Itâ€™s become downright fashionable to eat meat again.
The fashion started a couple years ago, when vegan actress Jennifer Connolly succumbed to her pregnancy cravings for turkey burgers. Next, former-vegan actress Mariel Hemingway, who starred in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” began touting the virtues of buffalo meatloaf and grass-fed pot roast. Recently, acclaimed vegetarian chef and cookbook author Mollie Katzen admitted that she too is foraging for more than just roots and berries down on the farm.
Whatâ€™s prompting this carnivorous conversion among the rich and not-so-famous? For some former vegans and vegetarians, itâ€™s the availability of cruelty-free, fully-sustainable, free-range beef, lovingly raised on small farms by producers concerned more with the animalâ€™s welfare than with their profit line. Many people say this kinder, gentler form of cattle-raising mitigates the factors that caused them to become vegetarian or vegan in the first place.
Sociology major Crystal Wishart, 34, converted to vegetarianism three years ago after watching Fast Food Nation, a 2006 film that examined the health risks involved in the fast food industry and its environmental and social consequences.
â€œI was so grossed out by it, I couldnâ€™t fathom eating meat of any kind,â€ she recalled.
Last year during a trip to New Orleans she â€œsuccumbed to all the yummy smells and sightsâ€ and began eating meat again. Now she peruses the aisles of Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market for humanely-raised, sustainable beef and chicken without regret, she said, not only because of the way the animal was raised but because the meat is healthier, fresher and tastier than factory-produced meat.
â€œDo I think that I am unethical or immoral because I eat meat? No. Itâ€™s just a personal choice,â€ Wishart said. â€œI see how some people can think that (eating humanely-raised meat) is more ethical or moral because the animals are fed better and treated better, but I hate to sound harsh – the ending is just the same for them.â€
The term â€œsustainableâ€ that has crept into foodie lexicon over the past few years, refers to products that can be produced indefinitely with little impact on the system in which they were produced. Experts say the current meat industry is not sustainable because it is abusive to the environment, the animals and the humans that process the animals â€“ a system that will cause worse damage and suffering if it continues on its present course.
Heather Stoltzfus, outreach chair for Slow Food Orange County, a non-profit organization that promotes consumption of sustainable, natural foods, explained there are several reasons to eat sustainable meat.
â€œYou support a producer who is a steward of the environment as well as animal and human life instead of a corporation pursuing the bottom line,â€ she said. â€œAt the same time you enjoy an animal knowing that it has lived its life as it was meant to be lived.â€
Stoltzfus said many vegetarians give up meat in protest of industrial farming conditions that are harmful to the animals, the environment and the people who work with and eat them. Meat raised in a manner where these conditions are not present may be attractive to them.
A vegetarian for 18 years, Stoltzfus has recently considered adding sustainable meat to her diet.
â€œI try to support the best producers possible,â€ she said. â€œSo is it better for me to buy and eat a sustainably-raised chicken and help the farmer stay in business or buy GMO tofu from a large corporation that is destroying the land they grow on? In some cases eating meat is a sustainable and even compassionate choice.â€
While some former herbivores cite taste and environmental concerns as primary reasons to eat meat again, others emphasize that a well-balanced diet that includes meat offers nutritional benefits they cannot get from vegetables alone. Indeed, experts say that grass-fed, free-range beef packs a nutritional punch, offering health benefits that factory-produced, corn-fed beef does not.
Archana McEligot, associate professor of health sciences at Cal State Fullerton, explained that grass-fed beef has been shown to have lower saturated fat and higher polyunsaturated fatty acids and a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
But she adds that vegetarians can get similar benefits by consuming a plant-based, dark leafy green diet, taking an omega-3 supplement or eating flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Ultimately, for some staunch vegans and vegetarians, there are few arguments that will convince them to return to their meat-eating ways.