By, Jill O'Brien
A couple of months ago, I found myself in conversations that, well, sort of ticked me off. At least at first anyway.
The first conversation was with a non-profit that does a lot of good work in support of animals. They were looking for a place to have a fundraiser to help keep the black-footed ferret from going extinct. They were also looking for a caterer for the event, which they asked if I could do. Although I no longer cater, I do make exceptions for organizations that I believe in, and will offer my time and talent as my contribution. I’m a big fan of ferrets.
Our friend and sourcing partner’s buffalo ranch is located on the Conata Basin on the edge of the Badlands, where black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced. This ranch is managed for grassland health, ecosystem wholeness and bio-diversity. With bison, prairie dog and ferret cohabitation on the prairie, it seemed like the perfect place. The ranch agreed to host the event, but I was uncertain if I’d be able to cater it with an unpredictable travel schedule ahead of me.
I spoke with the organizer of the event to get some preliminary information: number of guests, facility location on the ranch, time, menu, etc. The only question she was able to answer at that time regarded the menu—it was to be all vegetarian. Before thinking and maybe because I instantly felt the irony in this, I said, “You’re not serving buffalo?” She replied that members of her organization take an oath not to eat animals. “Oh,” I replied and then, not being able to stop my mouth from moving quickly enough, continued, “But if we didn’t eat some of the animals the population would get out of control and the land would become degraded and there wouldn’t be a healthy habitat for anything.” Gulp. To which she responded, “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” We continued with a pleasant conversation and I told her I would get back to her.
The second conversation was with a friend who had just watched a fairly new documentary titled “What the Health.” She asked if I had watched it and I had not, but inquired what it was about. She explained that it was about going to a 100% vegan, plant-based diet. She went on to say, there were a lot of “expert” doctors that stood behind this idea. The film suggested that eating animal by-products was like frying up cigarettes (which they do in the film) and eating meat is directly linked to all kinds of diseases. She added that the paleo dieters have it all wrong since our early ancestors were herbivores and frugivors (fruit eaters). “Really? How far back were these ancestors?” I asked.
These kind of radical films make me crazy and a little worked up. I fired off in rapid succession: “I don’t suppose they talked about the chemicals used to grow crops and the runoff into our rivers, lakes and oceans? Did they have a solution for what to do with the growing population of animals? Where would they go? What would they eat? Have they ever seen what a handful of chickens can do to a yard or garden?”
While talking, I opened my laptop and did a quick Google search on the documentary. “Ah ha,” I said, “This film is being debunked by many other ‘experts.’” The film crew, actors and experts were all vegans and many were animal activists. My searches lead me to article after article of mostly bad reviews. In short, most said that the film took it too far with outright false statements and unsupported scientific evidence. There was even a review by a vegan doctor stating, “As a vegan health professional, I am sometimes mortified to be associated with the junk science that permeates our community. And as an animal rights activist, I’m disheartened by advocacy efforts that can make us look scientifically illiterate, dishonest, and occasionally like a cult of conspiracy theorists.”
I would certainly agree that more fruits and vegetables should be included in our daily diet. I recently bought a juicer to incorporate more into mine. I have vegetarian and vegan friends whose reasoning and values I respect. Importantly, I developed a pretty mean black bean quinoa burger recipe.
Obviously, I am a meat eater, but like our customers, I try to be an ethical meat eater. I care passionately about our environment and the welfare of animals—domesticated and wild. I do not believe in confinement or cruelty and I would also prefer that mountain lions would never have to be shot. But that is not realistic. In order to have them in our uncontrolled habitat, they have to be controlled.
Looking back on both conversations, I’m a little upset with myself because I could have handled both conversations better and not reacted in such a defensive manner. But I was also aggravated with the one-sided, narrow views. Most of us are faced with hundreds of decisions every day and we do not need to have radical positions forced upon us to scare us or make us second guess facts or truths. In my opinion there is no room for radicalism, as it usually just produces a radical opposition. It can also have an impact on the ethical farmers or ranchers trying to improve our environment and produce healthy, good food.
For the most part, our historical diet has been based on what was available and the monetary and physical limitations of the time. Today some of us have choices and the opportunity to vote with our mouth, but not all. I’m not a scientist, but I know the discussion on how our food supply affects our personal and global health needs to continue. We must keep working on finding better solutions with our ever-growing population.
Radical positions are not solutions. I would also never tell a consumer that if you are a vegan you are directly responsible for killing everything in a field except the chosen crop, destroying bio-diversity. Radical. I would, however, rephrase a Michael Pollen mantra along these lines: Eat food, not too much, mostly regenerative, organic, leafy green things AND a little sustainably-raised, 100%, humanely field-harvested protein!