Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's Not What You Eat, But What You Eat Ate!

Meat eating has come under scrutiny at our household of late. Partly due to my daughter’s desire to be a vegetarian (which might work out if she could bring herself to eat beans and stop eating steak), and partly because my mother-in-law is visiting. Although, my MIL is just about the most flexible and reasonable vegetarian I know, it has created a bit of a puzzle at dinner time. She’s fine with our carnivorous habits and is happy to find herself something to eat when we indulge, but I like to include everyone at our table so I seek out meals that work for all of us. I can usually come up with a week’s worth, but this visit she’s gracing us with her presence for two weeks so it’s requiring a little extra thinking.

I asked her about her reasons for her long-time vegetarianism and her reasons are complex and deep-rooted. (Unlike my daughter who I think is just looking for an excuse not to eat what I’m serving!) This conversation led me to think about why I eat meat, beyond the fact that I like the taste of it. Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma gives some excellent data to explain why most people like the taste of meat. We’re hard-wired to eat meat. And not just any meat. Grass fed meat.

He goes further to challenge the fish vs meat debate by saying it’s not just what you eat but what you eat ate. Think about that one. A grass fed cow is better for you than a farm-raised salmon. At least in terms of omega 3’s and 6’s and many of the vital nutrients you find in grass fed meats like beta-carotene and CLA. The body of research verifying the higher nutrient value of grass-fed meats (and dairy products) versus grain-fed grows all the time. But you don’t need a microscope and a fancy degree to know that the food that went in to the cow you are eating for dinner defines the nutrient value of what you are eating. Common sense can tell you that.

Animals have been eating grass since there were grass and animals. It’s only been in the last hundred years or so that we’ve started feeding cows, pigs, chickens, and other meat animals exclusively on grain and corn. In fact, cows have been selectively bred to survive on corn, something they are not biologically engineered to digest. (Hence the incredible amounts of gas spewed forth from cows living in feedlots.) Feeding corn and grain to fish is even more farfetched. Yet, that is the brilliant idea for cheaply growing fish on farms.

Pollan’s argument for why this food is better for us goes back to the time when we were hunter-gatherers. Our bodies are designed to eat the food of wild animals and plants. Grass-fed animals best mimic those meats. Again, common sense.

So my desire to eat meat isn’t so much the result of my upbringing, although I’ll allow that it plays in to it. Especially since I still can’t stomach fish or beans, two foods I forced down so that I could leave the table when I was young. My body is hard-wired to eat meat. Guess that means my ancestors come from a hunting clan. Maybe that means my mother-in-law’s ancestors are from a clan that survived more on gathering. Who’s to say?

Listening to our bodies is a habit that has fallen by the way-side for most of us. I’ve only recently begun to respond to the foods my body craves. Probably because for many years I craved the foods the media had taught me to crave. Just the other night while watching the NFL play-offs my kids learned about another food they should crave. McDonalds created a new idea with their commercial about McMuffins. “What’s a McMuffin?” asked my nine-year-old after watching scene after scene of happy people comparing McMuffins to the best kind of apartment, boyfriend, automobiles, etc.

If you ask someone what their favorite food is, they don’t generally say, “grass-fed beef”. More often you hear, “chocolate,” or “pizza”. But is that really what our bodies want? I think if we could truly listen to our own bodies, we might hear something different. My daughter has been eating lots of nuts lately. While I’m thrilled at her healthy choice, I do think it’s her body telling her what she needs. Lacking any discernable form of protein beyond the occasional egg, her body demanded something of substance. Since her mind was saying “I’m a vegetarian,” and her stubbornness was saying “I hate beans,” nuts were the perfect fill in.

Trusting our bodies to tell us we need is a novel concept, but one worth thinking about. As is considering what you eat ate. Grass fed meat and dairy products may cost more than traditional products, but the nutritional disparity is even greater. Beyond that, we need to vote with our pocketbooks and support farmers who are raising their animals on grass instead of feedlots. Your health and your children’s health are worth a few more bucks per pound, don’t ya think? 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! We too, subscribe to the philosophy of individualized dietary needs. We think we must have descended from a hunter clan, too, and have thrown out the whole 'food pyramid' prescribed by the so-called experts and do what works for us. We're working towards our goal of some day raising grass-fed beef on our own patch of land ever since we watched Food, Inc. There is no turning back after watching that, plus reading the books, is there... Thanks for the book suggestions on your list!