Megan R. Sanctuary, M.S., Ph.D.
The overreaching government that has recently come to power has removed its public-health-protecting mask and given us all a good look at its true grab-and-hold-onto-power face, and it isn’t pretty. It is now clear that wherever the government gets involved and begins to make overarching recommendations and mandates, more harm than good is done. While the COVID-19 recommendations and mandates are perfect examples of this, so too is the “guidance” on other health policies, particularly in the areas of diet and nutrition.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) first began intervening in public health when it introduced the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980. From 1964 to 1977, Senator McGovern led the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. The committee sought input from a team of nutrition scientists to help guide the creation of a set of recommendations on diet for the public. However, even then, the government refused to listen to science. At that time, research into the effects of dietary factors on chronic diseases, such as heart disease, was in its infancy. Scientists used mainly observational studies to look for trends between nutrient consumption, such as saturated fat, and disease incidence, such as how many people have heart disease. These studies can provide important information but cannot prove cause and effect. Scientists know this. At the time, there was some evidence that populations that consumed higher levels of fat in their diets tended to have higher rates of heart disease. However, there was also evidence of a similar trend for sugar in the diet. What did the government do? To the chagrin of the scientists who had advised the committee to wait until the scientific evidence was more clear, the government decided that it didn’t have the luxury of “waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.” They published the dietary guidelines based on very weak evidence that animal foods and fat are harmful that has ultimately turned out to be false and caused an epidemic of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in this country and around the world.
These confabulations and outright lies about the science of nutrition continue to this day with the USDA, American Heart Association (AHA), American Medical Association (AMA), and others, including our own governor, Jared Polis, pushing a politicized plant-based diet agenda on the American people and residents of Colorado. Not only do these recommendations contradict nutrition science, but they also contradict environmental science on sustainability and pave the way for more sickness and loss of freedom in our country.
Let us break down Governor Pollis’ “MeatOut” Day Proclamation one clause at a time.
WHEREAS, removing animal products from our diets reduces the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, various cancers, and diabetes;
The first part of this statement to consider is “risk.” Risk is a statistical term that is usually used in observational studies, the kind that cannot prove cause and effect but can only show associations or trends. Similar to the conclusions of McGovern’s committee, the statement that animal foods in the diet increase risk of disease is based primarily on these types of studies.
The truth of the matter and an indisputable fact is that animal foods have been part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, long before our species began suffering from heart disease and other similar maladies. Also, there are populations of people around the world that consume diets extremely high in, if not based entirely on, animal foods and fat that are virtually free of chronic diseases. The Maasai of East Africa are pastoralists who subsist primarily on meat, milk, and blood and have little to no heart disease, diabetes, or cancer burden, even in their elderly.
The second part to consider is the actual differences between plant and animal sources of nutrients. Animal foods are generally nutritionally superior to plant foods in almost every nutrient, except for fiber. If you read any nutrition textbook carefully, you can find the truth hidden in plain sight. If we think about this logically, animals eat plants and sequester those nutrients, concentrating them within their bodies; their meat and milk. Animal foods are also free of most of the anti-nutrients, hormone disruptors, and other chemicals that plants use as defensive strategies to evade predation. Overall, if you were to compare the extremes on the spectrum of eating plant versus animal food-based diets, a carnivore diet is vastly superior to a vegan diet in every way nutritionally.
WHEREAS, a plant-based diet helps protect the environment by reducing our carbon footprint, preserving forests, grasslands, and wildlife habitats, and reduces pollution of waterways;
This statement suggests that consuming plant foods is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than consuming animal foods. The biggest mistake of environmentally-based arguments against meat is the assumption that there is only one way to raise animals: conventional factory farming. Factory farming is an unnatural method of producing meat and other animal products whereby the animal is removed from the ecosystem in which it is meant to function. Factory farming includes raising animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where a large number of animals are raised in confinement, fed an unnatural diet, and given different drugs and hormones to make the animals grow larger faster and to prevent them from dying too soon. Obviously, the results of these practices include sick animals, environmental harm, and unhealthy meat.
However, the alternative to factory farming is not veganism, it is sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture must include animals. Animals complete the cycle of life and the cycle of nutrients. Cow manure is one of the most nutrient-rich materials that we can add to the soil. It provides all of the elements that are depleted when crops are grown over many seasons. Cows are also incredibly helpful for sequestering carbon. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas. Green plants are responsible for pulling that carbon dioxide out of the air and “fixing” it into organic molecules, like plant material and foodstuffs. Cows speed up this process by eating grass and increasing the rate at which the plant grows and pulls carbon dioxide out of the air. At the same time, these animals take the plant material that we cannot eat, and convert it into nutrient-dense animal products, like meat and milk. Sustainable agriculture helps to build topsoil, which allows for the diversification of plant species and prevents erosion.
Finally, one of the most environmentally destructive practices that exist is the conventional farming of monoculture crops using pesticides and fossil fuels. Monoculture is a type of agriculture in which only one type of plant species is grown in mass, such as wheat, corn, and soybeans. First, entire forests and other complex ecosystems are bulldozed to make room for this cropland. Second, growing one type of plant maximizes profit at the expense of the environment. Vast expanses of one type of plant are unnatural and increase the likelihood that the crop will be targeted by pests. Because there are no other types of plants around, pesticides must be used to keep the crops from being eaten by insects. Pesticides harm not only entire insect populations, such as important pollinators like the honeybee but also the microbes in the soil and human health. Since plant-based diets are dependent on large-scale farming of these crops, it is hard to imagine how this dietary regimen is more environmentally friendly.
WHEREAS, a growing number of people are reducing their meat consumption to help prevent animal cruelty;
Finally, the argument that a plant-based diet reduces animal cruelty is another myth that is propagated by similar disinformation as was presented previously. Animal cruelty is unacceptable. But the circle of life is unavoidable. For something to eat, something else has to die, whether that is a plant, animal, fungus, or even bacteria. Giving a humane death to an animal raised for the specific purpose of providing food is vastly superior to the destruction of entire ecosystems for mono-crop farming. At the end of the day, we can all consume more fruits and vegetables without cutting animal food from our diet.
But these are simply recommendations, we still have the freedom to choose the diet we want to consume, right? Unfortunately, it appears as though we are heading down a path where this freedom is now at risk. Regulation of our diets has already begun in some of our most vulnerable populations, those with low incomes. The USDA’s WIC Program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods and healthcare for disadvantaged women and children. Under this program, only certain foods that meet the government’s idea of health can be purchased. In certain states, like California and even Colorado, local governments have imposed “sin” taxes on products they deem to be unhealthy, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Is a meat tax next? Thus, it appears that freedom of choice now applies only to the wealthy. Once we head down this slippery slope, the restrictions and regulations will only tighten.
Why have these myths been propagated with such indignation? Why are meat-eaters often the object of public scorn? Why has veganism become a platform of moral superiority? I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I assume that similar to all of the other overreaching government recommendations and mandates, it’s because of power, control, and greed.
Megan R. Sanctuary, M.S., Ph.D. is a nutritionist, lecturer at Northern Kentucky University, and author of several textbooks on nutrition. www.fimnutrition.com