Here are my two main complaints against doctors promoting vegetarianism:
- Despite knowing full well that observational studies should promote real research and not conclusions, they collude in the media’s celebration of their meat-bashing.
- We all agree conventional meat raising is heinous: vegetarian advocates seem completely ignorant of the value of grazing animals to the process of restoring grasslands.
Why am I yet again on this familiar hobby horse?
Maybe you read the New York Times on the news or maybe you heard it from your doctor. Even my own doctor is a single-minded vegetarian who believes red meat causes heart disease and would have loved this research paper, but not heard its critiques.
Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers report on the histories of over half a million adult men and women who “tracked” their diet and health for an average of 16 years. While I applaud the BMJ for open access to their data, I have to critique their assessment that this is a valuable contribution to our collective knowledge. By their findings, those folks who recalled eating on the higher side of red meat (processed and unprocessed, their categories not mine), seemed to die a bit more often of a variety of different health conditions.
Where to start? With the data. The data collection did not come from a little bird (or GoPro camera) sitting on the participants’ shoulder, but rather from a recall questionnaire. (Before reading any farther, I want you to estimate how many times you ate meat in the last 7 days… what about eggs? And how many pieces of bread? How accurate would you guess your recollections to be? Okay, now guess for the previous 12 months!) The article doesn’t include the questionnaire but it’s easy enough to find here . You could avoid reading the rest of my blog post by simply going to the form and imagining how accurately you could possibly complete this interrogation: not at all reliably, would be my best guess. Recognizing the futility of "recall" as a means of nutritional evaluation, you would immediately grasp that conclusions about health and disease should not be made on the basis of my memory's count of meaty meals.
Gary Taubes took apart this kind of science brilliantly in his article here in which he says “I make a point to say that I never used the word scientist to describe the people doing nutrition…research” unless they are among the few doing it properly. Comparing one-year recollections of diets and corresponding disease risk is something that should never receive respect as science, nor scarce health funding, literary approval and certainly not widespread media fawning.
I consider the BMJ article (and corresponding editorial ) to both be completely irresponsible in their simple-minded acceptance of the vegetarian agenda. We are indeed facing crises in both the worlds of failing health and agricultural land management, but there are two strident sides to the argument, and only one side acknowledges the other. I agree with the commentary and editorial of the BMJ in the same issue, both of which cite the environmental hazards of conventional meat-raising operations. They however, see only one response to the situation: eat less meat. They clearly have not taken the time to read the evidence that cites grass-eating, well-rotated herbivores as the best way to rebuild and protect the eroding grasslands critical to planetary health. Perhaps they have read the evidence: in that case, they are simply being dishonest in their failure to acknowledge the possibility of an alternate viewpoint.
There are so many other problems with both the cited study and the penned responses, I don’t know where to start. Lucky for me, and for you if you have the patience for the argument, Zoe Harcombe has taken it apart, yet again. Here she really goes through all the problems of both the research itself and the commentaries in the BMJ.
I am left pondering, why are vegetarian activists so single-minded in promoting their agenda?