Why I Eat Paleo - The Sustainable, Ethical and Nutritional Truth
Let me just start off by saying by no means is the goal of this post to tell you the way you eat is wrong. Everyone has the right to decide what they put in their own bodies. I simply feel like a lot of the picture is missing, or ignored because it is easier that way. There is more that everyone needs to consider when deciding how they want to eat. Personally I feel very strongly about the way I eat, and I think there are some very important reasons why. These reasons, for me, fit into three categories. Sustainability, Ethical reasons and Nutritional reasons.
There are a lot of people out there that are much smarter than me, so I will share their research as well, and links to their sites if you want to dig further into this rabbit hole. But here is my defense of Paleo.
That should be a poem: "In Defense of Paleo"
I just want to get it out there right away, I touch on this in ethics as well, but I do not think that factory farms are sustainable and healthful for the environment. But I hate to break it to you neither are those giant fields full or corn, soy and grains.
The earth needs both plants and animals to be healthy and there is really no way around this (Kale vs. Cow 2018). Let's consider grazing animals, for example. About 70% of the planet is not suitable for crops due to different reasons - but this land is 100% suitable for grazing ruminants, such as cattle (Rodgers, D, 2017). When animals are grazed properly they have amazing benefits for our environment; "[t]hey provide vital nutrients and important bacteria through their manure, and their chomping stimulates new grass growth, which can help the plant sequester more carbon. Their overall impact on the land helps it hold onto rainfall more effectively, especially in brittle environments" (Rodgers, D, 2017).
I am going to continue to focus in on cows, because the bare the brunt of most peoples complaints when it comes to how 'unsustainable' meat is. Which I think is an uninformed viewpoint. Or at least a viewpoint focused on factory farms and not the alternative of properly raised and grazed cows.
A big sustainability complaint is that cows use way too much water - well I have news for you, the average grass fed cow requires far less water than a factory farmed cow, around 100 gallons per pound vs over 400 (Niman, N. H. 2014). Even better is that things like rice, walnuts, sugar require over 400 gallons of water per pound (Wolf, R, 2013). Guess what is more nutritious, rice or beef? Right so now what seems more sustainable? Rice or Beef?
Another big issue when we are talking cows is methane - apparently the cows of the world are farting so much that they are singlehandedly causing global warming. However grass-fed cows are sequestering carbon in the grass they are eating, which reduces their impact, and they also produce far less greenhouse gasses than the growing and carting around industrial grain around to feed conventional meant (Paleo, Meat, and the Environment, 2017). So lumping all meat together is just a bad idea.
Factory farming is not sustainable. But grazing cows is. Grazing cows are inherently more natural and better for the environment than a giant mono-crop of GMO soy or corn or grain. How can anyone think that completely wiping out a natural environment to grow one thing that is going to deplete the soil and cause a bunch of damage is better than letting cows do their thing?
There is plenty more out there on the issue of sustainability. For me the key issue is that we should be supporting local farmers as much as possible, and letting our dollars talk. The more we spend on sustainable agriculture, whether that is plants or animals, the more factory farms and mono-cropping industries have to stop and listen.
Inherently animals are sustainable, but factory farms are not. Let's focus our attention on that!
Many people choose not to eat animals because they cannot handle the death. I understand this, however they are all missing, or choosing to ignore part of the story.
That field of soybeans or lettuce was once a natural habitat that supported a whole ecosystem of creatures and plants; bunnies, mice, creepy crawlies, grasses, and so on. What do you think happens to those creatures when the tillers come through to prepare the land for a crop to be planted (Kale vs. Cow 2018)? Do you think the bunnies and field mice get a nice little eviction notice and they all hop away and live happily every after? Absolutely not.
The harsh reality is that they die. They die in a kind of nasty way too. Not only that but an entire ecosystem is destroyed, so not only is there immediate death, but there is continued death as the creatures that depended on that land to survive no longer can (Ballantyne, S., PhD, & Toth, S, 2018). Plus there are most likely pesticides and herbicides sprayed on that land, which leads to continual destruction of the environment, degradation of the soil, more death of species and potential dangers to humans as well (Jakuboski, 2011).
To quote Liz Wolfe "we want things to be happy. We want things to be not painful. We want things to be not hard" (Kale vs. Cow, 2018). But in reality they are hard. Animals die. "It's the circle of life" (Lion King), and no matter what we choose to eat we are still 100% involved in this circle of life. We simply cannot ignore this.
I am sorry if this sounds harsh. But the real truth is that unless you are growing every single thing you eat on your balcony, the food you eat is causing death. The difference is that I acknowledge and appreciate that death. I understand that a life has been sacrificed in order for me to live. People that just eat their lettuce and tofu and act all high and mighty and like their hands are clean have just as much and maybe more blood on their hands. Not everyone is high and mighty about this, there are tons of vegans and vegetarians out there who advocate for better meat because they know the deal (Kale vs. Cow, 2018). I am sorry that I am generalizing. But this gets me fired up, because there are some people out there that totally choose to ignore this other side to the story.
I understand that a life has been taken in order for me to live so there are some things that I do to make sure I properly appreciate this sacrifice. I think that factory farms are a horrible, terrible thing. They are horrible for animals, they are not good for the planet and they produce meat that is nutritionally inferior. I choose to spend my money on local, properly raised meat. I would like to acknowledge that this is not financially feasible for everyone, but try. Money talks. If we all were to spend our money on properly raised animals, the powers that be would have to listen.
Anyway I have a half cow and half pig share from a local farm, that raises its animals properly. The animals wander and graze outside. The cows are grass fed and finished and hormone and antibiotic free. The pigs are pasture raised and fed organic vegetable waste and spent grains from a local brewery. These are happy animals that are slaughtered in the most humane way possible. I also try not to waste any food, and I try to eat nose to tail as much as I can get my hands on. That means making heart meatballs, liver chili, and my own bone broth.
I know a lot of people think humane slaughter is impossible (Kale vs. Cow, 2018) - but again one side of the story is being ignored. Animals that die 'naturally', typically die gruesome and violent deaths. Do you think a wolf renders a deer unconscious before tearing at its flesh? No way. Do you think those little bunnies that died to till land for crops had a pleasant death? Not likely. Do you think lions try not to stress out the zebra? Nope. Nature is brutal - the rules are regulations surrounding humane slaughter make for a nicer death than mother nature ever would (Kale vs. Cow, 2018).
Another key issue is what animals I choose to eat. I don't eat a lot of chicken, because for that one life, the death of one chicken, maybe 4 or 5 people can be fed (Ballantyne, S., PhD, & Toth, S, 2018). One whole cow produces about 500 pounds of meat. That could probably feed a family of four for a year (Ballantyne, S., PhD, & Toth, S, 2018). People have this hate on for red meat. But think about it, one cow could feed a family for a year....cows are the future. Some calculations have been done that estimate that per 100 kilos of usable plant protein, 25 times more animals die than in producing that same amount of animal protein (Andrew 2016). Estimates differ. But the result is that either way whether you eat meat or not you have blood on your hands. Now it is just about admitting it and deciding what you are going to do about it to make that death as ethical as possible.
There is no way around it, humans are omnivores. Out teeth say so, our genes say so, or digestive tracts say so, our history says so (Ballantyne, 2017, pg. 56-57). So I just do not understand why we think we can outwit our biology without repercussions?
At it's core paleo is about nutrient density. It is about eating a large variety of fruits and veggies, healthy fats, properly raised and harvested meat and seafood, nuts, seeds, and eggs. It is about eating real food. How could anyone every think that a twinkie is better than a sweet potato? That is not even food.
The key things I avoid are refined sugars (basically cocaine), hydrogenated vegetable oils (the worst thing you could ever consume), grains (toxic and inflammatory), and factory farmed meat (you are what you eat, eats). I also eat dark chocolate, 100% all the way, occasional dairy, white potatoes, and peanut butter, obviously. These foods all seem to work for me, and I have found this through many years of experimenting and paying attention to my body.
My paleo is not about being dogmatic, it is about my own n=1, aka figuring out what works for me. Some people do really well with white rice, so then by all means! Some people cannot have eggs, again do what is best for you. But the one thing I ask is that you really listen to your body. Just because you are mentally or emotionally attached to the way you eat does not mean it is physically helping you. Take an honest look at how you really feel. Are you sluggish? Foggy? Overweight and uncomfortable with it? Tired all the time? Grumpy? Hangry? Do you burp often? Do you have bathroom issues? Do you have inflammation? Do you have joint pain? Do you have headaches? Do you have heart burn? Acid re-flux? IBS? These things are not normal!!!!!!!! You can live differently, and the secret is food. So be real with yourself, are you really happy with the way you eat? If you are more power to you!
So I have a secret, that I have already mentioned on this blog, but maybe you missed it. I was a vegetarian for 16 years!!! Guess what. I had daily headaches, weighed 20-30 lbs more, was hangry all the time, and was totally in an unhappy fog. The reason for this was grains and a lack of protein. I was eating grains to fill myself up because I was not eating enough fat and protein to feel satiated. My body was literally crying out for protein and I was too stubborn to listen. But when I did, the difference was out of this world.
So this happened because of something called amino acids. "Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein, which forms a substantial percentage of our bodies" (Ballantyne, 2017, pg 30.) There are 9 essential amino acids, and 11 others that are best if they come from food, but that our bodies can make (Ballantyne, 2017, pg. 30). Guess where these amino acids come from? Meat. Yup. That's right. There are some proteins in vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts, but compared to meat they are inferior (Ballantyne, 2017, pg. 30). They also don't contain complete amino acids, which means you have to combine all sorts of things together to get the nutrient density you would get from eating some salmon, or grass-fed beef. Plus it is way easier to digest protein from animals rather than plants (Ballantyne, 2017, pg. 30).
Grains were a problem for me, and are also a problem for so many other people because of this thing called lectins. Lectins are basically the natural defense system of the grain, They are trying to keep the grain safe enough to reproduce. Which means they cause inflammation and other digestive upsets in our bodies (Sisson, M, 2016).
When it comes to nutrition and the paleo diet I could go on forever. But I don't want to bore, or overwhelm you. Plus there are so many amazing resources out there. I am going to recommend a few that really helped me understand why the way I eat makes me feel so much better than I used to, and if you decide you are interested you can easily dig deeper.
- Eat the Yolks, Liz Wolfe
- Practical Paleo, Diane Sanfilippo
- The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf
- Paleo Principals, Sarah Ballantyne
- The Paleo Mom, Sarah Ballantyne - she has all the science on her website. a couple good articles are
Andrew, E. (2016, August 15). Ordering The Vegetarian Meal? There's More Animal Blood On Your Hands. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/ordering-vegetarian-meal-there-s-more-animal-blood-your-hands/
Ballantyne, Sarah. Paleo Principles. Victory Belt Publishing , 2017.
Ballantyne, S., PhD, & Toth, S. (2018, January 19). TPV Podcast, Episode 283: Handling Critics, Conflicts and Vegans [Audio blog post]. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://www.thepaleomom.com/paleo-podcast-vegans/
Jakuboski, S. (2011, July 11). The Dangers of Pesticides. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/green-science/the_dangers_of_pesticides
Niman, N. H. (2014.). Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Paleo, Meat, and the Environment | Paleo Leap. (2017, February 24). Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://paleoleap.com/paleo-meat-environment/
Rodgers, D. (2017, October 05). Amazing Grazing: Why Grass-Fed Beef Isn't to Blame in the Climate Change Debate. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://sustainabledish.com/beef-isnt-to-blame/
Sanfilippo, D & Wolfe L. Kale vs. Cow with Diane Rodgers [Audio blog interview]. (2018, January 18). Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://balancedbites.com/episode331/
Sisson, M. (2016, December 12). Why Grains Are Unhealthy. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-grains-are-unhealthy/
Wolf, R. (2016, January 13). Eating Paleo Can Save the World. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://robbwolf.com/2016/01/13/eating-paleo-can-save-the-world/