No, meat can’t be green – a response to Andreas Spath

Andreas Spath has written an article on News24 arguing that veganism is not a nutritionally sound diet, and that meat can be ‘green’.

And here’s my rebuttal, in point form. I have tagged Andreas in this note [i.e., on Facebook] in the hopes that he will engage the points I raise in more detail.

1: Andreas claims that we come from a long line of hunters. Even though this is in fact highly speculative (as is most research into pre-history), to appeal to the hypothetical diet of our distant ancestors, which was based on necessity and regional specifics (and not on optimal nutrition), seems problematic, especially given that comparative anatomy puts us in the same group as our closest biological cousins who are primarily herbivores.

Even if we do find conclusive evidence that ancient hominids ate meat as a primary source of nutrition, it would have little bearing on what we eat nowadays.

2: Andreas claims that vegans are at risk of nutritional deficiency. This is patently false. Ignoring the fact that studies repeatedly indicate greater incidence of multiple nutritional deficiencies in meat eaters than vegans / vegetarians, it is a simple fact, endorsed by major health institutions around the world, that a balanced vegan diet contains everything a person needs to thrive.

  • - Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, can be obtained from, amongst other things, carrots, spinach, peppers, watercress and dried apricots.
  • - Vitamin D comes primarily from UVB, aka sunlight. Interestingly, in countries that don’t see enough winter sun (e.g., the UK), it is primarily *non-vegan* foods like milk that are supplemented (just as the diets of UK meat-eaters are supplemented with iodine).
  • - Tryptophan is easily obtained from almonds, cabbage, kidney or lima beans, roasted soybeans, oats, pistachios, poppy seed, pumpkin seed, spinach, wheat or evening primrose seed (which has the highest tryptophan content of any food).

3: Andreas agrees that industrial livestock is bad, but claims that grass-fed cows are okay. Unfortunately the numbers are against him here. Not only has Salatin’s data on Polyface been widely debunked, but it is also the case that grass-fed cows are responsible for greater CO2 equivalent emissions due to longer breeding times, alternative diet, etc. Andreas is (suspiciously, given the other points he raises) also putting forward the same false dilemma Lierre Keith does: industrial monocropped plant food vs. happy farm organic meat. Surely he is aware that plant food can also be produced organically, using veganic permaculture techniques on a fraction of the land and using a fraction of the resources? I have good numbers available on all this.

4: Finally, I’m interested in which other arguments Andreas finds unconvincing? The health arguments endorsed by major athletes, nutritional researchers and health organisations? The powerful ethical arguments put forward by leading philosophers like Tom Regan or Steve Best?

I look forward to engaging any specific questions on the objections I have raised in more detail.