Unless you’ve been living under a rock in an undisclosed location, you recognize that vegan diets are lacking vitamin B12. But there’s another nutrient that’s equally important — and equally absent.
Two principal developments have shaped my career as an observer and would-be chronicler of modern diet, health and lifestyle issues.
One, of course, is the recent emergence of food production technologies that have given rise to the alt-meat phenomenon. It’s difficult to scan a website or blog post even tangentially connected to diet and nutrition without encountering glowing reports of how these factory foods are going to revolutionize what we eat and how it’s produced.
We’ll see how such predictions play out, thanks to what will undoubtedly be no shortage of analysis from all quarters — including this one.
The second trend, one that has been underway for decades and that has profoundly shaped public opinion, impacted animal husbandry and driven political positioning on the question of dietary recommendation is the animal activist movement.
From proponents of vegetarian food choices, to animal rights groups pursuing legal standing for cows and pigs to extremists demanding total separation of people from the animal kingdom — except for the pampered pets who share our households, of course — the movement is diverse, vocal and often highly influential.
Indeed, most folks who embrace vegetarian diets do so because they feel compelled by moral issues involving the confinement and slaughter of food animals, not because they’re convinced that abandoning humanity’s natural diet is somehow nutritionally superior.
That’s the intellectual rationalization that comes after the emotional impetus to spare the suffering and death of poor, helpless farm animals.
Along the way, critics of animal agriculture have linked that enterprise, and its participants, to environmental catastrophe as a complementary horror to animal cruelty and the death and disease people (allegedly) experience when they consume meat, poultry and dairy foods.
The vital importance of collagen
Now, there is plenty of solid, scientific research that rebuts the notion that eating animal foods is unhealthy. Suffice to say that the raft of epidemiological studies purporting to equate meat-eating with negative health outcomes, reports the media love to recount with banner headlines (if you can appreciate an old-school reference), fails to account for all of the other lifestyle factors that contribute to the etiology of every one of the litany of disease conditions veggie activists want to blame on our diets.
For example: A landmark 1996 study published in the British Medical Journal that tracked more than 11,000 people over a period of 17 years, a cohort that was comprised of some 57% labeling themselves as omnivores eating meat, dairy and produce, and 43% as self-proclaimed vegetarians.
The researchers concluded that there were no measurable health benefits for the vegetarians and no increased risk for heart disease, cancer or death for meat-eaters. That’s partly because nutritional scientists — at least those not on PETA’s payroll — understand that a pure vegan diet lacks some critical nutrients, such as vitamin B12.
Consider another nutrient also absent from vegan diets, as outlined on the website AncientNutrition.com and in book “The Collagen Makeover,” by Josh Axe and Jordan Rubin. The authors noted that there are several types of collagen essential to the functioning of the skin, bones and joints and the tissues surrounding organs such as the liver, heart, lungs and the digestive system.
Axe and Rubin argued by the time adults reach their 30s, their bodies no longer produce collagen, nor can it be obtained from plant-based foods, although it is available in convenient one-pound canisters from the helpful experts at AncientNutrition.com (only $39.99 with free shipping!).
The authors explained that collagen is found in such sources as chicken broth, bone marrow, eggshell membranes, beef connective tissue and fish bones — all the “by-products” we no longer eat, but which were essential components of most indigenous people’s diets over the millennia.
When we moderns launch into another round of I’m-right-and-you’re-an-idiot debates over competing nutritional philosophies concerning “meat,” we fail to account for how humanity has incorporated animal foods back when hunting and gathering became the food production modalities that propelled Homo sapiens from ape-like hominids into the contemporary version of the planet’s dominant species, walking tall and talking on our cellphones.
We didn’t develop the physiology, the digestive capabilities, the complex biological mechanisms of the human body by living on burgers and fries, while the rest of the hours we’re awake each day are spent slouching in chairs, couches and cars, while fortifying ourselves with snacks and sodas.
That, my friends, is the root cause of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, what modern medicine conveniently calls “chronic disease,” as opposed to the infectious scourges of past centuries that we now pretend we’ve thoroughly conquered.
There’s no way to reason with animal activists who proclaim that the death of a farm animal is a tragedy akin to the Holocaust, while they conveniently ignore the fact that the fate of EVERY animal in Nature is to succumb to either disease, starvation or predation, the latter most often a particularly gruesome ending.
Veganistas have an emotional connection to their cause, and they will not and cannot respond to logic.
But while those who can accept the science that recognizes the importance of animal foods in an optimal diet won’t be converting any vegetarian believers anytime soon, they — we — need to remember that the foods we consume are but a portion of the lifestyle choices we must embrace if we plan on living long and healthy lives.
In the end, wellness is less about what’s on the menu at mealtime and more about how we spend the rest of the time when we’re not consuming the foods we prefer to eat.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.