The best activism is the one that allows everyone to make their own dietary choices

May 11, 2023

May is National Beef Month.

In the United States, we consumed an estimated 30 billion pounds of beef in 2021, or about 9 pounds per person. But, when you remove people who don’t consume beef, the average American eats approximately 57 pounds of beef a year – just over one pound per week.

Considering how much beef is consumed annually in the United States, it is odd to think about the amount of vitriol aimed at cattle production. Whether it is media coverage about the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle, the misunderstanding of animal breeding and care, or the anthropomorphism of animals by activists, beef production and consumption seem to be under attack at every turn.

Of them all, animal rights activism is among the most alarming. Cattle have been stolen from family farms or farms have been “surveilled” by activists hunting for “cause” to steal livestock. A jury in California recently found an actor and animal rights activist not guilty for theft after “rescuing” two chickens from a Foster Farms truck. The list goes on and on.

Pushes to end animal agriculture have grossly misrepresented what it means to raise livestock for consumption in the U.S. They have also conveniently ignored two facts – no form of food production is without animal death and meat is a fundamental necessity for a healthy diet.

In a recent social media post by Jonathan Lawler (aka The Punk Rock Farmer), the effect of fruit and vegetable production on animals was explored with clarity and honesty. “Here is the thing… If you are vegan, good for you. If you don’t care about what other people eat, even better. But if you are one of those who self righteously proclaim your diet causes no or less harm- SHUT UP. If you try to lawyer your way out of that by saying it is the least amount of harm- SHUT UP. In my life time as a farmer I’ve sent maybe 30 head of cattle to slaughter and about 200 hogs. But deer, rabbits, rats, mice, moles, voles, ground hogs… thousands. Millions if you count insects. All so YOU can eat your plant based diet. Eat what you want… Rock out your vegan self, just stop calling my fellow farmers who ranch or run dairies murderers. We all got to eat.”

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Participating in animal rights activism to save all animals from death is to truly have no grasp on how food is produced. Conventional or organic, grass fed or grain fed, our food system relies on the removal of pests that cause irreparable damage to food intended for people. The killing of deer, moles, insects, and other pests is necessary to ensure productive fruit and vegetable harvests. It is also, arguably, more wasteful than the killing of livestock for meat because, except for deer, the animals killed are likely not going to be consumed but rather will be disposed of.

Nutritionally, a study published in Animal Frontiers highlights the importance of meat consumption for a healthy diet, directly counteracting the push to severely limit or eliminate animal protein from the plate. “There are potential nutritional benefits and risks associated with restricting meat, which vary by context, population, life course phase, and replacement food. In many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, meat intake is very low, and undernutrition is high (Miller et al., 2022). These populations could benefit from an increased rather than reduced meat intake (Adesogan et al., 2020). Thus, global efforts to moderate meat intake for environmental or other reasons should be careful not to restrict its growth in populations where consumption is already low, as this could hinder progress towards reducing undernutrition and thereby not address human suffering and the stifling of economic development (Balehegn et al., 2019).”

We should collectively push back at activists with pointed questions about providing sustainable nutrition for the most vulnerable among us and remind them that diets without meat consumption are no less animal harm inducing.

Ultimately, what one eats is an intimate choice based on culture, family, habits, and values. But it should be a choice freely provided to everyone. Food can be the greatest divider or the best uniter of people. So, celebrate National Beef Month by throwing some steaks or burgers on the grill and include the non-meat eaters you know. Maybe an open invitation and a respectful conversation over a plate of food will change a mind or a heart.