Food Choices & the Environment
The question I hear more than any other is “What can I do to help animals?” The number one thing you can do to help animals (and your own health) is this: don’t eat them. By far the greatest amount of animal suffering comes from the way animals are raised for food or dairy products.
The happy farms with green grass that you see on the side of dairy products seldom exist anymore. It is far more likely that the pigs you eat and the cows whose milk you drink were raised in terrible, cramped conditions. Eating less meat and dairy is something that each of us can do that will make an enormous difference. It doesn’t require political or legislative action. It is within our own power.
How would becoming vegetarian or vegan make a difference to our health and the welfare of animals? First of all, let’s define each word: Being “vegetarian” means that you do not eat any meat including poultry and fish. I am frequently asked “Well, you eat chicken and fish, don’t you?” The answer is no, I do not now and I never did when I was a vegetarian (I am now vegan).
Any living being that has a face deserves our compassion. Really, what is the difference between eating a pig and eating a dog? They both have feelings and a need for food, shelter and love. So why do we eat one and not the other?
Now, what does it mean to be a “vegan”? A vegan does not eat any animal products and this includes milk, butter, eggs and honey. The dairy industry is just as cruel to animals as the meat industry, keeping them in small crates or constantly lactating in unnatural conditions and stressful environments, so we don’t want to support that either. Neither will vegans use animal-based products for clothing, or any other purpose.
There is a short YouTube video that follows one kind woman’s journey from eating animals to a plant-based diet.
Why I Became a Vegetarian/Vegan
When we look at it honestly, it is apparent that meat eating and dairy consumption are hurtful to our health, the environment, and certainly for the animals. Consider the impact of meat eating on world hunger. What an enormous waste of resources to take 10 to 15 pounds of healthful grain and use it as feed to produce one pound of meat which will clog your arteries! If we were to give the grain and soybeans to people we could feed everybody on the planet.
Eating meat has a similarly destructive impact on the environment. The world’s rain forests are being destroyed, particularly in South America, to provide grazing land for cattle. These rain forests are the lungs of the planet and their disappearance greatly reduces our planet’s ability to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen. This, in turn, leads to increased global warming.
An additional byproduct of animal agriculture is the pollution of our waters because the herbicides, pesticides, fungicides which are utilized all end up, eventually, in our water table along with vast amounts of manure and nitrogen fertilizers.
Lastly, what does meat eating do to our health? Currently prevalent diseases such as heart attack, cancer and diabetes, all directly tied to eating meat, would be greatly reduced if we were to become vegetarian or vegan. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes contain no cholesterol and are low in fat, especially saturated fats. They are high in fiber and many plant based foods such as beans, peanuts, and soya, are good sources of protein. Another benefit is a lower risk of obesity due to the fact that plant-based foods are very low in calories.
Also, vegans and vegetarians take in more fiber, which make their diet more filling on fewer calories.
Hope Bohanec, in her book “The Ultimate Betrayal”, sums up the benefits of a plant-based diet as follows: “It is a beautiful gift that we can give the world to ease suffering, stop the killing of billions of animals, drastically reduce global warming, and lower rates of obesity and chronic degenerative diseases. With the abundance of plant-based options and a little bit of commitment and integrity, it’s easy. Why would we not do this for a more peaceful, compassionate future?”
For a further exploration of these subjects please go to:
The Ultimate Betrayal, by Hope Bohanec
Oprah Winfrey’s Vegan Challenge (YouTube)
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Foer
Wildflour Vegan Bakery
I recently saw a movie that persuaded me to write this essay. The movie is Cowspiracy (2014), and its provocative premise is that the environmental movement is focused on the lesser causes of environmental degradation and climate change, while largely ignoring its greatest threat - the degradation caused by our food choices.
Cowspiracy focuses on the startling fact that environmental groups, by and large, do not address the devastating effects of our choices to eat meat and dairy products. It presents statistical evidence to prove that our choices, as a culture, to eat these products place more stress on the environment than all public transportation, coal burning, fracking, and industrial pollution combined!
Meat and dairy production are the primary contributors to water and air pollution and have lead directly to the destruction of the world’s rainforests -- our planet’s lungs -- to make room for cattle grazing. Factory farms pollute water as a result of waste runoff and release methane into the atmosphere from vast herds of farmed animals. Furthermore, the current loss of antibiotic effectiveness is largely due to the routine use of antibiotics as an additive to animal feed.
So, the movie asks, why are so many environmental nonprofits and government agencies focused completely on regulating the allowable amounts of pollution, deforestation and water quality when all these are downstream from the cause of these catastrophes - our food choices? Can we regulate our way out of this situation when we don’t talk about why these catastrophes are occurring in the first place? Why are we addressing the symptoms and not the cause?
Cowspiracy follows the director, Kip Andersen, into meetings with numerous groups and individuals (including farmers) where he raises the fundamental question of why aren’t we talking more about veganism as a solution to so many of the world’s problems? If increased veganism would have positive effects upon human and environmental health why aren’t environmental groups and government agencies, which honestly care about the environment and human health, urging people to become vegan?
By and large, Andersen was met with embarrassment, incomprehension, and downright hostility when he dared to raise this question, and all of this is caught on camera. Anderson speculates as to why he met such a frosty reception, and you can draw your own conclusions after watching the movie. But this is essential viewing if you care at all about the environment. It raises questions that cannot be ignored.
You can order it through your library or through the Cowspiracy website
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