Vegetarians are people who do not eat meat. Their diet consists mainly of plant foods but they will often consume animal products like milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs. Some of them are pescatarians and they will include fish in their diet. Vegans take things a step further and exclude all animal foods. They only consume plant foods and some will also refuse to use any animal products like wearing leather shoes or belts. There has been a surge of interest in veganism in recent times. Reports in the media suggest that a vegan, or plant-based, diet is more healthy than an omnivore diet; it is kinder to animals and it is better for the environment. Are these claims true?
No, they are not true. An important aspect of this site is to demonstrate the benefits of animal-sourced foods for our physical and mental health and the necessity of correctly managed livestock for environmental health. An entirely plant-based diet leads to nutrient deficiencies, especially in children. The intensive farming of single plant crops involves herbicides and pesticides with devastating effects on biodiversity. Vastly more creatures die in the production of grains and vegetables than die for the meat on your plate. This section of the website concentrates on why the pro-vegan story is a fallacy.
How did veganism begin?
We evolved into the people we are because, for millions of years, our ancestors ate the meat and fat of large animals. Our species is the most dominant species on the planet and we have adapted to life in all the extreme climates that exist on Earth. Indigenous tribes, unaffected by modern life, still exist around the world from rainforests and deserts to the Arctic Circle. Their diets vary but none of them have adopted a meat-free, vegan diet.
The avoidance of animal-based foods began in America in the 1850s within an illogical, religious sect called the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I call them illogical because, although they believe that God created them, they believe that sexual arousal is a sin. (Surely, if God created us, God created arousal so we ‘would go forth and multiply’.) Their leader, Ellen White, also believed that eating rich foods, like meat, stimulated sinful passion and bland foods diminished it. She preached this doctrine with great determination and convinced everyone in the Seventh Day Adventist Church to accept this idea as part of their belief. (John Harvey Kellogg was a member of this church and you can read about him here.)
In Britain, veganism began with a man called Donald Watson who founded the Vegan Society in 1944. He is credited with coining the word ‘vegan’ which he created by joining the beginning and end of the word vegetarian. He was an animal rights campaigner whose interest in veganism began when he witnessed the slaughter of a pig on a farm. He campaigned for a meat free diet because he thought farming was cruel to animals.
A plant-based diet, without the animal foods that our ancestors ate for a million years, was invented in America to reduce sexual arousal and was copied in Britain because one man thought it was cruel to animals. In neither case did it have anything to do with improvements to human health or the environment. Both of those false ideas have been added later in a cynical attempt to persuade unsuspecting people to avoid the most nutritious foods available to us, namely meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
In writing a National Food Strategy, you have been tasked with a job which carries a huge workload and equally large responsibility. I commend you on all your hard work. I believe you have produced your plan with a genuine desire to improve the food system in the United Kingdom. There are aspects of your work with which I totally agree: we are an overweight, unhealthy nation because of the poor quality of our diet, and we must change the way we eat to improve health and unburden the NHS. However, there are parts of your strategy with which I totally disagree.
I am a retired Pharmacist. I left my profession feeling frustrated and disillusioned because so many people were taking their medication diligently but never getting better. The drugs were treating the symptoms of their disease but not the root cause. I spent almost 5 years researching and writing a book about why so many people in Britain are ill. It took me so long because I covered a great deal more than just food and because I had to overcome my preconceived biases. I used to be an Olympic Athlete and I believed that everyone would be healthier with more exercise. The more research I did, the more I realised my assumptions were wrong. Whilst exercise is important for good health, the real problem is the food we eat. There is so much misinformation, dogma and downright corruption in the world of food and health I called my book Stop Feeding Us Lies.
I argue that the dietary advice given by the NHS is responsible for the obesity epidemic and all the co-morbidities that go with it. This situation has continued for decades because the hierarchy in the Health Service never steps back and asks itself, ‘Are all of the assumptions we work with factually correct?’ Groupthink has taken over and the experts and the media endlessly repeat the same story, which nobody bothers to examine. I am sorry to say, Mr Dimbleby, I believe you may be guilty of the same thing. You have completely accepted some of the dogma of the day and you appear not to have questioned your assumptions. I believe these assumptions are wrong, which means that parts of your argument are spurious because they are built upon fallacies.
I was somewhat surprised that in a 289-page report on Food Strategy there is no mention of the nutritional benefits of different foods. Surely this is by far the most important factor in any dietary policy? The only nutritional measurement you mention are calories. You seem to think we will reduce obesity by eating fewer calories. This approach has been tried for decades and always fails. Weight is controlled by hormones, mainly insulin, and hormones are affected by the type of food we eat. This was proved in 1956 by Kekwick and Pawan and published in the Lancet. They demonstrated that eating fat does not make us fat; it is carbohydrate that makes us fat. Natural fats do not raise insulin levels and therefore do not increase fat storage. Fats, especially animal fats, have been demonised for decades without any robust evidence against them. However, you quote the oft repeated mantra about reducing food high in ‘sugar, salt and fat’. Indeed, you want to tax sugar and salt.
‘Sugar, salt and fat’ is repeated in the media as if all three are interchangeable in their health-destroying properties. There is no human requirement to eat sugar, nor the carbohydrates from which it is derived. Too much sugar leads to health problems ranging from tooth decay, mood swings and acne all the way to diabetes, blindness, heart disease and amputations. We need to reduce our sugar consumption. Salt, however, is an essential nutrient; our blood is a saline solution and sodium is needed for the transmission of every nerve impulse. People have died of hyponatreamia, or lack of sodium, at running events when they have drunk too much water. Salt is essential for life but you want to put a large tax on it. Fat is also essential for our health; all our cell membranes are made of fat molecules and our brain structure is 65% fat. You are hoping to tax manufacturers into reformulating their food to reduce these three ingredients. What sort of chemicals do you imagine they will substitute them with? Food labels already read like an inventory for a chemistry lab.
Instead of changing the ingredient list in manufactured meals, you should be recommending that people change from eating ultra-processed food and spend more time cooking their own real, natural food. I understand that for many people both time and cost are issues, which make this difficult. The health benefits, however, are so obvious the message should be spoken loud and clear. Fresh food from a farmer or fisherman will always be nutritionally superior to food from a factory. Why not promote home cooking at every opportunity?
You recommend that we all reduce our meat intake by 30%. We became the dominant species on the planet because of our large brains. We evolved excellent brains because our ancestors ate the meat and fat of the big animals they chased and caught. Red meat is the most nutrient-dense, easily absorbed food humans can consume (along with liver and eggs). The fat in our brain structure is largely animal derived. Indeed, 12 % of our brain is made of the omega3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is essential for a multitude of processes in the brain and some neurologists suggest that conscious thought is impossible without it. There is no DHA in the fruit and vegetables you recommend. There is also no Vitamin B12 in plants. B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells and the myelin sheath that surrounds all our nerve fibers. Persuading us to eat less meat will inevitably lead some people into nutrient deficiencies which will damage their health and further burden the NHS.
Taking a broader view of your National Food Strategy, it is not really about food: it is about land usage and climate change. Your document mentions vitamins seven times, climate change 112 times and methane 109 times. This is the other area where it seems you have not failed to question your assumptions and made no attempt to challenge the dogma of the day. There is a powerful anti-meat lobby which constantly promotes the idea that eating red meat is bad for our health and for the climate. Both these claims are wrong. You have written page after page of anti-meat propaganda, which does not stand up to scrutiny. You perpetuate some of the most extreme views I have ever read. I quote, ‘The methane produced by ruminants is estimated to have caused a third of total global warming since the industrial revolution.’ Do you believe, Mr Dimbleby, that the digestive system of cows is a major influence on the climate of this planet? GCSE level biology explains why this cannot be true.
Grass grows by taking CO2 out of the air. With the help of energy from sunshine and water from rainfall, grass converts atmospheric CO2 into molecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Some of these carbohydrate molecules, called cellulose, are used to create new blades of grass and some, which are more simple sugars, are passed down the plant and into the roots. To keep the arithmetic simple, let us assume a blade of grass absorbs 100 molecules of CO2 and that 80 of them are used for growth and 20 of those carbon atoms go down to the roots, where they will stay if the ground is left undisturbed. A cow comes along and eats all those 80 carbon atoms in the grass. The bacteria in her rumen get to work and convert plant cellulose into the fatty acids and proteins that the animal needs to grow. A by-product of this process is methane gas which is produced at a rate of approximately 5% of the food eaten. Therefore, for every 100 molecules of CO2 absorbed by grass, cows return 4 or 5 of them to the air as methane. Simple arithmetic and basic biology show it is impossible for cows, or sheep, to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. They simply recycle a few of them.
You correctly state that methane in the atmosphere is oxidised to CO2 after about a decade, but you stress that it is a much more potent greenhouse gas. In laboratories, that appears to be true, but in the real world it is not true. Water vapour is the most effective greenhouse gas by far. It accounts for 90% of all the heat trapped in the atmosphere; the heat which stops us all from freezing to death. Methane only absorbs infra-red radiation at wavelengths of 3.3 and 7.5 microns. Water vapour is very active at those wavelengths and any effect methane might have is completely masked by the action of water. Methane, therefore, has no significant effect on the temperature.
History, as well as physics, proves your statement is wrong. Ruminant animals evolved about 50 million years ago and they have been burping methane throughout all the hot periods and ice ages of that enormous timescale. The figure below shows atmospheric methane levels over the last 1,000 years, measured by ice-core samples. Methane remained remarkably constant until the Industrial Revolution. During the first 800 years of this graph there were an estimated 65 million bison roaming the grasslands of the American Midwest.
I quote you again, Mr Dimbleby, ‘If all the ruminants on earth mysteriously vanished tomorrow, it would take roughly twelve years for the methane they have already produced to leave the atmosphere almost completely. After a couple more decades, the temperature of the planet would have cooled to the same temperature as if those animals had never existed.’
The second figure, below, shows the fluctuations of temperature over the last 2,000 years. Focussing on the last 1,000 years we can compare methane levels, above, with temperature. The methane graph begins with the height of the Medieval Warm Period. Temperature then cools until we are plunged (by the Dalton Solar Minimum) into the Little Ice Age. Temperatures begin to warm again in the early 1700s. Throughout all these temperature fluctuations, methane levels stayed exactly the same. They had no effect on warming or cooling. Whoever you have been listening to, Mr Dimbleby, has led you up the garden path and you have taken them at their word.
You give a passing mention to regenerative agriculture but fail to emphasise its huge benefits to soil health and fertility. Allan Savory has proved that increasing the number of ruminants on the land improves soil fertility and the ground’s ability to absorb and store water. We should have more cattle and sheep on the land and in our diet, rather than less.
NASA satellites have clearly shown that the recent increase in CO2 (plant food) has enabled vegetation to thrive and the world is considerably greener now than when carbon dioxide levels were lower.
There is so much more I could say, but I will make this final comment. You recommend a nationally approved diet and a land use plan overseen by the Government. Do you really believe that Boris Johnson and his cronies could provide better stewardship of the land than experienced farmers, who have been educated in the benefits of regenerative agriculture? Do you think a ‘national diet’ will be free from the influence of global food corporations and their processed fake-food? I, for one, do not.
Many years ago, we were warned about the dangers of ‘global warming’. The name for this impending doom was later altered to ‘climate change’. Presumably, this was done so that whatever happened to the climate, our self-indulgent way of life could be blamed. The media have now started to ramp up the fear by referring to this concept as the ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency’. Daily fearmongering across mainstream media has shown that people can be persuaded to believe implausible ideas if they have already been made to feel sufficiently scared.
Outrageous notions are now coming thick and fast. Recently, we had the Cabinet Minister, Kwazi Kwarteng, telling us we must go vegan to ‘save the planet’. In the Times Magazine of April 24th, there is an article which attempts to rank foods by their greenhouse gas emissions. The piece is inspired by “one of Britain’s top scientists”, who has written a book about food and climate. The top scientist is a Professor of Extragalactic Astronomy. She has become a vegan because of what she believes to be the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock.
The headlines in the article included ‘Butter is five times worse for the environment than vegetable spread’ and ‘Eating a large steak is equivalent to driving a fossil-fuelled car for 40 miles’. My first thought was that if I drove 40 miles I would still be hungry, but if I ate a large steak I would be satiated and well-nourished. Sadly, the extraordinary level of misinformation in this is article is no laughing matter.
There are two major problems the Professor has failed to understand. The first one is basic biology and the second is the purpose of food.
1.The rhetoric goes along these lines: cows belch methane; methane is a greenhouse gas; we need to get rid of cows. People who push this idea insist we must stop eating meat because farm livestock are responsible for ‘emissions’ which are so huge they are heating the planet to dangerous levels. The thing none of them seem to grasp is that it is impossible for cows and sheep to emit greenhouse gases; they can only recycle some of them.
Cows and sheep only eat plants. A lot of people think plants grow out of the ground, but this is not strictly true: they are rooted in the ground and get water and minerals from the ground but they grow out of the air. Every carbon atom in the structure of a plant was taken out of the air, as carbon dioxide, during photosynthesis. When animals eat and then digest those carbon atoms to create their own structure, the process produces methane gas, as a byproduct, at a rate of about 5% of the food eaten. After a few years in the atmosphere that methane is converted to CO2 and the ‘carbon cycle’ continues, as it has for tens of millions of years.
When we drive a car 40 miles, we burn carbon-rich fuel, which has been stored underground for millions of years. Therefore, cars emit greenhouse gases which add to the total in the atmosphere whereas cattle recycle some, which does not add to the total. This basic difference seems to be totally ignored in reports on this subject.
We are often told that cattle farming is ‘unsustainable’. This, of course, depends on how it is done. When the settlers and farmers from Europe arrived on the plains of mid-west America, they found the most fertile soil they had ever seen and in places it was between six and ten feet deep. That soil existed because 75 million bison and deer had roamed the land, for thousands of years, eating the grass that grew there and leaving their ‘manure’ upon it, before moving on. This process involves a symbiotic relationship between ruminant animals, grassland plants and trillions of bacteria and fungi in the soil. Universities and farmers around the world have proved that regular movement of herds of livestock to fresh grass, in a way which mimics nature, increases carbon storage in the ground and simultaneously improves soil fertility. Wild herds of ruminants have been doing this for 50 million years; a timescale which suggests to me that it is ‘sustainable’.
One hundred years ago those American farmers were growing wheat on as much of that land as they could because wheat prices were high. They did so much ploughing and planting of a single crop, they turned those deep, fertile soils into what became known as the ‘dust bowl’. The grass, which had covered the prairies for a million years, was turned over; the fungal network was destroyed; the land dried out; and when a period of drought came, the soil was turned to dust and blown by the wind, across the country, as huge, dark clouds. Thousands of farmers were made bankrupt and there was an enormous exodus of people from the mid-west to California, in search of work. The US Government bought millions of acres of land and replanted it with the original prairie grass. History shows us that it is mono-crop arable farming which is unsustainable.
2. In the Times Magazine article the Professor listed a wide variety of foods and quoted the supposed emissions of each. Throughout the article, however, there is no mention of the nutritional value of any food, which is, surely, an essential factor in our diet. Suggesting that we should eat vegetable spread instead of butter, for example, ignores the fact that butter is a natural product with considerable quantities of vitamins A, B12, D, E and K2 and omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetable spread is a highly processed, unnatural food substitute usually made from sunflower oil. This oil contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to increase inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and age-related macular degeneration.
Plant foods contain no vitamin B12. A deficiency of this essential nutrient can lead to brain atrophy in children, psychosis, hallucinations, weakness, unsteady gait, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, symptoms of depression and megaloblastic anaemia. Sadly, many people, like the Professor, are willing to risk the health consequences of a vegan diet because, somehow, they have been persuaded that the climate of this planet is controlled by the digestive system of cows. A far bigger problem, which is not being tackled, is the enormous burden of obesity, diabetes and all the related metabolic disorders suffered by millions. This health catastrophe is intricately linked to a diet containing too much processed, fake-food and not enough nutrient-dense real food, like butter and meat.
The list below contains extracts from the official dietary advice of a wide range of health authorities. They all recommend either caution or avoidance of a plant only diet for pregnant women and children.
The dietary guidelines, which the NHS want us all to follow, advise a high percentage of carbohydrate and a reduction in animal sourced fats. These excerpts, below, are taken directly from the NHS website.
We need to remember that all carbohydrates are broken down by digestion into sugar molecules, usually glucose. So the NHS recommends that over a third of your intake should consist of foods that your body regards as sugar. They also recommend that the natural animal fats which our ancestors have eaten for millennia should be replaced with vegetable oils.
Many decades ago a lot of people were thin and some were very thin. A product was developed and heavily advertised to help those people gain weight. Appropriately, it was called Wate-On. The adverts typically suggested to women that they would be more attractive to men if they gained some ‘female curves’ by adding a little subcutaneous fat.
The manufacturers were so confident that their product worked they offered a money back guarantee if you failed to gain weight after taking it.
What ingredients did Wate-On contain to ensure people taking it would increase their weight. There were some added vitamins to give the product a ‘healthy’ profile but the two main ingredients were sugar and maize oil. Maize oil is the same thing as Corn oil.
Putting more weight on is very rarely an objective for people nowadays because 65% of the UK population are overweight and more than 25% are obese. How did we become so heavy? We became so heavy because we have been following the NHS advice to consume the ingredients of Wate-On, sugar and corn oil.
Everybody in the UK loves the NHS. We have just given up a year of our freedoms to ‘save it’. Parts of the NHS do a wonderful job but their official dietary advice is a national scandal of out-dated misinformation. What they call the Eatwell Guide is nothing of the sort. It is the reason we have an obesity crisis and surging levels of type 2 diabetes. We would all be so much better off if we ignored what they say about food and ate the diet our ancestors ate.
Vitamin A is usually associated with good vision and especially night vision. As a child I was always told to 'eat my carrots so I could see in the dark'. While it is true that vitamin A is vital for vision, it also has a multitude of beneficial functions throughout the body. However, it is not true to list carrots as a source of this essential vitamin. The biologically active form of vitamin A is called retinol, because it is so prevalent in the retina of the eye. Carrots and other brightly coloured vegetables contain no vitamin A. They contain a pre-cursor to retinol known as carotene or beta-carotene, which has to be converted to the active form before it can do it's work. This conversion is never very efficient and quite difficult for some people. Genetic variations, too much fibre in the diet, a lack of bile salts and eating raw vegetables can all play their part in making the transition from carotene to retinol more difficult. Healthy individuals without these problems convert beta-carotene to retinol at a ration of about 6:1, which means they need to eat 6 molecules of beta-carotene to absorb one molecule of true vitamin A.
A study from Newcastle University on a group of women showed that 47% of them had a gene variant that made it difficult or impossible to convert beta-carotene into active vitamin A. It is easy, therefore, for some people to become deficient if they do not consume retinol in their food.
The only dietary sources of the active form of vitamin A are found in animal foods. Liver and eggs are the most abundant, (which is one of the reasons we have meal suggestions for these in our recipes section). Vitamin A gets very little attention compared to vitamins C and D, which is unfortunate because it is absolutely vital for our health and for the proper development of babies and children. It has such a profound effect on our health because it regulates the action of over five hundred genes in the body, which makes it a major controller of all of our cells and how they function.
Long before we knew what vitamin A is, ancient people from around the world were aware that eating liver could prevent or reverse blindness. The Egyptians described it at least 3500 years ago: Assyrian texts dating from 700 BC and Chinese medical writings from the 7th century AD both call for the use of liver in the treatment of night blindness. It has also been written about in 18th-century Russia and among the inhabitants of Newfoundland in 1929. 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates prescribed liver for blindness in malnourished children. Despite all this knowledge, vitamin A deficiency is still the leading cause of blindness in some parts of the world. It is extraordinary that all this ancient knowledge is ignored and the NHS recommends that pregnant mothers should avoid eating liver in case they consume toxic levels. (More about this later.)
Vitamin A helps to prevent us from becoming ill; it keeps our immune system from overreacting; it is necessary for growth and reproduction. We need vitamin A for building bones and teeth, and for the actions of our hormones. It is essential for the development of a foetus into a perfectly formed human baby. These are major roles, which are vitally important for our health.