Troubleshooting: eating meat

There’s a number of issues that arise when we talk about eating meat. There’s the obvious moral issue of taking a life, the more logistical issues of finding grass-fed option, and even a biological issue of trouble digesting. Here I will do what I can to help you in every way figure out if meat is something you want to incorporate into your diet, and how to best do so.

Below I will list the following in this order, in case you want to jump ahead:

  1. The ethical dilemma
  2. The environmental dilemma
  3. Finding grass-fed and sustainably farmed animals
  4. Learning how to bravely eat organ meats
  5. Retraining the body to digest protein

Troubleshooting #1) The Ethical Dilemma

I can’t tell anyone that it’s okay to take a life in order to eat meat. It’s an extremely personal decision that I believe every individual on earth has the right to make for themselves. That’s why the ethical dilemma is the biggest one of all, because it’s yours alone to decide. All I can do here is tell my own story, and why I went from a vegetarian of 11 years to a supporter of grass fed, pastured, or hunted meats. It’s a story that may or may not resonate with you, and that’s again why I believe we must all choose our own paths.

I became a vegetarian 20 years ago, and stayed that way for the next 11 years. I lived in suburban Encinitas where there wasn’t much natural life left inland of the ocean, and as a 12 year old learning about factory farms and confronted with concrete being poured over every grassy hill, I felt the only thing within my control in the wake of destruction was to put my foot down and refuse meat. It’s interesting that the majority of vegetarians and nearly all vegans come from urban and suburban areas, where they don’t live in harmony with the natural environment. I certainly felt it, and becoming a vegetarian was my way of communing with this lost world.

I still think it’s a good idea, of course. To refuse all factory farmed meat, to not support this industry that’s sick and cruel and destructive. But what happens when that 12-year old me with really good intentions becomes severely depleted teenager with no period? When I go to college and learn about permaculture, the beautiful relationship between animals, people, and the environment? When I live in Senegal and see people living rural lives caring for animals with love and still eating them? Or when I move to Hawaii and see the enormous hunting culture, a culture based on thousands of years of providing for one's family through eating every part of the animal?

What my former urban and suburban self started realizing was that animals don’t fit neatly into some box we label as “sacred”. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe all life is sacred, but it’s all interwoven together in a complex yet delicate balance with all plants and animals both living and dying in a continuous circle, yet relying on each other for a good life in between. Without animals eating the grasses and fertilizing land we would have (and do have) a degraded environment, but without predators keeping their numbers in check, there would be too many herbivores and again the world would be out of balance. 

At the same time, I was no fool, I secretly understood my Boca burger was made from cheap soy, most likely grown in the slash and burn technique that takes out millions of acres of rainforest per year to grow. My beans and rice were imported from God knows where, and even if it was organic I had no idea how the people growing it were being treated. I learned that the global boom in quinoa actually led to many people in Bolivia who grew it and depended on it as a staple, to no longer be able to afford it. How bananas imported from central America were cultivated by human slavery unless otherwise specified! Globalization has, in many ways, created a huge mess out of our food system, allowing little transparency of how our food choices are impacting others a world away. I may have assumed my vegetarian (nearly vegan) diet wasn’t directly killing animals, but what I began to realize was that my purchase power could actually be used to commit mass environmental and human right abuses around the world without me realizing it.

 when you start connecting with the earth and agriculture, you learn how vital animals are to every part of the process, and how birth, life, and death are all a tribute to the beautiful reality of the world. learning Permaculture (sustainable agriculture) was a huge step for me in learning that meat consumption didn't have to be cruel.

when you start connecting with the earth and agriculture, you learn how vital animals are to every part of the process, and how birth, life, and death are all a tribute to the beautiful reality of the world. learning Permaculture (sustainable agriculture) was a huge step for me in learning that meat consumption didn't have to be cruel.

That’s why it began to make intuitive sense to me that it was better for me, my island, and the world to eat the pork my boyfriend hunted (from pigs eating coconuts and worms all day) than to support “factory-farmed” monoculture grains, fruits, and soy. I even learned how grass-fed meats are being used to heal the earth (see the below section), something I had never considered. Truly, I had a complete renaissance after a series of very intellectual and spiritual realizations, and my new path became one based around from the local food economy and ecology, both plant and creature.

I will say eating meat and dealing with death didn’t magically become okay for me overnight. A decade of not eating meat had made me into a total head case, and I was terrified that if I watched my boyfriend butcher a pig I would fall apart from the grossness. But the mind adapts, and over the years I’ve seen a complete shift in my understanding of living off the land, how life and death are both beautiful in their own right, and I’ve even watched with fascination a number of butcherings at this point. I still LOVVVEEE animals, and I had to come to the realization that I can love animals and eat some meat too. My husband is an amazing example who is the most caring hunter I've ever seen, with more respect for pigs than anyone I've met. Still, he's okay with killing one when we need to eat.

Eventually, I even saw myself let go of that vegetarian anger and judgment I didn’t realize I was holding on it (you know, judging everyone else for planetary destruction while I was on a veggie-high horse of sorts). It was mentally calming, more freeing than I could have ever imagined.

And the other thing is… I healed. Maybe it’s not a purely altruistic thing, to take a life to regain my life, but I had to come to terms that I needed meat, bone broth, and organs to heal. In my own journey, learning to love and respect my food choices led me to a point where I can now eat certain types of meat free of guilt, free of sadness, and free of endometriosis.

Troubleshooting #2: The Environmental Dilemma

There’s a big myth that there are too many big animals (i.e. cows) that are f*cking up the planet with their pollution, poop, and farts. Truth: there are too many factory farmed animals that are hurting the world with pollution, poop, and farts. In 2008 there were 9.3 million factory farmed cows used to produce milk in the United States alone, and 34.2 million U.S. cows were slaughtered for meat in 2010. The way these millions of cattle are tragically kept means all of their waste turns straight into pollution rather than fertilizer for the soil, and all of the carbon from their gas goes un-sequestered back into the environment.

Still, the issue isn’t too many animals in general, since we used to have wayyyyyyy more animals on this planet before, well, we killed them all. In North America there used to be an estimated 60 million buffalo alone, not to mention an entire continent of caribou, deer, moose, elk, wolves, bears, beavers, and thousands of other animals. That’s 100’s of millions of large animals, across North America, farting and pooping yet still living in a pristine environment, sustaining both the land and the animals and the huge populations of indigenous peoples living on it for thousands of years. That's because when animals live in harmony with nature, they support the land and the land supports the animals. Simple enough.

Which is what brings us to the severe issue of desertification, a problem plaguing every continent across the globe. Before now this issue was mainly approached, again, as too many animals eating grasses to dirt, and the dirt being swept away. But as science and the conservation field grows, there's a whole new theory that makes a lot more sense, and desertification is now being linked back to... too few animals! It sounds bizarre at first, but there’s real science behind it.

 same piece of land in mexico, 1963 and 2003. The difference is they increased the head of cattle and moved them in a grazing pattern as if predators were abound. no synthetic fertilizers, no animal removal, no conservation work. this was all done by the natural benefit of big grazers tilling and fertilizing the land.

same piece of land in mexico, 1963 and 2003. The difference is they increased the head of cattle and moved them in a grazing pattern as if predators were abound. no synthetic fertilizers, no animal removal, no conservation work. this was all done by the natural benefit of big grazers tilling and fertilizing the land.

Big animals - being hunted by their natural predators - are necessary to grasslands, which cover 70% of the Earth's surface. They eat grass and weeds, smash and till the soil, then fertilize it all. They’re a big part of the ecosystem, and one that’s missing since we removed millions of migrating mammals from this continent amongst the 7 others. Why over grazing has been blamed for so long is because it hasn't been properly managed, allowing animals to injure an already deficient ecosystem. When animals in a healthy environment graze, there are predators around, so they stick in thick herds for protection, moving together like a gian tractor that tills, fertilizes, and stampedes the earth. Going back to too few animals, now that there are so few predators grazing animals can be picky about their plants, spread out, and graze "thoughtlessly", which will indeed contribute to desertification.  

Luckily there’s something that can help remedy this issue: grazing cattle, appropriately managed. By adding more herds to the landscape, and forcing them to move in patterns as if predators were abounding, these herds are single handedly healing the landscapes they're placed upon. This is a huge idea that’s successfully being put into practice today, all around the world. I can’t say anything as well as Dr. Allan Savory, so please watch this TED talk and fall in love with an ancient yet scientific approach to help solve desertification, and therefore climate change, not to mention provide a huge amount of healthy protein to the world's population.

 

Troubleshooting #3: Finding healthy, grass-fed meat sources

“Healthy eating is good for the ecology. The building blocks of a healthy diet are pesticide free foods raised on mineral-rich soil, and healthy animals that live free to manure the paddocks of thousands of farms, rather than suffer in factories, confined to misery and disease. The road to health starts with a willingness to pay a good price for such food, thus rewarding the farmer who preserves the land through wise farming practices, rather than the agribusiness that mines the soil for quick profits” -Nasty Brutish and Short.

These meats can be either challenging or simple to find, depending on where you live. The hard part arises when you take into account the fact that factory farms raise 99.9 percent of chickens for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle currently sold in the United States. The easy part is when you learn where to look, you can oftentimes find grass-fed options hiding nearby.

I always urge supporting local, so calling around to butcher, grocery, and health food stores to ask if they have grass-fed options is a great first step. Prowling farmers markets is one of the best ways, since ranchers and meat producers are becoming more and more common here as well. On Kaua`i you can find Kaua`i grass fed beef nearly everywhere except big supermarkets. It’s at the small health food stores, local butchers, the farmer's market, and even the North Shore gas station! So, it’s good to remember to look local, but perhaps not in your average big chain store.

If you can’t find local, there are a number of places where you can order sustainably raised, grass-fed, healthy meat online. You can go to 

  • Butcherbox.com - a subscription service that delivers meat to your door every month Greensbury.com - grass-fed options, and not just limited to beef.
  • Grasslandbeef.com - my favorite, a wide selection of cuts, organs, animals, and more. This is where I also buy my rendered tallow and lard for a nutritious cooking fat.
  • Pre-brands.com - you can buy in stores, or online through Amazon Fresh 

As for price, grass fed is more expensive than factory farmed, but I’ve found it’s comparable to organic. I can only speak of my island (where prices are high for everything), but our Costco sells organic ground beef for $6/lb, whereas locally raised, grass-fed beef is $7/lb. That’s 10x the nutrients, for $1 more per pound. Local liver is also only $5/lb, whereas online it’s $7-8. Just saying, keep shopping around for prices and I’m sure you’ll uncover the tricks of your own hometown.

Troubleshooting #4: Eating Organ Meats

Organ meats aren’t as yucky as we think, indeed nearly all cultures outside of the US today still have an affinity for many types of organ meat. Anticucco's in Brazil (heart skewers), kidney pie in England, spleen sandwiches in Sardinia, liver in Egypt, Italy, and France, intestines in Japan. Organ meats can be delicacies. 

It wasn’t weird, until we made it weird. So, let’s learn to love these nutrient dense options again.

 heart skewers, really delicious!

heart skewers, really delicious!

The best way to incorporate more organs into your diet is to start learning to enjoy them, which is possible with the help of good recipes! Starting with more mild organ meats like sweetbreads, heart, and tongue is a good baby step to the more learn-to-love-it liver. Heart, for example, is absolutely delicious even if you think you hate organ meats. That’s because it’s more like muscle meat, really, and makes delicious steak-like skewers or stews. Speaking of steak, mix it with kidneys into a gluten free pie for a much-loved rich and savory British dish. Tongue is one of the easiest meats to cook and perhaps even more palatable than heart… but have your honey cook it if you’re at all squeamish since tongue really does look like, well, a tongue.

 chicken liver pate recipe from against all grain

chicken liver pate recipe from against all grain

As for liver, there’s many recipes on the web and a host of paleo bloggers that prefer blending it with ground beef into hamburgers, chilis, or stews. Liver imparts a rich flavor into these recipes without being overwhelming when it’s cut with mellow muscle meat. I personally love liverwurst, which I purchase from a grass-fed source online HERE. I love to eat it on sprouted toast with butter and sauerkraut. My bestie said it tastes like hot dogs. See? Not scary :) You can also easily make your own. FYI, chicken liver pate is also known to be milder than beef liver.

Desiccated liver pills are becoming more popular and is perhaps the easiest baby step to getting liver down. As easy as it is, it’s not something I’d necessarily recommend long-term since it’s hard/expensive to swallow enough of these prepackaged liver pills to really get to the crux of chronic disease. Remember we’re not simply maintaining good health here, we’re healing from years of debilitating sickness. To do so, you’re going to need more organs.

A better option is making your own liver pills, which make it easier to get your 3-6 oz/week. The only problem is there’s more prep work, but hey, it’s worth it. More or less what you do is cut raw liver into pill size chunks and freeze them on parchment paper, peel off, store for 2 weeks in the freezer, and then swallow a few per day. THIS site has great instructions, plus the girl who wrote it loves how liver changed her body as much as I do.

And of course if you've got a "just do it" attitude, you can swig it like me :) Every month I buy a 2 lb liver and blend it with tomato juice, then strain through a fine mesh strainer so it's smooth. I then divide into 4 servings and keep in the freezer for 2 weeks to kill any pathogens. After they're "safe" I then consume 1 of these servings (1/2 pound) per week. I can't say I enjoy it, but honestly, I tolerate it well enough. Hold your breath, chug the liver, swish mouth with fruit juice or kombucha or whatever you like, and get on with your day. **Note: I do this after a small meal, so my stomach has been properly prepared - through chewing - to digest a protein rich shake like this.

Troubleshooting #5: Digesting Animal Protein

If you have a hard time digesting meat or find yourself never desiring to eat it, this can be an obvious sign of hypochlorhydria — a fancy word for low stomach acid. This often happens from stress, poor chewing techniques, long time vegetarians, malnutrition, or as you age. Before I talk about the solution, let me tell you a little about the issue.

Stomach acid is called hydrochloric acid (HCL), and it’s a very intense, very animalistic substance. I say animalistic because the main ingredients of HCL are found in animal tissue, namely zinc, sodium, and B vitamins. It takes a lot of these nutrients to make this very acidic juice (1.5-3 pH), and it takes a lot of that juice to break down animal protein. 

Imagine how much work it takes to make this acid, how many nutrients. Then imagine if you’ve been eating mainly a diet of starchy foods for years on end, barely chewing, eating in a fast or unrelaxed state, and potentially add vegetarianism into the equation. The result is, your body is too nutrient strapped to currently produce enough stomach acid to properly break down meat. That’s why it might feel like a brick in your stomach after you eat a burger, or if you eat a protein rich dinner you wake up in the morning still feeling full. It’s also why you will actually stop craving meat, because it’s too hard to digest.

If you’re reading this and thinking I’m perhaps insane because you’re someone who deals with acid reflux, which you believe is a sign of too much stomach acid, think again. It’s actually a sign of too little stomach acid! I know, mind blown. But hear me out. Imagine you chew up a full dinner and spit it into a jar, sans acid, then keep it in a moist, 98-degree room. What happens is the product expaaaands as all the foods more or less, umm, rots. And as it rots and expands, it moves upward to your lower esophageal sphincter (upper stomach valve). When it hits here the food is still not acidic enough to be processed into your intestines, yet still acidic enough to cause this delicate flap to burn. That’s why you feel better when you take a Tums, it neutralizes the acid here at the top sphincter where the food has expanded to, although to the detriment of your entire digestive system.

Stomach acid is the missing link, an incredibly powerful juice that breaks down these foods. Then, rather than expanding upwards, the foods are instead dissolved downward into a compact pulp, allowing them to efficiently pass on to the small intestine. Without HCL that food’s going to sit and expand in your stomach while your body works its little heart out to make it acidic enough.

A great first step to combatting low HCL is to chew chew chew chew chew. Then chew some more. Chewing not only signals to your body to produce stomach acid, it also helps ease the burden put on your stomach to produce so much HCL by greatly breaking down your dinner before it enters the stomach. Extra salvation can be found in drinking 2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar dissolved in 1/2 cup water 20 minutes before a meal. But you still have to chew :)

However, the best way I’ve found of healing this issue is through supplementing with HCL pills. It sounds a bit scary, to swallow pills of hydrochloric acid, but it’s a proven therapy that’s helped millions of people overcome chronic acid reflux issues and heal their gut. Plus, when you supplement, you allow your gastric lining to heal and body to absorb the necessary elements so you can eventually produce enough HCL on your own, so it’s really only a short-term therapy. 

Because there’s lots of complexity to it, this should never be done if you have an active ulcer, and only cautiously approached if currently dealing with bad acid reflux. I can only recommend to my endo girls (who already deal with so much) to do so under the eye of a trained practitioner who can guide you through the process of learning how many HCL tablets to take per meal. If you have a mutilated gastric lining from years of (unknown to you) abuse, you may have to start far away from HCL while you heal. Or you might start find yourself easily taking 6 large tablets per meal when you thought a single pill would cut it. Every body is different, and every healing journey unique, which is why it’s important to work with a professional in this case to find your perfect dose while you heal.