Vegan marathoner Matt Frazier says proponents of the meat-heavy Paleo diet and the plant-based vegan diet should stop arguing about which eating plan is better and instead work together to promote healthy eating across the country.
Frazier, author of No-Meat Athlete, says Paleo adherents and vegans may not realize that their dietary principles are more alike than different.
“Though we focus on the differences in our diets, and fight like pissed-off hornets as a result, the healthy versions of both Paleo and vegan diets look an awful lot alike,” Frazier wrote on the Huffington Post.
Frazier says Paleo-diet proponents and vegans agree on the following ideas:
- Vegetables are great and fruits are good;
- Processed food is unhealthy and should be avoided;
- Milk from cows should only be consumed by cows;
- Grass-fed, pasture-raised animals are healthier than factory-farmed animals.
- Fast food and junk food should be avoided.
Much of the vitriol between Paleo meat eaters and vegans has to do with ethical issues surrounding the treatment of animals. Paleo advocates say animals were intended to be eaten by humans, and there’s no cruelty involved in following the “natural order” of things. In contrast, vegans say raising animals solely to slaughter and eat them is inhumane and cruel.
“Vegans hate that Paleos so proudly eat meat,” Frazier observed. “Paleos hate that vegans try to tell them something that humans have done throughout our history is suddenly wrong.”
Another major bone of contention (which Frazier does not address in his nutrition-focused blog post) concerns the environmental impact of livestock production. Vegans point out that meat eaters are responsible for a much larger carbon footprint than vegetarians. Last year, Oscar-winning director James Cameron, a vegan, made headlines after slamming meat eaters for destroying the environment.
“It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it,” he said. “So it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.”
Cameron challenged meat-eating environmentalists to switch to a plant-based diet if they’re serious about saving the planet (see video above), saying you are not an environmentalist if you eat meat.
“You can’t be an environmentalist, you can’t be an ocean steward, without truly walking the walk,” he said. “And you can’t walk the walk in the world of the future, the world ahead of us, the world of our children, not eating a plant-based diet.”
In 2006, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report indicated that 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions is due to livestock production. In reality, that figure is closer to 51%, according to a 2009 report by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang of the IFC Environment and Social Development Department.
More recently, billionaire Bill Gates noted that livestock production is responsible for 51% of greenhouse-gas emissions. “[Moving toward a vegetarian diet is] important in light of the environmental impacts of large-scale meat and dairy production, with livestock estimated to produce nearly 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases,” he said.
In response, Paleos say they advocate eating grass-fed cows, which contribute to a healthy eco-system. However, some experts take issue with the notion that grass-fed beef is more environmentally friendly than factory-farmed livestock, which are fed grains and corn.
Dr. Jude Capper, an adjunct professor of dairy sciences at Washington State University, said the myth of the eco-friendly, grass-fed cow is misleading at best and a sham at worst. If anything, Capper says grass-fed cows do more harm to the Earth than factory-farmed ones.
“There’s a perception that grass-fed animals are frolicking in the sunshine, kicking their heels up full of joy and pleasure,” she said. “What we actually found was from the land-use basis, from the energy, from water — and particularly, based on the carbon footprints — grass-fed is far worse than corn-fed.”
This is because raising grass-fed cows is inefficient and results in more water and land usage and produces more waste in the long haul.
“They have a far lower efficiency, far lower productivity,” said Capper. “The animals take 23 months to grow (versus 15 for corn-fed cattle). That’s an extra eight months of feed, of water, land use, and also an awful lot of waste. If we have a grass-fed animal, compared to a corn-fed animal, that’s like adding almost one car to the road for every single animal. That’s a huge increase in carbon footprints.”
Pat LaFrieda, a third-generation meat wholesaler, agrees that grass-fed cows are environmentally costly. Interestingly, he says all cows — even those labeled “grass-fed” — are grain-fed at some point.
“The carbon footprint of something that’s grass-fed is much larger because it has to live a lot longer to get to weight if it’s not fed grain or corn,” he told Bloomberg. “What most people don’t know is that all beef is grass-fed for about 85% of its life. It’s finished off on grain.”