According to social media’s daily reminders of “what I was doing back when”, I started this blog a year ago. I think the most fun that I’ve had with it was creating the art for the banner, so maybe that what a sign of future success or lack there of my culinary prowess. It isn’t that I haven’t found success in the kitchen, it’s just that I’ve gained data points and clarified my priorities. I know what I want to say no to in order to be able to say yes.
My veggie-versary, which (and I find this very telling about my priorities as well) I can remember with exact clarity sans the help of fb is in less than two weeks. That means from the time that I decided to start regularly handling food to the time I decided to never eat meat again was a matter of days. I think that beginning to cook forced me to really think about what my food WAS, what I was handling, what I was putting in my body and the bodies of my children. That sparked my huge interest in eating with intelligence. I already knew that I feel deeply compassionate towards animals. I mean, I spent my entire childhood wanting to be (and later working with) a veterinarian. I grew up with a domestic zoo of pets and have spent the majority of my life around horses. If I’m going to eat meat, I want to know where those animals live and how they are raised and how they are treated. I want to know what it means for a sentient being to die in order for me to eat something. I want to try to understand why dogs are pets, but pigs (who are just as intelligent and friendly) are bacon. I want to know how meat is handled and processed after the animal has been slaughtered. And in a global sense, I want to know what that means for the environment and our world.
At first I thought it would just be a matter of putting in the research and the footwork to find ethically raised food, but soon I discovered that “pasture raised” and “cage free” were nothing more than smart advertising that had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual life and treatment of the animals. This is not to say that there are not small farms raising heritage animals, whose farmers and breeders feel passionately about giving their animals a good life, but you have to look at that in light of the fact that (with the exception of cows), 95-99% of the animals eaten in the United States are raised on factory farms. This was the information that took meat out of my diet and sent me into research mode.
I’ve found that some people have a concept that we are meant to “rule” over animals, we’re at the “top of the food chain”, even famous philosophers (ahem, Descartes) who believed animals have no feelings or sense of fear or pain. Such people are therefore not bothered by the way almost all animals are treated in horrific and unimaginable ways (which I will not expand on here) from birth through slaughter. For those not worried about how the animals they eat are treated, I wonder if they have considered what those animals are FED. If someone cares enough to shop for organic fruit and want to know what goes into growing it, what chemicals are or are not used, they should care enough to research what is being fed to the animals they eat. After all– you are what you eat eats. Nothing short of desperate starvation would compel any human I know to eat the slurry that is fed to most animals who are raised for human consumption.
Additionally, parents are constantly reading and researching whether vaccines are safe or too many antibiotics are safe or too much red dye number whatever is safe. Have you considered the chemicals that are not only fed and injected into or slathered on animals while they are alive, but after they are dead? Chicken has been bred so far from what our ancestors used to eat, that manufacturers inject it (yes even “organic chicken”) with salty brine just to give it a flavor remotely close to what we expect chicken to taste like.
Perhaps the environment exceeds your passion for animals. Animal breeding contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation in the world. One dairy cow produces 500 liters of methane per day. People are worried about buying a hybrid to drive, when it would do more to stop supporting meat production. And fishing is decimating the ocean. Shrimp-trawling is one of the worst culprits. Not only does dragging the bottom destroy coral reefs (which are habitats for huge numbers of species and crucial to keeping the oceans healthy), the nets catch anything in their path. For every one pound of shrimp, TWENTY SIX POUNDS of other sea animals are killed and tossed back into the ocean. Back on land, 50% of water pollution is the result of animal breeding (including fish).
For the “top of the food chain, master of the world” holdouts, factory farming is terrible for our whole species, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. To produce 1 kilogram of meat for human consumption requires 10 kilograms of food materials, which could be used to feed people in poorer countries. One hectare of land can feed FIFTY vegetarians, but only TWO meat eaters. Even more crucial than food is water. 40 percent of the world population suffers from lack of adequate water, more than three million children under 5 die every year from contaminated water. Yet half of the earth potable water is consumed in the production of meat and dairy products. In the United States, 80 percent of potable water goes to animal breeding. As for the antibiotics which are so much in the news as overuse causes more and more resistance to disease, 80 percent are used just to keep animals alive in industrial breeding systems. These are not individual treatments, the antibiotics are mixed into the feed of all animals. 25-75% of all of these end up in our rivers, soil, and drinking water.
Finally, for those who are only self oriented, your health is personally impacted by meat. For example, studies have found that people who eat the most red meat had a 35% higher likelihood of developing colon cancer than those who ate the least red meat. A Harvard University longitudinal study found that daily consumption of meat was associated with and increased risk of cardiovascular caused death in 18% of men and 21% of women. Additionally, because of bioconcentration, meat contains around fourteen times more pesticide residue than vegetables; dairy contains five times more.
Those are just some of the things I’ve learned in a year of digging through libraries and reading about the food choices that we make. If you are at all interested in an overview of where the vast majority of meat, eggs, and dairy come from (and/or would like to read the facts above with sources for yourself), I highly recommend these books:
Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer)
The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Peter Singer, Jim Mason)
A Plea for the Animals (Matthieu Ricard)
For more medical research on the health impacts of what we eat, I recommend:
The China Study (T. Colin Campbell)
The Alzheimer’s Solution (Drs. Sherzai)
I would encourage anyone who is interested in their health and diet, in fact, anyone who EATS, to consume intelligently. Even my husband and children will eat meat once in a great while, but I simply ask them to remember where it came from and that another living being gave its life for their meal. I think it is important to appreciate the lives of all creatures to the best of our ability and to make conscious, informed choices for ourselves and our families.
Whatever you choose, may it bring you good health!