Eating Our Way to Death, Literally
What would you say if I told you that meat and dairy consumption are associated with heart disease, cancer and diabetes? Or if I told you that the meat industry kills more than 10 billion animals a year, in the US alone, and contributes more toward pollution than the exhaust from all the cars in the world?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been researching the health benefits of vegetarian diets, to gain more clarity on the topic. Due to its controversial nature, this has been a topic which I’ve avoided, until now. What I learned shook me both emotionally and intellectually.
I am not here to cast judgment on what you eat or how you live your life, but rather to present you with the information that I’ve discovered and find valuable. Knowledge is a powerful energy which gives us the gift of understanding, through which, we are empowered to make more informed decisions that benefit our wellbeing and benefit the world we live in.
I predict that some of you may be feeling an urge to be defensive, and that’s okay. I totally understand. When that happens, take a deep breath and remember that I am just a messenger. Hear me out.
Note: For the sake of discussion, Americans are used in research findings for this section. Similar numbers can be found for regions with similar “western” diets and lifestyles. Example, Canada.
One in three Americans will die of heart disease. One in five will die of cancer. Two in three are overweight. Over 8 million people have an autoimmune disease. Over 15 million have diabetes. Over 60 million have some form of cardiovascular disease. Over 100 million have high cholesterol.
Imagine, as you read this, for every minute that passes, 2 Americans will have had a heart attack, and another 2 will have had a stroke or heart failure. That’s 3000 heart attacks in the next 24 hours, roughly the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks. These are not sexy numbers. They are very real.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the country’s top nutritional researcher, presents overwhelming evidence that “the data from the China Study suggest that what we have come to consider as ‘normal’ illnesses of aging are really not normal. In fact, these findings indicate that the vast majority, perhaps 80-90 percent of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet.” I highly, highly recommend his book. It’s very eye-opening, educational, simple to understand, and covers all the evidences to date on the effect of animal protein on our health.
Did I mention that Dr. Campbell grew up on a dairy farm and got his Ph.D. in animal nutrition? Here are some highlights from the book worth mentioning:
- Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process.
- Proteins from plants (including wheat and soy), did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake.
- Cancer growth can be turned on and off by changing the level of animal proteins consumed.
- Heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a whole food, plant-based diet.
- Various cancers, autoimmune diseases, vision and brain disorders (Alzheimer’s) are influenced by diet, and it has been shown that we can reverse and/or prevent these diseases on a whole food, plant-based diet.
- We are being exposed to small amounts of cancer causing chemicals on a daily basis, but cancer does not occur unless we consume foods that promote and nurture tumor development.
- High animal protein intake, in excess of the amount needed for growth, promotes cancer after initiation. The average American consumes 15-16% of their diet in protein (70-100 grams) every day, while the recommended daily protein consumption is 10% (50-60 grams).
- People who eat the most animal protein have the most heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- Consumption of animal-based foods, especially cow’s milk, is associated with greater risk of autoimmune diseases.
- Dietary changes can enable diabetic patients to go off their medication.
Meat and eggs also contain Arachidonic Acid (AA), which is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid found only in animal products. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “Heart disease and Alzheimer’s – among many other diseases – begin as inflammatory processes. Even chicken is full of arachidonic acid. You are stoking the fires of the disease process. It doesn’t matter if the chicken is free-range or the beef is grass-fed. The offending fatty acid is natural and inherent in the meat.”
Turns out, “The human body can derive all the essential amino acids it needs from the natural variety of plant proteins that we encounter every day. It doesn’t require eating higher quantities of plant protein or meticulously planning every meal.” says Dr. Campbell.
If we can get all the proteins, minerals and calcium we need from plant food, it seems risky to subject ourselves to the side effects of animal proteins: saturated fat, archidonic acid, cancer-promoting proteins, heart diseases and increased blood cholesterol levels. Additionally, whole, plant-based foods contain the antioxidants, fiber and complex carbohydrates, missing in animal-based foods.
“Our task must be to free ourselves…
by widening our circle of compassion to
embrace all living creatures and
the whole of nature and its beauty.”
~ Albert Einstein
When I became a vegetarian, my main motive was for health, but as I dug deeper into what was happening in animal agriculture, the truth was heart breaking. I was in distress after learning about it, and thinking about it still makes me sad.
About 10 billion land animals are killed each year for food in the US, according to the USDA; this includes 35 million cattle, 100 million pigs, 300 million turkeys, and 9.5 billion chickens. That is more than 1 million animals killed every hour. Animal agriculture is a $100 billion a year industry, with even more powerful lobbying interest than the oil and pharmaceutical lobbies (exposed by Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation).
At such a scale and with efforts to drive down cost, how do you think animals are treated? The answer: the most time efficient way possible to minimize cost. With that in mind, animals are skinned alive, limps ripped out of them, beaks or testicles chopped off without pain relief.
Photo by © Marithé and François Girbaud
Here are some highlights from Kathy Freston’s research on the topic:
- “Crammed into cages and lying in their own filth, mother pigs and almost all egg-laying hens cannot turn around or lie down comfortably.”
- “Dairy cows are lactating females who give birth to one baby per year to keep their milk flowing. When male calves are born (a million each year), they are shipped to veal farms, the moment they are born. The baby cows are yanked away from their mothers, all the while mooing furiously for her as she tries to follow. For the four months of their lives until slaughter, they live in the dark without ever getting to suckle, play in the field, or learn to walk on their wobbly legs. They are denied solid food to chew on and made anemic so that their flesh stays a pale white. When sold at auction, before shipped to slaughter, they sometimes cannot walk and are therefore dragged.” — This is the suffering of an innocent, gentle and affectionate creature that allows us to have veal, tender veal.
- Chickens have natural pecking instincts, and because egg-laying hens are confined in a tight space, they end up pecking each other. To prevent this and to protect the company’s bottom line, their beaks are cut off. “Beak trimming causes severe pain that lasts for more than a month.”
- “The baby male chicks who serve no purpose (they can’t lay eggs and are of a different strain from meat chickens) are ground up alive and disposed of.” – Apparently, it’s the most efficient way to fix this problem of surplus useless chicks.
- More detailed quotes can be found on page 107 of Kathy’s book, extracted from Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the US Meat Industry. I will spare you the disturbing details. They brought me to tears.
I want to know, what makes a dog or cat different from cattle? Just that we’ve given them the label “domesticated pets” and decided to love them? Can you imagine eating a dog? Having its legs torn off, ribs ripped out, its breast sliced so that we can have it for dinner? One might say, “No, that dog is cute.” But what about this calf, Isn’t it cute?
Aren’t we humans biologically similar to these animals? They have a central nervous system, pain receptors, a heart and a brain. They can see, smell, hear and sense touch. When we poke them, they flinch. When we prick then, they bleed. When they are surprised or sense danger, their hearts race. Try looking into the eyes of a cow, a dog, a rabbit or a horse and see if you don’t sense peace, love and life within their being.
I know it’s much easier to not think about animal cruelty, out of convenience. Besides, we are so far removed from it that why should we care? Well, because once we know the truth, we cannot deny them, and we can’t help but to feel, within our hearts, that it is wrong. We may even be afraid of the truth (I certainly was) and avoided hearing details, because knowing the truth may challenge our comforts and change the way we live. For your courage and openness for reading this far, I applaud you.
I was shocked to learn that the United Nations published a 2006 report concluding that “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
Here are some highlights with regards to animal agriculture and its effect on the environment:
- Animal agriculture uses 70% of agricultural land worldwide.
- 83% of US agricultural land is used for pasture or to grow crops to feed animals for human consumption.
- Raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution and global warming.
- Nearly 20% of the emissions that contribute to global warming come from livestock. That is more emissions of greenhouse gases than from all of the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes! This does not even include emissions from the plants processing the animal products.
- 70% of the original Amazon rainforest is used for pasture and to grow feed crops. Remember that the trees work to absorb carbon dioxide. When trees are burned, the carbon gets released back in the air.
- Additional harmful greenhouse gases are released from farm animals’ digestive processes and manure. Particularly, the following gases:
- Methane – 23 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
- Nitrous Oxide – 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
- Accounts for 9% of all carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of all methane and 65% of all nitrous oxide.
- Accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, generating 75% of the world’s ammonia caused by acid-rain.
- World’s largest source of water pollution.
Currently, 5 million tons of animal manure is generated daily on US farms. Let me repeat, 5 million tons – 10 billion pounds – of poop is generated every day, 100 times more than that generated by all humans in the world. This amount is more than what our land can absorb, meanwhile polluting our air and our water.
What’s worst, meat consumption is expected to double in the next fifty years. It’s disturbing to consider what the future will hold. Imagine what that will do to our planet.
Vegetarian Myths & Facts
Kathy’s book has an outstanding Q&A section in chapter 8 that covers more questions and in greater detail. Here are some common ones that I frequently hear.
Photo by Sarah Kidmose Hansen
Q: How do you get proteins?
Believe it or not, there are proteins in plant food. Nearly all vegetables contribute to our daily protein needs. Plant-based foods with high protein content are: almonds, avocados, soy and grains. Whole, plant-based foods are also high in fiber, rich in antioxidants, low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Q: I have a fear of going hungry. Can you get full without meat?
Vegetables are high in fiber, and since our body doesn’t digest fiber, it actually contributes towards making you feel full. Other food groups like whole grains, nuts and seeds are surprisingly filling. Try eating a stash of raw almonds next time you’re hungry.
Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta are also filling, but I would avoid those as they are void of nutritional content and are concentrated in sugar content.
This is the first thing my friends learn when they eat at my house. I’m primarily a raw vegan, so I eat a lot of salads (and yes, avocados). People are always shocked to discover that they can get full, to the point of not finishing everything I give them.
Q: I love the taste of meat so much that I don’t want to give it up.
Have you tried mock meat? When mixed into dishes during cooking, you’d barely notice the difference. I have to note that mock meat can be highly processed and one should not focus their diet around it.
Our taste buds can change, in around 21 days. If you can go off meat for 21 days, you’ll notice that the craving either stops or dramatically reduces.
If you mentally do not want to give it up, ask yourself why. Be clear on why you are attached and what eating meat means to you. Write these reasons down on paper in the form of statements. Now, see if there’s an alternative solution to address each statement.
Q: Isn’t meat part of the essential food groups? We’ve always eaten it.
“Although we think we are, and we act as if we are, human beings are not natural carnivores. When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us, because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.“, William C. Roberts, M.D., editor of the American Journal of Cardiology.
As with most herbivores, almost all our teeth are flat and blunt, and we have long intestines. Carnivores have large canines usee for tearing flesh, and they have short intestines, so flesh can be flushed out quicker.
Tips for Transition
Photo by Thomas Hawk
1. Meatless Mondays – If making a switch is too difficult for you, start by dedicating one day a week towards eating only plant-based foods. You can even tell people, “Today is my vegetarian day.”
2. Try Alternatives – Keep an eye out in restaurants for meat alternatives. Occasionally order them and experiment. You may discover new dishes that you really like had you not tried them. This also helps us to see that there are plenty of options for vegetarians.
3. Find Recipes – Check out new vegetarian recipes from friends, family, books and websites. It’ll be fun to try something new that’s a healthier alternative. Who knows, you might end up really liking them. I tried making this scrambled tofu the other day, and it was fantastic!! You have to try it.
4. Don’t Fuss Over Details – One of the things I had a hard time with during my transition from vegetarian to vegan, was noticing how many things contained eggs. I was so anal over fitting in all the “rules” that I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, especially since I couldn’t have my favorite ice-cream. I felt deprived and cranky. So if your whole grain bread or hand-made pasta contains a little bit of eggs, don’t fuss over it. The whole point is about being conscious with what you eat, and not about feeling deprived. Use your best judgment and relax!
5. Never Go Hungry – It might take some time to get comfortable with portions during your transition into a vegetarian diet. If you feel hunger, eat more and/or snack often. I used to carry baby carrots, almonds, sun flower seeds, or apples with me to snack on. I now eat a regular three meals a day without needing to snack in between.
6. Give Up Everything But … – If there’s one dish you feel that you can’t give up or don’t want to give up, consider giving up everything else except the one thing. Example, you really enjoy sushi, so give up all other meats like chicken of beef, except raw fish at restaurants.
7. Gradual Transition – Going cold turkey works for some people, but not for me. Cold turkey may make you feel deprived, thus, making it harder to stick with it long term. Like a pendulum, if you swing too far to one side, you’ll swing back almost equally far on the opposite side. I tried doing the extreme dietary change initially, but lasted only 2 weeks, before I went on a binge meat eating session. You can try this for yourself and if cold turkey doesn’t work for you, I recommend to transition gradually. Create a plan, start by reducing certain items from your meals. Example, you might reduce chicken for the first 3 weeks, after which beef is also reduced. For any dietary changes, aim to maintain the change for at least 21 days.
We live in a time where we are so separate from where our foods are produced that it is natural and easy to ignore the facts and continue doing what has been convenient for us. But what is easy and convenient is killing our planet and us.
If you were not a vegetarian prior to reading this, I know that the information here can be challenging to habituate. It took me several tries and many months to transition. My goal here isn’t to convert you on a ‘religious’ path to vegetables, but rather to bring some of the facts to your awareness and allow you to decide for yourself, when the time is right for you.
Living consciously is a choice. Through knowledge and understanding, we can gain clarity to our body’s needs; thus empowering ourselves to make better, more conscious and responsible lifestyle choices. “By eating a whole food, plant-based diet, we use less water, less land, fewer resources and produce less pollution and less suffering for our farm animals.” Sounds like a win-win situation.
Within each of us, there is a light, like a single candle lit on a dark night. Our choices may seem insignificant on their own, but the effects of our choices give us hope for a brighter future. As more candles are lit, the night drifts away from darkness and the night’s details slowly uncover. Before we know it, the night has changed and is now warm and bright, lit by millions of luminous candles.
What are your thoughts? Is there a related issue or point that you like to add? Talk to us in the comments. See you there!
If you are interested in learning more about our body works, follow me on Simply Tina, where I will be covering the basic workings of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease using extremely simple to understand terms and examples. Check out my first post on autoimmune diseases.