By Nathan Timmerman
Despite our lack of claws or large canines humans have been finding ways to hunt and kill ever since we decided to stand up on two legs and walk out into the unforgiving African savanna. The consumption of large quantities of calorically dense fat and protein is likely what allowed us to grow the prestigiously large bundles of fat found in our heads, which we subsequently called brains.
Living as hunter gatherers, our ancestors had the option to eat what they could get, or die. However, the implications of our dietary choices in modernity can have much further reaching consequences than the life or death of one individual. Today the network that forms the agricultural industry is made up of a complex web. Tickling one line of the web can affect other important areas like the environment, ethics and human health.
Depending on who you listen to, if you consume fat, sugar or carbs you’re going to get cancer and diabetes then have a stroke and die. Even the long-term effects of high protein consumption are under debate. That is all of the macronutrients that make up our food.
Today you can have two equally qualified individuals giving you completely opposing dietary advice.
Much of the confusion dates back to the mid-20th century and a man named Ancel Keys. Keys performed a study called the seven countries study. In it he analysed the diets of seven countries concluding that saturated fat was the root cause of heart disease. However, Keys ignored many countries that contradicted his findings. This study became the bedrock for a lot of biased research performed in the 20th century. In Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise she goes through a detailed history of the demonization of saturated fat and dismantles many of the poorly done studies that led to the low fat society in which we now live.
The only thing anyone really seems to be able to agree on is that sugar is an earthly manifestation of Lucifer himself. However, there is some compelling evidence that saturated fat and meat are not as unhealthy as many would have you believe. Aside from many recent studies and meta analysis finding no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, you can take a look at the height of populations, often used as an indication of health. The gravettians were prehistoric mammoth hunters standing around six feet tall, up there even by today’s standards. It was only with the widespread adoption of agriculture that their height plummeted. You can also look to the masai people of eastern Africa who subsist almost exclusively off of cattle and are substantially taller and stronger than surrounding ethnic groups. Or consider that the indigenous tribes of the American plains were some of the tallest and longest living people in the world during the 17’th and 18’th centuries, and the bulk of their diet came from bison.
Regardless of the health effects our dietary choices have, there are also environmental and ethical considerations to be made. As anyone who has ever seen the horror/documentary film Earthlings (viewer discretion is highly advised) can attest to, the state of factory farming is appalling. Animals live in the most disgusting and degrading environments imaginable. Their lives are short, and full of pain and misery. Many are kept in tight, confined spaces where they are forced to exist in pools of their own excrement. The disgusting and unsanitary conditions mean they often need to be pumped full of antibiotics to ensure they don’t succumb to infection or disease.
There is also the fact that an exorbitant amount of land is dedicated to growing food for livestock. Food that then has to be transported, often over vast distances, to the animals. On top of this cattle fart. A lot. They are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than transportation.
Our current model for producing meat is highly unsustainable. However, people have been consuming animals for millions of years and are unlikely to stop anytime soon. Many people believe that meat is an essential part of a healthy diet. Perhaps we can find a way to continue to feed our love of steaks through lab grown meats, or some other alternative. Considering the current state of affairs though, let’s try to keep in mind that our decisions have consequences.