Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet
By Diana Rodgers, RD and Robb Wolf
BenBella Books, Inc.
As I set down Sacred Cow to take a break and ruminate on the first few chapters, I hopped onto social media. In this moment of madness, I saw that a friend had posted a clip of someone involved with this year’s presidential election who was taking an audience question: “What will you do to stop Americans from eating meat?” The answer was not encouraging. To say that this book by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf is both timely and important is therefore an understatement.
Meat is under attack in America and in many other countries. And it isn’t just bad meat—the government-subsidized, CAFO-raised, corn-stuffed, antibiotic- and chemical-laden mega meat—that the anti-meat faction is after. It is meat, period. Sacred Cow, which tackles assorted arguments against meat, is a vital resource to help slow the spread of this novel idea that is going “viral”—the idea that meat is bad for us and our planet.
Dr. Weston A. Price realized decades ago that animal foods are crucial to human health. In his studies of nonindustrialized peoples, Dr. Price tried to find a healthy population living entirely on plant foods; he found none. Rather, traditional peoples made sure they had animal foods in their diet, even if the inclusion of animal foods required considerable effort and risk; and all the sacred foods (for having healthy babies) were animal foods.
But bad ideas are like weeds, and they tend to come back whenever conditions are ripe for their spread. So it is with the anti-meat agenda, which has gained tremendous steam and clout over the past few decades. Those in favor of abolishing meat can be quite aggressive, which makes rebutting their arguments—generally either environmental, nutritional or ethical— much like a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as you bat away one faulty or flawed criticism of meat, the meat critics quickly move on to another and then another, shifting between their three main lines of attack. If it isn’t water or land, it is heart disease or cancer, economics or ethics, and so on.
Thus, any book that seeks to address the meat issue is necessarily going to need to cover a lot of ground. (Another book that covers some of the same territory is Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth, published in 2009.) In Sacred Cow, Wolf and Rodgers go through all the major objections that the anti-meat contingent have amassed, but without unnecessary detours.
The first section focuses on the nutritional facets of eating meat. I have friends who are terrified of meat and have gone vegan because family members died from cancer or heart disease. This section is for them. Does science support vegans’ approach to disease avoidance? No. What should one conclude when the World Health Organization (WHO) calls meat a Group 2A probable carcinogen (the same classification that WHO applies to air and sitting in a sunny window)? This is one of the reasons why many of my friends say WHO CARES? when it comes to WHO guidelines.
Another argument we often hear is that even if total meat avoidance isn’t a good idea, we certainly ought to limit meat consumption for our health. Right? Wolf and Rodgers show that science doesn’t support that notion either. Things get particularly interesting when they dig into history, describing the omnivorous mid- Victorian diet, which was built around a wide range of whole foods from all parts of the plant and animal world. It included large amounts of high-quality meats and seafoods with which even the best of the modern organic options— pastured and grass-fed—would have trouble competing. One key aspect of the mid-Victorian diet was that it led to an increase in meat consumption compared with previous generations, with immensely positive benefits on health. And when dietary trends changed and ushered in more processed foods, there were marked and measurable declines in health. Just how apparent were these changes? The authors report that “The mid-Victorians saw a loss of half a foot in average height in approximately one generation” (page 67). In short, history and nutritional research don’t actually support the idea that meat is bad for human health.
For the anti-meat crowd, poking holes in the health arguments doesn’t matter, because “we know meat is bad for the environment,” right? Here again, we run into an example of how a complicated issue can give cover for distortions or outright lies. Many years ago, I realized that the anti-meat agenda had no interest in factual dialogue about their whole “how much water does it take to produce a pound of beef?” type arguments. Unless someone has created cows that can turn water into other unknown substances, all the water used to raise a cow merely becomes enriched fertilizer when it leaves the animal! As Sacred Cow makes clear, the environmental arguments against beef are indeed distorted or fraudulent. What is heartbreaking, the authors argue, is that all sides of the debate ought to be able to come together and go after the real problems—industrial meat and industrial meat production, along with a broken agricultural system that prizes corn, soy and similar crops above all others to provide unnatural foodstuffs to confined animals. Unfortunately, in their haste to demonize meat—a traditional, nutrient-dense food group if ever there was one—the meat attackers leave little to no room to make the case for better meat.
Even after someone is able to concede that “maybe” properly raised meat is “possibly” good for the environment, that will not matter either, because “eating other living things to live is unethical,” right? Sacred Cow handles the weak ethical case against meat well. The two authors point out the important, basic truth—often lost on denizens of the modern world—that everything that lives does so because of the death of other things. Moreover, animals under human care experience a far kinder and cleaner death than almost any other death that nature affords. Ideas like choosing actions that cause “less harm” or “less suffering” do not provide a moral “out” either, because there is no action that offers a no-harm outcome. In fact, many alternatives to meat do far more harm to the animal (and plant) kingdoms than meat—even industrial meat—comes close to matching.
If you are looking for a one-stop resource to give to someone trying to understand the mayhem around meat, or you want to better equip yourself to understand and defend why meat eating isn’t just good, but vital for both environmental and human health, Sacred Cow is an excellent choice. Two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2020🖨️ Print post