What would carne asada be without the carne, char siu without the pork, cheesesteak without the beef?  Meat is an integral part of the cuisines of many cultures around the world.  One of the best (and tastiest) ways to understand a country’s culture is through its cuisine, and with meat playing a central role in many national dishes across the globe, it’s undeniable that abstaining from meat means missing out on a delectable aspect of international culture.

Besides the cultural importance of meat in societies around the world, eating meat can be an important part of a balanced diet.  Unprocessed meat contains many vitamins and minerals vital to human health, including Vitamins B12, B3, B6 as well as iron, zinc, and selenium.  Various peer-reviewed studies have found that vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency since this vitamin is not commonly found in plant food sources.   Carnosine, a nutrient that contains anti-oxidant properties and helps reduce the buildup of substances related to degenerative diseases, is only found in animal-derived foods.  In addition, unprocessed meats provide a superior source for the eight essential amino acids our bodies cannot synthesize in-house.  Even though it would be extremely unhealthy to derive all of your protein sources from just meat, completely forgoing meat would mean having to take supplements as well as carefully monitoring your protein intake to make sure you are getting your fair share of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in meat.  Of course, not all meats are made the same and one should limit the amount of saturated fat and preservatives by opting for lean and unprocessed meat.   With careful selection and monitoring, meat can easily fit into a nutritious diet.

Some moral proponents of vegetarianism argue that giving up meat could be a panacea for world hunger.  They state that if all the feed currently given to raise farm animals were instead given to all those who were hungry, then world hunger would be effectively cured.  However, this strawman argument is easily foiled.  The world currently produces more than enough food to feed everyone.  The problem of world hunger is not a matter of supply, but rather of distribution and economic inequality.  It’s not as if there isn’t enough food in this world; it’s that millions of people don’t have enough money to buy the nutritious food they need.  Choosing to become a vegetarian from the human moral perspective is not going to magically place food in the plates of the impoverished.  World hunger is far more complicated than forgoing meat and using all of that “wasted” feed to give to the world’s malnourished.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to revert vegetarians to carnivores, or sing to the tunes of the meat industry by arguing for the maximal consumption of meat.  I understand the convictions of animal rights activists and those who choose to be vegetarians out of various reasons and respect their personal lifestyle choices.  However, I do believe that the stark divide underlying the premise of this debate between “vegetarians” and “meat-eaters” is largely false.  Personally, I’m a vegetarian at breakfast, an omnivore at lunch, and usually I revert back to a vegetarian at dinnertime.  At no point in my life have I ever truly been a carnivore.  What I am arguing for is the moderation of meat in your diet.  It’s reasonable and culturally enriching to enjoy a poc chuc grilled pork dish when vacationing in the Yucatan but to have it every night for dinner is neither reasonable nor culturally enriching for that matter.  Furthermore, forgoing meat is not the end-all strategy to solve world hunger.  Thus, the human moral aspect of vegetarianism is null.  Meat doesn’t have to be the devil that many make it out to be.  All it takes is careful selection and moderation, as you would do with other parts of your diet, to enjoy meat as part of a healthy lifestyle.