June 11, 2011

So I started eating meat again...

Yes, this from the guy who once said that meat eaters are bad people.

I guess that must make me a bad person.

Well, unlike many other carnivores, I'm at least cognizant of the fact that I'm exploiting animals for my own well-being. While I have made the move to a diet that contains meat, I am not completely at peace with it. I am fully aware and respectful of the fact that the meat on my plate comes at at price, that being the life of another animal.

But I have my reasons. My decision to eat meat again was driven by health concerns. I was a vegetarian for over ten years and I did so primarily for ethical reasons. It was in the last several years of being a vegetarian, however, that I grew increasingly concerned about my health. An increasing number of studies started to point at the importance of meat protein and animal fat—not to mention the perils of soy (which was a staple for me). Moreover, my performance at the gym was stalling. My energy levels were consistently low and I was making very little gains. This was an indication to me that something wasn't right.

So, after a decade of avoiding meat, I was curious to see if a reintroduction to animal protein could change the situation. I switched to the Paleo diet and within three months my BMI went down from 17% to 12% and I gained nearly ten pounds of muscle mass. I was astounded. And add to that an improved sense of well-being, mental clarity and energy— I was sold. My experiment with eating meat exceeded even my own expectations.

Now just because I'm eating meat again doesn't mean I have to be an asshole about it. Like I said earlier, I am still concerned about the well-being of animals. It's for this reason that I'm striving to be the conscious carnivore. I only eat meat from grass-fed animals that have been allowed to graze in pasture and the eggs I eat come from free-range chickens. Yes, my grocery bills are two to three times as much as they used to be, but it's a price I'm happy to pay. I feel better knowing that the meat on my plate came from an animal that actually lived a reasonably good life.

Okay, before I bury you in all this contriteness, there's something else that needs to be said. While I agree that many meat eaters can be obnoxious, inconsiderate and self-righteous in celebration of their carnivorousness, there is an equally pernicious sentiment among vegetarians that needs to be called out: the false notion that a vegetarian or vegan diet is actually good for you. Like the meat eater who needs to acknowledge the harm they're meting out as a consequence of their dietary choices, the vegetarian needs to acknowledge the fact that their diet is far from ideal.

A vegetarian's choice to avoid meat for ethical or environmental reasons is truly noble. They are willing to sacrifice their own health in order to mete out as little harm as possible. I bow down to these people in deep and profound respect.

But that said, vegetarians should not claim that their diet is optimal—because many of them do. The avoidance of meat protein and animal fats, plus the heavy reliance on soy and carbohydrates, is far from ideal. As a person concerned about his health, and as someone who feels that there are reasonable ethical options available for meat consumption, I have consciously (and perhaps selfishly) chosen to avoid a sub-optimal diet. I have come to recognize the fact that the human body evolved to eat meat, and that in order for me to live and be at my best, I need to be an omnivore.

Lastly, as a bioethicist who has strived to walk-the-walk, I am increasingly coming to grips with the fact that I cannot live an ethically or morally perfect life and that I should stop trying. I'll continue to do my best to put out as little harm into the world as possible, but existential perfection is no longer my goal.

As for my animal rights advocacy work, that still remains a top priority. I'll continue to push for better conditions at factory farms (if not the elimination of factory farming altogether), the development of cultured meat, and of course, extended rights for nonhuman animal persons.

For my vegetarian and vegan friends and colleagues, I hope you understand and continue to support me and my work.