A false article published in April reignited culture wars over how much meat Americans should be eating. After the British Daily Mail tabloid inaccurately claimed that President Joe Biden wanted to limit Americans to just one burger a month, Republican politicians including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and George Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green pounced with criticism. While the claims against the Biden administration fell apart, the debate around whether meat consumption is incompatible with our own health and the planet’s — or whether those concerns are overblown and unnecessarily restrictive — did not.

To tap into this discussion, The Inquirer turned to a local vegan cafe owner and a local butchery owner to debate: Is it time for Americans to go herbivore?

» READ MORE: Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight

Yes: Meat causes animal suffering, human illness, and planetary destruction.

By Beverly Medley

I’ve been vegan for 43 years of my life. The first 26 years were spent eating whatever. I didn’t have a care in the world and just thought: eat, drink, and be merry. I had no concern regarding what I ate, nor did I have a clue I should be concerned. I just did what I was programmed as a child to do: eat what was in front of me.

But then I borrowed from my neighbor a book that looked interesting: Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature. His personal story was so inspiring that I decided to follow his lead. Following his instructions, I cleansed my body and was on my way. No more meat, meat products, or sugar — all gone. I hit a few glitches along the way, but I was determined to transform my life, and I did just that.

For many of us in Philadelphia, a town where cheesesteaks and pork sandwiches reign supreme, meat-eating was introduced as early as possible. We didn’t have a choice in the matter. Our parents ate meat, we ate meat, everybody ate meat. However, I believe if the entire process of bringing meat to the table, from the slaughtering of the animal to dismembering its body, skinning it, etc., was shown to us at a young age when the mind was purer, there would be a greater number of people not eating meat. But since we are largely exempt from that whole process, and oblivious to the backstory, we don’t know how meat gets to the table, and maybe don’t want to know.

There’s an enormous amount of pain and suffering bringing meat to the table via animals, who are the product. Yet, animal suffering doesn’t phase most people since they believe animals are here for their consumption and pleasure. Perhaps if they had to watch their beloved dog, cat, or pet be slaughtered, gutted, and roasted for dinner, that would change.

» READ MORE: After a devastating cancer diagnosis, South Philly man overhauled his diet and found a passion for raw foods

But animal consumption also causes an enormous amount of pain and suffering for us, the consumers. That suffering comes in the form of our body rebelling against our lifestyle.

The body is an extraordinary, magnificent specimen. It can withstand a lot of abuse before it breaks down, and clearly, we can eat meat. However, our bodies were not designed for meat-eating, at least not at the levels commonly seen today. Research has shown that frequent meat-eating is a contributing factor to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer (especially for red and processed meat), and a host of other illnesses. One of the major medical recommendations to eliminate or significantly reduce the suffering of such diseases is drastically reducing or eliminating meat consumption. And it’s also known that current meat consumption increases our carbon emissions and so contributes to destructive climate change.

“Your body is not a graveyard.”

Beverly Medley

Some might ask: Then where will you get your protein? The vegetable kingdom has plenty of protein power, in quinoa (a complete protein), mushrooms, spinach, hubbard squash, zucchini, pumpkin seeds, sprouts, kale, and chickpeas, to name a few.

Your body is not a graveyard. Do your research. Eating more seeded fruit, vegetables, and less or no meat and processed sugar will keep that pep in your step.

Beverly Medley is co-owner of All the Way Live Cafe in Germantown.

No: Pasture-based livestock farming can make our planet healthier.

By Heather Marold Thomason

Major food publications and famous restaurants are clickbaiting us with their declarations of canceling meat to support the environment. A New York Times opinion piece called for the government to fund fake meat to replace cheap hamburgers rather than have to give them up. The argument gaining in popularity is that we must move away from meat consumption to combat climate change, and headlines warn that the meat culture war is only beginning.

But we don’t have to choose between supporting Big Meat or eating only plants. There is an alternative. Not an “impossible” lab-grown meat alternative — I’m talking about pasture-based livestock farming on a responsible scale like it was before government-backed mega corporations rolled national livestock production into Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Industrial meat has been so successful at consolidating and scaling the production of animals as a commodity that we now fear the environmental impact of cow farts. This industry, not meat, is the climate offender.

» READ MORE: Taste won’t persuade Americans to swap out beef for plant-based burgers | Opinion

I founded Primal Supply Meats to build up a local supply chain and establish a market for pasture-raised meats in Philadelphia. I didn’t do this so we could eat more meat. I did this so we could support farmers who are committed to regenerative agriculture — farming practices that return resources to the Earth rather than depleting them. By integrating livestock into farmland the right way, it is possible to improve soil quality, increase biodiversity, and capture carbon, all of which restore the environment. I have watched my partner farmers hold the Earth in their hands, marveling at new, nutrient-dense topsoil that is the byproduct of animals rotationally grazing on their land.

The case is often made that small farms can’t feed the world, but our planet has plenty of grasslands to support grazing animals. One whole beef cow can feed a family for a year, and it doesn’t take a single grain of corn to raise it. If all meat was raised on pasture rather than in the concentrated feedlots that dominate industrial production, and the true cost was passed through to the consumer, we would treat meat like the precious resource it is and simply eat less of it.

Imagine what all those exhausted corn and soy fields currently used to feed industrial livestock could do if animals grazed them instead, building up rich soil that could grow diverse and nutritious food.

“I can’t imagine a world without sustainable livestock farms.”

Heather Marold Thomason

It’s not meat consumption we need to move away from. It’s our cultural acceptance that meat should be endlessly accessible. Industrial meat is cheap because it is subsidized by the government to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year, all the way from the corn feeding the animal to the steak on your plate. And that doesn’t include the intangible subsidies paid by the suffering of animals and people. Extending government subsidies to more monocrops and labs to produce meatless meat is not a sustainable solution for the future of our planet. It is replacing one unsustainable system with another.

I can imagine a world without cheap hamburgers (I gave them up long ago), but I can’t imagine a world without sustainable livestock farms. I encourage you to join the pasture-raised resistance in the war on meat. Support the alternative. And remember, feedlots are not farms.

Heather Marold Thomason is the founder and head butcher at Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia.

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