If 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.
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.
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.
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.