Why I still eat meat (and call myself an environmentalist)


So I was reading Zen Habits the other day and, while I love Leo and generally hang off every word he taps, I came across something that made my monkey-brain bare its teeth and hiss. In his “Loving Guide to Going Vegan” Leo wrote, “It’s said that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and on some level, I agree.”

I’m gonna hesitate a guess that most of the squillions of people who read that post will miss the “on some level” part of that sentence and forever remember meat = bad for the environment.

I come up against this argument a lot and, like most things in life, I just don’t see it as being as black and white as all that. Here’s what I told a friend who recently told me she was thinking of going vegan and wondered what my thoughts were:

I still eat meat.

But… I only eat higher-welfare meat that is sourced locally, preferably within 100km. Animals that die for my table must have had the best life possible, have been organically or pasture fed and lived as close to a natural life as any meat chook or cow can. In Vanuatu, cows grazed in coconut plantations, they had their bird mates and the sea breeze. I ate a lot more beef there than I would here in Australia.

On that note, I eat very little meat, well within the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 400 grams per person. A global reduction to the volume of meat eaten, especially in developed countries, would greatly reduce the impact of farming on the environment. The whole idea of factory farming would cease to exist. Prices would go up and everyone would be more healthy, as would the topsoil of this great earth.

I don’t have a problem with veganism, but I do see its limits. It’s possible to be vegan and still have a negative impact on the environment: eating all processed meat-replacements and other non-organic factory-made, plastic-wrapped foods; or a lot of imported grains and other foods. And it can be unrealistic for a family to go vegan, meaning two different menus at mealtimes –  who has the energy to research both their meat and meat-less purchases?

From what I’ve seen, most people go vegan with either their health or the welfare of animals as their primary motivator, with the environmental impacts a bonus.

For me, veganism doesn’t work. I have tried it at various points in my life and find that my current diet that is 95 per cent plant based is what makes me feel great. In other words, meat still has a place in my health and wellbeing.

On the question of ethics, dairy disturbs me a lot more than meat. I don’t believe that even organic milk can skirt the issue of bobby calves and animals in a constant state of lactation. I do still have some dairy in my life, mostly because I have been sufficiently brainwashed to think that my children will have bones as brittle as toffee if they don’t consume some dairy, and the associated mother-guilt means I am not quite ready to give it up yet. But I feel it’s coming.

I remember seeing the term Pegan (paleo = vegan) and thinking that was me, but a better term for it is one that hasn’t yet really caught on but one I identify with: I call myself a Bettertarian.

Being Bettertarian means:

  • Knowing where your food comes from and thinking about the true cost of what you’re eating.
  • Much less meat, down to 400 grams or less per person per week.
  • Choosing to eat from local sources only.
  • Respect for the land and the animal.
  • Waste nothing: use every part of the animal – or choose from farmers who do.

Are you a carnivore, herbivore or something in between? How do you manage it? Share your thoughts in the comments!



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