Ethical Meat vs. Meat Hype: A Look at "All Natural", "Grass-Fed" and Other Half-Truths


“This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat will be shoveled into carts and the man who did the shoveling will not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one.”

— Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Total post read time: 6 minutes.

I have become fascinated by meat in the last several months, after both experimenting with vegetarianism and tracking health data.

The catalysts for my newfound carnivore enthusiasm were two-fold: reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and getting to know local butchers in the San Francisco area. I’ve come to realize that, if conscious eating — knowing where your food comes from and how it’s both raised and killed or harvested — is the key to ethical eating, labels are the new battleground for your mind and dollars…

Marketing departments are excellent at inventing terms that don’t hold companies accountable, as non-enforceable claims (referred to as “puffery” in the business) don’t result in lawsuits. Hair “volumizers”, “age-defying” x-9 cream factor, and “all natural” meat, oh my!

I recently picked up an unusual magazine at the Ferry Building farmer’s market in SF: Meatpaper: Your Journal of Meat Culture. In Issue Six, there was a fantastic overview of label terms — the good, the bad, and the ugly — in an article entitled “It’s a Jungle Out There: What do meat labels mean?”

Please find it below, along with sample labels, reprinted with permission. Comments within brackets are mine.

It’s a Jungle Out There – by Marissa Guggiana

Meat is the only product in the United States that comes with a government seal of approval. Sinclair’s 1905 novel about the grotesqueries of the meat industry inspired outrage and led to the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act. The inspection label (or “bug”, as it is paradoxically referred to by industry folk) was, until recent history, the only label that mattered, promising third-party supervision of the production of an inherently high-risk, high-stakes product.

Today, a new generation of meat labels makes much more ambitious promises. Far beyond simply assuring that meat is sans rat, today’s labels seek to answer consumer concern over animal husbandry practices, like animals’ living conditions and diets. With new worries about food-borne pathogens like E. coli, and new focus on food’s provenance, just about everyone involved in meat, from the federal government to farmers, processors, non-profits, and chain supermarkets, is trying to convey its priorities, and find room on the package to do it.

Some of the claims are backed by USDA authority and have concrete definitions, dutifully recorded in the federal register; some are monitored by animal-interest or environmental groups; some are created by businesses themselves, which employ private auditors to guarantee compliance with their criteria.

Here is a survey of only some of the dozens of assurances your meat makes; hopefully, it will help to clarify.


This means meat that is minimally processed with no artificial or synthetic products. It is not regulated, however, so anyone can put it on their package. This claim has no clout.

COOL (Country of Origin Labeling)

USDA regulated. It states where meat was raised, slaughtered, and processed (and if this means multiple countries, as in the case of some ground meat, they should all be listed).


USDA regulated. It means, very narrowly, that animals eat grass. According to the USDA definition, “grass-fed” animals can also be fed grain, and can be raised on grass in confinement, as long as they have access to pasture.

[As documented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and elsewhere, “access” can be — and often is — nothing more than a facility with a door to a small outdoor area. Livestock is transferred to this facility after they have been conditioned to remain indoors in a facility with no such exit. Get to know your local butcher or rancher and get to know your meat.]


This means strictly that the animal has some access to outdoors. There is no regulation for use of this term, except in the case of chickens raised for consumption. “Pasture-raised” is a more meaningful term concerning the animal’s welfare.


USDA and third-party certified. This certification means that livestock wasn’t treated with hormones or antibiotics and was fed a pesticide-free diet.


Refers only to an animal’s diet and does not guarantee the animal was pastured or raised humanely.


This article addresses the treatment of living animals. Producers and retailers may also make claims about how the animal is handled between slaughter and purchase. Meat may be wet or dry-aged, frozen, and packaged in various ways.


Many ranches now choose to undergo an audit by third parties such as Animal Welfare Association and Humane Farmed to high-light their extra care. This type of label wards against practices like overcrowding, castrating, early weaning, and denying animals access to pasture. It measures the entire life cycle in terms of animal health and well-being.



This pre-organic standard treats the whole ranching operation as an interrelated whole. While some meats are technically organic, a biodynamic farm assures the meat also came from a healthy, self-sustaining system.


Producers who take part in this affidavit program state in writing that the animals were raised within 20 miles. This label is not certified [or confirmed] by a third party, such as the USDA or a labeling certifier.

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240 Replies to “Ethical Meat vs. Meat Hype: A Look at "All Natural", "Grass-Fed" and Other Half-Truths”

  1. @TimW

    Are we short of water?

    1 serving of beef uses over 1,200 gallons of water

    1 serving of chicken uses over 330 gallons of water.

    1 complete vegan meal, with tofu, rice, and vegetables uses 98 gallons of water.

    Now put that together with the world’s growing water shortage, and the fact that A well-planned vegetarian diet is a healthy way to meet your nutritional needs. And maybe you will conclude that not only does a vegetarian diet reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses from livestock, but it also makes sense in terms of ecology, and resource conservation and optimization.

    One more thing:

    How many people in the world are hungry?

    862,000,000 people in 2008

    Grain currently fed to livestock is enough to feed 2 BILLION people.

    Go Veg! Be Green! Save the Planet!

    1. Or we could possibly stop overpopulating the earth by letting the hungry stay hungry and then there are all of a sudden no more hungry people

  2. @Vegan Lebre

    While I agree with you on some points I do respectfully disagree on a few counts. I’ll quote and respond to your comments.

    “@Jeremy, congratulations on improving your blood work by eating pure meat and leafy vegetables, and sticking to it. As a vegan I also avoid complex carbohydrates because they are just bad regardless of diet. Simple carbohydrates on the other hand are essential to eat if you exercise because your muscles actually burn carbohydrates (see any sports nutrition book for data on this), so I eat plenty of these.”

    We actually don’t need to consume any carbohydrates whatsoever. Inuits go six months of the year with nothing but fat and protein. There have also been several studies of aboriginals living today that eat nothing but relatively uncooked meat. The evidence showed that in their autopsies, on average, their bodies were much healthier than those of other vege societies.

    Our muscles don’t burn carbohydrates, they burn glycogen. Our bodies can and do convent fat into glycogen when we don’t have an excess of carbs. Other than long duration high intensity activity, more than low amounts of carbs aren’t needed.

    High amounts of carbs have been shown to cause of build up of advanced glycation end products, which are a leading cause of aging.

    “I want to point out that soy beans are considered a complete protein by the likes of the FDA consisting of essential amino acids (source: Wikipedia), and therefore make a fine substitute for meat nutritionally speaking. There is also plenty of evidence of long-standing cultures that sourced their protein primarily from soy, such as the Javanese (think Tempeh).”

    Because of the high carb content of legumes and the gastrointestinal problems and effects they cause, I prefer to stay away from them as a source of protein. And while they can replace meat, they also do not contain as many amino acids, to be sure.

    I try to keep per day consumption of carbs under 50 grams in one day, doing this would be near impossible without meat if I tried to maintain my muscle mass.

    “I agree that for the most part our ancestors ate animals, but remember that they killed them up close and personal, rather than buying their products from the butcher case and dairy section. As for dairy, well, modern humans are the only animals out there who continue to consume the milk of other animals after they are weaned off their own mothers – so this is far from natural.”

    I eat wild game for the most part, but I agree with you. I don’t drink milk.

    “Our distant ancestors did not harvest other mammals for their milk – this is relatively new (going back a few thousand years at most).”

    I agree. They did not drink milk.

    “So let’s be clear on how different modern omnivore diets are to what our distant ancestors ate. Therefore I would argue it’s not unreasonable to replace meat with soy, since the meat we consume today is almost nothing like the meat our distant ancestors consumed.”

    Considering the gentetical studies show that our bodies process foods in exactly the same way the did 200,000 years ago, I am going to try to find meat that is as close to what they ate as I can: healthful, very high fat meat, mostly organ meat. You’re absolutely right about the difference if choices we have now and then, but I feel that the change in going to a vegan diet is far more drastic.

    Until I read a study that refutes most of the reasearch I have gathered I am going to continue to eat this way. If you like, I have several hundred links referencing to the medical literature to back up my claims about anything I’ve said.

    Anyway, happy eating, and cheers to a long life. And excuse my typing… I’m in a rush 🙂

  3. Some of the things that have become acceptable in the food industry are really appalling. Meat has gotten a bad rap and it really shouldn’t be that way. The key is to find good farmers. For anyone interested, I wrote an article about why it’s important to make the effort to find quality meat. [link through name]

  4. The sad fact is, as near as I can figure, that there is no good argument for eating meat, and believe me, no one enjoys a good steak more than I do. And I still do it.

    Environmentally, meat production to eat is a disaster.

    It is terrible for your health.

    From an animal rights standpoint, it is unconscionable.

    My opinion comes from reading the books below;

    the China study, eat to live, the hundred year lie, mad cowboy.

    I once read that it is more environmentally destructive to eat meat than drive a car. I can’t really know if this is true, but I am sure it is not far off.

  5. Let’s all be clear about eating to “save the planet”, this is absolute rubbish!

    First of all we mean “save the human race” or at least help it survive for longer. The planet is a survivor, it has existed in different forms with and without humans and will more than likely continue to do so.

    Second if we really want to preserve our existence on this planet, then the food we eat isn’t the real problem, it’s the growing population. However we don’t like to subscribe to this fact as it’s not as easy for most face.

    Anyway a little off subject but there you go!

  6. Great input from all. Can’t believe no one mentioned the book Dominion by Matthew Scully. It is one of the most interesting books concerning this subject I ever happened upon, and perhaps most interesting of all, it’s written by a gentleman who is a self-described “conservative” and former Bush writer.

    Go figure.

    And read it if you’re at all on the veggie-fence.



  7. Such interesting different viewpoints here.’

    If I can disagree with a few of my fellow vegans–I really did not like Diet For A New America. The first one or two chapters were totally emotional and turned me off. I did not read the rest of the book, so it may be excellent, but for anyone who likes research/science-based analyses, the first chapter of Diet For A New America is rather embarrassing.

    I do suggest The China Study. It is very scientific, unemotional while also interesting, and cites not just the one China Study, but numerous other studies as well.

  8. Tim,

    Great post, more people need to be informed of the details behind this issue.

    And now, I have a challenge for you.

    I know from reading 4HWW and your blog regularly that one of your main philosophies is questioning assumptions. I have been questioning one recently that has literally turned my perception on its head.

    Three years ago I quit smoking immediately, and with no withdrawal pains, upon finishing a book called The Easy Way to Quite Smoking by Allen Carr. Now it’s three years later, and I’ve decided to give his book The Easy Way to Stop Drinking a try. I am almost completed, and it’s like being Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

    What if alcoholism is not truly a disease that only some suffer from, and can be cured immediately and with only minor withdrawal pains? What if all who drink regularly are actually on the same slope towards “alcoholism,” and the speed of their slide is the only variable? What if alcohol brings no benefits, and the whole thing is a confidence trick? What if doctors who recommend it today are no more informed than doctors 45 years ago who recommended smoking to patients? What if it brings neither a pleasure, nor a crutch to handling stress? What if we are meant to wake up after six hours almost every day full of energy?

    This book is a trip, man. I know you have minimal time, but I recommend it if you are able and interested.

  9. Christ Masterjohn has written a review of The China Study. Dr. Cambell responded to this review and another written by Anthony Colpo. Masterjohn then replied to Campbell’s response. It gives the other side of the story, so to speak.

    As a libertarian, I have to blame much of the issues with American animal farms on government regulation. I understand people’s fears of an unregulated system, but wish more people would realize that any benefits also come with many consequences. One of those consequence in this case is the extra difficulty in cattle farming that the regulations create. These regulations tend to put small farms out of business at a much faster pace than the large factory farms. Joel Salatin has written on this subject. He has a book out called “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front” that I hope to read soon. He has written an article that is very interesting, and the basis for my mentioning his book, here:

  10. Tim, can you please recommend a San Francisco butcher or two? I haven’t yet found a real butcher here; not even someone who can get me beef tallow.

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  12. I have been looking around websites re diet and foods. I have found this interesting and informative to read.

    My first thought, “Good heavens!! What an over growth stimulated bull!! How unhealthy and how uncomfortable that animal must be.” I have seen healthy, and even fat animals, but that is grotesque and unnatural.

    My concern for years has been that growth promotants will stay in the flesh and be passed on through the food chain. Has this been studied?

    Water to produce meat? All things use water – it goes in and comes out. One drinks in, bathes in, sweats, breathes and urinates out. Do these studies also monitor how much water actually comes back out again? The glass of water you drank may well have been in a dinosaur, a tree, a lake …. it recycles.

    I am an omnivore, but if I had to kill my meat, I’d probably be a vegetarian! I do believe, though, that if an animal is to be killed, it should be done so as quickly and cleanly as possible.

    Labelling – I tend to take it with a bucket of salt – it’s sales gimmick in most cases. I interpret ‘grain fed’ as not wandering in a paddock, but ‘lot fed’ – having cement or dirt under their feet, not pasture. Maybe I am just a sceptic.

    I am also doubtful re the hype on “cow farts”. Men can fart pretty well too. Have studies been done to see how the human population is contributing via farts? I’ve never heard of one.

    Subsidies – not all countries have farm subsidies, so that is not an argument for/against meat production.

    Has anyone heard of this? some 15 or 20 years ago I read of some drug that was to be tested at slaughterhouses. The unfortunate animals would be injected with a substance that would begin the “aging” process prior to slaughter, to give a more tender meat. I could only envisage that this must cause the flesh to begin breaking down prior to death.

    The horror of the thought of the pain this must cause the animal – to be ‘decaying’ alive…. Also, what happens to the people who eat the meat containing this drug? As I said, I read it many years ago and have never heard of it since. (They say what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.)

  13. Great Post! I too experimented with vegetarianism way back when and suffered digestive difficulties and weight gain. Probably due to the soy and excessive starch. But that was only my own experience and my body telling me that it did need some lean meats.

    I get all my meat from I get chicken, bison, fish and some red meats and it is all absolutely delicious.

    Thanks Tim!


  14. I’m curious as to assertion that “According to the USDA definition, “grass-fed” animals can also be fed grain.” That seems to imply the “grass fed” label lacks meaning.

    I just read the Federal Register on “grass fed” (PDF here: The relevant language is “Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” The standard is 99% grass fed and emergency supplementation must be documented.

    It seems to me that “grass fed” is a fairly strong, USDA enforced regulation. As far as I can tell “certified humane” does not contain feed standards, rather it only enforces ethical treatment of the animals (I cannot find the standards – hit a 404, and then a registration required to access page). While I agree that knowing your source is ideal, that requires a significant investment of effort. Regulated labeling is lovely because there is transparent process behind it.

  15. Tim,

    Love the blog and the book…huge fan that has implmented a lot of your material into my personal and professional life.

    Loved the post, and was glad to see some clarification on this subject matter. The scariest book I have ever read is by Dr. Michael Colgan, who has an athletes training institute in California, ro he did anyway. The book is entitled “Optimum Sports Nutrition” and he talked extensively about the meat industry and introduced me to the term “acceptable amount of fecal material” which in my mind was ZERO. Apparently industry standards are not quite as stringent as I am.

    Keep rockin!

  16. To see why Grass fed vs. grain fed is so incredibly important a great movie is for rent at blockbuster called “King Corn”

    Grain fed beef is directly related to the obesity epidemic in America

    Seriously, every American should see King Corn it’s amazing.

  17. Thank you, Tim. Just wanted to give some of your vegetarian readers a heads off. Excuse me, I meant “heads up”. Bon appétit.

  18. I recently joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) group, and I’ve been gradually shifting toward buying locally grown, pastured meat/poultry. It’s amazing what a difference there is – the meat is leaner and more flavorful. It looks different, tastes different (better) and cooks differently than the supermarket stuff.

  19. Lot’s of great info here. A few more points:

    1) I would definitely like to second the recommendations for “The China Study”! As an engineer I am used to making decisions based on graphs and statistics so this book was very informative. “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” is also good.

    2) From a health and environmental point of view the popular “lacto-ovo vegetarian” diet doesn’t make any sense to me. There are definitely health drawbacks for these animal products and you still have the environmentally dubious and inefficient process of raising these animals to get the food by-product.

    3) Google for vegan or vegetarian athletes/bodybuilders if you want to read about sports performance. Here are just a few examples:

    – Carl Lewis, vegan athlete, won 10 Olympic medals, including 9 golds, in a career that spanned from 1979 to 1996, competing for the US. He said, “most athletes have the worst diet in the world, and they compete in spite of it.” He also said “my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”

    – Edwin Moses, hurdler for the US, is a gold medalist who went eight years without losing the 400-meter hurdle. Over his career, he won two Olympic gold medals.

    – Art Still, football player, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs MVP defensive end, Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.

    – Bill Pearl: 4 time Mr. Universe said “When I changed my diet over, I had less and less joint problems. All the poisons found in your system such as uric acid… is going to be stored in the joints of the body if it can’t be expelled through the kidneys or liver.”

  20. I believe that is a Belgian Blue.

    Genetically enhanced or something. Lots of info on the net if you are interested.

    I cannot believe there is an argument about water required to produce beef. There’s tons of cows around here that just walk down to the pond or stream. How is that possibly a drain on resources?

    So what if cows fart or burp a lot supposedly creating more emissions than cars, trains, whatever. There was ONE undersea volcanic explosion fairly recently that created more emissions than all human sources combined since the turn of the century. We have worse problems than cow flatulence and better arguments to use to be a veggie if you choose to be so.

    For every animal you don’t eat I’m going to eat three.

  21. About food, and more generally nutrition. I am interested in Tim’s remarks, but also in the choices of others who made a scientific survey and changed their own life accordingly. Here is an extract from the bio of Ray Kurzweil (*emphasis* mine), who made a fortune inventing and selling the first OCR system and synthetizer keyboards.


    Kurzweil exercises frequently, does not eat to excess, and does not use drugs. Many others, however, are controversial and are explained by his obsession with living as absolutely long as possible and by his Transhumanist enthusiasm for using cutting-edge technologies and knowledge to extend human life. Kurzweil ingests “250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea” daily and drinks several glasses of red wine a week in an effort to “reprogram” his biochemistry. [64]

    Consuming large amounts of water is necessary for flushing toxins out of the body, and alkaline water allows the body to preserve important enzymes used for neutralizing acidic metabolic wastes. For this reason, Kurzweil abhors soft drinks and coffee, which are both acidic and drain detoxifying enzyme reserves. Kurzweil has taken criticism from nutritionists and scientists for his advocacy of alkaline water’s health benefits, and he responded to this over the Internet.[66] Green tea and red wine contain antioxidants that neutralize free radicals–a different type of toxin found within the body. Kurzweil also consumes red wine because it contains the compound resveratrol, which extends human lifespan according to some evidence. Kurzweil also takes pills containing high concentrations of the chemical.

    On weekends, Kurzweil also undergoes intravenous transfusions of chemical cocktails at a clinic to further reprogram his biochemistry. He routinely measures the chemical composition of his bodily fluids to ensure balance, undergoes preemptive medical tests for many diseases and disorders, and keeps detailed records about the content of all the meals he eats. On that last note, Kurzweil only eats organic foods with low glycemic loads and claims it has been years since he last consumed anything containing sugar. Kurzweil considers foods rich in sugars and carbohydrates to be unhealthy since they spike the levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, leading to health problems in the long term. He instead eats mainly vegetables, lean meats, tofu, and low glycemic load carbohydrates, and only uses extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Kurzweil also diligently consumes foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids (including small, wild salmon) and antioxidants.

    Moreover, Kurzweil is a firm believer that good health requires *sufficient sleep*, and he maintains low stress levels in part by meditating and getting massages weekly. He *exercises daily* with walking, bike-riding and use of workout machines, but advises against high-impact forms of exercise. Kurzweil claims that his rigorous efforts have yielded positive results, which are partly proved by the fact that his body chemical profiles show his biological age to be more than a decade younger than his chronological age. In fact, Kurzweil believes that his personal health regimen has actually slowed down his rate of aging. He also advocates maintaining a slightly below-average body weight on the grounds that it imparts some of the life-extension benefits of full-blown caloric restriction.


    Anobody knows about other famous examples who follow a (seemingly) cleverly designed diet?

  22. (3:29)

    A video in which Hank Green (from “Brotherhood 2.0”) talks about how reducing the amount of meat consumed is not only more healthy, but also saves incredible amounts of water. Very interesting talk.

  23. The best thing is to just become vegan(no animal products whatsoever) no meat, eggs or dairy. It’s also the best thing you can do for the environment and your health and of course you don’t contribute to animal cruelty.

  24. I stumbled across a new category to add to all-natural, etc. Last week I was a semi-veg restaurant that had cage-free eggs on the menu.

    I wrote a somewhat cynical blog post on this right after. The cage-free eggs were tasty in a ham omelet.

  25. Honestly if they could make alternatives to meat products that feel and taste as good or better than the actual meats I’d stop being a meat eater that second.

    I’m willing to spend the extra money. But whenever I have something like a Boca Burger I can’t help by pawn over the utterly sensual taste of certain leans meats.

    I really don’t like having animals die for my own palette but I’m a whore for flavor…

    That to me is the challenge. The company that produces alternatives that are so convincing that in a double blind taste test people can’t tell or are more attracted to the non meats you’ll see me on that stuff quicker than a politician getting caught hypocritically doing what they condemn.

    Plus I don’t know why but Boca burgers just kick the crap out of my intestines. Which is kind of a pun, but I mean it in both popular senses of the term I suppose.

  26. @generic

    I’d also like to add that the argument “If you can’t watch it don’t support it” is pretty flawed.

    About 95% of the things I see on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe would have me vomiting all over if I was doing them. However a good amount of them don’t involve animal cruelty.

    Just because I couldn’t envision working in the septic system for a city I in no way want the people doing it to stop. It’s their wonderful service that keeps me from being neck high in feces. Which I think we all can agree is not a fun thing to be neck high in.

  27. When we all consume the recommended amounts of meat and veggies (ie a healthy balanced diet) and don’t process/waste so much and treat each other (including animals) with respect, there won’t much of a problem.

  28. I can’t believe with all these comments – especially with the constant repetition of the “meat is bad for you” idea – no one has mentioned Gary Taubes “Good Calories, Bad Calories”. It’s not an easy read, and it’s not a diet or nutrition book – it’s an exhausting examination of the hard science behind diet and health specifically as it relates to low fat vs. low carb diets and the health impacts of eating meat. It’s hard to read it and not conclude that most of the traditional arguments against eating meat (health related, not environmental) are not backed up by scientific evidence.

  29. Ever tried eating meat in Mongolia?

    They are All Natural, Grass Fed, Free Range, Organic, Vegetarian Fed, Humanely Raised, Certified Humane, Biodynamic, and Local.

    Herds are raised in the wild as they graze on grass. Herders take care of the herds using same techniques passed down for thousands of years. The slaughtering is a traditional process. The animal is put to death in an efficient, rather natural, and quick manner. Then every part of the animal is sold. There are no vitamins or grains or diets for the herds.

    Mongolian meat packs quite a punch. I think the healthy dose of proteins also help make Mongolians some of the tougher, bigger people in Asia as well.

    I hope I was able to add something interesting to the discussion. And, there obviously are some great benefits to be working and living out of a developing country after all.



  30. I'd go for HUMANELY RAISED; CERTIFIED HUMANE if ever 'coz I'm already a vegetarian and I'm proud to be one. The reason behind it, is because I can't imagine how they kill animals and secondly I think it's more healthy to be a vegan.

  31. The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food are great books for starting to learn about where our food comes from. For me, reading these books really changed they way I eat and made me think a lot about being a vegetarian.

    More recently Mark Bittman published a book called Food Matters. Its along the same lines as Pollan’s books. In the book Mark advocates a diet free from animal products during the day and then allowing for small portions of animal products for dinner. (And I think that should be from a humanely raised/pastured source) To me this is a pretty good way to go as it seems very healthy and is not as difficult as becoming a vegetarian/vegan entirely.

  32. I’m not at all surprised that this post tuned into a discussion over whether meat is good or bad period, but what I am surprised about is that no one mentioned the health effects of soy. Most soy consumption is from non-fermented soy products, such as fresh/dry soybeans, soy flour, soy milk, soybean oil and tofu. This is a problem since many vegetarians use tofu as a source of protein. Also non-fermented soy is found in almost all processed foods. Non-fermented soy contains phytic acid, which has anti nutritive properties, meaning it inhibits absorption of certain nutrients, including iron. Also, it attributes to a variety of other health problems including: Thyroid problems, premature puberty and other developmental problems, cancer, brain damage, reproductive disorders, kidney stones, weakened immune system, and severe, potentially fatal food allergies. Not to mention that almost all soy is genetically modified.

    That said, fermented soy products can be included in a balanced diet, as well as they are organic, as the fermentation process reduces the phytic acid content, and produces natural probiotics. These include natto, tempeh, miso, and soy sauce.

    Also, I believe that humans are omnivores. The fact that humans have both canines and molars shows that we are meant to eat meat. However, I agree with previous posters that the meat must be grass fed in terms of cows, or pastured for poultry, and humanly raised and slaughtered.

    The ideal diet should come from healthy fats (of which coconut oil is the best for cooking, as well as metabolic health), grass fed or pastured lean meats, and slow carbs, with attention to plenty of fiber. The specific amounts of macronutrients consumed depend on the person, as some are genetically suited to low fat/low protein/high carb diets (again with slow carbs), many others are suited to a high fat/high protein/low carb diet, myself included. Most are somewhere in the middle, leaning more toward the latter diet.

    The lesson here is: Avoid processed foods, focus instead on healthy whole foods, organic and locally grown if possible, and listen to your body, it’s the best judge as to whether or not what you are consuming is good for you.

  33. I live in England. I go to my local butcher for most of my meat. He can tell me what the animal was fed and which field/farm it was raised on. Following the BSE outbreak and Foot&Mouth a few years ago, the importance of animal welfare and scrupulous husbandry practices have come to the fore. Consumers vote with their wallets. When it comes to meat I go for Quality not quantity.

  34. Can you help Tim? … I apologize if this is a bit off topic … I couldn’t find a better place. For years I have attempted to eat healthy by finding ‘safe’ – organic, grass – fed beef. But also, all the other ‘good’ types of food – like organic – that are not tampered with or sprayed with something … at my local supermarket.

    Would you mind giving us a list of the places that you recommend / use to purchase your favorite stuff … do you buy food online?

    Tim, I don’t live near any organic or healthy food stores.

    I can’t even find lentils at my local store that you have in your ‘geek to freak’ diet.

    Are there any affordable ( reasonably ) online places … to purchase grass fed meat, … organic vegetables, grains, fish, seafood … etc… and have them shipped to my door on a biweekly schedule? Any recommendations?

  35. I am interested i invetro eat. I prefer to call it, No Kill Meat.

    It might be interesting for say, Chilean Bass.

  36. Invitro meat, seems interesting. I like to call it, No Kill Meat.

    Might be very good for producing, Chilean Sea Bass.

  37. Pingback: Tuesday 1/12/10 «
  38. Tim,

    Thank you, now I can take this list with me and find cheaper, qualified cuts. Beats paying their advertising budget!

    Kosher sounds like another avenue of approach too. Instead of passing that section, I might be better off expanding my tastes.

    Any good results with “Paleodiet”?


  39. I`ve been contemplating this topic for years. From Westin Price, who traveled around the world in the 1930`s for a decade studying the health of people and how it is influenced by what they ate, to the newer China Study and Paleolithic Diet material.

    I think there is a big genetic influence on how meat affects our health. There has been no major culture in history that was vegetarian that I know of. Meat minus the man made poisons that can get in there seems to be very health promoting, provided it is not over consumed and not over cooked.

    For my vegetarian patients, I strongly recommend they supplement a cold processed whey protein powder. In addition to providing essential amino acids, the research done shows that it increases glutathione levels in the body that detoxify us and keep us healthy.

    I don`t know if any of you have been to a biodynamic farm, but they are totally ridiculous on how stringent everything is done with alignment of the planets and stars. The herb grower I use for my natural medicines did a test run on growing crops in the regular organic way and another field done biodynamically. They found the the colors and smells were much more intense and fragrant in the biodynamic field. Reluctantly he made the switch. Even though it is a lot more labor intensive, the health that it produces in the crops and then to people is unmistakable.

  40. I’ve been a vegan for 6 years, and haven’t been sick once in that time period. My vitamin and nutrient levels were just checked and all well within average ranges, and my cholesterol is 122. My ‘good’ cholesterol is actually better than my ‘bad’.

    As for the ethics of it, it’s my view that future societies will surely look back in horror that our species routinely made meals out of sentient, intelligent beings. It seems that one of humanities greatest evolutionary accomplishments, is the ability to choose compassion — to not harm another creature, when surely, we easily could.

  41. Tim,

    Any thoughts on only purchasing meat from Amish farms? REAL Amish farms and not a BS label placed a package at the local grocery stores.

  42. Personally I find a rather interesting connection between two ideas here:

    As ‘modern’ society has become more and more dependent on refined starches, causing massive health problems and widespread diabetes and other endocrine disorders. I’ve read several very good books that seem to point in the same general direction as the “Slow Carb” diet Tim speaks of on the blog.

    When we started feeding cattle grain instead of grass, they get fat, they get sick, they become unhealthy for us to eat, even “disastrous to our health” as some would say. This clearly should NOT apply to healthy, naturally fed animals, now should it?

    Likewise, shouldn’t we see that the mammals we enjoy eating, when overfed and gorged on starches and carbs, become sickly and fat? We’re not that different. Now…I haven’t done extensive research on this, but the ‘meat is harmful to humans’ rhetoric of many veggies (especially in these comments) sets off my BSometer.

    (It does seem clear in many ways, that some people do have the genetics to thrive on carb rich diets, I’ve always been one who could eat anything I want, but my wife has spent her life sliding down toward a hereditary case of obesity and associated health problems, following her mother, sister, and both grandmothers, thankfully we’re putting a stop to that)

    Personally, I believe we were *given* domain over the animal kingdom, and the NEED to eat animal protein to truly thrive. That doesn’t give us the right to abuse or neglect the creatures we raise, nor to treat them harshly. The Law covenant from ancient Israel even forbade boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk, I see that and other guidelines as evidence of a very caring Creator.

    (I’ve seen a rather severe rash of prejudice against religious beliefs in the comments here, which I really don’t understand. People that say things like “one religion is as stupid as any other” quoted from the comments here, simply make themselves sound ignorant. To some, science is every bit a ‘religion’, believed blindly, with shouts of ‘hallelujah’ and fainting in the aisles when they feel a new bit of evidence for their theory has arrived.

    I learned the scientific method something like this: Hypothesize>Test>Examine Results>Conclude. A huge crowd seems to Conclude>Look for Evidence>Ignore any evidence that contradicts your conclusion. Likewise, religious sorts shouldn’t look at the earth and say it’s only 6000 years old, cause that isn’t the case. The words don’t say anything like that.)

    On that note, I really like the way Tim’s posts work most of the time. He notices a pattern, either in research or in experience, and comes up with a hypothesis. Then, he tries it out. IF it works, great! If not, adjust hypothesis and try something different. THIS, kids, is SCIENCE.

    Personally, I see merit in becoming a 5th level Vegan, don’t eat anything that casts a shadow. Definition of Vegetarian > Bad Hunter XD (I’m an excellent marksman, but I hate hunting.)

  43. Tim, have you found out what the optimal intake of meat is to lead the healthiest lifestyle? E.g. meat every day, twice a week, twice a month? And what kind of meat, e.g. pasture-raised, organic, etc?

  44. I’ve read this post many times over the last year and only this time did I see Hannibal’s comment. Holy crap. That was funny.

  45. I just watched Food Inc. which makes this post very relevant to me. I strongly recommend everyone watch this movie, it is a great insight into the daunting machine that is America’s food industry.

    Having just moved to Sweden to pursue a more education (don’t remind me) I have found myself surrounded by vegetarians. Up until this point I have eaten meat carbs and good fats. I have paid little attention to vegetables because they don’t provide the “caloric return on investment of time” that the others products do. With that said, I am really enjoying being pseudo vegetarian.

    Long winded post, but long story short, both the combination of education and environment has steered me away from the meat industry.

  46. Some powerful vegan quotes (some from some of the most profound thinkers of our history): –

    One farmer says to me, “You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make the bones with;” and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying himself with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle. ~Henry David Thoreau

    You put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car. ~Harvey Diamond

    Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. ~Samuel Butler

    We don’t need to eat anyone who would run, swim, or fly away if he could. ~James Cromwell

    The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of “real food for real people” you’d better live real close to a real good hospital. ~Neal Barnard

    A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows. ~George Bernard Shaw

    You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Truely man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others: we are burial places! I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men. ~Leonardo da Vinci

    I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other…. ~Henry David Thoreau

    While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth? ~George Bernard Shaw

    I think if you want to eat more meat you should kill it yourself and eat it raw so that you are not blinded by the hypocrisy of having it processed for you. ~Margi Clark

    “Thou shalt not kill” does not apply to murder of one’s own kind only, but to all living beings; and this Commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai. ~Leo Tolstoy

    We manage to swallow flesh only because we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing that we do. Cruelty… is a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, it protests against cruelty, is always clearly heard; and yet we go on perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us – in fact, anyone who does not join in is dubbed a crank. ~Rabindranath Tagore

    Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds? ~Plutarch

    To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. ~Mahatma Gandhi

    Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~Albert Einstein

    Would you kill your pet dog or cat to eat it? How about an animal you’re not emotionally attached to? Is the thought of slaughtering a cow or chicken or pig with your own hands too much to handle? Instead, would hiring a hit-man to do the job give you enough distance from the emotional discomfort? What animal did you put a contract out on for your supper last night? Did you at least make sure that none went to waste and to take a moment to be grateful for its sacrifice? ~Anonymous

    My body will not be a tomb for other creatures. ~Leanardo da Vinc

    Live simply so that others may simply live. ~Gandhi

    Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. ~Gandhi

    A nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. ~Gandhi

    Silly person….. Eating flesh is for zombies, ~Anonymous

    You can’t eat your friends and have them too ~Franz Kafka

    All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: In suffering, the animals are our equals. ~Peter Singer

    There’s no such thing as ethical meat I’m afraid.

  47. I would second what has been said above read the China Study, there is so much great info out there about nutrition!


  48. One thing that always get’s me lately are the amount of people that are against the killing of bulls in Spain. I can understand if the argument comes from a vegetarian, unfortunately those screaming the loudest are rabid carnivores who have most likely never been to an abattoir.

  49. As fruit needs not only sunshine but cold nights and chilling showers to ripen it, so character needs not only joy but trial and difficulty to mellow it.

  50. Very interestin site i like the part about different beef and diffrent methods of production beef gotta be one of the best sources of protein you gotta love it.

    keep up the good work ill be back again thanks john gray

  51. I d been very pleased to seek out this blog.I truly wanted to thank for you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every amount of it and I maybe you haven t bookmarked to check out new stuff from you post.

  52. I buy from a local butcher shop that sells only traditionally Mennonite raised meats. I find it annoying at times that meat labelled ‘organic’ can be SO MUCH more expensive… I literally pay the same amount (and sometimes less) buying Mennonite-raised meat than the crap they sell at the supermarket. So I highly recommend this, or Kosher of course. I used to be a vegetarian for a few years but no matter what it gave me health problems – some people cannot function with no animal products no matter how much they tweak and supplement their diet (this is actually a principal of Chinese medicine too).

    One thing I find interesting that people never point out when making a case for vegetarianism/veganism is that there are literally people who, besides having certain metabolisms or genetic types, CANNOT be vegan because of food allergies. For example, my sister is allergic to nuts, soy and yeast… so how in the world could she ever be vegan? It’s impossible, she would die of malnutrition. To me this proves that at the very least, veganism is not for everyone.

  53. Great article. I’m going hunting this weekend. Something I’m really scared of doing. I was a vegetarian for a while.

    I think if I am going to be sticking to meat for health reasons, I should be able to hunt my own natural, organic animals. If I can’t do it, I am determined to go back to being veggie once again.

    If I can do it, I am going to try to stick to eating more game meat. The most natural, organic and healthy food you can get hold of out there!

  54. I was expecting to see something about corn fed beef or something to that effect. I’ve heard multiple people say that it’s not good to eat corn fed beef, but haven’t confirmed it myself.

    Tim, you should do a followup on this talking about what meats YOU personally eat. (Maybe you have and I haven’t seen it.)

  55. I’ve been following the great meat debate since late 2010 due to reading Eating Animals and have a list of questions I ask ranchers and farmers before I commit to buying (in bulk). In true 80/20 fashion I found a website (eat wild) that helps me find the places before I start asking questions. Local farmers markets are great too. Thanks for writing this article and helping to bring some of the public eye to an important issue!

  56. Challenge: Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix, then write another blog entry on how we can justify animal agriculture in regards to health and the environment. Then add Forks Over Knives to your viewing list.

  57. Organic is the only way to go if you eat meat. Organic standards require organic certified feeds which help to reduce the extensive pollution caused by conventional grain growing using not just pesticides but commercial fertilizers. There are also requirements built within organic certification(s) which require pasturing. So by buying certified organic, you are helping reduce pollution of our land and water resources, as well as your bodies.

    Certainly knowing your animals’ sources and finding them as locally as possible is ideal, but make sure they are feeding certified organic feeds and pasturing on organic grass!

  58. Re: Grass Fed, it’s important to note that if you see “100% Grass Fed” or “Grass Fed and Grass Finished”, that’s all the cattle ate their entire lives. This eliminates the loophole of feeding grains sometimes. It’s a “Never Ever” claim that is very closely monitored and proven to the USDA.

  59. Chomps Snack Sticks are made with 100% Non-GMO Grass-Fed Angus Beef which is sourced from New Zealand. All animals are raised on free range pastures with plenty of healthy vegetation to feed on. They are raised and slaughtered humanely (Halal certified as well). We go out of our way (and spend more $) for the highest quality beef in the world. Making this switch from domestic-raised beef has been the biggest upgrade to our products.

  60. Where can I learn more about your experimentation with vegetarian diet. I’m really interested but am put off by the lack of complete proteins. I want to get in 150g of complete (amino acid profile) protein per day. Before anybody challenges why I need that, I am not interested in debating the ‘why’… I just want to know how. Plus… Soy is out of the question as a protein source (oestrogen producer, not to mention hexane doubts). Guess pescatarian would be best for me which means fish eggs and nuts are still on the menu.

  61. Tim, I’m going to challenge you here. Ethical or not meat is not sustainable (see cowspiracy and other sources) not to mention the affects of raising cattle on the envirorment are devestating. With the kind of reach that you have, I think anything other than suggesting that people reduce or stop eating beef (and other animal products) is pretty iresponsible. I love meat as much as the next guy and I cook it really f*%king well but after reviewing the facts I’m permenantly done with eating animals. But watever you do, do not watch the trailer for Earthlings.

    Ps: I still enjoy your work I just felt compelled to pass on this message.

  62. Tim,

    I want to assure you and your readers that the real families who spend 365 days a year (ranchers) caring for beef cattle are as frustrated with the labeling systems as anyone. And the USDA. It’s a tool for the packers machine to create control of small producers.

    The best statement in the article is “Get to know your local butcher or rancher and get to know your meat.” come to the Dakotas where ranchers care and love their cattle to see it first hand.

  63. Thanks Tim! No need to worry about the meat-labels…

    Watch Cowspiracy!

    It is on Netflix, executive producer is Leonardo DiCaprio…;-)!

    “Vegan” was only for freaks before I saw this film…now it is something I will have to study and apply in my life…

    Please note…soyproducts like soymilk and tofu (not tempeh) are bad for you too…! I am an MD from Europe.

  64. That’s about as close as you’ve gotten to a solution-less problem Tim. Doesn’t seem like I can win here in the States. I wish there was just one form of anything on a large scale that could stay true to proper process. You could likely do the same breakdown for vegetarian products and we’d be at the same dead end as far as it’s organic content, locality, and the we get into genetic modification. With the wide ranging available articles, documentaries, and even quick blips on social media, I’m quickly getting a feeling of hopelessness in living by any kind of truly healthy lifestyle. I’ll do what I can I suppose.

  65. Love the information Tim. Another thing I didn’t know is that you can only transport beef over state lines is if it has been slaughtered in a USDA certified plant. We have to drive to Oklahoma from the DFW area to get some real grass fed beef. On that farm they move the herd from pasture to pasture etc. etc..

    [Moderator: link removed]

  66. Ethical meat is an oxymoron, like clean coal. These animals are butchered and there is plenty of evidence that they suffer as a result. ‘Humanely’ raised dairy cows are still killed in their youth as soon as their production drops. Their organic milk is full of pregnancy hormones since they are continually bred. Then there is the issue of the 50% male offspring. Every hamburger cost 300 gallons of water. You can defend this in California? Alfalfa cost most of your agricultural water. With all due respect, this is manifestly unsustainable, as well as unethical. Talk to someone who studies consciousness in non-human animals. Tim, this was by far the weakest part of 4HB, scientifically. I’m a vegan bike racer. I would be happy to ride with you up Mt Washington sometime (and I’ll spot you 25 years).

  67. I really don’t envy you yanks!

    In Australia our bio-security laws are incredibly tight (try bringing your pet terriers in without decalring them,ask Mr Depp!) And as such only cured/processed meats reaching certain standards are from foreign sources. Also, we don’t factory farm cattle or lamb. Some are feedlotted for 140 days but those facilities are far different from a US fac farm.

    My family used to farm cattle in western Queensland and extreme drought situations aside, cattle would generally be turned off pasture and sent straight to slaughter. During my paleo phase, I made enquiries with one of the major supermarket chains here, Woolworths. They assured me that approximately 2/3 of beef on their shelves was 100% grass fed. Some stores have now begun labelling 100% grass fed over the last few years also.

    Still buy straight from my local butcher though and 100% grass fed simply for taste. I’ve no issue with the feedlots in Australia, having visited several many times and seen the condition and low stress the stock exhibit. The situation in the US seems infinitely more complicated however.

    Also as an aside, you’re experimenting with vegetarianism? Would I be right in saying that a limitation of such temporary self experimentation would be that deficiencies aren’t commonly seen in new comers. I’ve read that the 18 month mark seems to be a common wall for vegans and to a lesser extent lacto-ovo vegetarians.

  68. Best way to do it is to raise or hunt the meat yourself, or get it from a neighbor/trusted source. There is no sense in eating meat at all if it is only negative to your general health.

  69. I have a farm an raise Grass Fed/Grass Finished Beef, Pastured Chicken (75% of it’s life on pasture), Pastured Eggs (whole life on pasture). I feed all non-GMO feeds and don’t use antibiotics or hormones. That being said my customers, not just me, rave about the higher quality and better taste Get to know your local farmer, see where you food comes from, and insist on quality and humane treatment. In addition to the taste you will also feel better eating a healthier product.

    The government labels don’t mean a whole lot once you start looking at them and what they actually allow. They keep changing over time as well. The best way to ensure your product is getting to know your farmer or someone that sources meat you are comfortable with it’s origins.

    Tim if you want to come be a human guinea pig on my farm just let me know.

  70. Hey Tim, if you eat meat I recommend you see the documentary Cowspiracy or Meat the Truth. It’s not just an ethical dilemma or health issue, it’s also about saving the world. It’s the worse environmental problem today, leading cause of greenhouse gases emission, water depletion, deforestation, etc


  71. It’s definitely important to know where your food is coming from. I run a Natural Meat Company/Bison Ranch and am blessed to not only be a part of the raising of the animals but work with other purveyors that have a passion not only for the animal but for the people on the other end that will be purchasing the end result and feeding it to their families.

    Kristen McGuire

    Adams Natural Meats

    Buckeye Az

  72. I always tell people that I went vegan because I didn’t have the energy to try to sort out what all of this marketing language meant, and while that’s not the whole truth, it is definitely part of it. The truth is that there is no humane way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die. It remarkably easy to go vegan. Get on it! 😀

  73. It should be understood that grass fed cows could not be sustainable for current meat demands (not enough grass on the planet) and there is no ethical way to kill another sentient being. There’s no reason why we can’t go vegan, it’s better for human health, the environment and animal welfare.

  74. It’s sad to read this blog and see other animals referred to as “meat” and “it” with so much disrespect for the individuals who they once were. Science has recognised that these individuals have an interest in their own lives and in remaining part of the world. Their lives matter. They are more than “meat”. If one is concerned with speaking about “ethics” one ought to recognise the taking of another’s life unnecessarily is not an ethical option. Humans don’t need to eat the flesh of others in order to survive. Why do we think it’s OK to do so with such little consideration for the consequences?

  75. Hey Tim have you written anything else on your experimentation with vegetarianism and your return to meat eating? If so would you link to it?

  76. You should check out Joel Salatin’s polemic ‘Folks, this ain’t normal’ for an insight of how crazy food production is in the US