Is “Going Meatless” Really the Right Message?

A few weeks ago, WeWork announced it is “trying a new tactic in the push toward corporate sustainability by saying it is committed to being “a meat-free organization.”(1)

“The global network of shared office spaces said in an email to employees last month that they will no longer serve or pay for meat at WeWork events and want to clarify that this includes poultry and pork, as well as red meat.”

While some companies employ tactics like reducing paper waste with less printing, offering vouchers to those who commute on bikes rather than cars and growing roof top gardens as a means to create a positive impact on the world, WeWork’s new edict is meant to take the green workplace to a new level.

Is sending out the message that consuming meat as a blanket statement really the best way to approach this idea?

Granted, improperly, inhumanely sourced meat from conventional feed lots and stockyards undoubtedly created a tremendously detrimental effect on our planet, our animals and subsequently, other beings who ingest said animals.

But to categorize all meat, regardless of source and ethical rearing and slaughter, under one large umbrella and dictate that all of it contributes negatively to our planet or is somehow ‘not green’, is an approach which is ignorant at best.

Some important considerations worth factoring in how much credibility one decides to give to the concept that going meatless automatically means supporting a healthier planet include:

  1.  The “meatless” tag does not automatically mean good for you or good for the planet.  Incidentally, confusing labeling is not particular to the vegan theme;  a gluten-free, or more recently Paleo-Approved label does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that the product inside is a healthy option.   The mere fact that a product has to be packaged in a label in the first place speaks volumes.   And while I’m certainly not suggesting we never eat anything from a package, the majority of our diets, regardless of which protocol we may opt to follow, would best serve our bodies as well as our planet are those which are local, sustainable, organic and in-season veggies.  These can and should be eaten with regularity, and they naturally fall into the vegan category, as well as Paleo and gluten-free, without having to be tagged as such.
  2. Plant-based does’t have to mean vegan.   Remember as you read this, that I consider myself to be a recovered vegan.   Recovered in the sense, that when I was that angry, stereotypical person who boycotted all things from animals, regardless of from where and how they were sourced, I wasn’t doing anything to help further the very cause I was so passionate about supporting – animal welfare.  I am now, and have been for nearly two decades now, an advocate of a real food approach (call it Paleo if you wish); and in actuality this means that on a daily basis, whether I’m in a keto phase or cycling back into adding strategic carbohydrate (such as yam or fruit), my protein consumption, always mindfully sourced, remains on the lower side compared to the other two macronutrients, fat and carbohydrate, which fluctuate according to activity level, training, racing and recovery.  I consider myself plant-based, even on the higher fat days in which 80% of my calories come from fat, as even they are largely coming from plants.  Is a meal consisting of kale, avocado, blueberries, olive oil and local, wild-caught black cod all of which I purchased from the local farmer’s markets not as green as, or less damaging to our planet than a plastic tub of quinoa salad with soy dressing and a tempeh burger from the local health food shop?
  3. When properly managed, raising animals on pasture instead of factory farms is a net benefit to the environment (2). To begin with, a diet of grazed grass requires much less fossil fuel than a feedlot diet of dried corn and soy. On pasture, grazing animals do their own fertilizing and harvesting. The ground is covered with greens all year round, so it does an excellent job of harvesting solar energy and holding on to top soil and moisture. Grazed pasture removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use, including forestland and ungrazed prairie, helping to slow global warming.
  4. Many of the commonly used protein sources in a meatless approach to eating are harmful to the environment.  Let’s take one of the worst offenders:  soy.   The expansion of soybean plantations into forests is also contributing to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.  Conversion of forests to soy plantations in the Amazon particularly threatens the climate. The Amazon’s forests contain 90-140 billion tonnes of carbon—that’s 9-14 years of current global, annual, human-induced carbon emissions (3).   It’s not just soy; forty-three percent of bread’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the fertilizers used to grow wheat. Of that percentage, two-thirds of the emissions come from actual fertilizer production, which relies heavily on natural gas (4).
  5. A method of eating based on local, seasonal foods that naturally occur (whether by growing in the ground, swimming in the water, running across the land or flying in the sky) is the most authentic, most human way of eating.  Lots of plants, mostly veggies and some fruit in moderation combined with moderate portions of mindfully sourced proteins from wild animals.  It’s natural.  It’s genuine.  It’s the food chain.  It’s not packaged.  It’s delicious (fresh, in season foods taste incredible with little to no need to doctor up flavor or taste with sauces, toppings or seasonings).  When I was vegan, I would cringe at the thought of any animal not being humanely treated, and to this day, as someone who does eat meat, poultry, fish and game, I still do.   Yes, an animal still dies.  But when it’s a humane, merciful death, it’s vastly different from one which occurs at the hands of a manufacturing plant which views the animals as little more than commodities, if at all.

If we’re going to make strides to help the planet restore itself to be more green, we have to dig much deeper than just announcing going meatless is the way to go.

Action like this labeling which exist to our peril.

It’s very much akin to calling oneself Paleo (or gluten-free or vegan for that matter) and then looks no further than whether or not a packaged food item is tagged as such, it’s far too easy to continue to be unwell, overweight, foggy-brained, have joint pain and GI distress if what we’re eating is still refined, processed, lacking in nutrient density, not local, in season or fresh.

One simple way of sifting through all the nonsense is go back just a few generations and think about what our great-grandparents ate.

Wherever in the world you might be reading this blog post, keep that in mind the next time you set out to procure your next meal.

How fresh is it?

How far did the items on your plate travel to get to there and how many steps did it take from where it grew, ran or swam to your table?

While one-size fits all isn’t the way to go, and certainly, differences exist between what each of us can eat, and what our genetics have determined before we were even born.

Yet across the board, there are certain commonalities we can all benefit from.

Most of us don’t eat enough veggies.

Most eat too much sugar, including too much fruit.

Many aren’t mindful about where the food we put into our bodies is coming from.

And perhaps what might be the biggest shame of all; many feel it’ll be too time consuming to make changes.

Convenience is king, and who has time to spend hours each day shopping and cooking, right?

Think again; yet one more reason to keep local and in season.

With one or two succinct trips to the farmer’s market, local grocer or even CSA delivery per week, and a couple of one or two hour sessions in the kitchen, we can all do our part to prepare, fresh, nourishing real food to satisfy our own and our family’s food story in an easy but elegant manner.

With food being medicine and the most important piece of the foundation of the path to achieving optimal health, how can there be any justification to not make the little time it requires?

So, meatless?

Maybe so, now and then.

Certainly, I’m not suggesting shifting to an all protein diet by and means; but tread lightly when making such a huge shift not only in what you eat but what you feed the family and consider all the consequences.

Then, ask yourself what your intuition tells you.

In my honest option, the answer has always lied in balanced simplicity:

Eat Food.  And Move.