We have been fed lies.
It may sound like a bit of an extreme statement, but it holds true. In the western world, we have grown up with the knowledge that we need meat to be healthy, and that our bodies need milk for calcium in order to develop strong teeth and bones. We will literally crumble to pieces or suddenly collapse from acute protein deficiency if we cut out animal products from our diets. After all, without chicken, or fish, or cheese, or eggs – where would you possibly get your protein from? When it comes to the topic of protein, we obsess over it, and yet the average US citizen is getting far more than their body needs.
What about our health?
We are what we eat. Many studies have explored the health benefits of plant-based diets, and the take-home is overwhelmingly apparent: a well-planned, plant-based diet is good for us. In fact, it’s very, very good for us. Meat causes inflammation in the body which can, over time, increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other unpleasant autoimmune diseases. And our Western diets love meat. Conversely, a plant-based diet lowers inflammation levels within the body and can also reduce cardiometabolic risk factors.
Plant-based diets are sometimes prescribed by doctors as a low-risk intervention for patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity. Physicians recognise the potential role that a whole foods, plant-based diet can play in reducing the number of medications an individual needs to treat chronic disease.
What about our environment?
Animal agriculture is doing the planet no favours, and we are finally starting to acknowledge its devastating impact on the environment. Animal agriculture’s collective greenhouse gas footprint rivals every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined, and the UN have stated that “there is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decrease in the scale of animal agriculture.” In November 2017, the United Nations held an event solely dedicated to the impact of animal agriculture during its annual summit on climate change that was held in Bonn, Germany. It was the first of its kind. Despite attendance being a little disappointing, the fact that the event was held in the first place shows an initial desire to seek a real solution.
Many argue that meat holds cultural and traditional significance, but the daily consumption of animals is a relatively new norm. Only since the Second World War has it started to become a once-per-day occurrence, with meat production exploding around the 1970’s. It also varies greatly depending on where you are in the world.
Our choices make a difference, and where we choose to spend our hard-earned money sends a clear message to those in the industry. Looking at impact on an individual perspective, following a vegan diet can cut our water footprint in half, dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and stop our money funding deforestation, waterway pollution, and species extinction.
What about the animals?
Without going into much detail, the livestock industry is anything but humane. Standard practices include routine mutilations like castration, ear notching, dehorning and disbudding, nose ringing, and debeaking – commonly without any anesthetic – on billions of animals born into the industry each year. In the egg industry, only female chicks are deemed valuable, so the male chicks are killed shortly after hatching.
Like humans, cows only produce milk when they have recently given birth, so forced insemination ensures that we keep the milk supply flowing. The separation of mother and calf commonly happens between 24 and 48 hours after birth. After 4-5 years of this cycle, the dairy cow is considered ‘spent’ and is sent to the slaughterhouse.
Labels like ‘Certified Organic’, ‘Free Range’, ‘Grass-fed’, ‘Certified Humane’ and ‘Cage Free’ are problematic to say the least. They come with ill-defined descriptions and guidelines, and are difficult to enforce. It is also important to note that even the ‘happiest’ of livestock end up at the same industrial slaughterhouses as factory-farmed animals.
The legal protection we provide for companion animals like cats and dogs does not extend to farmed animals, despite them being no less intelligent of capable of feeling pain. The US Humane Society offers a sobering and aptly named Kill Clock that tallies up the number of animals killed so far this year for their meat in the US alone.
One step at a time
Here’s the good news: we can and we do want to make a difference. Research shows that more than ever before, we care about our environment and want to take positive steps to protect it. Recent campaigns to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics like shopping bags, water bottles and plastic straws clearly show this desire, and we are all looking for ways to lower our impact. But aside from plastic pollution, do you know what else protects the fish in the oceans? Not eating them.
No one is demanding that we all go fully vegan overnight, but the evidence is clear – we need to fundamentally change our eating habits if we want to protect this planet. Whilst there are groups of people around the world that depend on meat to survive and thrive, this does not apply to the vast majority of us residing in urban and developed areas. The shift to a plant-based diet can happen relatively easily; making small changes to how we shop, what we buy, and what we eat can make a big difference to our own wellbeing and that of the planet. As our cultural society continues to progress at an astonishing rate, it is our responsibility to never stop learning from it.
With October being Vegetarian Awareness Month, there’s no better time to start taking positive steps to a healthier, tastier, more compassionate way of life. Here are a few useful links to help along the way:
- Veg 101 – Going Vegetarian
- The New Becoming Vegetarian – The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
- 50 Fantastic Resources For New Vegetarians
- 25 Tips For Vegetarian Newbies
A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.
A vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat, chicken and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy and eggs, while lacto-vegetarians eat dairy and no eggs, and ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and no dairy.
A vegan is someone that does not use, wear or eat products that are derived from animals. This includes food items like meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin and honey, and clothes made from products like leather, wool, and silk.
About The Author: Natalie Weekes is a freelance writer currently based in Nova Scotia, Canada. With a background in Marine Biology, her passions lie in sustainability, conservation, health and education. When she is not outside in nature, she can usually be found creating things, researching, and connecting with others around the world. Tweet @TheLostMollusc.