In reality, the argument for avoiding animal foods has never been strong. When it comes to health, the case against meat is almost exclusively derived from a scientific methodology known as nutritional epidemiology, a real weakling of the lab. Though it may arrive on the news as gospel, your typical study showing that eggs, butter or beef promotes disease almost always relies on questionnaires, and the unverifiable, approval-seeking recall of participants. Plus, the end result of an epidemiology study can still only show associations, not cause-and-effect.
But you wouldn’t know that from the confidence with which, for five decades now, we have been directed toward the salad bar.
Nor have large controlled trials confirmed the supposed common sense that a “mostly plants” or even a so-called Mediterranean diet leads to better health outcomes. If anything, the dense nutritional content of animal-derived whole foods can prove challenging to replace with the celebrated fruits, vegetables and whole grains of our dietary future.
Beef, eggs and dairy are unquestionably superior to the refined carbohydrates and plant oils at the center of the American diet. But after a long run of blaming the butcher, these sorts of inconvenient details about animal foods remain banished, and it’s safe to say most Americans believe it’s healthier to eat less meat.
You can think of it as our great vegetarian blind spot, and it has left us defenseless to the brassiest escalation yet in the cause against meat, the remarkable assertion that eating meat is bad for the planet. Talk about overplaying your hand. Where eating meat was once bad for a person’s arteries, now we are to do so with the shame that it’s bad for all of life upon Earth.