April 24, 2012

FOOD & AG: The Diet Dilemma

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Any diet other than omnivorous one containing meat can be somewhat inconvenient to follow due to availability of particular types of food, so why do these vegetarians all over campus even bother?  With controversy over what diets are truly most healthy for humans, what reasons actually make someone go through the trouble following one of these strict diets?A vegetarian diet can be seen as healthier for mainly reasons regarding the higher risks of heart disease, some cancers and osteoporosis.  Others choose this way of life due to religious or philosophical reasons.  Some people simply choose not to consume meat because they may have job that entails working with animals and see an omnivorous diet as contradictory.

Not choosing to eat meat can be a silent protest against the way meat production is handled in the United States since the efficiency of beef production is significantly lower than that of plant-based products.  Whatever the reason for the diet change, every food choice we make sends an economic message in support of the kind of food system that produced that food.

Vegetarianism many not be the best diet for everyone and not all can maintain a healthy diet without red meat, fish or poultry as a source of protein. That being said, we must recognize that not all of our meat is created equal.

As much as we may try to stay away from animal fats believing them to be bad for our health, some fats and oils are essential for health. There are ways to increase the health benefits of our meats by the diets farmers provide for their livestock.

The best way to do this is to feed ruminant livestock exclusively on grass and legume pastures. Currently, our agricultural system may not be ready for the change to all-pasture animal products, but the steady pressure of consumer demand can help make the change.

It is essential that as responsible consumers we understand the differences between organic meats, meat from grass-based systems, and meat from grass-fed livestock. Animal-product foods from animals with a natural diet are more healthful for both the animal and the human consumer.

They are also beneficial to agricultural land and water resources since livestock are not fed concentrate feeds produced from row-crops. A restructuring of our nation’s food system is in need, and it can be supported through our diet choices, vegetarian or omnivorous.

Jessica Anson is a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at ja399@cornell.edu. The Missing Link: Food & Ag appears on Wednesdays.

Original Author: Jessica Anson