Many people believe that animal products are essential for a healthy and nutritious diet. Without a doubt, meat has been a fundamental component of our diet for thousands of years. The truth is that the health, environmental and ethical disadvantages of eating meat and other animal products are becoming more apparent. Today, there are many scientifically-proven reasons why choosing a plant-based diet is, overall, much better for us, and for the environment. If you inform yourself, reducing or giving up your meat and dairy consumption will not be difficult. It’s a win-win situation!
The Health Factor
It is commonly believed that meat and eggs are a great source of protein and iron, which are essential for the proper function of the human body. In addition, dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese, among others) is known to be an excellent source of calcium, a vital element to support and strengthen our teeth and bones. Nevertheless, scientific evidence shows that meat and dairy products are not as beneficial for our health as we always thought. On the contrary, animal products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “if you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can build up inside your blood vessels and make it hard for blood to flow. Over time, this can lead to heart disease and heart attack.” Therefore, they recommend eating healthy and reducing your consumption of animal products such as regular cheese, fatty meats, and dairy desserts, which are high in saturated fat. The consumption of meats and dairy products also increases the risk of atherosclerosis and some types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colorectal, and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, saturated fat exacerbates diabetic cases. How? The insulin produced by the diabetic’s body fails to function because of the high levels of fat in the blood. Fortunately, protein, iron, and calcium are abundant in a plat-based diet: legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils, or any other beans) are high in protein; dark leafy greens, nuts, and grains are high in iron; and vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts are a great source of calcium. Moreover, soy, cashew, and almond milk are available at most stores and contain higher levels of calcium than its counterpart, animal milk. In addition, fiber can only be found in plant foods and is essential for the optimal function of the body: it normalizes bowel movements, helps your body to maintain a healthy weight, reduces risk of diabetes and heart disease, and–according to the American Institute of Cancer Research— can help protect us against cancer. Besides red meat and dairy, poultry and fish are also unnecessary and unhealthy for a nutritious balanced diet. How come? The antibiotics and hormones fed to chickens and the mercury, bacteria, and other harmful chemicals found in seafood due to our contaminated waters, make these foods and their derivatives unhealthy choices as well. Omega 3 can be found in items like chia, flax seed, hemp seed, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Finally, if you switch to vegan/plant-based, your diet will be high in minerals and vitamins, which will boost your immune system like neither meat nor dairy can do. Certainly, if you want to be well-nourished and healthy, a balanced plant-based diet is the way to go!
The Environmental Factor
The second reason why avoiding animal products is the right way to go, is related to the environment. Due to rapid population growth, advanced new technologies, and the increase in popularity of meat and dairy products in people’s diets, the production of animal foods became inefficient and unsustainable. In our 7+ billion inhabitants’ 21st century world, there are more than 60 billion animals being raised for food. Ironically, whereas there are many people going hungry in the world, the enormous livestock population rarely misses a meal. As reported by California State University of Sacramento, a cow will eat 30 to 50 pounds of food each day (more than 100 lbs. if it’s a milking cow) and produce up to 100 pounds of manure daily! These animals eat, drink, defecate, pass gas, die, and rot, releasing millions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition, millions of acres of land are deforested every year for cattle ranching or to grow crops in order to feed this industrial animal production, which results in less plants and trees to absorb and convert dangerous gases into oxygen. Moreover, the production of meat is also an unnecessary and outrageous waste of water. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), “It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow, as well as water to drink and to service the cow.” In other words, it takes approximately 2,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef (Water Footprint Network). On top of those alarming facts, millions of litters of water are being contaminated every year for the disposal of animal waste into rivers and streams (blood, guts, feces, and carcasses, to be more explicit). In addition to the meat industry, the fishing industry has also done its fear share of damage by depleting the oceans. The indiscriminate overfishing of our seas leaves many fish species higher in the food chain with nothing to eat, causing the endangerment and extinction of thousands of maritime creatures. Finally, the transportation, refrigeration, processing, and packaging of animal products, are also intense and wasteful processes. Raising animals for food is definitely an inefficient and unnecessary use of land and natural resources, it also generates a lot of waste, which contaminates the water sources and pollutes the air; therefore, eating lower in the food chain is a huge step towards the creation of a more sustainable world.
The last reason why we should avoid animal products is ethical, and is directly related to animal rights. ‘Free range’ and ‘grass fed’ in the United States are terms that are becoming outdated, what it’s popular now is ‘factory farming,’ the mass production of farm animals. What happens to our food before it reaches our table? For instance, after giving birth to their calves, cows are hooked to electric milking machines that milk them non-stop for several hours, several times a day. They are genetically manipulated to produce 10 times more milk than is natural, which leads to weak decalcified bones and induces mastitis. Mastitis is a painful condition where the udders become lacerated and infected, which is one of the many reasons why dairy cows are injected with massive amounts of antibiotics. Who doesn’t enjoy fat and juicy grilled chicken breast? Around 90% of chickens are raised in factory farms, and a large part of their diet consists of their own fecal matter. Since they are constrained in ½ square foot cages and kept in dark warehouses, they commonly become hysterical causing them to attack and sometimes kill each other; for this reason, their beaks are cut off when they are chicks, a quick but very traumatic procedure. In addition to large doses antibiotics blended into their feed, hormones are also an important part of a chicken’s diet. Hormones accelerate the natural growing time of these birds; they grow so fast and so large, that their legs break because they cannot support their own weight. Bacon is one of America’s most popular meats. Factory farm pigs live in confined, dark, and highly unsanitary conditions surrounded by excrement and other diseased or dead animals. Surprisingly, pigs are very intelligent creatures and require more stimulation than these conditions offer; therefore piglets’ teeth and tails are cruelly cut to prevent them from lashing out and hurting each other. Finally, what happens inside the U.S. meat industry slaughterhouses’ production lines is hardest to digest than meat itself; the information is out there, so feel free to do your own research. You might be thinking, ‘I still have something left to eat! fish,’ but the truth is that industrial fishing boats and their huge fishing nets are merciless. Besides the indiscriminate catch of seafood and the depletion of Eco-systems, dolphins and many unmarketable marine creatures get trapped in these nets and are injured or killed in vain. All these facts are hard to believe, but Green Straight Up encourages you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
A balanced plant-based or vegan diet is low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains: you will get plenty of minerals, vitamins, protein, iron, calcium, and carbohydrates, and all the energy that your body needs to function properly. You will also be environmentally conscious and kind to your fellow animals. You may be thinking, “What about the pleasure of eating whatever I want? Although a meatless and lactose free diet may not sound too appealing to you, giving up animal products opens a whole new world of flavors and food alternatives, and by adapting recipes and replacing ingredients, you can still indulge in all your favorite foods. Visit GSU’s Green Cuisine to get the picture: refreshing nutritive fruit smoothies, appetizing stir fries with tofu, mouthwatering burrito combinations, fresh produce salads, flavorful sautéed vegetables pastas, delicious veggie wraps, and even healthy sweets and desert alternatives! Vegetables, legumes, and grains are cheap, easy to prepare, and very filling, plus they will boost your immune system and leave your heart and conscience clear. Many famous figures have also chosen the veggie-based diet: Bill Clinton, Pamela Anderson, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Prince, and Paul McCartney, to name a few, and athletes such as Carl Lewis, Martina Navratilova, Mike Tyson, and Bob Harper (the Biggest Looser trainer). To conclude, and quoting Alec Baldwin, a celebrity and animal rights activist: “Every time sitting at a dining table, we make a choice. Please choose vegetarianism. Do it for animals. Do it for the environment and for the sake of your own health.” You can start by reducing your meat consumption, being adventurous and trying new things. Challenge yourself, there is nothing to lose and a lot to win!
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’”Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 19th century French lawyer, politician, and gastronome.
- To get informed on the most ocean-friendly types of seafood to consume, visit the Seafood Watch Seafood Recommendation on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s website.
- 3 ounces fully cooked ground beef patty (80% lean meat and 20% fat) has 230 calories consisting of: 60% water, 24% protein, 16% fat (including saturated fat), 2.3% sodium, 1% cholesterol, and 0% dietary fiber. (United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference).
- According with scientific data, the human body cannot store excess protein. Excess proteins generate extra acids in the blood, and to neutralize these acids, calcium is lost from the bones and eliminated through the urine.
- As reported by the China-Cornell-Oxford Project or “the China Study” (launched in 1983 and conducted by Cornell University in the United States, Oxford University in England, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine), due to globalization, the diet in many urban areas of China had become much more westernized, meaning more meat and dairy products, and less rice and vegetables. In these urban Westernized areas, obesity, heart disease, and certain types of cancer -rarely seen in rural Chinese populations- were very common.
- The World Wildlife Fund disclosed that 46-58 million square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 36 football fields every minute. Deforestation comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber, and degradation due to climate change.
- According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 110 gallons of water to produce 1 lb. of corn and 4,000-18,000 gallons to produce a 1/3 pounder beef burger.
- As reported by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), more than 72,000 fishermen have lost their jobs in the Pacific Northwest alone due to overfishing.
- The USDA has already updated the food pyramid embracing the plant-based diet and its nutritional benefits by encouraging kids and adults to eat more grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, and reduce their meat and dairy consumption Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
- According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but methane is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2.
- Health specialists from the American Dietetic Association recommend a minimum intake of 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
- Howard Lyman, a fourth generation Montana rancher that closed his livestock factory to became a vegan activist, says in his book, Mad Cowboy (Chapter Two: The Simple Facts): “One acre of fertile land can produce 40,000 lbs. of potatoes, 30,000 lbs. of carrots, 50,000 lbs. of tomatoes, or 250 lbs. of beef.
- The only FDA (Food and Drug Administration) defined and regulated level is ‘free farmed,’ so do not trust the ‘cage free’ or ‘free range’ labels commonly seen on the packaging of chicken and eggs. Find out what food labels you can trust on Earthwatch Institute, Sustainability, Decoding Food Labels.
- High producing dairy cows will eat 110 to 120 pounds of wet feed a day or 50 to 55 pounds of dry matter (DM) a day. As cows produce more milk, they eat more. A typical diet for a dairy cow could include about 30 to 35 pounds of baled hay (26-30 pounds DM) and 25 pounds of grain mix (22 pounds DM). Grain includes corn, soybean meal, minerals, and vitamins. (University of Nevada Cooperative Extension).
- As reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “around 4 kilos of grain are required to produce 1 kilo of pork, and 8 kilos are needed for a kilo of beef.”
- According to the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists, besides antibiotics and hormones, animal feed can legally contain rendered road kill, dead horses, and euthanized cats and dogs.