How to Eat Meat and Still Reduce Your Environmental Impact

meat and environmental impactIf you listen to the experts, the authorities, the think tanks, eating meat destroys the environment. It “destroys your health” too, of course, but by far the biggest argument being pushed—and the one most regular people implicitly accept as “probably accurate”—is that meat consumption is detrimental to planetary health.

I’m not going to cover the health part. That’s been done to death. If you’re reading this blog post, you probably reject that aspect of the argument. Hell, you might be chowing down on a steak at this very moment. This post is for the people who still worry about the effect of meat on the environment.

It’s a noble concern, one that I share. So today, I’m going to explain how you can eat meat and still reduce your environmental impact.

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Eat local.

This one is almost entirely self-explanatory. When meat travels across the world to get to your plate, or even halfway across the country, it’s burning through fuel and producing emissions that harm the environment. It has to travel from the farm to the packing plant, from the plant to the shipyard, from the shipyard to the sea, across the sea to the port, from the port to the distribution center, from the distribution center to the store, from the store to your home.

If your meat is local, all those middle men and their emissions are, well, omitted. It goes from the farm to the local abattoir, and then onto the farmers market or local grocer. And sometimes, the farm has their own in-house slaughtering and packing setup, and you cut the middle men out even more.

If enough people do this, the local market expands, and the effect multiplies. So do it!

Eat grass-fed, sustainably-farmed animals.

There’s an entire book about this: Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers’ Sacred Cow. They also did a very relevant guest post on this stuff.

The basic gist is that animals raised on pasture with rotational grazing that mimics the way herbivores travel and eat in nature can build up the soil, fertilize the land, and trigger greater plant growth and stronger, deeper root systems that further enrich the soil and its bacterial inhabitants. It’s almost like pasture needs herbivores just as much as herbivores need pasture.

More than that, not all land is fungible. There’s a ton of land that’s inhospitable to crops but perfect for livestock. If you got rid of livestock, you’d be wasting that land; you couldn’t just plant some corn on it. It’s livestock or nothing.

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Remember that there’s more to the environment than carbon emissions.

There are many other aspects of the environment to observe and protect—and proper meat can help.

When you get locally packed meat that’s wrapped in butcher paper ten miles from your house, there’s less plastic and less airborne pollutants gumming up your lungs.

When you eat meat that improves the soil, you’re contributing to building the local ecology and preserving soil nutrition.

When you eat animal foods, you obtain the nutrients you need to generate energy and maintain metabolism. Most vegans I know are perpetually cold, always asking if you “can turn the heat up.”

The local environment “counts.”

Eat the bones, skin, guts, and organs—the whole shebang.

The average cow is half muscle meat and half “other stuff.” Most people only eat the muscle meat and ignore the other stuff, which includes bones, connective tissue, cartilage, tendons, and other collagenous material. The other stuff ends up in pet food or used by other industries, but we could be eating it, getting healthier, wasting less food, and reducing the number of cattle that have to be killed and produced in the process. Big waste right here.

Eat the other stuff, folks.

Eat small fatty fish.

Yeah, yeah. Omega-3s, selenium, iron, calcium, iodine, protein. We know. Nutrition aside, these things are great choices for the environment. There are tons of them. Plenty available. The problem is that a huge portion of them go toward feeding farmed carnivorous fish like salmon, and you lose calories in the conversion process. You could feed farmed Atlantic salmon five pounds of sardine slurry to produce one pound of edible salmon, or you could eat those five pounds of sardines yourself.1

What’s more wasteful? What’s less wasteful? You tell me.

Buy quarters, halves, or whole animals.

Back over 10 years ago, I was telling people to start cowpooling—to go in on an entire cow with their friends. That’s when it was a new concept for most non-rural residents, and it wasn’t the easiest thing for people to pull off. First you had to find the cow, then you had to find some friends who wouldn’t immediately call you crazy for wanting to buy 1200 pounds of beef.

Now it’s easier. Now more people than ever are interested in buying and storing large amounts of high-quality grass-fed meat. Don’t believe me? Go check the local stores for chest freezers. They’re in short supply. People know. People are ready.

Get some chickens.

This is as local as it gets. Instead of having eggs trucked in from halfway across the country, or even a chicken operation 100 miles away (which is way better than the former), you go out to your backyard in bare feet and grab a couple fresh eggs from your hens. You don’t even have to wear clothes to do it.

The eggs are better, too. Way better. And you can run all sorts of cool experiments on them.

  • Add paprika and marigold flowers to the feed to boost carotenoid content (and improve yolk color).
  • Add vitamin D drops to their food to increase extra-bioavailable vitamin D in the yolks.
  • Get throwaway greens from the farmer’s market or grocery store to boost micronutrient content (folate, for one) in the eggs.
  • Add kelp meal for iodine.
  • Add fish meal for phospholipid-bound omega-3s.

There are probably many more things you can do to tweak the nutrient content of your backyard eggs (and if anyone out there has some ideas or input, let us know in the comment section!).

It’s great fun and most importantly, you are not impacting the environment. You have the number of hens you need to get the number of egg you need. You’re composting their manure, not dumping it. There’s no toxic runoff from cramming 50,000 birds in a small space. You’re feeding scraps from the kitchen, so there’s less waste on that front too. If you have extra eggs (what are “extra” eggs?), you can sell or gift them to your neighbors, thereby reducing their utilization of factory farmed eggs and improving the amount of neighborly goodwill and cheer that exists in this world. The entire backyard chicken situation is a huge win all around.

Eat farmed shellfish.

You hear “farmed” and shrink away. Aren’t farmed fish bad for you? Well, not necessarily, for one. Read this post from way back where I go into some of the better farmed fish out there. And two, farmed shellfish aren’t really “farmed” like you’re thinking. Farmed shellfish live almost exactly like wild shellfish live:

  • Out in the ocean, attached to something.
  • Obtaining sustenance from the ocean.
  • Shellfish farmers don’t feed their shellfish. They just raise the little guys, see that they have a safe home in the water off the coast, and largely leave them alone until harvest.

All in all, farmed shellfish have a very low human interference factor. The fewer the inputs, the more we just get out of the way, the better for the environment.

Keep eating meat.

Meat is your heritage. It’s your birthright. It gives us the protein we need to stave off the entropy that seeks to dissemble our cellular structures. It provides the creatine, carnitine, and carnosine that calm our minds and sharpen our wits.

A dysfunctional cell poisons the organism. A problem child disrupts the family. A disintegrated individual whose personal nutrition conflicts with the body’s dietary requirements cannot be the best human they can be—I truly believe that, at some level, someone who eats meat isn’t living up to their potential. They can be better, and it is through better people that the environment prospers.

A non meat-eater isn’t bad. Not all meat-eaters are good. The former can often be great and the latter disappointing; there’s more to human achievement than nutrition (way more). But all else being equal, not eating meat is selling yourself (and the world) short.

Eating meat doesn’t have as large a climate effect as we’ve been told, but it does have an effect on many different aspects of environmental health (including climate).2 And, if you do it the right way, that effect can be a positive one.

So, does this relieve some of your stress? Let me know down below.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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49 thoughts on “How to Eat Meat and Still Reduce Your Environmental Impact”

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  1. “Go check the local stores for chest freezers. They’re in short supply.”

    Yes, they are. They’re unobtainable in my area.

  2. You talk about carbon emissions as if it were proven science, but the only thing proven is that 30+ years and thousands of computer models assuming carbon-powered warming are not verified by actual ‘ground truth’ measurements of global temperature. Computer models show huge, but untrue, temperature increases. They are overwealmingly FALSE, hence scientifically invalid.

    The premise has been disproven, yet the narrative continues as if it were fact (because the end–money & power–justifies the means).

    1. Call it whatever you want. The planet is changing. And the longer we continue to ignore it the worst it is going to get. Regardless of whether or not humans have any impact on it is irrelevant. The sea levels are rising, the fires are getting worse, the hurricanes are getting worse. We can keep arguing or we can come up solutions to these problems.

      1. But non-problems don’t need solutions. Fire and hurricane data shows that they’re not getting worse, but the reporting is getting more lurid. How do we solve that problem? One way to help is to nourish our bodies well, which should keep our brains working well and better able to detect questionable claims of all kinds.
        Good health is our goal, isn’t it? ‘Saving the planet’ is a hubristic slogan for marketing alarm. There’s nothing healthy for anyone, including alarmists, in that. Reducing our ‘environmental footprint’ while favouring fresher, more nutritious food is a win-win.

        1. The carbon footprint idea was actually developed by the oil and gas companies, so as to put out the idea that responsible use of their products lies with the consumer. Though, in reality even a homeless person with no job or car still apparently has a larger carbon footprint than what they say is ideal. Reducing the negative aspects of our environmental footprint should still be a goal though, and we ought to move more and more towards our actions being in alignment with our ecological role – and books such as Tending the Wild or The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia show how humans are able to have a positive effect on the environment, and one of those methods is that via controlled burns. Now many of us as no longer using firewood for heat (thus harvesting dried fallen branches for kindling), nor are we doing so much in the way of controlled burns. Also, clear cutting forests and only replanting them as mono crops of pine is a pretty silly idea. Out here in British Columbia that is happening a fair bit. Then there is a lack of lower layers of bush or deciduous trees (think fallen leaves) to help the moisture that evaporates to stay in the soil. So, I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that we’re all pointing fingers at carbon emissions when we would be mentally and physically healthier to read books on permaculture.

  3. Thank you for sharing! Could you elaborate on this point a bit more?

    “But all else being equal, not eating meat is selling yourself (and the world) short.”

  4. All I know is that I can’t NOT eat meat. Tried that; it didn’t work out. I feel so much better when meat is part of my daily diet. I do eat poultry, fish, and shellfish, but I’ve gotta have my red meat on a very regular basis. Unfortunately, it’s becoming really expensive lately.

    1. There is absolutely no scientific reason why you would need your protein to come from meat. If you are nutrient deficient, that could be why you are feeling ill. Cutting meat out without replacing it with adequate food will definitely make your body feel unwell. The enormous link between red meat and cancer and cardiovascular disease has long been proven. I encourage you to read the scientific literature.

      1. Meat has all the nutrients we need, especially beef. It is a very nutrient dense food, easy to digest and if it’s raised and prepared simply it is good for the planet and the human body.
        The “red meat causes cancer” studies were flawed, not scientific.
        Global warming in Africa and Australia/New Zealand is being reversed simply by using herd animals to graze and fertilize in a managed way. This keeps the carbon OUT of the atmosphere and in the earth where it belongs. It also keeps the rains that fall there in the earth instead of flowing off and evaporating. There is a lot out there on this method of keeping the planet cool in this way using land that is unusable to for growing plants other than grasses.

      2. At the risk of sounding like this is coming from the perspective of confirmation bias, I would say to you that the “red meat and cancer correlational studies” are often rife with confounders, contradictions, and conflicts of interest. Perhaps there are studies that show a clear correlation between meat and illness, but what of the controls? What of the diets of those in the study? Studies are certainly nice tools to have at our disposal, but they aren’t and shouldn’t be treated as gospel. This doesn’t mean that we should simply pick and choose those studies that would support our predisposed narrative, but merely that we should view them with equal parts open mind, and common sense. Where meat is concerned, I would think that the common sense part is that we have evolved to consume meat, as we have evolved BY consuming meat. Veganism, on its face, is a wonderful concept, but it’s simply failed to be practical, much less beneficial for many.

        1. My skinny vegetarian son always needed a sweater indoors. Adding fish to his diet, seemingly the only change, resulted in less need for a sweater and some muscle growth. People can survive without meat, but thriving is surer with at least some meat in the diet.

      3. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology (search: Saturated Fats and Health) recently released a reassessment of previous recommendations. I’ve copied a couple of highlights below:

        • Different SFAs have different biologic effects, which are further modified by the food matrix and the carbohydrate content of the diet.

        • Several foods relatively rich in SFAs, such as whole-fat dairy, dark chocolate, and unprocessed meat, are not associated with increased CVD or diabetes risk.

        • There is no robust evidence that current population-wide arbitrary upper limits on saturated fat consumption in the United States will prevent CVD or reduce mortality.

      4. Haha. The “link” to which you refer Is not long or proven. Do you know what site you’re on lol?

      5. Um…what? FYI Sheida, there are nutrients in meat that aren’t necessarily as obtainable elsewhere. Ask my friend who went vegetarian and ended up very deficient, even after working with a dietitian AND going so far as getting iron injections…which her body did not absorb.

  5. If you have chickens, you can feed them the last remaining parts of other animals you don’t eat–the bones, reduced to softness after making bone broth.

  6. I am wondering how you can really make having chickens completely local, since they need to be fed more than what they can forage and scraps we give them. That chicken feed is typically shipped from who knows where. And the growing of that feed is deleterious to our environment, as it is mostly monocrop corn and it is hard to find organically grown.
    I agree that they can be fun to have. I had chickens for many years, enjoyed their personalities, collecting eggs, watching them living a happy chicken’s life.

    1. If you are going to eat eggs then backyard chickens are the way to go if you have the space for them. The eggs that you buy at the grocery store come from chickens that had their feed shipped to them. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good!

      Also, backyard chickens are super entertaining to have around and most likely they live happier lives than the chickens who produce grocery store eggs.

    2. It probably depends on where you live. When we were in Portland, OR, there were several companies local to the Willamette Valley (within 50-100 miles of the city) that were producing high quality chicken feeds. They were organic and very expensive – about $1 a lb, which meant we spent around $10 a month per bird we have, and given you get roughly 5-6 eggs a week from your bird, excluding winter, unless you choose to add lights, which we didn’t, then it’s a VERY expensive egg. That being said, we looked at them as pets with benefits, so we didn’t mind the cost. We now live in SW Michigan and there is a feed store nearby that does non-GMO feed. It does have corn and soy (the stuff in Portland did not, which is part of why it was so expensive), but given that chickens can eat those grains and we are not allergic to them, I’m OK with that. We augment with a huge grass pasture and garden scraps and mealworms, and we now are housing 14 birds for about $20 a month if the local feed, and getting 6-8 eggs a day (it will be more, 5 are still too young to lay). Ideally it would be organic feed, but the yolks are rich and the birds are healthy, so we still feel great about it.

  7. “I truly believe that, at some level, someone who eats meat isn’t living up to their potential.”

    Mark, something tells me that isn’t what you meant to say.

    1. Yeah, I caught that too. I think he meant “someone who doesn’t eat meat.”

  8. We found a farmer who is less than 100 miles from our house. They have chickens, pork, and beef and all of it tastes so good. The eggs are amazing.
    Plus we have made friends with our farmer, gotten to know people at the farmers market, and shared CSAs with folks creating new friendships. Eating meat has been the best thing I have done for my health, my community, my local economy, and the planet!

  9. So, Mark, do you have any advice for those of us who can’t afford all grass fed or local meat? Chicken specifically is SO expensive locally, and I found grass fed ground beef at whole foods for $4/lb in a 3lb pack, but it’s not local. Even 4/lb is too expensive for me to eat as a major part of my diet, so I eat mostly chicken, not local, not organic, but not conventional factory farmed stuff (because it tastes AWFUL). You hear some people lose their taste for meat and become vegetarian and you might think that’s crazy, but I can totally understand it if all they’re eating is CAFO meat. It’s just terrible. Also, I have a sensitivity to eggs. If I could eat them without burning stomach pain I’d just cut out most meat and eat eggs and fish. Alas, life is a b****.

  10. I have chickens. I’ve experimented with different things over the years with their feed. In the early days I fermented their soy feed, but eventually I found a soy free feed I preferred. Now I’m using a soy-free and corn-free feed. I wish I could feed them a more “paleo” diet similar to their red jungle fowl ancestors, but it’s difficult to do in New England with a long cold season.

    I occasionally have access to whole sardines so I will occasionally give them a couple dozen at a time…head and all. Another favorite of theirs is fresh coconut. I also farm my own mealworms and separate them out in their stages…mealworm, pupa, and beetle. This was I can control the nutrition and quality of the worms without worrying about what’s coming from overseas. I have an entire vegetable garden dedicated to the chickens during the warm season as well.

    I’ve been contemplating trying natto with them to up the K2 content and to improve their overall health. The layer feed is high in calcium and unfortunately my rooster had no choice but to eat that feed with them. He died this spring from what I presume was a heart attack at only 3 years old. I’ve heard this is common with roosters being fed on layer feed. Maybe some K2 supplementation would’ve helped him distribute all of that Ca to all of the right spots.

    I’ve done the marigold flower trick and it works, but make sure you’re using the edible marigolds. Look for the latin name “calendula” as those are the ones (pot marigolds) safe for animal consumption. “Tagetes” is toxic.

    1. Hi BP! It sounds like you are doing a great job with your chickens! I have a couple of ideas for you to maybe adopt. If you have any lawn or garden space to let them out on, they will find things to eat as long as there is no snow. And one of the most effective things I have done is to grow mammoth sunflowers, and give the seedbeds to the chickens. They love them, and they are excellent nutrition. I tried also growing sugar snaps for them, but could not resist keeping most of them for myself and family! Good luck!

  11. Nice that you deeply care about the ecology and sustainability of growing animals, but you don’t have to be passive aggressive towards vegans. Sure, there are people who “feel cold” a lot and there are many more people who have bad nutrition habits, but blaming a certain diet for that seems very shortsighted and tribalistic. Either way, we all can learn a lot more about nutrition, try not to moralize and be friends 🙂 Cheers!

    1. Vegans are some of the most agressive people nowadays, they try to force their erronous believes on average joes, they like to threaten people on social media and real life.

      1. Watch Forks over Knives, What the Health, and Cowspiracy and tell me the Vegans are wrong. SMH

        1. I have watched all three (because I myself want to be vegan for ethical reasons). Vegans are wrong. Not entirely now, but the ones who think everybody can go vegan and should at the expense of their health. Sorry, but for most people it’s not optimal nor realistic.

    2. I think the main point is that being vegan isn’t ideal for humans. When you have to supplement your diet with pills to acquire all the nutrients that you are not receiving from the lack of animal products, then it should be clear that isn’t an ideal diet. If vegans would consider what it takes to grow all the beans and soy – and especially the factories to process that stuff into the fake meat products that many of them eat – they would realize they can’t claim it to be more environmentally friendly than eating a healthy farm-raised (on pasture, not in a giant operation) animals. Now it’s even permissible to spray non-GMO items with glyphosate (round-up) and still have it labeled as non-GMO. The way those mono crops are produced is terrible for the environment. It feels like veganism is the new religion, with vegans trying to convert the world. Clearly not everyone is like that, but I have several vegan friends intent on veganizing us all! (And yes, I will enjoy healthy vegan meals with them – we can agree to disagree).

  12. I was a bit disappointed that wild game wasn’t mentioned as a potential source. I started cleaning up my meat sources over 10 years ago, and it has evolved into learning to bowhunt. My husband and I fill our freezers with black bear, venison, rabbits, and squirrels… We’ve also taken road-killed deer to the processor, both for ourselves and non-hunting friends. And with a processing fee of only about $100 per deer, it doesn’t get much more economical, especially for organic, grass-fed meat. I realize it isn’t for everyone, but it’s a viable and sustainable source that I think more people should consider.

  13. I am going to ba-humbug getting chickens. Ducks are easier and fun to watch. A big plus is you can raise them with geese, which are great livestock guardians. Birds of prey near me, mostly hawks and owls won’t go near my little ducks because they are afraid of my two geese, who can also produce eggs, well when I get females, as they are both genders (french Toulouse). In fact, they are not even afraid of my girlfriend’s dogs.

    No perches are required and they tolerate heat and cold well, just give them shade, food and fresh water.

  14. A new variation on the cow-sharing: look for a “meat CSA”! I am lucky enough to have found one! They have pastured animals, and will even sell “odds and ends” (like organ meats and trimmings).
    I also found a sign at a small farm 5 miles down the road for pastured beef! And they will sell organ meats to me for $4/lb!!! So – look around!

  15. Mark Sisson; The small voice of truth (getting louder and clearer all the time) above the roar of the crowd.
    Yet another great post.
    Thank you. 😉

  16. @Sheida : Vegan’s propaganda at “it’s finest” … The association between red meat and cancer ahs long been debunked by numerals studies buy you (vegans) continue lying. How could people trust vegans if they always lie ?

  17. You highlighted some good points.
    One thing you are missing though is moderation. Factory raised meat and those pumped with many hormones and chemicals, exist to keep up with the large demand. Even primal back in days would have not eaten such a huge amount of meat as some people eat nowadays.

    I like fish but wonder if the plastic inside them overweighs the benefits?

    And I don’t want to imagine the smelly feet if going to collect eggs barefoot ?. Is that what you do?

    1. I wonder the same about plastic in fish, especially for my children.
      Also, I don’t think we’re necessarily eating more meat as individuals, I think it’s more about the consistently fast growth of the human population as a whole and the resulting increase in animals raised for food to keep up.

  18. Please watch Cowspiracy on Netflix and tell me meat eating isn’t deleterious to the Environment. SMH

    1. Eating beef from local pasture raised cows is NOT deleterious to the environment. You are welcome! Ha
      Watched Cowspiracy…no question factory farming is rough on the environment. Did you even read and comprehend this article?? Read Sacred Cow. SMH

  19. Yes!!! Well said.
    I’ll add: that conventional vegetable, legume, and grain farming is just as bad if not worse than conventional animal farming! It’s the giant elephant in the room: poisoning precious topsoil with chemicals, killing off fungal networks and microbes that fix carbon, methane and nitrogen into the soils and ground, ploughing and filling which releases a TON of carbon and nitrogen and water from soils, and using a ton of fossil fuels running machinery, growing chemical laden grains and manufacturing the chemicals and genetically engineered crops, not to mention killing reams of wildlife with mechanization of farming.. all for grains and soy that are terrible for our health anyway! And polluting and destroying local water ways as well.

    Regarding grass fed animal production, there is not one ecosystem on earth that doesn’t have everything from small to large animals and small to large plants/trees. Getting rid of cows isn’t the answer. Getting rid of terrible production methods, whether animal or plant, is.

  20. For the last 20 years, because of my concerns about how meat is produced and its impact on my family‘s health-mad cow really freak me, with a child in school in the UK- I buy meat by the animal or half animal. I have a couple of farmers about 100 miles away I met at a farmer’s market. I get my lamb my pork my beef and most of my chickens from them. Local butcher shop slaughters, has a card on how big I like my roasts, how thick I like my steaks, how much should be ground, and they call each time to tweak the order. They slaughter, butcher, wraps in paper and process all of it. I have a 22 ft.³ freezer that I’ve had for years. All free range, grass fed and tastes fabulous, I buy it hanging weight. Family of four buys two lambs, half a pig and about half a cow a year, though often half a cow lasts about 18 months. The butcher shop has perfected what they call uncured pork. The bacon, ham, and sausages they produce have no nitrates, no sugar and they taste fabulous. When my original farmer retired five years ago, she seamlessly sent me to a neighbor and we continued with the same procedure.
    It requires me to plan my usage in months, not weeks and twice a year I drive a hundred miles-we live in a large metro area- each way to pick up a couple hundred pounds of wrapped, marked, frozen, packaged meat. From a health and quality standpoint I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

  21. Excellent article. Thanks!
    In addition, sustainable pasture practices can help draw down carbon among the many other benefits. See the documentary “Kiss the Ground” on Netflix.

  22. All I can say is… I WISH. You have to have money to eat local, sustainable, grass-finished, etc. I live in a rural area, and I can’t afford not to shop at the cheap grocery store. The prices for local meat, eggs, dairy, etc. is just astronomical. It can be as much as 4 times higher than what grocery stores charge. I’m starting to grow my own vegetables, but I’m stuck eating factory-farmed animal products until either I make a lot more money or the folks around here decide to charge a whole lot less.

  23. Wow, as usual your articles always reassure me I’m on the right track. The point about how meat prevents cellular entropy rocks my socks. Thanks Mark, your book changed my life, and like you, I’m sharing with others.

  24. I am a healthy vegetarian,tried eating meat,does not work for me