More complicated than that

Or, some slogans are silly.

This is going to be a cranky, grumpy post, an exercise in “yes but” and “did you stop to think about”. I’ve been sorting through books and finding (lots and lots of) oldish ones to give away to a book sale coming up in a couple of weeks. And maybe the hours of sorting, and breathing dust and dealing with the runny nose and headaches it brings, have made me irritable. Don’t care.

Because I was glancing through a diet book yesterday, one of the “fat is EEEEvil” diets that have kind of gone out of style for the moment until people get discouraged with low-carb again, and stumbled over this sentence: “If you can’t be a vegetarian, eat a vegetarian.” That is – at least this is what the author meant to say – people who won’t minimize the fat in their diets by completely giving up animal products should stick to plant-eating animals, which will be low-fat like the plants they eat. But is that true?

Well, what do we meat-eaters usually eat? Beef, lamb, pork, chicken (and similar birds), and fish, right? And what do they eat?

Left to their own devices, cows and sheep are vegetarians, feasting on the great salad bar of grassy fields, filling their bodies with plenty of highly saturated fat. Pigs? Omnivores like us; they’ll eat almost anything. Pork is traditionally fatty, but pork fat isn’t as highly saturated as beef tallow. What about chickens? The flock that roamed around my grandmother’s yard pecked up all the corn she gave them, but they also loved bugs and worms; they’re omnivores like people and pigs, fairly low in fat, and what fat they have isn’t very saturated. And fish, virtuous low-fat fish? Eating machines, and what they eat are smaller fish. A flounder is no more vegetarian than a lion.

Of course, it gets even more complicated…I’m told that “farmed” fish are much higher in saturated fat than wild fish of the same species. But we can pretty much conclude, after looking at the inconvenient facts, that the slogan should be turned upside down: “If you want to eat a minimal-fat diet and won’t be a vegetarian, eat a carnivore.” Um. Just doesn’t have the same virtuous sound, does it?

The world needs better slogans. “If it’s glib, it’s goofy.” Or the good old standby: “It’s more complicated than that.”

6 responses to “More complicated than that

  1. I don’t eat meat but I do fish, so if the fish I’ve just eaten ate another fish does that make me a double carnivore after all? 🙂

  2. what you need to do – is just eat – mainly plants – as Michael Pollen put it

  3. This is making my head spin, and I’m not even sorting through dusty books.

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