It is incredibly exciting how our personal journeys and the lessons we learn inform how we see the world.
When I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, the nutritionist told me that sugar was the enemy. But instead of suggesting a diet rich in healthy proteins and fats and low in carbs and sugar, she advocated substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners. Most of what she showed me were processed foods with reduced calorie counts. What she showed me was neither healthy nor delicious.
Why, I wondered, didn’t she just tell me to limit my sugar intake, get used to a less sweet diet, and shift more of my eating to healthy fats and proteins and less to carbs? Why is it that we look for the solutions that seemingly don’t require us to change any behavior – and ignore that the original behavior may be the problem in the first place? Limiting sugar would be tough for a time since sugar is so incredibly addictive (the research says more addictive than cocaine). Without changing the behavior, the situation stays the same; this is the lesson that diabetes has taught me. And to listen to our bodies — they do not lie.
So today I was reading an article that may seem unrelated to this. It was about the inefficiency of raising meat animals – that it takes an enormous amount of cropland to do this, that it contributes to global warming and that we should stop raising and eating meat altogether.
But behind this argument are buried assumptions. It assumes there is only one way to raise animals for meat — the same horrible way we are currently doing it. It assumes the only way to fix the problem is to stop eating meat to halt this unhealthy production cycle. It assumes we can’t change the root behavior to support a better way. This is just like the assumption that diabetics will not and cannot change their eating habits.
So back to the article and meat.
Perhaps there is a more elegant and healthy solution for all. Growing crops on prime farmland to feed animals who are confined creates many very unhealthy consequences. Sick animals, unhealthy meat (sick humans who eat it), monocrop agriculture that uses GMOs and heavy chemical and antibiotic usage – these all cause tremendous environmental damage and ill health, not to mention tragically inhumane conditions for animals and the workers who try to care for them.
Isn’t there another way to raise meat animals that actually contributes to environmental healing and human health? Of course there is. We have been doing it for thousands of years. Eat less meat in general, yes, and raise meat on pasturelands. There is a tremendous amount of pastureland that lies dormant and unused, and by putting animals (bovines especially) on grass to feed and fertilize we sequester carbon. We also treat the animals well and produce very healthy meats for those who want meat in their diets. Similar sustainable systems exist for pork, lamb and poultry, but we have to demand it. We have started to do this with dairy; now you can find 100% grassfed dairy options. (Beware that the term grassfed is unregulated — as long as an animal walked around on some grass and took a mouthful, it can be labeled grassfed. Ask for dairy and meat labeled 100% grassfed.)
It is hard to change our behavior and hard to maintain our resolve to stick with our choices, even when we know the right thing to do. Believe me, I know. I deal with it daily when I eat – I still crave carbs, but I am rewarded when I make better choices and I can measure the results not just by how I feel, but also by how much and how often I have to take a shot of insulin.
We can change our food system by making wise and informed choices that support the kind of farming that heals rather than harms. You cannot raise healthy food with unhealthy farming practices. Just like I cannot stay healthy by eating unhealthy foods. This is one of those core rules of nature — there are no shortcuts.