Meat is in the news again, and, as usual, a new study is claiming that animal products are unhealthy and bad for the environment. In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, Diana Rodgers and I discuss everything the much-publicized EAT-Lancet paper got wrong, and explain why meat is still a healthy, nutrient-dense part of your diet.
In this episode, we discuss:
- What’s missing from the EAT-Lancet Diet
- The relationship between meat and the environment
- The right way to raise livestock
- Where the misunderstanding around meat and the environment comes from
- Protein and the EAT-Lancet diet
- The impact agriculture has on the environment
- The problem with lab-grown meat and a meat tax
- Diana’s upcoming docuseries, Sacred Cow
- “Why You Should Eat Meat: My Appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience,” by Chris Kresser
- “20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet Is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat,” by Diana Rodgers
- “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems”
- “Why Eating Meat Is Good for You,” by Chris Kresser
- “Should You EAT Lancet?” by Marty Kendall
- “The EAT Lancet Diet is Nutritionally Deficient,” by Zoë Harcombe
- “What Is Nutrient Density and Why Is It Important?” by Chris Kresser
- Allan Savory’s TED Talk: “How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change”
- “Sustainable Dish Episode 83: The Truth about Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production with Frank Mitloehner,” by Diana Rodgers
- “Sustainable Dish Episode 84: Meat as Scapegoat with Frédéric Leroy,” by Diana Rodgers
- Sacred Cow, a film by Diana Rodgers
Chris Kresser: Diana, thanks so much for joining me again on the podcast.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Chris Kresser: So, we have a lot to talk about.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: This is an annual event, where there’s some big news story that comes out or study that’s published that demonizes meat and animal foods and purports to be the final nail in the coffin for anybody who’s eating animal products. In fact, as you know, I just went on the Joe Rogan show, my third appearance there, to debate Dr. Joel Kahn about the merits of animal foods in the diet and eating a vegan diet. And I spent a lot of hours preparing for that and wrote a lot of articles. And the debate itself was almost four hours long, and admittedly I was a little tired out after that experience. And I just couldn’t muster the energy and strength to write a rebuttal to the EAT-Lancet paper that was published. But you did, and several other people did.
And so I’d love to dive in and talk about that, as well as just stepping back a little bit and discussing some of the environmental impacts or the purported environmental impact of eating meat and what’s wrong with the traditional narrative there. Because I didn’t get to talk much on the Joe Rogan show about that. And then some of the difficulties of addressing this, and how I know you’ve been working on a film to try to get this message out that we’ve talked about. So why don’t we just start first with the EAT-Lancet paper, since this is what’s really making the rounds now and bringing this to the forefront of everybody’s attention.
What’s Missing from the EAT-Lancet Diet
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, definitely. So there’s, they were really attacking red meat on a nutritional and environmental angle. So, I know your arguments on the Joe Rogan podcast were purely nutritional. I think that the main narratives are always nutrition, environment, and ethics. And ethics were kept out of the EAT-Lancet. Very long paper that took me quite a long time to read. But there’s definitely a lot of misinformation in there about meat.
I mean, they’re using observational studies to basically tell us that we cannot have any processed meats at all, lumping them all together, and that we can only eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. We can only have less than one ounce of chicken per day. But yet we can have eight teaspoons of sugar per day.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and plenty of corn and rice and wheat. Let’s talk a little bit … I think most of my listeners are pretty familiar with the nutritional arguments. I and others have written a lot about that, and most recently my … in preparation for the Rogan show, I published a whole cornerstone page with everything you need to debunk the nutritional arguments. So, that’s at ChrisKresser.com/rogan, if you want to look it up.
But I just want to briefly talk about the nutrient density of this EAT-Lancet diet. Because if you just look at it from that single perspective, nutritionally you’ll see very quickly that it falls short. And our body needs micronutrients to function properly. And if a proposed diet doesn’t offer those micronutrients in sufficient quantities, I think we can safely say it’s not a good diet for humans to follow.
And I don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, so I’m just going to go through this really briefly, and then I want to switch over to talking more about some of the environmental issues. Because that’s, I know, an area where you have a lot of expertise. And I really love what you have to say there. So, Zoë Harcombe did an analysis, and I think you had mentioned, Diana, that Marty Kendall did too. So we can talk about that. But Zoë’s analysis, it’s not publicly accessible. You have to be a subscriber to see it. But I can share this part of it. She analyzed the EAT-Lancet diet using food tables and found that it was well below the RDA for several nutrients: B12, retinol, vitamin D, vitamin K2, which wasn’t even studied separately, but 71 percent of the K in the diet came from broccoli.
So we know that there’s probably very little K2 in the diet. Sodium, potassium, calcium, and iron. So that’s a lot of the essential nutrients that we need, and in some cases it was providing less than 20 percent of the RDA of those nutrients. So, to me, that’s pretty much case closed on that basis alone. And then we can look at all the other problems that observational studies on red meat and all of that entail. And I just think it’s … there’s really nothing to be alarmed about. This study doesn’t add any new evidence that meat and animal products are harmful.
Diana Rodgers: Not at all. And another thing she didn’t mention in her paper or her review is the conversion rate of some of the vitamins, like beta-carotene to vitamin A, and almost half the population can’t make that conversion easily. And so even though on paper it my show that the vitamin A was adequate, actually not.
Despite what the EAT-Lancet paper says, meat is still a healthy addition to your diet. Check out this episode of RHR for my discussion with Diana Rodgers about what a real healthy diet looks like. #nutrition #chriskresser #wellness
Chris Kresser: It’s the same with all of these other nutrients. I actually wrote an article. I addressed this in my article on nutrient density you can find at the ChrisKresser.com/Rogan link. Iron, 94 percent of the iron in the EAT-Lancet diet is from plant-based forms of iron. And we know that heme iron that you get from animal products orders a magnitude better absorbed than most plant forms of iron. And the same with calcium, that is better absorbed from, in most cases, from animal products. And virtually every other nutrient, zinc, long-chain omega-3 fats, only found in animal products. So it’s really, yeah, that conversion and bioavailability piece is almost never addressed in these kinds of studies.
Diana Rodgers: Right, and you also write a lot about B12 and how these plant-based B12 analogues actually increase your need for a real B12.
Chris Kresser: Exactly. Yeah, so, really nothing to see here from a nutritional perspective. But part of why it’s making such a big splash is in addition to the highly coordinated launch campaign that is driven by celebrity, very wealthy celebrity type of people who are behind this, is the argument that not only should we avoid red meat and animal products for these nutritional reasons, but they’re destroying the planet. So let’s really dive into that and unpack that from the perspective of the paper. I think you wrote an article, something like 20 reasons or 20 points against this. So we don’t have to go through all of those, but let’s cover the highlights.
The Relationship between Meat and the Environment
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, well, I think the number one thing that people need to understand is that we can’t just assume that if we’re not raising animals that it will automatically free up land for more crops. So, agricultural land isn’t interchangeable. Most of the agricultural land on the globe is not suited for cropping due to water availability. It’s too rocky, it’s too steep.
So, I think a lot of people, especially that haven’t traveled much, look around and just see the nice flat land and just assume that everywhere in the world is like that. I mean, picture Iceland, Norway, picture many parts of Africa, Mongolia. I mean, there’s just so many places that really will only support grazing animals and not wheat and corn and soy production. And so that’s a huge thing that we need to consider, and if we are to not graze animals on that land, not only will we lose that for food production, but the land will also desertify. Because we just don’t have those wild herds and the numbers that we used to any longer.
And ruminants are actually incredibly beneficial. Their impact on the land helps increase water holding capacity; their grazing actually stimulates new growth in a good way. So you can’t just have these fenced-off acres with nothing on it. You actually need grazing animals as part of healthy grassland ecosystems.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that’s a point that is really misunderstood. I see a little bit more discussion about it certainly, at least in our realm. But I’m having kind of a hard time thinking of a mainstream article that really did justice to that point. Do you know of any?
Diana Rodgers: Well, I’ve written a few blog posts on it and have talked a lot about it. I think Allan Savory does a really good job.
Chris Kresser: Certainly.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, in his Savory Institute work that they’ve done and also his TED talk. But I think that’s definitely the number one point that people need to understand. And it’s funny because I am working on a book as well on this topic, and my publisher actually has published a ton of vegan books, and he was skeptical. And once he read my environmental argument and specifically wrapped his head around this very topic, I won him over.
Chris Kresser: That’s amazing.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, people just, because we’re so divorced from nature, you and I have talked about this before just off-line, but that’s the number one problem is that people just have no idea how food is produced and what makes a healthy ecosystem. And a lot of the vegans will, the ones who do accept that not all land can be cropped, just want it turned over to be rewilded.
So let’s just crop everything we can possibly crop and then we’ll just rewild all the pastureland with deer or something cute. But then what are we going to do because we’ve eliminated all the predators? I mean even in the town I live in outside of Boston, we have a massive deer problem. And nobody wants hunting because they don’t want to see dead animals on their beautiful hikes around the conservation land here in my town. And if we eliminate the predators, we need to be responsible for how these populations of wild animals are managed. And so the other option, if we’re not going to hunt them, I suppose would be to bring back wolves. I don’t know how.
Chris Kresser: I don’t think that would go over well.
Diana Rodgers: I don’t know how my waiting for the bus in my town with wolves swirling around at dawn will go over. So it quickly backs them into a very uncomfortable corner there.
Chris Kresser: I think another thing that you point out that people don’t realize is that 90 percent of what cattle eat is, at least in a natural grazing state, not in a CAFO type of arrangement, is forage and plant leftovers that humans can’t eat.
Diana Rodgers: Right, exactly. And even in, I mean, I’m not an advocate for feedlot beef, but I think one thing people don’t understand about even cattle that are raised on feedlots, or that are finished on feedlots rather, is that they’re not raised on feedlots.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Diana Rodgers: So 85 percent of the beef cattle in the US are actually grazing on land that can’t be cropped. And even if they do end up on a feedlot, 90 percent of their total intake is non-edible food to humans. And so they’re eating, for example, soybean cakes. But that’s left over from the soybean oil industry.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Diana Rodgers: They’re eating large amounts of distiller’s grains, lots of foods that would normally emit greenhouse gases and decompose anyway. Ranchers are also grazing cattle on spent wheat and cornfields. So you know that corn would just decompose and emit greenhouse gases either way. So why not run it through a ruminant gut and make protein out of it?
Chris Kresser: And fertilizer, as you pointed out.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. I mean, it’s so much more nuanced. This is a theme that will probably come up in our conversation a lot is, and I know Robb, Robb and I commiserate about it, and I know you do as well with him. But the vegan narrative is so simple in a lot of ways and it plays into a lot of assumptions, even if they’re wrong, that you don’t really have to explain it to people. It just, people have heard things over and over again. “Meat is bad for the environment, it’s bad for us, therefore eliminate meat from your diet and the food system, and everyone will be healthier.” That’s so easy to understand.
But as Robb has pointed out many times, the counterargument is nuanced and complex. And is not quite as simple to understand and requires that you actually pay attention to some of these finer points. And I think that is one of the challenges that we face in this struggle. But it’s not incomprehensible. I mean, if you just get a few of the simple points like this, it starts to become a lot easier to understand.
Diana Rodgers: Definitely. And now my point was … oh, I was going to say too that there’s a lot, 50 percent of the carcass of a cow is not eaten but used for other industry uses. So we’ve got leather, we’ve got insulin, we’ve got footballs, we’ve got lots of medical applications, fertilizer. So eliminating all animals from our food system, there’s a great study I think I sent you this morning that was published in PNAS about what would happen if we eliminated all animals from our food system.
So the greenhouse gas emissions would only decrease by about 2 1/2 percent. But our overall caloric intake would actually go way up, and our nutrient deficiencies would go up. So we already have a problem in our culture where we’re over-consuming calories and not getting enough nutrients. So we would just be making the problem worse for about a 2 percent emission reduction.
The Right Way to Raise Livestock
Chris Kresser: And those numbers don’t assume any improvement in how cattle are managed, right?
Diana Rodgers: Right. That was just typical cattle.
Chris Kresser: Right. So if we actually made improvements in how cattle are managed, do you think there could be a net sequestration of carbon?
Diana Rodgers: Oh, definitely. So there’s been some research coming out of Michigan State showing the difference between continuous grazing and what they term “adaptive multi-paddock grazing,” which is similar to Allan Savory’s method, so basically when you intensively graze an area and then move the cattle off quickly.
So, this is how, for example, herds in Africa naturally move because of predator pressure, so it’s much worse for the land to have, let’s say if you have a 10-acre field and have 100 cattle on that land for the whole summer, as opposed to tightly bunching and moving them frequently and allowing that land to rest. Because that’s when carbon gets sequestered, in the regrowth phase of the grass. And so the grass is going through photosynthesis, it’s pulling down carbon and actually exuding carbon sugars to bacteria and to fungal networks that are then passing that grass nutrient. So the fungus is actually mining rocks and getting the minerals from that and feeding it to the grass, and that’s how carbon is sequestered. And that process is most effective and actually is a net carbon gain when cattle are managed in this way.
So that’s why I like to say “it’s not the cow, it’s the how,” because there’s just many different ways of raising cattle. Just like there are many different ways of growing broccoli. We can do it in a monocrop system, or we can do it in a more rotational system where we’re integrating it with other crops. And what we need is less monocrops because that’s just not how healthy ecosystems work, and farmland is not natural. Like, when you fly over the United States, all those squares you’re looking down at, that’s not nature, that’s man doing that.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. I know from your article, you did also a podcast with Frank Mitloehner—is that how you pronounce it? We’ll include a link to that in the show notes because I think people should listen to that. He’s an expert in greenhouse gas emissions and animal agriculture. And you guys talk a lot about what’s really going on there and why some of the typical numbers that are thrown around are not accurate. And if anyone’s interested in a deeper dive, I’d definitely recommend listening to that.
So, greenhouse gas from beef cattle represents, just as it’s currently done with no improvements, like you just mentioned, is 2 percent of emissions. And by contrast, transportation is 27 percent. So, yet when I go to WeWork, which I have an office at—
Diana Rodgers: Oh, gosh.
Chris Kresser: You probably know this.
Diana Rodgers: Oh, no.
Chris Kresser: But some of my listeners might not know that WeWork is a company that has committed to this idea that eating a vegetarian diet will save the planet. And they, I think, so, I was there two days ago on Monday, and they have meatless Monday at WeWork, where they served veggie burgers in the main lounge. And then they print these cards that they post around there, around the office, that say, “If everyone was just a vegetarian for,” I can’t remember, “one or two days a week, we would save 450 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.” And again, this goes back to the simplicity thing.
Most people get in the elevator, they see that and they’re like, “Oh, wow, okay. I guess I should become a vegetarian.” So how does this continue? I mean, it’s not surprising that there’s a disconnect between actual science and what we see in the media. We know that from the nutrition world and everything else. But how do you think this got started? Was there a lot of misunderstanding initially which led to these numbers and then later science kind of brought more clarity? Or what do you think? How have we gotten here?
Diana Rodgers: Well, I actually just released an amazing podcast on Tuesday of this week, so maybe you could link to that one too, with the guy from Brussels, Frédéric Leroy.
Chris Kresser: I read some of his papers. You sent them to me awhile back before the Rogan debate.
Where the Misunderstanding around Meat and the Environment Comes From
Diana Rodgers: Oh, he’s so fantastic. Yeah, so, his opinion is that meat is unfairly absorbing a lot of our worries about our health, our state of our health and the environment, because meat is so powerful and can absorb it. But it’s unfairly the scapegoat for our stressors. So, everyone just, it’s much easier for us to blame meat than it is to perhaps look at our transportation industry and be uncomfortable about that. I mean, the main funder of that EAT-Lancet paper has a private jet and transportation was never mentioned in the EAT-Lancet.
Chris Kresser: I don’t know if this is accurate, but I read something about how just the jet trips for the reporter would have a bigger impact on the environment than the diet changes that they were talking about.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly. And so, in Livestock’s Long Shadow, that’s when a lot of this all started. The mass information about the emissions with cattle. And unfortunately, when they did that study, what they did was they looked at all the emissions, the full lifecycle of ruminant animals. They looked at production of the feed, all the transportation, all the emissions, everything. And when they compared that to transportation, they only looked at tailpipe exhaust. So they didn’t even factor in transportation, for example, in the transportation numbers.
And so when you look at the global numbers at emissions of cattle versus transportation, you’re looking at apples to oranges there. So you’re looking at the full lifecycle of a beef animal compared to just the tailpipe emissions from transportation. So that’s not fair. And also in other countries, the percentage is a little bit higher. But that’s in places where maybe transportation plays a lesser role where there are less cars per cow. And so, their relative emissions may be higher. But that’s again not taking into account the fact that cattle can actually sequester carbon and many, many other factors. And so the authors of Livestock’s Long Shadow did reduce their numbers, I think, from 18 to 14 percent and did admit that their numbers were still off because of the transportation. There are no global lifecycle papers on transportation.
But yet that 18 percent, I’ve heard even 50 percent. I don’t even know where that number comes from, but that, the 50 percent is the number that’s often cited by this group called Green Mondays and they are the ones that have worked with Berkeley to make all of the government meetings meatless on Mondays. That organization, I’ve looked into, and they’re actually funded by an organization out of Singapore that produces plant-based pork.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Diana Rodgers: And so there’s a lot, the environment and ethics and even the nutrition argument is very convenient for large food companies to profit, because processing means profit.
Chris Kresser: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that, and since we’re on the topic, I do want to come back to some of the other ways that an animal-based food system or food system that includes animals can actually benefit biodiversity and things like that. So yeah, follow the money. We talk about that a lot on this show. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but on the other hand, you’d be very naïve and misguided to assume that money doesn’t play a big role in setting food policy and coming up with these laws. It always has.
Protein and the EAT-Lancet Diet
And it probably always will. And if you look at the EAT-Lancet diet, I think this is from Marty Kendall’s analysis, you’ll find that 32 percent of calories come from rice, wheat, and corn, and 14 percent come from unsaturated oils. So these are highly processed foods.
Diana Rodgers: Right.
Chris Kresser: We’re not talking about corn on the cob.
Diana Rodgers: Or wheat berries.
Chris Kresser: Wheat berries. Or even, like, in some cases, just the whole-grain rice. We’re talking about highly processed corn and wheat and rice derivatives, and then highly processed industrial seed oils that comprise almost 50 percent of calories. And who does that benefit? This study was sponsored by a basically hit list A-team of—
Diana Rodgers: Processed food companies.
Chris Kresser: Global processed food companies—DuPont, PepsiCo, Dannon, Nestlé, Cargill, Kellogg’s. So, like, food and agricultural companies that make their money by selling processed and refined foods. And so that’s very revealing.
And then the other thing that Marty Kendall pointed out, which is directly tied to this, is that this diet, when you work out the macronutrient ratios, it ends up being low in protein and moderate in fat and carbohydrates. And there are really no foods in nature that fit that profile, or very few. You have breast milk and acorns, I think, are the two that he pointed out. And this is a recipe for, that macronutrient mix of low protein and then higher fat and carbohydrate is a recipe for highly palatable and rewarding food. So if you look at the foods that are on this list that fit that profile, there are things like chocolate milk, potato chips, French toast, waffles, ice cream, pancakes.
Diana Rodgers: Kit-Kat.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, biscuits, Kit-Kat, Twix, chocolate chip cookies, pie crust. I mean, are you kidding me? This is the macronutrient profile that we should be following? Oh, who does not benefit? All of the companies that make these processed foods. So it’s really revealing when you look at it from that perspective.
Diana Rodgers: I know. And I think it’s really irresponsible to promote a diet that’s about 10 percent in protein when we have, I mean, just in America, more than 50 percent of Americans are metabolically broken and really benefit from much higher protein levels.
Chris Kresser: Increasing their protein. And we know that of all the macronutrients, protein is the one that has the biggest impact on satiety.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly.
Chris Kresser: Which it will reduce the likelihood that people overeat, which many Americans are doing.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: And any clinician or dietitian like yourself who’s worked with people knows if they’re struggling with weight, putting them on a higher-protein diet is probably the most important thing you can do. And there’s even some, if you look at the studies on low-carb diets, I think probably one of the reasons, if not one of the main reasons, that they’re so effective is that they’re higher in protein.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, and I have to say too, so I actually have recently been following Marty Kendall’s NutrientOptimiser diet personally, just as an experiment to try to maximize my micronutrients. And I eat really well. I live on a farm. I have a lot of education in nutrient density. I have access to all these foods. It’s really hard to get all your micronutrients in the day. But it’s really easy to feel satiated when you have a high percentage of animal protein in your diet. So whether that’s oysters, which I know I can beat his leaderboard if I just eat a ton of oysters in one day.
Chris Kresser: That’s right. That’s right.
Diana Rodgers: But liver, and then just regular old animal protein. Filling the rest of your diet with colorful vegetables is the way to go. But it still, I still was low, actually, believe it or not, in iron, even with all the protein I’ve been consuming on this diet.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I’m always talking to my patients about a lot of, especially if they’re favoring like chicken and fish, and not eating shellfish or organ meats, is that some muscle meats are not that high in iron. So it’s organ meats and shellfish that are really the powerhouses from that perspective.
And this brings up another question about bioavailability, right? Because we’ve both talked about this a lot. It’s not at all the case that protein from plant sources like legumes is going to be absorbed in the same way that protein is absorbed from animal foods like meat and eggs and fish and dairy products. There is something called the … there are various scoring systems that are used in the scientific literature to assess the bioavailability of protein. And no matter what scoring system you use, animal proteins come out ahead of plant proteins, and usually by a very large margin.
Diana Rodgers: And, I mean, trying to get your protein from beans and rice, if you’re trying to do the combining in order to get the right profile of amino acids, you would, so I did the calculations. So in order to get the right amount, the same amount of protein you would get from a four-ounce steak, which is 181 calories, you’d need to eat 12 ounces of beans and a cup of rice. So that’s 638 calories and 122 grams of carbs. And you’re still not getting the same beautiful profile of amino acids that you can get from this 181-calorie piece of steak.
Chris Kresser: Right, which goes back to Marty Kendall’s point where you’re basically, if you eat a low-protein diet, it’s going to be a much higher-calorie diet in most cases.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, and higher carb and just setting people down to the road towards metabolic disorder.
The Impact Agriculture Has on the Environment
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So let’s go back now. I want to finish up talking about the impact of animals in the food system. Because I think there’s still some other points that are worth going into here that a lot of people may not be familiar with. So one is, we talked about how not all land is suitable for grazing. But let’s talk about maybe the flipside of that is what happens when you use a lot of land for crops like corn and rice and soy and wheat?
Diana Rodgers: Right, I mean a lot of, and most of this is not organically grown and using animals to graze in all of that. So the large majority of our monocrops are heavily sprayed with chemicals that leave a residue on the leaves that we’re ingesting. And also completely sterilize the soil and create runoff that then ends up in the Mississippi River and creating massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
So there are just so many problems with monocropping the way we’re doing it today. We have created an insect apocalypse. And so we’ve lost pollinators. We’re killing fish, which in turn then kills the animals that need to be eating the fish. And so we’re annihilating biodiversity both above and below ground. And so one teaspoon of soil has more microbes in it than all of the humans on earth. And when we spray it with things like Roundup, we’re completely killing all of that. And so we’ve destroyed just so much of our soil and so much of it is also just blowing away and running off.
So, I mean, the Dust Bowl was a good example of that, and we’re headed for another one right now. So according to the United Nations, we have about 60 harvests left, at the rate we’re going.
Chris Kresser: This is alarming. This is like an emergency thing on the level that’s part of climate change, of course, but also on the same level as potential for water shortages. People, I don’t think, are … I mean, some people are aware of it, of course, but we’re talking about some very, very serious implications here.
Diana Rodgers: And when the soil is compacted and we’re constantly just stripping away the biodiversity of the soil, when rain comes, it just washes all the topsoil away into rivers, and that’s how we get these really cloudy rivers. Because rivers in general should be clear. And in a system where we have healthy ruminants managed in a proper way, the soil acts like a sponge and can actually hold a lot more water from rain, instead of allowing it to just wash off and take the topsoil with it. My husband is so into topsoil that even we have two border collies, and they sleep in our mudroom at night. And they come in, they’re black and white, but their white parts are really dirty-looking at the end of the day.
Chris Kresser: Brown.
Diana Rodgers: And in the morning they’re totally white and they leave massive amounts of soil on the ground. And I literally have to sweep it up and put it in the field because that’s how into topsoil he is.
Chris Kresser: Well, yeah, and how precious it is too.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly. And just nobody is looking at our farmland as a biological system. It’s been reduced to this reductionist chemical, let’s produce as many calories as possible, which is ruining our health and our land.
Chris Kresser: Let’s talk a little bit also about how ruminants can improve biodiversity. I mean, we touched on that just briefly, but water is a big issue, and I know that cattle can improve water holding capacity of the land. And that has a whole bunch of downstream effects.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. And also too, even the worst-managed cattle on overgrazed grass is still a better system than monocrop grain. So you still, I mean, and even in a better system, you’ve got butterflies, you’ve got birds, you’ve got all kinds of life above ground and below ground that are teeming.
The whole goal, what people don’t realize, is that we want as much life as possible. And our current system is actually making sure that we’re annihilating as much life as possible. So if we look at the extinction process that’s been happening over the last 50 years, again, it’s something completely alarming. I know Silent Spring came out and people were all up in arms. But the solution is not a vegetarian solution. So Diet for a Small Planet is outdated information, and what we need is more better cattle, not no cattle.
Chris Kresser: It’s not the cow, it’s the how.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly. And not only that too, another thing I brought up is what these rich white people in Sweden were not paying attention to is that livestock are really important to the majority of people living in poverty in the world in places where, what are you going to do in Kenya where it’s super arid and the Maasai have been herding cattle forever and ever? And we’re going to tell them that they need to go grow soybeans? With what seeds? Are they going to have to go buy them from Monsanto? Where are they going to get the water to irrigate? Where are they going to get the fertilizer if they can’t have animals? So I think it’s bordering on racist to have a grain-heavy diet as a global policy for the entire world.
Chris Kresser: But we can just make more Cheetos.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly.
Chris Kresser: That’s probably the plan, part of the plan here. It’s really—
Diana Rodgers: Well, to get them reliant on our aid. I mean, we’re already ruining Haiti with our rice that we’re giving to them. We’ve ruined their local economies, we’ve ruined their health. Now rice is a much higher percentage of their diet. Very few Haitians are actually growing their own food anymore. And it’s a really great way that we can control governments. I mean, that’s a whole other thing that we don’t have to get too much into. But it really makes me mad, the idea that we’re taking away people’s innate ability to be self-reliant.
Chris Kresser: Not to mention the very clearly documented health impacts that are observed when traditional peoples adopt the Western food system.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly. And I have an image on my post. So, the Canadian government decided that they knew best, advising a local Inuit population that they should be eating a Mediterranean diet. Which I think is just, I mean, this one image of this igloo showing all of their nutrient-dense traditional foods in the red category and bananas and oranges and orange juice in the green category. I mean that just sums up exactly how wrong we’ve gotten our dietary advice just in this one image.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. And if those poor kids start following that diet, they’re going to become morbidly obese.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: And this is seen. It’s been documented in so many different areas where traditional populations start to follow the government-sponsored diet, including Native Americans in the US.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly.
Chris Kresser: So, like the Pima, for example.
The Problem with Lab-Grown Meat and Meat Tax
Chris Kresser: So let’s talk about some of the other proposals that are floating around that are based on this idea that meat is bad for us nutritionally and bad for the environment, which as I hope we’ve shown in this podcast, is misguided and others. But why not just make meat in a lab? Let’s say you accept that meat, animal protein is more bioavailable and so we do need meat, which some people seem to have accepted. But then why not just grow it in a lab and—
Diana Rodgers: Reduce suffering.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, reduce suffering and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All of that. Yeah. And of course, make billions of dollars from the companies that are successful at doing that.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, and I think another thing.
Chris Kresser: Nothing wrong with that per say, but yeah. There’s some financial motivation there perhaps.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. I’m so glad I don’t live where you live. I was actually just out there a couple days ago, and I’m, like, so happy that I’m not living there. Because that’s, like, the hotbed of all of this.
Chris Kresser: Sure. You just have to be a hermit like me and live up on my hilltop.
Diana Rodgers: And just go to WeWork and get mad at WeWork in the halls and elevators.
Chris Kresser: Yep.
Diana Rodgers: So, I mean, it’s really interesting, the lab meat thing, because I had a woman on my podcast about a year and a half ago who was a big vegan animal rights person telling me how great lab meat was. And I asked her if she knew how it was made, and she had no idea. But she was like, she’s like a really big deal animal rights activist and very vocal about how lab meat is a good solution. And interestingly, most vegans actually won’t even accept it because you’re using fetal bovine serum in order to make it, which is not “vegan” anyway.
But what folks aren’t realizing, number one, is that it relies on this horrible monocrop system, which is ruining our environment and a completely inefficient way of producing food on so many levels. But then the lifestyle assessments I’ve read are a lot based on projections because they haven’t built the bioreactors yet. So they’re making a lot of assumptions, but even the assumptions are so bad that the energy required in order to transform what they’re using right now as the substrate.
So corn and soy, sometimes wheat, into protein, the amount of energy required for that is enormous. And when we have animals that can actually just do this on their own without having to be plugged into an outlet is really amazing. Plus, what they’re not taking into consideration is the amount of antibiotics that they’ll need to prevent bacterial overgrowth because they’re growing these at just the perfect temperature for meat to grow. But of course that’s also the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow as well.
Chris Kresser: Everything else.
Diana Rodgers: Cancerous cells, all these things. They had not figured out how to striate the meat with fats. There’s a lot of input that we’re running out of that you need in order, there’s a lot of minerals that are being mined in war-torn countries that, actually the US military is, like, guarding these mines in order to get those raw materials in order to pump it into these cellular meat company facilities. So the whole system is energetically ridiculous, and it’s not even causing less harm.
So that’s my big argument, too, is that when you look at how many lives are lost from the loss of biodiversity, of taking a native ecosystem, plowing it up to make it into a cornfield, and then spraying it to make sure that nothing other than corn, not even mice or anything can grow there. The amount of life lost for that system versus one animal, one large ruminant animal. A cow can provide almost 500 pounds of meat. I just don’t think the trade-offs are worth it at all from an ethical or environmental perspective.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, another situation where the devil is in the details, right?
Diana Rodgers: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: Because on the fact of it, lab meat sounds, “Hey, why not?” Like, if we can do that and we can make it taste the same … But clearly including that woman that you interviewed on your podcast, that was kind of the level that she was approaching it on, without actually looking into the details. It sounds pretty good on the surface, so why not advocate it. But then when you look into it, you find it’s a little more complicated.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. I’ve been really loving The Wizard and the Prophet, Robb sent that over to me.
Chris Kresser: I read that just recently.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, I think he told me.
Chris Kresser: I sent it to Robb.
Diana Rodgers: Yes, exactly, so I’m thanking you. I’m thanking you for the chain because I have my hands on it. And I’ve been not only reading the book, but then when I’m in my car or at the gym, I’m listening to it. So it’s really fantastic, and I think that that is at the crux of what we’re dealing with right now. Do we look at this, what some would call Luddite perspective of nature through Hoyt, or … I’m sorry. What was his name? Now I’m forgetting.
Chris Kresser: Vogt.
Diana Rodgers: Voight. Vogt.
Chris Kresser: Vogt. Yeah, you want to say Voight because it’s usually an i in there, but it’s V-o-g-t, so it’s Vogt, yeah.
Diana Rodgers: Or do we look at this more wizard tech solution? And that’s just where most people are right now.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that’s the dominant cultural paradigm is we’ve gone into wizardry, for sure.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, yes.
Chris Kresser: No question about that. Back when Silent Spring was written, I think there was more, Vogt was more in vogue. There was a little bit more concern about the wizardry and the impact it would have. And now we are 100 percent in wizardry.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. And the problem is, everyone’s just sort of hoping that more rabbits will be pulled out of the hat. But we don’t know for sure.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah. I highly recommend this book. This is Charles Mann, who wrote 1491 and 1493, which, if anyone has read those books about … it totally changed our view on how the New World was discovered and colonized and what was here when those people arrived. Which is much different than what was previously believed. He’s a fantastic writer and this is I think, one of the most compelling views on where we are as a society now and what our future might hold. So highly recommend it.
Getting back to the topic, I mean, that’s obviously germane and relevant here, but I want to talk about a few other proposals that are being floated around here. Which are again, if you accept what we’ve talked about here and in other podcasts, are off base. But the meat tax. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm for this because there’s some research that, beverage tax, soda taxes have been effective in terms of reducing consumption. So this is now something that’s being seriously proposed in the EAT-Lancet. I think that’s part of the agenda of the EAT-Lancet paper and authors and reporters.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, and actually they released another paper just on Sunday night of this week that goes even more strongly into the meat tax. I think the goal is to make it basically impossible to eat meat moving forward. And effectively, I’ve looked at the models. There was a good paper that looked at what would happen, just kind of projected out, what might happen in this situation. And, actually, red meat consumption wouldn’t go down at all.
And it basically is just a poor tax is what this is. And when you look at, I actually took a picture. I had to run into a typical grocery store and pick something up one time, and I noticed the shopping cart of the person in front of me. And it was soda and donuts and whoopie pies and all stuff like that. But her deli meat and her bacon were actually the most nutrient-dense things in her cart.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, so that would be encouraging even less healthy choices in people who are of limited economic means. And you mentioned this in the beginning about the private jet people who are founding this study, and you brought it up in your article. There really is a classist kind of thing that’s happening here that’s not part of the popular narrative. Because if we really wanted to reduce carbon footprint, you pointed out a meta-analysis that suggested that doing things like avoiding one round-trip transatlantic flight, more of a car-free lifestyle, having one less child in an industrialized nation would have by far bigger impact than reducing your consumption of beef.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. Or changing your diet in any way.
Chris Kresser: And who’s doing a lot of round-trip transatlantic flying? People who are at a certain socioeconomic level. And so, yeah, a lot of these proposals are like, “Let me continue to live my carbon-emitting lifestyle, and then let’s introduce changes that won’t effect that but actually will impact people who are poor and in a really adverse way without really me having to change anything as a privileged person.”
Diana Rodgers: Right, and, I mean, in order to do vegan right, you kind of do need to be a celebrity or an uber-rich person that, if there is a way to do vegan, right? But, I mean, to … there’s a lot of food prep involved, there’s a lot of time involved. There’s a lot of time spent eating.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, chewing.
Diana Rodgers: Chewing, right? Your typical person that maybe gets two 15-minute breaks a day is not going to be able to chew the food or have a staff that can make the cashew cream to make all the—
Chris Kresser: Or buy the cashew cream for $9.49 for a half pint or whatever it is.
Diana’s Upcoming Docuseries, Sacred Cow
Diana Rodgers: Right, right. I mean, this film project I’m working on, we’ve done a lot of filming in Indiana, rural Indiana. And I see what these folks have as options for stores on limited budgets and what they’re buying. And honestly, processed food, processed meats like sausages that are pre-cooked are a lot easier for them to eat and are honestly the most nutrient-dense thing that they’re eating. Because they’re not doing a whole lot of scratch cooking. They don’t have a lot of time or energy at the end of the day. So when life is really hard and you’re working really hard, you don’t have the privilege to push away something nutrient-dense like meat.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. So let’s talk a little bit about the film. I know it’s gone through a lot of iterations and there’s been some wins and some challenges. So tell me, let’s start with a little bit of the idea and the inspiration behind it. Why we both feel that this is important to get out there and then maybe a little update where you’re at, what you’re needing, what would be helpful. We have a lot of folks who are listening, who I know want to be a part of this movement in some way.
And I’m often asked by people who are not necessarily in the health field, people who are not nutritionists or Functional Medicine practitioners or anything, like, “How can I help? How can I get involved? How can I use my existing skills or connections or resources to move this forward?” So let’s imagine what kind of help we need or could be useful to move this forward, and who knows who’s out there listening.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. So, I was halfway through writing a book on this subject on the nutritional, environmental, and ethical case for meat when yet another vegan film came out about a year and a half ago. And I was like, “If this guy can make a movie, I can make a movie.” And so that’s kind of how it all started. I did a crowd funder that was pretty successful, and we got rolling. At the time, the project was called Kale versus Cow. And we started filming some of these nutrition stories. We hooked up with a doctor who has some amazing clinical trials and is doing really good work in a pretty rural part of the Midwest, conveniently corn country. But there’s also farmers who are plowing in their corn and turning it back to grass.
So there’s some really great stories happening there. And some of the feedback I got from the title Kale versus Cow was that, “This sounds like another vegan film,” or, “It sounds like I’m against kale,” which as you know, I’m not against kale. But I think folks maybe that don’t know me as well just had these misperceptions, and the name was a little bit of a hang-up for them. So we went back to the drawing board a little bit and changed the title to Sacred Cow, which I think works really nicely, also because there’s a double meaning of sacred cow. Because the vilification of beef is just so embedded in our system.
Chris Kresser: Yes.
Diana Rodgers: And, I mean, even when I was going through my graduate program in dietetics, red meat is not okay. It’s just not, even though in biochem it’s totally fine if you just look at it from an objective scientific perspective. And the project has also transformed from a feature film into a docuseries because we felt that it’s a more digestible way, literally, to get this information across, and there’s also more that we wanted to cover that we didn’t feel would fit into the narrative of one film.
And so we were now looking at a multipart docuseries still addressing mostly the nutritional, environmental, and ethical aspects of the reason why we need animals in our food system. I’m also very interested in sort of the anthropology of how meat became such a polarizing topic today and how people identify their whole being around how much meat they consume in their diet. The flexitarian, vegan, whatever.
Chris Kresser: Yep.
Diana Rodgers: And I still am working on the book. So, as you know, Robb is the coauthor on the book project I’m working on, and he’s the co-executive producer on the film project. But the funding has been a little bit of a challenge. I don’t know if people really get how important this is, and I think it’s one of the reasons why the Unitarian church is not funded well. Because it’s, like, trying to extract money out of atheists is a hard thing.
When people are super-passionately committed and religiously committed like vegans, where it’s, like, their religion, they’ll passionately fund things. But then when people are kind of cool with everything and they’re eating meat and they’re like, “Yeah, got my health under control now. That’s great. And if the vegans don’t want to eat meat, fine, that’s more for me.” That’s really kind of the attitude I’m running into a little bit.
Chris Kresser: Yeah people are less identified with it, which is good, in their way.
Diana Rodgers: It’s good.
Chris Kresser: But not as good when you’re trying to raise money for a movie like this.
Diana Rodgers: Right, yeah.
Chris Kresser: And I think the other part of it is, I don’t know that people really perceive the threat fully yet. It’s like you just said, they’re like, “If someone wants to be vegan, fine. No skin off my back and it’s not going to hurt me. So there’s no pressing need to fund a film about this. Because who cares if someone’s a vegan.” Well, yeah, on an individual level, you might say that. Even though we could argue that you should care if someone chooses an approach that’s in many cases likely to make them nutrient deficient.
But, yes, each person, of course, has the right to choose their own approach. And I don’t go around trying to proselytize and convert vegans to eating animal foods unless they ask me what I think they should do if they come see me as a patient. But this isn’t just about individual choice here. Because, as we know, we talked about the meat tax proposition, and this is going to affect food policy. It’s already affected food policy in the US and around the world which then will affect schools. And what happens at schools, which influences our children and the choices that they make.
You know, my daughter is seven and a half, and she comes home with some really interesting things that she’s heard from other kids and even teachers at school. And she doesn’t go to a typical school, but this is, it’s everywhere. Yeah.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly. And there’s a lot of schools now eliminating meat for health, and I think a lot of parents are kind feeling a little worried about meat consumption. And so maybe they’re thinking, “Well, at least they’re getting a healthy meal at school.” And so that’s concerning to me because for a lot of kids this is the most nutrient-dense meal of their day. And to blame it on meat is just wrong. And I kept telling folks, this is coming and meat tax is coming.
And I, for a while, was feeling like maybe I’m just nuts and I’m making all this up. I don’t know. But then of course, it is really coming. The EAT-Lancet paper is here. Meat tax is being discussed. We’ve got, LA now is trying to force restaurants and LAX to provide, to tell private businesses to provide vegan entrees. We’ve got Berkeley with Meatless Mondays now at all city meetings.
Chris Kresser: WeWork.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, WeWork, exactly. There’s airlines now that are eliminating red meat. And so this is coming at us from our clinicians, our universities, we’re hearing this from the World Health Organization. We’re hearing this from business, from the media. Constant films, there’s more coming out this year.
I think I just sent you another one that’s on its way out that I’m pretty concerned about. Because it actually has people with MD behind their name. And nobody is pushing back and people are just taking this really lightly. And so, yeah, anything that folks can do to help me get this off the ground, I’d want to come out and feature you, Chris. And I’ve got a lot of really great experts in both the sustainability and health space that very strongly feel that red meat is important to our food system.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. And the reality is that a film or in a docuseries can make a huge impact than even a book.
Diana Rodgers: That you can’t do with a book. I know.
Chris Kresser: It doesn’t work. I mean, I’ve written a 400-plus page book with all the science that you need to, I think, get clear that animal food should be part of our diet in addition to plant foods. But how many people are going to read a 400-page book? Not that many. And there’s still something about film that makes it a very viral medium. It’s more accessible, a docuseries is an increasingly popular format, as you said.
It’s easier to cover the wide range of topics that you need to hit on for this, and it’s a format that has been used for vegan and other types of films or media. And it’s something that’s just really easy to share with. People are more likely to sit down at night and watch an episode of this than they are to read a book.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, exactly. And this is pretty dense material. But if I can just show people what a healthy ecosystem looks like and how cattle raised in the right way, what that looks like compared to a 2,000-acre field of soy being grown for lab meat, I think that those are really powerful visuals.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I agree with that a hundred percent. So if someone is listening to this and the alarm has been raised in their mind, and they’re now aware of the real risk here to our families and communities, and they want to get involved in some way, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Diana Rodgers: So I have more information, and I’m taking donations on sustainabledish.com/film. And for any better meat companies or folks that want to get involved in a bigger way, folks can just message me directly through the site. And we’re working with a few better meat companies and other large donors and foundations. But we still need to, these are expensive, and there are some inexpensive ways of making docuseries.
But in order for us to really get on the mainstream media channels like Netflix, we have to do something that’s beautiful and has a high production value and isn’t a $50,000 handheld camera project. And so, while the budget isn’t exorbitant, it’s certainly higher than some of the other more budget docuseries that have been coming out. And that’s largely because I’m really tired of going to high schools and doing damage control when they show these vegan propaganda films. Because that’s what’s happening right now.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, absolutely. And will continue to happen, as you pointed out. The momentum there is only building. So we need to, I think, step up to the plate.
Diana Rodgers: Thank you so much.
Chris Kresser: Thank you for doing this work, Diana. I really appreciate your advocacy and passion for this, and it shows through in everything that you do. And I hope for all of you listening that this has been up maybe a bit of a wake-up call and you have a little more perspective on what’s going on behind the scenes. And even less left behind, like more out in the open now, I think, more and more. Especially with this EAT-Lancet paper, and you see that science is not objective and dispassionate in many cases, but actually quite agenda driven and that there are often interests aligned behind those agendas that may not represent your interests. Like global food companies that want to sell more of their processed and refined products.
So none of us are not impacted by this in some way. And if you have children and family members who are getting exposed to all of this material, it’s really important to have a counterpoint that we can offer that is well researched and really hits on the most important issues. And people can change their mind. I mean, your story that you shared with the publisher of the China study was really revealing. To his credit, to whoever that publisher editor was, to his credit. He was able to take in that information and open his mind and give this a chance. And we both, of course, know many people that that’s happened with. I have lots of patients, lots of readers and listeners who were vegan and vegetarian at one point. I was vegan and vegetarian at one point, as everybody knows who’s listened to this show for a while.
And it was through exposure to research and information like what we’re talking about on this show and what you plan to present on the film that actually changed their minds. Because I think that may also be part of the resistance in some cases, like for raising money with this film. It’s like the idea that people are just not going to change their minds. That it’s, we can’t really make an impact. But I don’t agree with that. I think we can make a huge impact and already have, and we just need to scale it up so that it can reach more people.
Diana Rodgers: I agree.
Chris Kresser: So sustainabledish.com/film. We will also put some of the links to the podcast and articles that we mentioned, the critiques of EAT-Lancet, Marty Kendall’s and also yours, Diana. And then if you want that big storehouse of information I put together for the Rogan show, which has articles on nutrient density and meat and the effects of meat, and carbohydrate, macronutrients, a ton of stuff, that’s at ChrisKresser.com/Rogan. So thanks, everybody, for listening. Thank you, Diana.
Diana Rodgers: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, Chris. And thanks for all your support ever since I first met you.
Chris Kresser: It’s my pleasure, and I hope we can, with this podcast, move things forward a little bit more quickly and get this out there. Because it really needs to be seen. So thanks, everyone, for listening and please do continue to send in your questions to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion. And I’ll talk to you next time.