The top two questions people ask me when they learn about my vegan diet is, “why are you doing this”? and “how do you get enough proteins”? Today, my post is about these questions in relation to the Danes’ consumption of pork.
Why Do We Eat Meat?
I find it intriguing that so many people want to know how I get my proteins. I would even go as far as to say that people are somewhat obsessed with how I get proteins, so much that they never consider that their own meat diet is related to certain health risks (such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure etc.). I started investigating the connection between meat and proteins, which led me to different scientific discussions on human evolution up till today’s dieticians’ expert advice on how to eat. I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed. I’m not an expert nor do I have an education in nutrition. Instead, I will write about how food is tied to cultural behaviours and deep-rooted habits.
Danes Relationship with the Popular Pig
In Nordic Mythology there’s a creature, Sæhrímnir, whose body feeds the fallen warriors in Valhalla. Every night Sæhrímnir is slaughtered only to be resurrected the next day—just to be slaughtered again. Snorri Sturluson mentions Sæhrímnir in the Prose (Younger) Edda, however, the scholars—to some extent—disagree on what the creature Sæhrímnir might be. If you Google Sæhrímnir, the beast is mostly depicted as a wild boar. I mention Sæhrímnir because, in Denmark, the beast is related to Danish food culture. In fact, pork is, according to Danish food-historian, Else-Marie Boyhus, something Danes have been eating for at least the past 6000 years (madhistorie). With the agriculture advance 10,000 years ago it’s easy to imagine how Danes’ relation to pigs has grown—fuelled by the Norse myth about the eternal life circle of the creature Sæhrímnir—to the pig’s life-giving body.
Fast forwarding to the wonders of industrialisation. In Denmark, it wasn’t until after the second Danish-Prussian war (1864) that we began our industrialised production of pork (dr.dk). The new working culture meant that families weren’t producing meat for their own consumption; instead, farmers collaborated and began their successful adventure: Exporting bacon to Britain and selling pork to the Danes (slagtehuse.dk).
Later, and more specifically, in the 1970s, the public distanced themselves from the old, Danish pork tradition. The public’s attention towards factory farming aka the living conditions for the pigs as well as a new public awareness that the pigs were giving doses of antibiotics made the public questioning what they were eating (kristlig-dagblad.dk). In 1978, the Danish artist, Mikael Witte, gave the discussion a creative spark with his poster of a pig saying: Danish pigs are healthy – they thrive on penicillin.
Witte’s poster wasn’t too popular with the Danish pig slaughterhouses and through legal proceeding they sued Witte (jyllands-posten.dk).
Today, people seem to have forgotten about pork’s bad reputation. In 2015 there were 12,7 million pigs in Denmark (dst.dk). The NGO, Dyrenens Beskyttelse (Denmark’s Animal Protectors), states that roughly 39 million pigs are born each year in Denmark. About 10 million pigs are exported to other European countries, and 19 million are exported after they’re slaughtered (dyrenesbeskyttelse.dk). Here are a few other numbers I found (dr.dk)
- We produce 4,500 tons pork per day
- On average, we eat 9 kg. pork per year
- We slaughter about 20 million pigs per year
The numbers here prove that the ethical concerns toward animal agriculture, not to mention the (again) rising concern for the use of antibiotics haven’t stopped our consumption. Although the organisation Danske svineproducenter (Danish Pig Producers) write that they have managed to reduce the use of antibiotics (danskesvineproducenter.dk) the threat to our health has not reduced. Danish Crown (leading Danish Pig Slaughter Organisation) is now trying to produce pigs without antibiotics; however, they claim that this new production will make pork more expensive (politikken.dk). The magazine, videnskab.dk (science.dk), states that if you’re concerned about eating antibiotic stuffed pork that we should choose pork produced with little to no antibiotic (logically, I would say), which means we should eat organically (videnskab.dk).
Depending on which sources you find on the Internet, they will promote eating pork because of the high protein intake, not to mention B12—this vitamin is a key problem for vegetarians and vegans. This source recommends eating pork tenderloin.
Pork Tenderloin (not stated how much)
- Calories: 96 calories
- Total Fat: 3 gr.
- Saturated Fat: 1 gr.
- Cholesterol: 48 milligr.
- Protein: 18 gr.
- Iron 6%
- Thiamin 45%
- Niacin 30%
- B6 27%
- B12 6%
Perhaps it’s the long lasting relationship with pigs, e.g. in our myths, collective narrative of Danishness, cultural, eating habits, and the beneficial economical export to other countries that make us believe that meat is the only source of protein? Whatever the cause might be for people asking where I get my proteins, the real issue seems to be that people are unaware, uninformed or perhaps just plain ignorant to the fact that proteins are found in many food sources, and not just from a meat diet. The real question is perhaps whether you want to eat meat and therefore accept to various degrees how farm animals are treated and thus (and hopefully) are buying locally, and organically.
If you cannot accept these terms, you seek out alternatives because of the ethical concerns you have that we humans, in fact, kill intelligent animals for our own benefits. I grew up on a traditional Danish diet (meaning meat almost every day alongside potatoes and gravy), and I have been one of these ignorant people who never thought about where my meat came from, or how the animals were treated. For me, it was a growing awareness, partly because my sister has been a vegetarian for more than twenty years and partly because of a philosophy course (in ethical thinking) I took in upper high school. Still, it took me thirty-five years to become a vegetarian and thirty-eight to become vegan. I’m not saying that we should all become vegan (although it would certainly help our planet), but to reflect on why we think proteins only can be found in meat, and reflect on how the food we eat is related to cultural history, and lastly, reflect on how our health is tied to our eating habits.
Meat Free Proteins
The grain crop, Quinoa (from South America), is according to this source high in protein and fibre.
This is the nutrient content in 1 cup (185 gr.)
- Protein: 8 gr.
- Fibre: 5 gr.
- Manganese: 58% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.
- Folate: 19% of the RDA.
- Copper: 18% of the RDA.
- Iron: 15% of the RDA.
- Zinc: 13% of the RDA.
- Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
- Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6.
Small amounts of calcium, B3 (niacin), and vitamin E.
Quinoa is also the only grain variation that has all the essential amino acids we need, which makes Quinoa a source for what is called a “complete protein” (similar to meat) (source). Other protein sources:
- Lentils, such as red lentils
- Veggies, such as kale, peas, spinach, broccoli
- Beans, such as black beans, chickpeas
- Soy, soy milk, tofu
- Grains, such as the good old fashioned oatmeal
- Nuts, such as almonds, tahini
An English blog about a visit to a Danish slaughterhouse (images are disturbing)