and that we’re just all matter that’s just being recycled, that I just happened to be made up of all these cells right now and one day, these different minerals and everything are just going to be part of a tree or whatever. But not everybody thinks that way. So, what do you do with the people that don’t think that way? So, I talked to Joel Salatin when I was done at an event at Polyface just last month about, you know, what does he say? And I’ve been asking lots of other philosophers, too, how they argue it. And so, Joel was like, “Well, if you don’t think you need death in order to have life, just lay down naked in a flower bed for three days and tell me what happens.”

Chris Kresser: Right.

Diana Rodgers: And he went into it from a Christian perspective because a lot of people who are more religious don’t like the whole matter recycling thing. And a lot of them, which I learned recently from another philosopher, don’t like the “you can kill one animal to save all these other animals.” They don’t like that argument either because who is to say that that one life isn’t going to go on and do amazing things. So that was a shocker to me too. I didn’t really think about things that way.

Anyhow, so Joel was going on further about how humans actually are the only ones that are consciously humane when we’re trying to move an animal to the next phase of its existence. Hyenas and coyotes, they don’t care about that. So, I think one of the big pieces is that if we need the animals for soil health, why can’t we just let them live out a natural life and a natural death. And the idea that a natural death is painless death or a better death than a humane slaughter that we can do with all the technology that we have today is crazy. I think that we’re pretty divorced from the fact that we die, and so that’s part of it and that most people are not part of seeing how animals are raised and how they’re killed, like, that’s not part of their daily existence. Meat comes in a plastic container, wrapped at the grocery store and the only images are the horrible images that we see from these vegan propaganda movies and that’s what people think. They think “Oh, well, a natural death,” and they think of butterflies and daisies and this deer just walking around forever. And unfortunately, life is really great when you’re strong and young and healthy, and life isn’t really that great when you have a broken leg and you’re a herd animal and there’s a hyena behind you, and then life’s not so great.

How even vegan diets cause animal death

Chris Kresser: Right. And what happens with factory farming? Let’s consider a field of a row crop of some kind. What kind of animal is there at risk in that type of operation?

Diana Rodgers: All right, yes. I mean, I like to bring up how many bunnies live in these soy fields and wheat fields because people tend to—when you’re talking about all the different creatures, bunnies are the one that really gets people. So, these fields are teeming with life, they’ve got all kinds of little mammals that are running through them that when a tractor is coming through and harvesting the corn, all those animals die. And then if we think about all the biodiversity that’s lost from spraying of chemicals and all the bees that die, all the butterflies, all the birds that eat bees and butterflies, the loss of the natural landscape from turning a field from either a forest or a pasture to cropland… there’s a lot of devastation that happens from a vegan or vegetarian type diet, so it’s not a bloodless diet.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. I think one of the things you wrote in your article, or during the presentation, I can’t remember, was to consider the way that a group of baby voles might die if their mother was decapitated by a combine versus a quick and humane death of a cow in a humane slaughterhouse. Those are pretty different pictures, if you imagine both of those. But I think for me, one of the things that stands out, and this is again, more of a—it’s less quantifiable—but it’s this profound separation between human beings and nature that seems to pervade modern industrial society. And if you consider a lot of traditional hunter–gatherer populations, this idea would have never even occurred to them because they’re so inexorably intertwined with the environment in which they live. And yet, we, I think, have the sense that we’re somehow, first of all, that we’re different. We’re not animals anymore and we’re somehow removed from all that, and then I think there’s also a sense of loss and separation that’s come from that and that’s actually informing a lot of these discussions.

Diana Rodgers: Right. And I’ve seen, well, first of all in the hunter–gatherer’s society, if you think about what you might have seen on TV about these cultures, when an animal is slaughtered like a goat or something, there’s usually a whole ritual around that, like, they’re honoring it, they’re using all the pieces and it’s a big deal. If they hunt something and bring it back, there’s a celebration and a feast, all this kind of stuff. So, there was a lot more than just throwing some burgers on the grill, whatever. And I am actually writing a piece right now on humane slaughter for a magazine in New England and just got back from a slaughterhouse in Vermont where they actually invite people to come watch. They’ve got a viewing deck and you can watch it. It’s called Vermont Packing House and it’s in Springfield, Vermont. And it’s really quick, they have figured it out. They are Animal Welfare Approved, which is a great organization. I actually just talked to the head of that today, and they have figured out how to make it as humane as it can be versus just about any other death I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, a chicken may have a heart attack from a thunderstorm, so that’s a pretty good way to go. But other than that, I can’t really picture a whole lot of natural deaths that I would want for myself other than something that they do in these slaughterhouses.

Chris Kresser: So there’s another argument that’s often used which is, “Okay, so some of these animals die in the production of my baguette—”

Diana Rodgers: I know where you’re going.

Chris Kresser: “—but I didn’t ask for them to be killed.” It wasn’t my intent that they were killed, whereas if I’m going to eat a burger, I’m fully aware that an animal has lost his or her life in order to feed me, so that’s different from an ethical perspective.

Diana Rodgers: Right. Yes, that’s always a big piece of these arguments, and so that one is pretty easily dismantled because a death is a death.

Chris Kresser: It is. Once you listen to this podcast, you become aware of that. I think there maybe are people who don’t actually, maybe quite a few people, who don’t actually realize that eating plants involves death and maybe more death in terms of individual lives than eating animals, but once you become aware of that, it’s hard to continue making that argument honestly.

Diana Rodgers: Right. I mean, once you’ve heard this—like, I wrote it in really big bold letters on Robb’s site, “so I’m now officially telling you that animals are dying.” Is it still better to eat just vegetables? No, it’s not.

Should Parents Be Allowed to Feed Their Kids a Vegan Diet?

Chris Kresser: Yeah. All right. So, this is probably going to invite just as many questions as it answers. I think maybe we can finish up by talking a little bit about something I posted on my Facebook page, which in turn you wrote an article about, and it was a news story about Italy where they are considering jail for vegan parents or parents that impose a vegan diet on their children. Why would they possibly consider doing that?

Diana Rodgers: Right. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed the theme here, but all the ones where I know we’re going to get a lot of crazy comments, I post on Robb’s site instead of my own site.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Diana Rodgers: So, I actually brought this up again when I was down at Polyface Farm. There was a panel of us and we’re all sitting there, a bunch of leaders in the nutrition movement, and we’re talking about this libertarian idea that government should stay out and not have anything to do with our food choices at all. And I know a lot of people think that, but I do think that there’s a really big difference between a Standard American junk food diet that can cause obesity, or type 2 diabetes perhaps, and the permanent brain damage that has been documented in children of vegan parents who have been fed a vegan diet. And where these kids don’t have any control over that. So Drew Ramsey—have you met him yet?

Chris Kresser: I have, yeah.

Diana Rodgers: Yeah. So, I was sitting next to him, and he and I were the pretty much the only ones on that panel that were like, “No, no, no. This is really a big deal.” And I don’t know if jail necessarily is the answer, but I think the whole conversation is really interesting because whose responsibility is it when there’s—and is this neglect? So our opinion was, “Yes, it’s neglectful and it’s inappropriate to feed children a vegan diet.” You can do whatever you want with yourself but don’t do this to children because it’s really dangerous, and B12 supplementation doesn’t always fix things.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. It can be a little too late, and if the wrong form is used, it can be inadequate. It’s a really, really difficult topic. I mean, I when I first saw that headline, I was surprised, to be honest. I was like, “Wow! This is crazy,” and I’m someone who knows a lot about the potential issues here and my first reaction was similar to, I’m not a libertarian, but it was similar to that response, because it’s not hard to imagine all of the disastrous things that could happen if the government started levying fines and even imposing jail time on us for our dietary choices, you know.

Diana Rodgers: And that is happening in some places, like I wrote about the sugar tax in Philadelphia.

Chris Kresser: And the Netherlands, that fat tax, a tax on saturated fat–was it Norway or Holland? One of those places. Yeah, so I mean, clearly, anyone who’s listening to this show probably doesn’t trust the government to make those choices. They’ve done a spectacularly bad job at figuring this stuff out in the past, and so why would we want to support them in doing that? I mean, that was my first response, and still, I still feel that way in a lot of respects.

But then I started to think about it further and I considered what if there was, if we just think of something that’s different, not a food-based thing, but what if a parent was giving their child a poison that was known to reduce IQ, cause brain damage, stunt growth, put them at higher risk for virtually every kind of disease both in childhood and later on in their adult life, we would frown pretty heavily on that. We would probably call the abuse and certainly neglect, and parents have definitely have been put in jail for less than that. And for various decisions related to withholding medications from their children, for example, like some religious groups that don’t believe in pharmaceutical drugs or giving their kids supplements even, in some cases, that the conventional paradigm didn’t think were appropriate in that situation.

On the other hand, that same argument could’ve been used for parents who fed their kids cholesterol and saturated fat at the time when it was still believed that those were harmful, maybe not to—you know, those were never associated with brain damage or anything like that. It was maybe a distant increase in heart disease later in life. But I’ll just say it’s a thorny and complicated issue, and at the end of the day, whatever the solution is or the consequence is, I think the thing that needs to happen first before any of that, more urgently, is to increase people’s awareness of what the consequences of this stuff are because then, parents can take appropriate action and—

Diana Rodgers: Form decisions.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah, hopefully. And if they don’t, then that’s really more of kind of a social, legal, philosophical decision about what happens with them, and that’s not something I feel like I have a lot of expertise in or have thought very deeply about, but I just will acknowledge here that those consequences are very real and underappreciated and misunderstood, so that’s where I feel like we can contribute.

Diana Rodgers: Yes. I mean, my whole point to the talk I did at AHS where I was pointing out what’s going on with the US Dietary Guidelines because it’s very vegetarian focused and there are some lines in there. This can be made vegan by substituting more soy for the eggs and dairy. It’s really, really dangerous, and it’s not only dangerous to US citizens, but all the other countries that want to be just like us and follow us. And I think that if somebody doesn’t put a lot of thought behind it and decide that it’s complicated, then they’re not truly thinking. I actually ended up texting Robb over this weekend because I was getting really mad at some of the responses. People had this very knee-jerk, “Uh, I don’t want government—” you know, and I don’t think people were fully understanding how complicated it is, and it just seemed like people weren’t—I was just really upset. And luckily, I just sent you this link to an NPR story about how in Germany, where veganism is really, really popular over there, but there’s a bunch of dieticians that are pushing back. I think that dieticians here need to really push back and I know that, during my education to become an RD, it was not very “easy” to eat meat. All the professors were vegetarian and there were a lot of young vegan women in my program, like, a lot of vegans. And so, it’s very hip, it’s very fashionable, and it seems like the moral, the pure way to be.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. It’s definitely problematic. I think one of the interesting considerations here is just the social and cultural aspects, which we’re hinting at here because I know that article talked about the glam factor of being vegan. I mean, the celebrity angle and people who make a choice not really because they’ve deeply investigated it from a nutritional or environmental or moral or ethical standpoint, but because some celebrity that they admire is doing it. And unfortunately, that is, I would say, probably the most common reason that people adopt a diet, which is why if you’ve ever written a book on nutrition, your publisher wants you to point to celebrities that are doing that kind of approach. I mean, this is the way the world works, unfortunately.

It’s a problem because, like you said, if these choices are not thoroughly investigated, they can have pretty dire consequences, and that’s something that we—all we can do is keep providing this information, and ultimately, for me at least, I don’t feel—with the exception of kids, which I do, that’s where it changes for me. I don’t really try to convince any adult of anything at this point related to diet. I say, “Here’s the information that I have, the scientific literature, and what it says. Make your own decision, knock yourself out.” But when it comes to kids, I think what you and Drew were getting at is like, we have a moral imperative to protect this future generation and that shows up in our law and so many other places. Parents are held responsible for how they educate their kids, like, if you just decide to take your kid out of school and you don’t have a plan, you can be put in jail in some places and that’s neglect. So there really are—it’s a different moral equation or calculation when it comes to kids.

Diana Rodgers: Right. And I want to make it clear I’m not saying I definitely think parents should be jailed for this. I’m also not saying that I think a junk food diet is okay. I got a lot of these accusations, so I’m not saying any of these things. Another panelist suggested that maybe it’s the role of community and that at his church, there was a woman who was feeding her kids vegan and these kids were really teeny and the church members had an intervention, but unfortunately, we just don’t have tight communities like that anymore.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, particularly in large urban environments, which tend to be more secular, that’s not really going to work. In a rural community or a community where the church plays that kind of role, that’s fantastic, and I’m a big advocate of that level of community support, but yeah, like you said, it’s not going to work in a lot of places.

Last thing I’ll say about this because it’s fresh on my mind as I’m writing an article right now about DHA, which is one of the nutrients that vegetarians, and particularly vegans, are most at risk for being deficient in, if they’re not supplementing with preformed DHA. When we talk about a nutrient that’s essential for kids and particularly the developing fetus, this is like at the top of the list. Something like, a large percentage of the dry weight of the brain is DHA. It’s crucial for development of visual acuity, for spatial intelligence.

DHA deficiency has been associated with lower IQ, problem-solving ability… it’s just completely essential. There’s a myth going around in the vegetarian and vegan community that if you eat just flaxseeds or walnuts or some of these plant-based forms of omega-3 that the body can convert those into DHA. No problem, right? But when you actually look deeper, you see that that conversion is extremely inefficient, less than 2 to 5 percent of alpha-linolenic acid, which is the fat that’s in the plant-based food that’s converted into DHA. And that’s kind of a best case scenario because the enzymes that are required for that conversion need a lot of different nutrients like vitamin B6, iron, zinc, calcium, and things that actually a lot of vegans and vegetarians can be deficient in.

And there are genetic differences, and there are sex differences. Women convert far more ALA to DHA, which is probably nature’s way of making sure that they had enough DHA even if they didn’t have access to preformed DHA. Some men have been shown to convert 0 percent of ALA to DHA, and one study I saw, it was 0 percent for men and 9 percent for women. So, if you take an average, that’s 4.5 percent, and that’s what they report in the study, but the average doesn’t tell you that men are converting 0 percent.

So, this explains why—because sometimes you hear people say, “Well, a vegan diet can’t be bad for you because I see people, I have a friend, Jane, that switched to a vegan diet six months ago and she’s thriving.” Well, number one, what did she switch from? Number two, it’s possible that she has some genetic differences and also just the nature of her being female make it less likely that she’s going to immediately become deficient in some of these things. And number three, we have to remember that many of these deficiencies take months or years to develop—

Diana Rodgers: Or show up on the blood panels, right? The B12?

Chris Kresser: Right. And so, someone who does well initially may not do well in three or four years, but the problem is they’re not going to tie it to their diet change at that point because they had already been doing that for a significant period of time. So, this is very complex and there are a lot of these arguments, and as usual the interwebs tend to be pretty superficial and not really consider all of these angles. So thank you so much for coming on and talking about this stuff. Maybe we will have you back for another show about CAFO meat problems with confinement feeding operations for animal products.

Diana Rodgers: The antibacterial superbugs, that’s a really interesting topic and I saw the film Resistance, which was great, and I had the director on my show, but that might be a nice guest for you to have as well in the future.

Chris Kresser: Cool.

Diana Rodgers: Really great.

Chris Kresser: Okay. Well, thanks again Diana. I appreciate your time, and where can people learn more about your work and what you’re up to?

Diana Rodgers: Yes. My website is SustainableDish.com, my books, my podcasts, and how to see me as a patient are all right there.

Chris Kresser: Great. Good luck and we look forward to having you back.

Diana Rodgers: Thank you.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future episode, you can do that at chriskresser.com/podcastquestion. You can also leave a suggestion for someone you’d like me to interview there. If you’re in social media, you can follow me at twitter.com/chriskresser or facebook.com/chriskresserlac. I post a lot of articles and research that I do throughout the week there that never make it to the blogger podcast, so it’s a great way to stay abreast of the latest developments. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you next time.

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Join the conversation

  1. I praise and respect all the farmers raising animals in a natural, ethical way and those who look for ways to slaughter humanely.

    And yes, eating meat is part of our nature.

    That said, I don’t agree with your disdain of the “vegan propaganda movies” showing how conventional animals are being treated because that is exactly how they are being treated.

    When a human can go to any grocery store or any restaurant around every corner and have their choice of meats whenever they want, then the respect and ethics of eating an animal has been lost.

    Films that show people how factory-farmed animals are being treated can raise awareness and make people possibly search out alternatives like humanely raised.

    You mention that some groups of people had or have a ritual when they slaughter an animal which respects the life taken. Getting more people to think of it that way seems impossible when meat is almost everywhere. At every grocery store, at most restaurants, available whenever you want it for however much you want.

    How can we make it so meat is less of an infinite commodity and more something special to add to your meals? Maybe then the respect of the animal’s sacrifice will return?

  2. We can learn a lot from Native American traditions about honoring the spirit of the animals taken for food as part of the natural cycle of life. This requires a spiritual understanding that there is no life without death and that we all are one. If we vilify death and do not consider spiritual aspects we are missing a major piece of our holistic health. We must consider what is best for Earth as a whole and not just our small, limited perspectives.

    • I hear you. Native Americans only hunted enough buffalo to get them through the winter, let them breed, so cycle continues. If Americans today, ate indigenously, traditionally, the three sisters: beans, maize and squash would be the staples, with some wild game ( rabbits, pheasant, turkey, deer, elk, fish or buffalo some areas wild rice (Midwest) based on your locale. Chia seeds were also popular in Meso America.

    • Agreed, what is usually best for whole, in the long run will be best for you, as an individual, too.

  3. Great talk. Regarding differences of o3 converversion into DHEA, what do you think about the role of blood type as a predictive marker for this?

  4. I have had turkeys that had no interest in even finishing the bag of starter feed. They Tom’s grew to 27 lbs dressed and the females to 18 lbs from foraging bugs grubs slugs and grasses.

    If I decide to buy tofurkey there will be over 4000 Food Miles just for delivery. The processing of the ingredients in the recipe likely have thousands of more Road Miles to the manufacturers facility of the faux meat. Then the calculation of the Full Cycle Costs of soya bean production.

    • Tofu and excessive food miles are not prerequisites for a vegan diet – its not a fair comparison. Tofurkey is a processed abomination which would be better compared to turkey twizzlers – neither of which would find their way onto any conscious eater plate, hopefully.

      • Agree. I eat from a Csa and get organic local edamame grown a couple miles away in Midwest and find local oats, wild rice ( MN), and lots of sweet potato, purple potato, peas, green beans, squash, apples, pears, berries, collards, bok Choy, kale – all local. And appears Eden organic are beans grown in USA, staple in our house; black beans are from Michigan, others CA andAZ.

    • Plant based eaters eat a lot more than whole organic soy products like tofu and edamame, much of it rotated with grains in the grain belt of US.

      But like the idea of you raising or hunting your own turkeys, rather than factory farmed animals.

      • Deanna – As a former raw foods vegan for 11 years, I’m pretty familiar with what plant based eaters consume. That diet nearly killed me. Fortunately, it also forced me to look more closely at my food-shed. Turns out there is no “grain belt” in the US. What you’re referring to is the Great Plains (where I grew up in an extended farming family) which was once a cornucopia of native herbs, seeds, bison, elk, deer, antelope, rabbits and so on. None of that required any fossil fueled tractors or plows, fertilizers, “crop rotations” or pesticides. That abundant native ecosystem and all those animals have been destroyed to grow grains and beans – vegan staples. The loss of top soil due to this ill conceived cropping system is obscene.

  5. Energy is not a thing at all, it is strictly abstract property. You and Colpo are stupid and physics illiterate.

    • This is a really great podcast, thank you!
      When you consider grain fed beef, that is at the end of the crop chain, why do they blame that instead of the first part, which is actually the issue?
      I found an amazing farmer who has plenty of Scottish Highlanders that graze free in a wide area. He told me that since he introduced them in that area, he’s been witnessing a skyrocketing of biodiversity.
      That meat has got a super taste and you can literally feel nutrients pumped up into your body.
      I’m Italian and I’m well aware about the mentioned issue. Though I’m strongly against the vegan propaganda, I shiver at the idea of government intervention. What if tomorrow they’ll decide that eating Paleo is harmful based on the dominant interest? We are fully aware that the propaganda to substitute meat with soy and grains has nothing to do with promoting good health, but rather is the desperate attempt to defend the dominant business to challenge the rise of awareness toward what is actually going on with our health and the health of our planet.

      • GF beef is blamed for too much methane and nitrous oxide, much more destructive to ozone than CO 2.

      • Actually promoting, less meat eating drastically cuts down corn and soy demands in America, because 70 percent of these crops go to feed food production animals.

        Feeding people organic corn and soy and no meat would lessen sales of these crops, dramatically.

        But would likely increase organic oats, flax, chia seeds, tubers, chickpeas, lentils, buckwheat, bkack beans etc. staples/ regulars in plant based diets.

        • Deanna, I fully agree that a mandate to return to organic farming could make America great again. 95% of soybean is crushed and the oil extracted with hexane for edible oils. The fibre is fed to livestock. Has the health impact of using hexane been studied on human and animal health?

          Information About Soya, Soybeans – Soyatech
          About 85 percent of the world’s soybeans are processed, or “crushed,” annually into … Of the oil fraction, 95 percent is consumed as edible oil; the rest is used for  …

          Should I Worry About Hexane in Soy Food? | Berkeley Wellness
          May 1, 2012 – Hexane is classified as an air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). … A label that just says “made with organic” ingredients is no guarantee that all ingredients are hexane-free.

          Dirty Little Secret in the Natural Foods Industry: Toxic Chemical Use …
          Nov 28, 2010 – Hexane is classified as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental …

        • Deanna, the use of nitrate fertilizer also has a serious impact on human and animal health. Educating the pharm economy that a return to organic mixed farming has various advantages, since fertilizer prices have become unpredictable.

          Krofters, links also outline the advantages of restoring natural grasslands.

          Agrimoney.com | Urea prices ‘have found a floor’ near four-year low
          Dec 1, 2015 – Urea prices, at amongst their lowest in four years, have found a floor after reaching levels at which an unusually large number of producers are making … NPK, a mixture of nitrogen, phosphate and potash fertilizers, has proved more stable, declining … Australian wheat harvest to hit record high, says Nidera…

          Urea prices, as measured in the Baltic, were $246 a tonne as of last week, well below the $800 a tonne reached at their 2008 peak, and down 23% so far this year, according to Credit Suisse.

        • Deanna – Citations please?
          Your numbers are pretty far off base – 47% of soy and 60% of corn goes to livestock – http://www.sustainabletable.org/260/animal-feed
          Of the top 3 foods the US exports overseas soy is number one, soy products is number two, fodder (alfalfa) is number three, wheat is number four and corn is a distant number five – http://erdakroft.com/Erdakroftfarm/Blogs/Entries/2016/10/28_Krofting_the_wild_-_the_ultimate_regenerative_farming_system.html (if you don’t want to read the whole blog go to the section titled ‘nuts and bolts’)
          About 48% of soy gets exported – http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/soybeans-oil-crops/trade.aspx

          If you were truly serious about wanting to reduce the amount of land being destroyed by plowing to grow monocrops of soy, wheat and corn you would be encouraging grass fed livestock production and denouncing exportation of soy, alfalfa and wheat.

          While it’s true that cattle being fed an unnatural diet of soy and grains in CAFO’s is responsible for excessive methane production, cattle eating their natural diet of grass will be healthy. Hence they’ll not be producing excessive methane. Humans that eat too much soy, wheat and corn also produce excessive methane – and there are a lot of humans.

          • Ruminants fed grain and corn an un natural diet in Feedlots suffer metabolic acidosis. That is why they have a staff of veterinarians and the use of antibiotics to prevent death.

            Grassfed is Best.

  6. great podcast thank you so much (got better and better for me).
    thanks again for all you do.

  7. We should not exclude any food groups from our diets. We are omnivores and our bodies can handle most foods that are not processed. Everything in moderation.

  8. Thanks for the post Chris and Diane. When debating with AR’st and vegans there are outrageous quotes of Gallons of Water needed per Lb of beef converted from grass and water. Ranchers would be water poor supplying the foolhardy quotes. One biased study calculated rainfall and water needed to wash the barnyard, yes the barnyard.

    I always refer to the DOT 111 Railcar’s sixth diagram down the Wiki page to do their math equation, showing a 20,000 gallon rail tanker for their math project in critical thinking. There would be ridiculous numbers of railcars needed with water just for one Market Steer. There would be more money in water and delivery than beef.

    How much feed and water are used to make a pound of beef …
    3 Jun 2014 … In western Canada, much of the feed used for feedlot cattle is either … 8 gallons of water per pound of edible beef.* … Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.

    DOT-111 tank car – Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOT-111_tank_car‎
In rail transport, the U.S. DOT-111 tank car, also known as the CTC-111A in Canada, is a type of unpressurized tank car in common use in North America.

    Thanks for your articles Chris and Diane, attempting to clear the smoke.

  9. This was an excellent post. I’ve been reading about agroforestry, agroecology, along with a few articles on ancient wood pastures in Europe. I also write and read about climate change and the environment on my website, primarily in my news-links series.

    Something that concerns me is the either/or conundrum people so quickly embrace. I believe meat can be raised sustainably, and as you described, this is also good for the planet – the soil, carbon sequestration, and water conservation. I feel too much time is being wasted on meat bashing, when if we moved forward more quickly on these sustainable practices, everyone, including the Earth, would benefit. We can all respect our differences while establishing the most humane and sustainable practices for both dietary choices.

    Two other points I’d like make are this. First, my hope is that pasture-raised meats will become more affordable and available. Even in our middle class well-educated household, eating exclusively pastured meats isn’t financially sustainable. I’m working on this as in trying to eat less meat, but it requires a lot of thought and energy – something many families lack by the end of the day.

    Secondly, I would be concerned about our society moving towards vegan diets in reference to the current prevalence of diabetes. I understand that studies have shown that a vegan diet can help diabetes, but I don’t believe anyone has done long-term studies. In addition, for many people with messed up gut health, meat and healthy fats are some of the easiest to digest foods.

    I’m going to take a look at your website, Diana, and would like to include a link to this post in tomorrow’s Surferbird News-Links series. These are the kinds of discussions we need to see more of in the paleo community. Thank you, Chris and Diana – wonderful post.

    • In regards to diabtetes and vegan diets, in India, most people eat a vegetarian diet and I believe they have the highest rates of diabetes in the world.

      • India and USA both have high rates but not highest. Indians diets are becoming more processed including high omega 6 oils and they do eat lots of ghee with more sugar and probably white flor as well.

        The lowest rates of diabetes are seen in countries eating Whole Foods mostly beans, sorghum, millet cassava, vegetables and fruits with some backyard chickens, etc., no dairy in Africa.

    • Laura – Yes, even as a farmer I sometimes find it hard to feed myself like I want to. It’s unfortunate that the foods that are bad for us are heavily subsidized (like sugar, wheat and corn products), which makes them cheap. The nutrient dense foods that are really good for us are not subsidized – which means they reflect the true cost of producing them.
      You sound like your an astute shopper so I don’t mean to infer that this applies to you, but when people complain to me the high cost of pastured products I ask them how much they spend on cable tv, beer, sodas, movies, a new car or many other things that could be construed as less important than nutritionally dense food.
      In 1960 Americans spent 30% of their income on food. Back then we were a svelte nation. Today that number is down to 9% of our income and we are now an obese nation with diabetes and chronic disease running rampant. Again, you seem to be on top of nutrition so I’m not trying to implicate you… but many don’t understand that the old saying, “you get what you pay for” applies really well to food.

      • Krofter, I didn’t take it the wrong way. A lot has changed in our culture. Two income families where one or both people are away all day plays into this somehow, I think. And I’ve seen graphs on how we pay a higher percentage in housing costs, too, leaving less for food. But there’s not doubt that your description of how our priorities have changed is also true, even if that’s not the case for our family. I agree with you, though. Quality food is worth the price.

      • You are right, also here in my country, when I advise to eat right, after dispelling people’s usual myth about nutrition, they end up with saying that it’s not affordable.
        And then you spot the latest smartphone, huge curved TV, tablets, expensive cars, fashion clothes.
        Do you know that they even spend over 1000 € for a bag, more than 200 for a shirt?
        I buy grassfed Scottish highlander meat at 15 €/Kg?
        I buy meat to feed myself and my family for one month with the price of two shirts.

        • That’s illustrates the point well. I can’t imagine spending that much money on a shirt. But you are correct. For many people, it’s a matter of shifting priorities. And both adults in the home need to be on board with buying quality meat and food, or it can be a problem.

        • So, this conversation has sent me to the web for better meat. I’m looking at options that are so much better than what we currently buy. I used to obsess over this, but then, we had some big family changes occur, and the ranchers we were buying from stopped delivering, which made things difficult. I’ve been purchasing the best options available at the local grocery store. And I’m the only one really passionate about all of this – not to mention I’m the only cook! I’m tired of listening to myself whine. It’s just too important. Thanks for the conversation!

      • Some cheap nutritionally dense foods include beans of all colors, flax,lentils, kale, sweet potatoes, including purple, sardines and consider buying berries in bulk in season and freezing.

  10. Wow this is the most biased, dangerous article I have seen on here which seems to solidify for me that Mr Kresser is meat industry backed. Why would you ‘cherry pick’one case of malnutrition in a vegan family and use it in this deplorable inappropriate way. I presume pretty much all seven day eventists are shaking with fear right now that they could, pretty soon, be prosecuted for feeding their children in a manner that is proven to lead to the greatest longevity amongst populations.
    With regard to meat how does the worlds population switch from CAFO to grass fed meats. How do they afford this, how do they source it and what would be the implications on production and the planet. Why even bother, just follow the diet of people who eat little or no meat and live the longest.

    • There is a substantial amount of evidence on both sides of the argument — stop pretending that it’s all on your side because it’s not. Most nutritional studies are flawed and inconclusive, including the arguments for vegetarianism. I’m sure Chris could come up with plenty of supporting data and is not guilty of cherry-picking any more than you are, just because he only mentioned one example here.

      The question of “how” is secondary. Once you set a goal, the how will show up. When the USA wants to go to war, no one spends much time figuring out how to pay for it.

    • Agree the switch to CAFO (agree horrible) to all grass fed would actually release more methane, because animals take longer to grow, meaning more methane. The high demand and excess poop, leaching into lakes etc, is a problem, no matter what you feed the cows grass, corn, forage crop etc.

      And CO2 sequester from manure DOES NOT offset methane and nitrous oxide production , just not accurate and truthful information.

      • This is the silliest thing I ever heard.
        Chris is actually promoting all the other way around from the industry based meat.
        People do you understand what you read?
        Chris is even too polite and unbiased, in the other article he even tried to understand the vegan perspective.
        Sorry but if there’s a mainstream propaganda is about grain based food pyramid, nothing to do with meat, that is being demonized by the media.

  11. Doctrine and Covenants (one Mormon book of scriptures)
    Section 89 (talking about the Mormon health code)

    Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 27, 1833. As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently, he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result.

    1–9, The use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks is proscribed; 10–17, Herbs, fruits, flesh, and grain are ordained for the use of man and of animals; 18–21, Obedience to gospel law, including the Word of Wisdom, brings temporal and spiritual blessings.

    1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion–

    2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days–

    3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

    4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation–

    5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

    6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

    7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.

    8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.

    9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

    10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man–

    11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

    12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

    13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

    14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

    15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

    16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground–

    17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

    18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

    19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

    20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

    21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.

  12. Has anybody heard of the Mormon health code called The Word of Wisdom?
    It was given by revelation from God to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, especially for us living in the last days.
    It says that specifically the flesh of beasts and fowls are to be eaten with thanksgiving but sparingly.

    Doctrine and Covenants 49:
    18 “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;”

    Doctrine and Covenants 89:
    12 “Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;”

    I believe God gave this revelation in wisdom for our days. So from what I understand of this revelation, we could eat more freely of fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and eat just a little of the flesh of beasts and fowls.

  13. New Testament 1 Timothy 4:
    1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

    2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

    3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

    4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.

  14. I must have accidentally subscribed to Chris Kressler, because I’m just stunned by the ignorant argument put forth here by Diana Rodgers to justify her personal desire to continue exploiting animals to feed her face. Humane slaughter is an oxymoron. It is not “natural” to breed animals deliberately and methodically just to kill them for food. No other species does that, and just because ours can, doesn’t mean ours should. By Rodgers way of thinking, the Long Island serial killer is actually doing the natural world a favor by planting all those bodies along the beach. Just think of what they could do for the soil! After all, “death is death”. Needless to say, I’m unsubscribing to this nonsense. BTW, this says it all about meat eating: http://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/heart-and-disease-cat/the-heart-unhealthy-nutrient-in-red-meat-and-some-dietary-supplements/?mqsc=E3852725&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=Nutrition_Action_Daily_TipsNutrition%20Action%20Daily&utm_campaign=2016.10.10%20Heart%20and%20Disease

    • Why is it ok for a vegan to exploit plants but its not ok for an omnivore to exploit animals? Why is it natural for a vegan to methodically breed plants so they can kill them for food but its not natural for for an omnivore to do so with animals? While its true that no other species breeds animals for consumption, it’s also true that no other animal breeds plants for consumption.

    • One could use the same logic to assert that vegans “breed and slaughter plants deliberately and methodically just to use them for food”. Plants are sentient beings too.
      The irony is that someone (I say it was extraterrestrials from an advanced civilization) created a system here in which humans are FORCED to kill other sentient creatures in order to survive. Remember to pray over your food and thank it for contributing to your continued existence.

      • We put us apart from Nature and we are no longer able to recognize what it actually means. You eat a life for your life, it’s like that and you can’t do anything to change the rules of Nature. You can’t change physics and chemistry, you just have to follow and respect them.
        When we go outside the natural circle, we sistematically suffer.
        As brilliantly pointed out by Chris and Diana, hunter gatherers even ritualize the slaughter, because they have a huge respect for Nature and for the creatures that contribute to their life.
        we stupid humans became fake sakers of false ideals that has nothing to do with being good and gentle.
        It’s just about arrogance, domination and hypocrisy.
        We’d far better off respecting nature instead of fake ideologies that only wreak havoc upon ourselves and our planet.
        If plants were glad to be eaten, why did they develop weapons to defend themselves?
        I always hear that “we can choose”..
        Yes, we can choose to be healthy or to be sick

        • Alessio – Yes, it’s strange to base ones diet on some sort of whimsical philosophy instead of what’s best for the human body. The former removes us from our environment while the latter makes us part of it. Balance.

          • I find the question of whether to eat meat is a personal one but, for myself and kind of the rest of human kind –

            Of course we’re supposed to eat meat!

            Do we have eyes on the side of our head like a cow or a rabbit?

            No, we have eyes on the front of our faces allowing 3D vision and a better chance of catching things to eat them and keep us sustained to the best of our ability.

            • Gorillas eyes are just like us and they only eat insects, not saying you should not eat meat but, if we should eat like other animals most like us, which we cook, and no one else dies so this may not apply, but we would be eating a plant based diet with an occasional, bird, lizard, small monkey and termites etc..

              • I don’t think we could do asolely plant based diet and fulfil what appears to have become the desired body shape – washboard abs etc wouldn’t allow us to digest a plant based diet.

                When we can convince society that it’s desirable to have a belly the shape of a gorillas rather than washboard abs (which don’t seem to help in the lifting/pushing/pulling of anything?) and farting relatively copiously is also fine then we can switch to a plant based diet?

                • Plenty of people eating plant based diets have abs and don’t fart copiously… If you have a belly and fart alot you most likely have a problem with your microbiome, hormones and a blocked up lymph. Ancient foods were alot more fiberous, and it is commonly recognised that ancient and native tribes had a far bigger fibre intake.

                  The position of animals eyes does not dictate their diet – it dictates their predators… Side eyes help you to see behind you. More relevant is our colour vision, which is adapted to spoting red fruits.

                  And finally, eating plants does not separate us from nature Alessio – what rubbish! Ancient peoples developed a profound knowledge of hundreds of plants both for food and medicine – which tied them to the earth and its seasons. What has divorced us from nature is agriculture and our modern lifestyle, whether we’re going to the supermarket for steak or for kale. I am not vegan or vegetarian, but i find this focus on eating meat to be romaticized and far from historically accurate.

                • do you think we’re happy eating plants and maintaining a washboard stomach?

                  I think the shape of a gorilla might be closer to what that type of eating requires

                  yes there are svelte vegetarians but I wonder if they or the gorilla are living closest to their environment and all it has to offer in happiness?

                  Let’s deal at a later date which is having a bigger effect on the other’s environment.

                • So let me get this straight: your reasoning is that because gorillas live in their natural habitat and have big bellies, then people who eat plant based and do not have big bellies must be unhappy and violating the laws of nature??

                  I honestly don’t know how you arrived at this point?

                • Why are you comparing gorillas with human beings? We are different species and it’s totally useless.

                • Not comparing but is there anything interesting to discover from how other species live?

                  Gorillas also have eyes on the front of their faces but don’t eat meat?

                • my mistake Alessio the DNA we share counts for nothing. You’re right, the disjointed environment we live in is working really well for us all

                • My mistake Alessio, the DNA we share counts for nothing. You’re right, the disjointed environment we live in seems to be working really well for us all.
                  Gorillas aren’t thriving because of the way we behave.

        • Anthropologists have discovered that in some cases chimps hunting other primates etc. and humans hunting was more of a social ritual than out of an energy benefit.

          Meaning the grandparents, ladies, and kids were more efficiently gathering tubers, fruits, insects, catching a lizard, etc. and gathering bulk of calories -the hunters were actually gaining far less net calories from their hunting which expended lots and lots of calories.

          Same with chimps- it was possibly more for sport, in some cases or assuming alpha male position than securing most net calories.

          • In nature nobody does sport. They just live. If you want to have a look at the actual animal vs plants ratio of hunter gatherers, I suggest you to read the Kaplan’s tables.
            If you want to provide your references I will be glad to read.

    • SueZ, AR’st lobby to have Horse Meat Abattoirs closed in America? Are not horses now buried when they die of old age adding to soil fertility? Many horse pets are left or abandoned because the owners lose interest or cannot afford the maintenance, starving or left in a stable in loneliness.

      Horse leather mitts were the most waterproof I have ever owned and horse meat tops for being grass fed. You would likely claim that using draft animals is exploitation when most of the world’s rice is cultivated by water buffalo.

      Being able to eat a draft animal at the end of its useful life is a lot greener than retiring a steel cast carbon fuel polluting farm tractor. I would trade methane emissions any day compared to the Full Life Cycle Costs of metal farm machinery.

      Similar to aged seniors sent to care homes.

  15. In reference to you comments on the number of cattle as livestock, you are both so far of the mark.. There is over 90 million cattle alone in the US as of 2016..


    So by my estimate, that’s 3 times as many Bison.. Did you both do any research? In fact, have you looked up the number of animal that are killed evey year in the USA alone, just for human consumption? And you call this etical and sustainable! For who, the slaughtered animal?
    Are either of you really qualified to be writing about health and nutrition? A vegan diet is perfectly healthy. I think the young lass that wrote the article in the Washington Post was spot on… I am vegan and have been for years. I have watched others become vegan and become so much healthier..
    Having a hobby farm is far from the industrial sized farms that supply the super markets and fast food outlets. But if you both wish to be blind to this and pass it off as exceptable and ethic, words with you use and hide behind, then it is on you.. Keep fooling yourselfs, and enjoy consuming the flesh of a life you indirectly took, all for a moment of self satisfaction..

    • The scientific studies of Cleve Backster, an early pioneer of the polygraph, found that all plant life has consciousness as well and plants display an immediate electrical response when any life form in the vicinity experiences stress, suffering or death — as if they share the pain. So when you eat your vegetables, you are causing pain to sentient life, just as when you eat meat.

      • stan – The Secret Life of Plants details this very well.
        Jarlaith – Read the link in my comment. Not all vegans do well, in fact some do very poorly. I’m aligned with the much more inclusive Native American philosophy that says all life is sacred, not just animals. Until we begin to adopt that philosophy life will be out of balance.

        • Backster also found that if you ‘pray’ over your food by sending positive loving messages before you consume it, your food then seems to accept its role in keeping you alive and it no longer displays the reactions.

    • Jarlath – The statistic you quote is for the entire US. Chris and Dianne were just talking about the Great Plains – the native home of the bison. In that respect, their numbers are accurate.

    • 30 mln bizons were 100 yrs ago, when US population was ?? 120 mln humans or so?
      now 90 mln cows are for over 300 mln Americans, pls do not manipulate figures. I am a physician not from US and you are not my problem, but for more than 20 years I’ve been treating vegetarians and now vegans (also their children), and believe me thei number is growing every year, that is the big issue. Kids need more proteins and fat as their body enlarges. Pls remember from 3,4 kg at birth to 20-30 soon,, and 50-70 after only 16-17 years. Therafter the body does not enlarge that much for 40-50 years!! Also mineralisation of bones (calcium, magesium phosphorus) takes up to 25 yrs, not later. So, sorry, plants will not do that. At least eggs must be eaten a lot. Dear vegans: kids body is not adult body. Protein is life. Our body is 60% water, 20% proteins, 10% fat, 5% glucose (glicogen) and a little other sugars (rybose, deoxyrybose in DNA/RNA), remaining 3-5% are minerals, vitamins, essentials etc. BUT THE PROTEIN is the main component. No plant diet will give your kids enough proteins (aminoacids).

      • SueZ, AR’st lobby to have Horse Meat Abattoirs closed in America? Are not horses now buried when they die of old age adding to soil fertility? Many horse pets are left or abandoned because the owners lose interest or cannot afford the maintenance, starving or left in a stable in loneliness.

        Horse leather mitts were the most waterproof I have ever owned and horse meat tops for being grass fed. You would likely claim that using draft animals is exploitation when most of the world’s rice is cultivated by water buffalo.

        Being able to eat a draft animal at the end of its useful life is a lot greener than retiring a steel cast carbon fuel polluting farm tractor. I would trade methane emissions any day compared to the Full Life Cycle Costs of metal farm machinery.

        Similar to aged seniors sent to care homes.

      • miroslaw, thank you for sharing your observations from your patients health experiences in your professional fish bowl. Observational data is/can be a lot richer in truth than a highly likely chance of a study funded by who? Many times the question and required answer of the published Journal study is in servitude to the funders of the research project.

        Thank you again for joining the dots as you treat or advise your nutritionally deficient patients and for sharing those observations with us.

        Apologies for the previous double post and spelling mistakes. My phone was being stupid.

      • I disagree, safe recommended amounts 50- 80g depending on body is easy with 3-4 cups of beans and other whole plant foods. Hummus, lentils, variety beans, Seitan, tofu, all traditional foods eaten for millennia have plentiful protein.

        Excess animal protein can have very ill effects, including over stimulating mtor and increased risk of iron overload and subsequent diabetic and Alzheimer’s risk.

    • Jar lath, American population has grown since the bison extermination and the farmsteadin of the praisins. Man has a responsibility to nourish his family and those in society who buy foodstuffs. Some butter their bread as c growers of grains. others ranch ruminants for fiber dairy meat and hides plus numerous other byproduct.

      I prefer this historical practice of sustenance than relying on fruit and oils brought to America by sea going ships and airplane from faraway countries, especially in the off season.

      There are Egyptian Wall Drawings of dairy cows in stanchions for milking. From a Biblical sense, Genesis 3:21 states. And for Adam and his wife did God make coats of skins.
      I am confident that they did not pass up on roasted rack of lamb as good stewardship is recommended. Imagine, sheep provided dairy, fibre, meat and hides. They can survive off the morning dew on grasses for water and do quite well on the Grassland, Rainfall, Sunshine Cycle of which is more eco logical ssustainable than some soya based meat substitute and synthetic fibre made from a petrochemical or rayon and bamboo requiring clear cut forests, logging equipment, polluting pulp mills and lots of energy inputs from mined ores for metal machinery to oil wells, pipelines and refineries.

      Do you ever sign any anti pipeline petitions?

    • Could not agree more. The demand for meat is so high and what you can accomplish, on a small farm in a mild climate, with adequate rainfall, with no need to grow forage crops, irrigation etc. cannot be extrapolated to US or world.

      By what I have read methane (24times) and nitrous oxide Ghg are much more damaging and, thus, CO 2 sequestered is a drop in bucket. Plus alternatives to GF beef: beans, small fish, wild game are much better for environment and the host, also sequester CO 2 , beans with very little GHGases. Even small ruminants domesticated- elk , goats deer would be better choices.

    • @ jar lath blair, you object that we take the lives of animals to satisfy our palate. Tell me what a 100% vegan society will do in North America when all animal consumption will cease by dogmatic decree? When the numbers of deer, bison, elk etc. increase lest we forget wild hogs to feral numbers. Now we cannot inhibit their freedom by fencing off our gardens and millions of acres of orchards, organic beans, grains, seeds and beans.

      They do have rights, as i suspect you adhere to AR’st theology and the “abolitionist approach?”. Is not “re-wilding” part of the agenda? Will you be agreeable to erecting very high steel fencing around the crops desirable by deer?

      Ref: https://www.reference.com/pets-animals/many-deer-killed-hunters-year-fab749d4a2d19830 On average, more than 6 million deer are killed by hunters in the United States per year, while approximately 10 million Americans hunt deer each year. In addition, more than 1.5 million deer are killed by automobiles every year.

      Although hunters may kill 6 million deer, an estimated 12 million new fawns are born a few months after the season. The deer population has exploded over the past 100 years, numbering well over 30 million as of 2015. Some areas even have populations as high as 100 deer per square mile. Prior to this, the number of deer in the United States was dramatically low during the 1800s, and by the 1920s, deer were practically extinct in many states.

      When all hunting ceases “road kill” will increase dramatically with all it’s human suffering and vehicle damage. This obviously is a shortsighted vision of a “cruelty free plant based diet”.

  16. Thanks for the timely program. I know there was much to cover, but I was hoping there would be at least a mention of the severe impacts on wildlife of the slash and burn approach to converting forest land to agriculture. A particularly awful example is palm oil production on SE Asia. Palm oil has been a favored plant-based shortening product. For those concerned about animal cruelty, you cannot get much worse than animals poisoned and burned to convert land that is, at best, only marginally arable. Several international wildlife organizations have been trying to raise consciousness on this issue, as palm oil production is contributing to the extinction of several endangered species.

    It’s encouraging to see that dieticians in Germany are pushing back on erroneous nutritional info. I don’t hold much hope for this happening in the US, where sugar manufacturers bribed the medical establishment to demonize fat as a health hazard, and where the junk food companies are big sponsors of “educational events”, meetings, etc., of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. See “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors… Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?” (http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/AND_Corporate_Sponsorship_Report.pdf)

    • Annie – Good comments.
      To bad there isn’t as much focus on the production of grains and beans in the US as there is on palm oil in Southeast Asia. The Great Plains were once producing much more food in their wild state – bison, elk, deer, rabbits, catfish, herbs, wild fruit and so on – before it was all destroyed to grow millions of acres of monocrops of industrial corn, soy and wheat. Think of all the wild animals that were sacrificed for the production of these vegan foods. That’s also land that is no longer sequestering CO2 and is in fact now a net producer of CO2. Putting all of that naked soil back into native habitat for the production of native game would make it much more productive of food that requires no fertilizers, herbicides, irrigation, gmo’s or pollution belching farm equipment. Not too mention turning it back into a sequestration behemoth. For more info go to the links in my comment.

        • Laura – Many thanks. Yes, the website is pretty antiquated. Apple stopped support for many aspects several years ago, including the rss feed. Hope to be on a new platfomrm by the end of the year. You can use the contact form on my site to send me your email and I’ll put you on the list.

      • Krroot (i cannot correct spelling errors). Really appreciate your published views. The colonizers really messed up by exterminating the wild ruminants and carving up the Prairies into farmstead.
        Being a hunter gatherer was not part of the European psyche as much as owning a piece of land after fleeing the paying of crops to a King as land rent.

      • I would love to see more deer and elk farms, rather than just the larger ruminants with larger methane contribution. Does Diana and other Gf beef farmers also raise deer or elk?

        • I met the first farmer in Eastern Ontario to get licensed to raise deer. There are likely over 200 producers now. I inquired whether they were smoking any, being so close to Montreal with their famous smoked beef. He had not, so I gave him addresses for locations to visit.

          There are Elk operations in Western Canada with quite a number of Bison ranches.

        • Deana there were Elk in Manitoba that escaped and become good at jumping fences eating hay meant for other ruminant operations. The ranches and farmers affected were frustrated because they were restricted from culling the vagabonds. This was a public news release so may be online.