In this episode, we discuss:
- Why meat consumption is a polarizing topic
- Whether we are eating too much meat
- The problem with plant-based diets for children
- Whether there is a difference between grass-fed and conventionally raised meat
- Raising livestock as an environmentally friendly practice
- Why regenerative agriculture is an ethical choice
Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m really excited to welcome back as my guests, Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers. Robb really needs no introduction. He’s one of the founding fathers of the Paleo movement. He’s a former research biochemist, The New York Times bestselling author of The Paleo Solution and Wired To Eat. Robb has functioned as a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism; is co-founder of the nutrition [and] athletic training journal, Performance Menu; is co-owner of NorCal Strength and Conditioning, one of Men’s Health’s top 30 gyms in America; and he’s transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world via his top-ranked iTunes podcasts, books, and seminars.
Diana Rodgers is a registered dietitian and real food nutritionist and writer living on a working organic farm. She has a clinical nutrition practice; hosts the Sustainable Dish podcast; and speaks internationally about human nutrition sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice. She’s written two books and helped to produce the short film Soft Slaughter, which won a Real Food Media award. And her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Edible Boston, and To Market.
And I’m really excited to talk to Robb and Diana about their new book and film project called Sacred Cow, which I’ve been involved with. And it’s a project to really set the record straight on meat consumption. I’ll just leave it at that for now, because we’re going to go into a lot of depth on this in the show today. So, without further delay, I bring you Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers.
Chris Kresser: Robb and Diana, [it’s] such a pleasure to have you both back on the show. Robb, what is this, your 14th appearance or something?
Robb Wolf: If we count in dog years, yes.
Chris Kresser: So I’m super excited to dig into this. We all have a long history of addressing meat consumption, and all the debunking [of] a lot of the myths and misconceptions around that. And when you guys told me you were going to be doing this project, Sacred Cow, both a book and a film, I was really excited that I didn’t have to do it.
Diana Rodgers: You’ve kind of done it a little bit. I mean, you’ve done a lot of work in this space already, Chris.
Chris Kresser: I’ve played some role. I’ve taken a few for the team on [Joe] Rogan’s show, for sure. But you guys were both much better people to do this than I would have been. So yeah, let’s just start with a 30,000-foot view. I mean, if you want to start a fight [at a] dinner party, yeah, you could talk about religion, you could talk about global warming. But I think [that] talking about whether meat’s good or bad for you might be at the top of the list in terms of.
Robb Wolf: And the funny thing [is] this book ends up dragging in religion and global warming, so it’s like.
Chris Kresser: You’re just going for the trifecta, huh?
Robb Wolf: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: You wanted to see how many death threats you could generate in one fell swoop. So, yeah. Why is that? Why is meat so polarizing?
- 1 Why Meat Consumption Is a Polarizing Topic
- 2 Are We Eating Too Much Meat?
- 3 The Problem with Plant-Based Diets for Children
- 4 Is There a Difference between Grass-Fed and Conventionally Raised Meat?
- 5 Raising Livestock Is an Environmentally Friendly Practice
- 6 Why Sustainable Agriculture Is an Ethical Choice
Why Meat Consumption Is a Polarizing Topic
Diana Rodgers: Well, we talk about it a little bit in the book. We have kind of a chapter on it called “Meat Escape Goat,” and that actually was the backup title for this book. Meat is so powerful in our culture; it’s such a strong symbol of wealth and death and blood and power and masculinity. And a lot of this work we kind of adopted a little bit from Frédéric Leroy, who I’ve also had on my podcast, and he’s in the film, as well. He does a lot [of] writing about this.
And so meat has gone from something of [a] necessity to the most polarizing food there is right now. And unfortunately, because it’s so powerful, it’s able to absorb a lot of our stresses from our failing health to global warming to our failing ethics. And it’s only able to absorb all those because it’s so strong and it really is a lot easier to pin all of our worries on one thing like beef instead of tackling the fossil fuel and transportation industry, or instead of tackling the processed food industry.
Chris Kresser: Industrial monocropping and the whole system that we have now.
Diana Rodgers: Yes, and our whole disconnection from nature and fear of death. So it’s a lot easier to say meat is bad than to actually address the real problems.
Chris Kresser: Yes, unfortunately, that kind of thinking is pretty rampant today. And not just in the world of nutrition, but in so many other places. I think, to me, this may be a little bit of a tangent, but we’ve reached a level of complexity in society where I think it’s kind of overwhelming for human brains. And we weren’t, maybe our brains are not even really set up to deal with this kind of complexity. And so we seek these overly simplistic solutions as a way of perhaps reducing the stress that’s associated with the complexity of our lives.
Robb Wolf: I’m looking at a paper titled “COVID-19—how a pandemic reveals that everything is connected to everything else.” And the second point that it makes is the emotional response to unexpected complexity and kind of the evolution of the brain and that it really, it takes almost like a zen meditative practice to be able to look at a complex problem, be comfortable with making subtle adjustments, and then waiting for feedback to occur so that you can see if that was a good or a bad idea. Whereas instead, we tend to react more akin to a car spinning out on an icy road, which is [an] overcorrection, followed by [an] overcorrection, followed by [a] crash.
Chris Kresser: Right. And there also, I think, seems to be a real element of tribalism in this, which is an evolutionary response for humans, as well. That we associate being part of a tribe with safety and not being part of a tribe with danger. And there’s a really strong identification that seems to happen once an oversimplification has been made and we self-identify with a particular group that either the meat-eaters or the [non-]meat-eaters, vegans, etc., then that identification takes on a life of its own, and then we become less able to process information that does not, that would threaten our membership in that tribe.
Robb Wolf: Yep.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly, exactly. We talk about this in the book, and a bit in the film. Really deeply in the book, we talk about what happens when people leave that tribe of veganism. Fanatical vegans. And, of course, they’re not all fanatical and Robb and I aren’t even anti-vegan. But what we’re trying to point out is that this polarization that’s happening between meat or no meat is just so classic of, as you said, what’s happening in our culture today. It’s rural versus urban, it’s blue versus red, and there just can’t be anything in between, any sort of nuanced conversation ever.
Sacred Cow, a new project from Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf, is setting the record straight on meat. Check out this episode of RHR for a deep dive into meat consumption: why it’s a polarizing topic, its ethics and environmental impact, and more. #paleo #nutrition #chriskresser
Are We Eating Too Much Meat?
Chris Kresser: Except on this podcast, and yours and a few others, which is why so many people I think are listening to podcasts. But so, yeah, let’s talk a little bit about actual meat consumption. I mean, what did you find in your research related to this question? Are we really eating too much meat? You see this all the time in media articles like we’re way over-consuming meat. It’s going to destroy our health. It’s going to destroy our environment. But does the evidence really support that idea?
Diana Rodgers: So, since 1970, our meat consumption has actually been on a steady decline; both in the [United States] and worldwide, it’s flatlined, it has not increased at all. What has increased is our intake of ultra-processed foods, our spending on ultra-processed foods and ultra-processed vegetable oils. And so our actual meat consumption in the [United States] is only two ounces per person per day, which is hardly too much.
But there is a perception that all Americans are sitting down to a 72-ounce T-bone steak every night. And so, this gets into the whole idea of, like, what is moderation? Is that even an appropriate piece of advice for dietitians to be giving out? And I mean, Robb and I both went through the studies. I don’t know, Robb, if you want to talk a little bit about, like, the studies that vilify meat. And I know, Chris, you’ve identified this on podcasts before and in blog posts.
Robb Wolf: Yeah, I mean, we just did some of the analysis of absolute versus relative risk. Some of the really challenging features of these epi-based, but food frequency questionnaire-derived studies where there’s just a ton of questions about is there more error than signal in these and trying to compare and contrast that with some randomized control trials. And also, we dug into some natural experiments like the mid-Victorian era and the relative[ly] poor diet that they had, and poor health, and then an improvement in their dietary profile, improved protein intake, more meat, more fish, more fruits and vegetables.
Dramatic improvement in health, average lifespan as long as what we enjoy today. And then industrialization of their food system and a decrease in quality and loss of stature, loss of health. And so we kind of tried to triangulate on this in a few different ways. We didn’t go super Paleo on this from a justification perspective. I think that we’ve kind of mapped all of that region pretty well. But we did try to pull in what science we do have both on the randomized clinical intervention side and also kind of painting the retrospective nutrition studies, hopefully in a proper light.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I think we’ve all done quite a bit of work on that. And we can link to the huge resource section I put together for the first Rogan debate I had with Joel Kahn and then the most recent ones, and your resources, Diana, which remain awesome on your website and yours, too, Robb. So let’s not maybe spend too much time on that since I think, as you said, Robb, we’ve covered that territory.
Robb Wolf: Most folks are probably, yeah, yeah.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Probably most people listening to us.
The Problem with Plant-Based Diets for Children
Diana Rodgers: But I think it does branch over into the ethics, though. And that’s something that we kind of cross over a little bit, we identified a little bit [in the] nutrition section and deeper in our ethics chapter. But this idea that everyone necessarily should be eating less meat, especially being dictated by people who have the privilege to be pushing away a nutrient-dense food when so many people actually really need more. And there’s only been one randomized control trial looking at children who were food insecure with more meat versus less meat. And the kids who got the meat supplement excelled behaviorally, academically, and physically.
So there’s never been any research that I can find where there were identical diets and they just pulled the meat out and the kids improved. And so when we look at programs like Meatless Mondays in the public schools where we’re feeding children who might, that might be their only meal of the day or their most nutrient-dense meal of the day, or we look at policies, especially what’s being pushed forward in California, where people are trying to pull meat away from kids, that’s when Robb and I as parents, and as people interested in public health, get really frustrated because there’s just absolutely no evidence that pulling meat out of the diet is going to benefit kids.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I remember going over that study in preparation for all the debates. And yeah, it’s amazing to me how a lot of these changes are being made with no evidence to support them. There’s just sort of assumptions being made based on stuff that’s in the popular media or it’s sort of like if you say a thing enough times, people just start to believe that it’s true. That’s one of the most common rhetorical fallacies and we seem to have suffered from that in this case, because I hear that all the time. Not so much from my patients, but just people in my life are peripherally connected to this idea that reducing meat consumption is beneficial for kids and will help them be healthier. And I think a lot of kids already aren’t getting enough. Even kids who eat smaller, moderate amounts of meat aren’t getting enough nutrition as it is because they’re not eating the whole animal. They’re not eating organs. And so removing even that makes me very nervous.
Robb Wolf: And that really is going to be kind of a canary in the coal mine of sorts. Seeing how the kind of societal adoption of vegan or vegan-leaning nutrition for children, it will be interesting. I’ve somewhat cynically kind of said if we let that run a good five years, we’re going to have all the data we need to show that that was a horrible idea. But there’s going to be some really catastrophic outcomes to that. But it’s also one of these things that as hard as you, when they fight, actually relaxing and just letting that process happen for a good five to eight years and then let the data come in on that will be pretty eye-opening.
Diana Rodgers: But we already have data, too, on what’s happened in some instances with the vegan-fed babies, exclusively breastfed babies where the mother was even taking a [vitamin] B12 supplement. And then overall nutrient deficiencies that we just see in vegetarian and vegans versus omnivores. And so it’s funny because the.
Robb Wolf: The data is there.
Diana Rodgers: It is, and no one’s looking at it because this feels like the right thing to be doing.
Chris Kresser: It doesn’t fit the cultural narrative.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah.
Is There a Difference between Grass-Fed and Conventionally Raised Meat?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Funny, not funny. So one of the questions that I get asked most often, [and] I’m sure it’s true for both of you. But is there a big difference between grass-fed and conventionally raised beef and if somewhat, grass-fed beef is, of course, a little bit more expensive, especially if you’re not buying in bulk. So if someone can’t afford grass-fed beef, should they just eschew meat consumption altogether?
Robb Wolf: Yeah, that’s been a spicy one. Like we’ve been on a few regenerative [agriculture]-oriented podcasts or some folks that may be in the Functional Medicine scene but more in the kind of holistic-leaning kind of deal, and it’s a really controversial thing to throw out there that our best current understanding is that there’s not a huge difference in conventionally raised meat versus grass-fed meat with regard to nutrition specifically. Now, we can get into discussions of ethics and environment, and we could maybe even get into some discussions around bioaccumulation and the potential problems of mold toxicity being a problem with dairy and in meat, if those animals eat something where they could get a pretty good aflatoxin dose. But if we’re just being really specific about nutrition, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, there’s just not that much difference.
And Diana and I tortured the data every way we could. And there was just no way short of lying to be able to make this work, to really make the spread that great. And I’m probably one of the reasons that this is so pervasive in the scene because, for a number of years, I talked about how grass-fed meat had more omega-3s than grain-finished meat, which isn’t always the case, ironically. Like, when you really look at the literature, then there’s a fair amount of randomness there. But then also, we’re talking about these orders of magnitude differences. Like, if we really want to talk about omega-3s, a three-ounce piece of salmon has more omega-3s than eight pounds of grass-finished beef. So if we’re really worried about that, then we should never use olive oil, we should never eat almonds because the omega-6 content there is so comparatively high that it would just wash all that out.
But it was kind of an interesting realization when we were fiddling with all this information that just meat is highly nutritious. Like, I was kind of pulling my hair out. I’m like, “Oh, just meat, particularly from herbivores, from grazing animals, they just have this amazing capacity to upcycle nutrients, and even when they’re kind of fed low-quality input, it’s amazing what the final product is.” It’s really kind of jaw-dropping and amazing. But man, that is a controversial topic. And it is worth mentioning, though, that the United States is really about the only place in the world that grass-finished meat is more expensive than grain-finished meat. If you go to Australia, better restaurants will say we have grain-finished meat and it’ll be 30 percent more expensive, because they’re the only place that they’re …
The United States is the only place with the economy that’s got so many oblique dead ends to it, that we could stick all these additional resources into something but make it look cheaper. And same deal as just like comparing a Twinkie versus an apple. Like, how does a box of Twinkies run three or four bucks or something like that, but even conventionally raised food or fruit is several dollars a pound?
Diana Rodgers: And this circles back again to the ethical dilemma of telling people that they shouldn’t be eating meat or they should only be eating grass-fed meat, because there are just so many people that can’t access that. And so a lot of people that are pushing for this meat reduction or these mandates that we should necessarily be eating less meat will say less meat better meat or all these things that actually put disadvantaged people at a further disadvantage. Because we know that if kids, especially in their first thousand days, but even any period of growth, when they have more access to particularly red meat, they do better.
Chris Kresser: So I assume then, just getting back to the question, given that there isn’t as significant a nutritional difference at least between grass-fed meat and conventional meat that you wouldn’t suggest that people avoid meat consumption if they can’t eat grass-fed meat. And you’ve also made this point many times before Diana that even conventional meat is often mostly grass-fed.
Diana Rodgers: Exactly. So about 70 percent of a typical steer that becomes meat in a conventional store spends their life on grass. Eighty-five percent of our current beef herd is on land that we can’t even crop anyway. And a lot of people don’t realize that. So my recommendation has always been if you’re in the grocery store, and you’re looking at the meat case, and you don’t have a ton of money, and your choice is really chicken, pork, or beef, beef wins both environmentally. Nutritionally, beef is about 30 percent more nutrient-dense than chicken and then ethically, too, because even when these animals are on, finished on feedlots, first of all, it’s only about 30 percent of their life; they can still move around, [and] they’re not in cages. I mean, when you compare this to what chicken and pork production looks like, where those animals are 100 percent grain-fed in an industrial system and 100 percent indoors their entire life. An industrial chicken will die at five weeks if you don’t kill it first because they just aren’t meant to, they’re not real.
Chris Kresser: They’re mutants.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah. And so it’s funny that a lot of people will say it’s more ethical or more environmental to eat chicken or even pork over beef. Beef is the number one worst of the meats to eat.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that’s always struck me as backward and I sometimes will come across, not full of people who only eat chicken as vegetarian-like, or aspiring, moving toward vegetarianism or something like that. And I always, not always, but sometimes I’ll ask them some questions about that just out of curiosity. If it’s not an ethical choice, and it’s more of a nutritional choice, like, why is that? Because to me, chicken is the most difficult meat to get in the way that I want to eat it.
Robb Wolf: Well.
Chris Kresser: Totally pasture-raised. Because even like, as you both know, when it says free-range chicken, that means that they live mostly in cages, but there’s a door on the barn that goes out to this, like, five-by-five patio, right? Then that’s free-range. And when you actually do buy a truly free-range chicken, that thing is scrawny. We only have one kid and we’re lucky to feed our family on a chicken, which is why chicken used to be, like, the special Sunday dinner whereas beef was the meat that was eaten more regularly. And now that’s sort of flipped on its head with our mass chicken production.
Diana Rodgers: But chicken is white; it’s less likely to be on the bones. We don’t have to associate that with having come from an actual animal. It’s sort of like the tofu version, and also, chickens don’t look like dogs as much as cattle do.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Diana Rodgers: So there’s a lot of other stuff going on there. Chicken is the more feminine meat to choose. Get some boneless skinless chicken breast on your salad, your low-fat salad.
Raising Livestock Is an Environmentally Friendly Practice
Chris Kresser: With your steamed broccoli. Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk, let’s touch a little bit more on environmental questions. I mean, any of these questions, of course, could spin into a three-hour Joe Rogan episode, which it has in the past. But one of the biggest ideas right now that I think one thing that’s driving a lot of people to become vegetarians is the idea that raising meat is destroying the environment. And if we just removed cattle entirely from the ecosystem and used all that space that we’re taking to raise cattle to plant other crops, then we would be much better off. What do you say to that?
Robb Wolf: Oh, man, that’s a good one. And this is something that is, I’ve heard this rebuttal for a long time and there might even have been a point in history where maybe it had more credibility. But we’ve gotten so remarkably good at making calories. We produce currently about 50 percent more calories than we consume globally. Like, hunger exists largely due to political and distribution reasons. And that’s one layer of the story. But then another layer of the story is that for the first time in history, I think it was about eight years ago, more people started dying from diseases of affluence or at least overfeeding than from malnutrition and infectious disease and things like that. And it’s a really interesting demarcation and it tells us that we’re doing a remarkable job of producing calories for humans.
But this chronic degenerative disease process is so driven by the overconsumption of food in general and poor-quality food in particular. And it’s interesting that protein, particularly from animal sources, is one of these key features of maintaining normal body weight, of avoiding metabolic syndrome. So when we start unpacking this environmental story, and we talk about things like how much land is being used, it’s portrayed as a bad thing that these animals are out on land. But huge tracts of our earth are amenable only as grasslands and raising grazing animals. And although we talked a ton about cows and cattle in the book, we also make the case that some places should use goats and other sheep and some camels and, in some places, guinea pigs. It really should be diversified based around the needs and kind of the competitive advantage of the local environments, which is also another kind of hat tip to local traditional food systems, which is ironic that these, this kind of globalization push mainly white, mainly wealthy vegan-leaning folks are recommending that the totality of the planet should abandon its traditional food systems so that it can become dependent on the effluent of the industrial row crop food system mainly from the United States and Europe.
But the land-use piece, in particular, is really fascinating because we have huge tracts of land that have been taken offline by the [U.S.] government that could raise animals. And if they’re holistically managed, if they are properly raised, there’s a good bit of data that suggests that they can be a powerful tool to work against climate change. It can actually sequester more carbon than what that process releases, and it improves biodiversity and it improves water retention. Like, we start getting these kind of multiplicities of benefits within this regenerative system. Whereas in the extractive monocrop system, we don’t get any knock-on benefits. It’s all downsides. The one upside, I guess, is that you get some amount of calories, but we degrade the topsoil, we destroy ecosystems, [and] massive numbers of birds and insects and other critters are killed in the process.
So the environmental piece is really fascinating on that, again, on that land use and then we kind of unpack the methane and greenhouse gas story. And it’s critical to understand that biogenic greenhouse gas emissions really need to be considered differently than taking hundred million-year-old fossil, you know stored carbon in the form of fossil fuels and burning that. Those are very different entities. And in our rush to solve the climate change problem and demonizing all greenhouse gases across the board, we end up in some really precarious situations. It was recently discovered that shellfish produce just enormous amounts of methane. Termites produce enormous amounts of methane. It appears that rice paddies generate a lot of methane. So now what do we do? Some of the suggestions that have emerged are that we should expunge the shellfish from the ocean floor to halt climate change. So we’re going to destroy life to save life. There was even a bit of legislation, which I don’t think passed but was put forward in Sweden by the Green Party there, suggesting that they should hunt all of their moose into extinction because these moose are eating greenery and belching greenhouse gases.
And so it’s really important to understand the distinction between [these] biogenic-derived greenhouse gas emissions, and that that is part of a cycle. This carbon and methane makes it in the atmosphere, it gets either recaptured via photosynthesis or it gets degraded from methane into carbon dioxide and water, and then [it] re-enter the water and carbon cycle. And when we look at some of the information that came out of say, like the lifecycle analysis from White Oak Pastures, the fact that we can produce this really nutrient-dense, high-quality food and have a net negative carbon impact, it makes the seemingly insane case that we should be using more animals on more land, not less. And then, when you, we really see this beautifully portrayed in the film when Diana goes and looks at some of the restoration of the Chihuahuan Desert where a million acres of this just blasted moonscape has been reverted into grassland via properly raised, holistically managed cattle.
And so, when we look at all the desertified areas around the world and the fact that we might be able to recover all or most of those, not just to improve water retention and become a net carbon sink, but to become an economic and nutritional engine for the areas [where] that happens, that there’s no way we can accomplish that via industrial row crop food systems. Like, that is actually driving the boat in exactly the opposite direction.
And I guess maybe the other main environmental piece that usually comes up is water usage in the simplest thing to say there is that when we look at water, it can be accounted for either as green water, which is precipitation [that] falls on the earth, blue water, which is in lakes, streams, rivers, and below-ground aquifers, and then gray water, which is the effluent that is leftover after different processing scenarios. But when folks are looking at the numbers, it’s kind of eerily similar to the absolute versus relative risk when we’re talking about meat consumption and cancer. It’s kind of interesting the statistical fiddling that occurs here. But folks will account for the rain that falls on the earth that raises grass as, that then cattle eat, as being wasted water. That it was stolen from something else. But that’s literally the only thing that we could use it for. We can’t crop in these areas. It’s really amenable only to that. And so, once you adjust for that, then even conventional beef doesn’t look particularly bad. And when we compare it to most row crops, and particularly things like almonds, like, meat from herbivores looks really, really good from a resource management perspective.
Chris Kresser: Diana, were you going to jump in there?
Diana Rodgers: No, I’m just amazed at how Robb answered, like, 17 questions in five minutes. We’ve been doing a lot of podcasts lately, and you’ve gotten really good, Robb.
Robb Wolf: You just can’t wait for them to be one-offs. Otherwise, it is a three-hour podcast.
Diana Rodgers: Right.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, I mean, it’s all connected. The more carbon you have in the soil, the more water it attracts. And so it’s just when folks like Beyond [Meat] are talking about just emissions, or other people are talking about just emissions, it really misses the whole piece. And first of all, the emissions are not worse than the transportation industry. That’s an old study that was using poor methodology. But when you consider the entire ecosystem function, regenerative agriculture, like we’re talking about, is really the best solution and it’s not necessarily going to happen 100 percent to our food system tomorrow.
But what we are saying is that we can get there. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent regenerative or Twinkies. And even the folks that are ranching, calf cow operations and then finishing on feedlots, they can still do regenerative grazing while they’re ranching. There’s still a ton of farms that are doing amazing work. And then maybe they’re finishing on a smaller feedlot with locally produced corn and other byproducts that are leftover from the local brewery or distillery. It’s not that bad. And so there’s just a lot of levels of good, better, and best in this situation and not just all good or all bad.
Why Sustainable Agriculture Is an Ethical Choice
Chris Kresser: So what about ethics? I mean, we’ve managed to touch on almost every aspect of meat consumption in 35 minutes, which is pretty impressive. And I like that we’re just touching on each of them. So, to give a broad view here, ethics is, of course, another of the major issues and one of the main reasons that some people decide to eliminate meat consumption from their diet. So I think one of the principles behind that or the assumptions, I should say, behind that is that when I eat a vegetarian diet, I’m not contributing to the death of animals. That’s not actually true, is it?
Diana Rodgers: Right.
Robb Wolf: Yeah.
Diana Rodgers: I mean, there’s no way that your impact can be death-free. And so we actually have Lierre Keith in the film talking about her sort of revelation that she was trying to grow some lettuce in her garden and the slugs were coming, and she had to figure out what to do with these slugs. And she looked up all these tricks that gardeners have in order to kill the slugs, but she realized she was still going to kill the slugs. Like, even if she, and she didn’t mention this part in the movie, but in her book she does, how even if she took, plucked them, each slug off and brought it over to the woods and introduced these slugs to another habitat, she would still be displacing the native slugs to that area. Like, she was really trying to realize that there’s absolutely no way that her lettuce is not causing the death of Bambi or all kinds of critters that are in the field. And so, really, the only choice we have is to take responsibility for the deaths that do occur in order for us to live and make sure that they’re done, their death is as low stress as possible. And we as humans can be humane in that way. Natural death isn’t necessarily an animal just closing its eyes and curling up under a tree and just floating away. That’s not how animals in nature die. If anyone’s ever watched National Geographic, they know. Death is extremely violent and never really happens in that peaceful idyllic way.
And so, as a farmer, I’m able to protect animals from undue stress and give them a really good life and provide food and water for them. And that one day that they have, I can choose to go to a humane slaughterhouse and make sure it’s as low stress as possible and that’s not the end of the line. That’s the other thing that most Americans, they’re so afraid of death, they think death is like the end of a line when instead of just a piece of the circle that just keeps rolling forever and ever. And so, once that animal dies, it still has value. It still has the meat and the leather that we can get. And, actually, most of the products that we get from cattle is not food. It’s for things like glue, fireworks, lipstick, [and] footballs. I mean, there’s heart valves, insulin. If we got rid of all cattle, we wouldn’t be able to generate insulin for all the diabetics that we have, ironically.
Chris Kresser: This discussion leads to some really interesting other discussions, like how do you value life. Like, is the life of a cow worth five lives of a field rodent? Or it starts, when I’ve had this discussion with some vegetarians or vegans, I think there [are] some unconscious assumptions being made. Or because a cow is somewhat cute and larger, then its life must be worth more than snakes or rodents or other animals that are killed in the process of industrial monocropping or harvesting plants. And I know you’ve thought and written a little bit about this, Diana, but is there any, what would you say about that? And it’s probably not, people have to come to their own conclusions about that. But yeah, just curious where your thinking has taken you.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, so I mean, when we look at a regenerative system where having the cattle impact or other grazing animals impact actually increases life, as opposed to annihilating ecosystems. And one large ruminant, like, a cow can provide almost 500 pounds of meat to a family, then you get into some dodgy territory. And I’ve also thought about the idea of sentience as the only marker of value to life, right? Because is a field mouse more important than maybe a 300-year-old maple tree that is the habitat for tons of birds and other animals that are benefiting from its shade and the microorganisms underground and all of that?
And so, I think it gets, I think life is, all life is important and should be treated with respect. And there really is, there is no hierarchy. A lot of people like to put, I’ve seen these vegan hierarchies where cattle are at the bottom and then fish and chicken, which ironically don’t have humane slaughter laws at all. So fish can be killed in any way. Where large ruminants actually have to be treated in a certain way before they die. And then it goes to vegetarian with eggs and dairy, which are, I mean, dairy is pretty, can be a pretty inhumane process if not done well, also. And then we move up to vegan and then raw vegan, and then finally at the top, maybe breatharian, right? Where you’re not having any impact on anything ever at all. Which is funny how it’s the most removed from nature. And I think people just don’t even identify humans as biological beings that have a biologically appropriate diet that we evolved to thrive on, and we’re just part of a big web. That, right.
Chris Kresser: Well, you know, and then.
Diana Rodgers: It gets really complicated.
Chris Kresser: In the singularity and techno-utopia, we’re just going to upload our brains into the cloud and that will solve all these problems, Diana.
Diana Rodgers: Well, yeah.
Robb Wolf: And hopefully, the solar panels work well because if the power goes out, we’re really shanked then.
Diana Rodgers: So these lab meat guys, I mean, it just kills Robb and [me], and I’m sure you too, Chris, coming out of Silicon Valley, the infusions of money for Impossible Foods and Beyond [Meat] and lab-grown meats, which all of them are using inputs from our existing broken chemical, fossil fuel-derived agriculture system. Not benefiting any ecosystem function and using expensive technologies and factories to convert that into sub-optimal protein.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Diana Rodgers: When we can just use photosynthesis and cattle and actually increase ecosystem function.
Robb Wolf: This is where the ethics story is interesting. There’s that really head-on case of just talking about the least harm principle. And if a mammal life is worth a mammal life, so even though a mouse is smaller, still a mammal, and all that type of stuff, it’s interesting. There [has] been some analysis there in the cases made that a food system built around large grazing animals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds would arguably be the least harm, which is kind of ironic. It looks pretty darn Paleo. And then, when we start casting around and looking at well, what’s legitimately sustainable over eons over 1,000 years, over 5,000 years? It has to look a lot like nature and ecology. And this cornerstone of nature are these grasslands and the large ruminants that interface with these grasslands, and then all the other animals that basically extend out from that. Like, that’s really the root there. And it ties into things like carbon sequestration and ecosystem biodiversity and water retention.
So when you start thinking about some things, like, it may be impossible to have anything but an animal-inclusive, regenerative system, and civilization that extends indefinitely into the future. If that’s a valid proposition and if the notion is true that it’s going to be very difficult, bordering on impossible, to properly feed people without this animal-centric nutrition and not even getting so far into, like, the developing world and displacing traditional food systems and not everybody has a pharmacy to go to, to get their B vitamins, supplements, and everything. But if it’s a true proposition that it’s going to be very hard to feed humans, particularly young humans, an appropriate diet, if it’s going to be hard or impossible to have a sustainable food system that can last hundreds or thousands of years, then the ethics are really fascinating. The ethics of eating animals changes in a lot of ways. But even then, when we look at just the total amount of death that occurs, it seems to be favorable toward this regenerative model relative to the industrial row crop model.
Diana Rodgers: And there have been some studies looking at what would happen if the [United States] eliminated all animal products. And where the greenhouse gases, emissions would go down only about 2.6 percent, we would see a dramatic increase in calories and carbohydrates and nutrient deficiencies. And so this is where we really feel like understanding the nutritional value of meat, animal products to our food system in a country where 70 percent of us are already obese and overweight, we really have to consider optimal protein and the fact that we really can’t be telling people to eat more calories and ultra-processed carbs.
And also, I looked into what is the carbon footprint of diseases like diabetes, because there’s a lot of plastics required in dialysis and amputations, missed days of work, things like that. Not to mention just checking your blood sugar and all the plastics involved in that. So a full lifecycle on diabetes should also be considered when we’re looking at a diet that would actually reduce animal protein and increase calories and carbs.
Chris Kresser: So, obviously, lots more here than meets the eye at first glance, and you’ve both done such great work on this in the past, and I’m really looking forward to both the book and the film. So tell us a little bit more about the book, where people can find it, and then an update on the film project.
Diana Rodgers: So, SacredCow.info has all the links to the book. It’s available where most books are sold already. And the film information on how to watch the film will be at SacredCow.info/film. We’re talking to distributors right now. And so folks can just get on the film newsletter update and they’ll get the latest information on how we’re going to be distributing it, where they can see it first, all that kind of stuff.
Chris Kresser: Cool. Well, I’m really looking forward to sharing that with all of the folks. I know so many people will be interested in both reading the book and seeing the film. And any new projects? I know you’re probably not looking for a new project right now, but anything either of you [is] working on right now other than this?
Robb Wolf: We’re just trying to not hang ourselves in the process of all this. Yeah, yeah. And we’ll get through this. Yeah.
Diana Rodgers: I am. I did just get a grant for an impact campaign to be able to go screen the film at schools and universities and conferences. It’ll be virtual screenings to begin with, and then as soon as travel opens up, more travel just to be able to go around and still raising money for that. So folks want to help me out with, getting money to just basically be an evangelical beef representative. This is my passion and I’m really excited to spend the next, like, six months to a year just kind of getting this word out there, making sure that this film is shown in all the schools that have shown the vegan films.
Chris Kresser: Well, great. I want to thank you both for biting the bullet and taking this on because it’s such an important topic and there’s so much misinformation out there on it. And it’s a really amazing service that you’re providing in doing this.
Robb Wolf: Thanks, Chris. Super appreciate the support.
Diana Rodgers: Yeah, thank you so much.
Chris Kresser: Okay, everybody, thanks for listening. Continue to send in your questions [to] ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion. We’ll see you next time.