In this two-part blog, and in the spirit of negotiation, I'm attempting to bring warring sides together by highlighting how plant-eaters and meat-eaters can learn from each other, for their mutual benefit, by focusing on the things they each do well, rather than those things on which they disagree. This time, I'm on more familiar ground, as I make a case for the meat-eaters
Again, to qualify, I'm not talking about carnivores that live on burgers and Pepperami; I'm talking about smart carnivores who, like vegans and vegetarians, are making what they believe to be a healthy choice.
1. They understand that it's not "Eat meat" or "Care about your health/the environment/animals". Contrary to the beliefs of many vegans and vegetarians, there are plenty of omnivores who do care about their health and the welfare of animals; I am one of them. It is possible to help improve the welfare of animals and the environment by choosing locally sourced, free-range or organic meat reared responsibly by farmers who pride themselves on their animals' welfare.
2. They avoid anaemia. The body requires vitamin B12 for many things, ranging from energy production, creation of new red blood cells (preventing anaemia), DNA production, keeping the nerves healthy, preventing depression, regulating mood, congenital disabilities, osteoporosis and heart disease, as well as keeping hair and nails nice and healthy. A few plants contain substances that the body can convert into B12, but it doesn't do it well. The best way to get B12 into your diet is by eating meat or taking supplements, and very few vegans/vegetarians get anywhere near enough B12, which is perhaps why they are so susceptible to anaemia and, some might suggest, tend to be so cranky all the time.
3. They have more energy. Because iron is integral in carrying oxygen around the body, low iron levels can lead to fatigue. There are two types of iron we can consume; the first, heme iron, found in animal products, is the most absorbable. The second is non-heme iron, found mostly in beans, legumes and pulses, and is far less absorbable than heme iron. As a result, vegans and vegetarians can often suffer from low iron levels, making them more susceptible to fatigue. A quick tip for all you plant-eaters, non-heme iron can be made more absorbable when it's combined with vitamin C, a squeeze of lemon juice on your spinach salad, for example.
4. They get more Omega 3 Fatty Acids. There are three types of Omega 3's; EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA and DHA are best sourced from seafood such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines etc. ALA is most commonly found in flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts and some green vegetables. The problem with ALA is that the body must convert it into EPA or DHA before it can use it. Unfortunately, 90% of ALA is lost in that conversion, so if you're eating 10g of ALA, there is only 1g left by the time it's converted to its useable form. If you consider that omega 3 plays an essential role in preventing heart disease and that many vegans and vegetarians choose to avoid meat, in part to reduce the risk of heart disease, an unfortunate conflict of interests exists here. Plant-eaters must be very conscious about getting enough Omega 3 fats into their diet.
5. They build muscle and get strong. Finally, but perhaps most obviously, the protein problem. The nemesis of most vegans and vegetarians, getting enough protein into the diet can be very difficult if you don't eat meat. It's certainly not impossible, but it isn't always easy. It's probably the most common deficiency seen amongst vegans and vegetarians and is largely responsible for the "weak and skinny" image that tends to go hand in hand with the general perception of plant-eaters. You cannot build muscle without protein, and your body won't use the protein you consume to build muscle unless it has an excess of protein, over and above what it needs to keep the organs, nerves and other vital parts of the body healthy, those systems get first dibs on the protein you consume. So it's not merely a case of eating some protein; you have to eat enough protein. Also, because plant-eaters protein always comes packed with carbohydrates, it's not easy for them to increase their protein intake without increasing carbohydrate intake simultaneously, which means doubling up on calories. This is one reason why attempts by vegans and vegetarians to add lean mass often result in additional body fat, taking them from skinny and non-muscular to slightly more muscular but fat. I'm not saying that outcome is inevitable; it is possible to build a strong, muscular physique as a plant-eater, of course, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and the fact remains that, for many plant-eaters, protein is less of a primary nutrient and more of a frustratingly absent afterthought.
Of course, there are strong and healthy plant-eaters who excel in these five areas, just as there are meat-eaters who eat lots of vegetables and unrefined carbohydrates, are knowledgeable about food and great at preparing it, and eat nutrient-dense, fresh food, rather than empty processed calories. But that's the point.
As is so often the case, and as my good friend Chris Voss so eloquently points to, good negotiation doesn't seek a winner and loser; it seeks the best possible outcome for everyone, but that can only happen when both sides listen to each other and look for the positives, rather than shouting slogans at each other from opposing platforms.