We need to get our heads out of the sand. It is NOT about meat. At least not just about meat. And, never has been…
The war on meat waging before COVID seems to have reignited in the past few weeks. Once again headlines abound calling for the end of meat and instead advocate plant-based meat substitutes and synthetic meat made in laboratories. While maddening on so many levels, what bothers me the most is that this argument should have never been about meat in the first place.
Most of us realize that there is a huge difference between meat from a factory farm and ethically sourced meat from healthy animals raised on their natural diets. However, what is equally important is the difference between eating meat and eating animal. Yes, I mean eating the entire animal, true nose-to-tail style. It is not only doable but also accessible to all of us. By engaging in this approach you can eat more ethically, sustainably, and connected. You will be healthier and your meals more satisfying on every level. Everything changes when you replace the word “meat” with “animals.”
Using animals as food was one of the most incredible advances in our dietary past.
When we stop and really think about it, to our ancestors who were desperately trying to create technologies to overcome their physical limitations in order to acquire resources from their environments and transform them into something from which their bodies could safely and efficiently derive nutrition, animals were a goldmine! Remember, every single plant on this earth contains toxins. And, what’s more, they do not give up their nutrition easily. Much of the nutrition that plants contain is locked within difficult to break down cell walls and many of the nutrients plants do possess do not exist in the proper state for our bodies to efficiently use. There are ways to get around this, sure, and our ancestors developed a lot of ways to safely access plants’ nutrition. For example, traditional processing technologies such as fermenting and nixtamalizing can do the job. However, all of these technologies require time, effort, energy and resources. But…the dietary landscape was transformed when our ancestors realized the nutritional power of animal-based foods, and, most importantly understood that animals are biologically equipped to do all of this work for them! Animals are essentially food factories biologically equipped to transform resources otherwise inaccessible to us, into foods that we can safely derive incredible nutrition in the forms of meat, offal, blood, fat, milk, and even chyme, the partially digested stomach and small intestinal contents!
However, today we have changed food production and consumption patterns and thereby completely altered this system which held true for almost 2 million years. This system only works when animals are on their natural diets and, when we eat the entire animal. The calculations don’t work when we mass-produce animals, feed animals people food, and most importantly, when we only eat meat. Meat, after all, is one of the least nutrient-dense parts of the animal and our modern consumption patterns in the US has us relying almost exclusively on the flesh of the animal accounting for only 50% of the animal by weight.
How do we turn this around?
There is no doubt that we need to modify our current practice of eating meat from factory farms. But, the answer is certainly NOT to abandon eating animals. Instead, it is to replace our modern dietary practices of eating only meat from a system in which we have no stake, knowledge or control with eating the entire animal that has been ethically sourced by the consumer. Ethical hunting, fishing, trapping, clamming and even crabbing are enormously powerful ways to do this in the most visceral, meaningful and connected way possible. Raising animals ourselves is another approach. But, even smaller, more immediately accessible steps such as supporting local small-scale farmers/ranchers, abattoirs, butchers by purchasing directly from them are also incredible ways to remove links from your food chain and contribute to the much needed change in our food system.
Just a few images from nose-to-tail butchering and eating at our house this year! Notice how ALL family members are involved?
Putting a Face Back on Our Plates
More directly sourcing our food reminds us that an animal died for us to eat, or what I refer to as, “putting a face back on our plates.” There is nothing barbaric, or unethical, or wrong about this; in fact, when done properly it is actually quite beautiful. But, it isn’t just where we get our food that’s important. It’s what we do with the animals once we have access to them that contributes to making the difference. This is the magic that happens in your kitchen. Here are a few suggestions for ways to begin to incorporate a whole-animal based approach in your home:
- Bring in whole or large parts of animals to your kitchen. Yes, in your kitchen! You (and the rest of your family) should see skin, heads, and organs and associate all of that with food, NOT waste.
- Butcher at home, even if it is just a whole chicken. Butchering is a multi-sensory experience that creates connection, promotes understanding, and instills a sense of responsibility towards using every bit of the animal to nourish your family.
- Learn how to cook offal. Start with making bone broth, creating chicken liver pate, and rendering fat. These simple preparations not only produce delicious and nutritious food, but also instill a level of accomplishment that empowers you to take it to the next level and cook with kidneys, make blood sausage, and even prepare head cheese!
- Talk about the animal…yes, at the dinner table… It is not weird to talk about the life and death of the animal that is nourishing you. Rather, it is quite strange to avoid the topic all together.
- Educate others. Share your thoughts, approach, and even food with relatives, neighbors and friends. I firmly believe that there is no more powerful way to teach than through the sharing of food.
Is it the End of Eating Meat?
I really hope the end of eating meat, just meat, is actually here. Eating the same cuts of meat from primarily three different animals (beef, pigs and chicken) is a modern phenomenon that bears no resemblance to our ancestral diets. Ever since our ancestors began to hunt almost 2 million years ago they made use of the entire animal. Eating meat along with the rest of the animal is the most nutritious, visceral, connected sustainable and ethically responsible approach possible to nourishing yourself and your family. But, eating only meat, especially factory-farmed meat, is something completely different.