- For the Animals
Every year in the US alone we slaughter over 30 billion animals for food, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it. But gains in efficiency come at the expense of the animals, who are kept in conditions that would not be considered humane for any other animal.
- For Human Health
Cancer and heart disease account for the largest number of preventable deaths in the US. While certainly many of these cases can be attributed to cigarettes and other factors, the fact is that wherever the standard of living rises and people begin to eat more meat the rates of cancer and heart disease rise in direct proportion. The China Study, conducted by a team led by T. Colin Campbell, although a landmark in showing clear connections between diet and disease, wasn't the first study to reveal this trend.
Intensive animal agriculture itself has many implications for disease in humans. This is because factory-farmed animals are generally kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, and are not given what you might call attentive expert oversight. They are given excessive doses of antibiotics for their infections, and often they are given doses of growth hormones to quickly increase their muscle mass.
The problem with close, overcrowded conditions is that the mutation rate of viruses skyrockets, and as this occurs the likelihood increases that a swine or avian virus will cross over into humans. The 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people, but the only unusual thing about this strain was that it was novel to the human immune system. As with many flu strains, it was actually more deadly to healthier people because a chain reaction of immune responses was the fatal factor. In 2009 the World Health Organization had serious concerns that the H1N1 "swine flu" might lead to a similar pandemic. The general consensus among health professionals is that a new pandemic virus is inevitable, most likely to come from chickens or pigs, and the best we can hope for is that we have enough time to prepare.
The overuse of antibiotics leads to resistant strains of bacteria called "superbugs" that cannot be suppressed by standard courses of treatment. When a person becomes infected by a resistant strain, the only recourse is to use newer and more exotic antibiotics. And these strains of bacteria are developing so quickly that we're unable to develop new and effective antibiotics fast enough to stay ahead. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is also on the rise, which means very bad news for the third of the world population that carries the bacterium.
Growth hormones find their way into meat and milk, leading to health implications in humans, especially in the developmental years. Some have theorized that dairy consumption may be associated with earlier onset of menarche in girls, but there is no evidence bearing this out. However, we do know that high fat diets, rich in dairy products like milk and cheese, are directly associated with obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. (And percentage of body fat is well known as a factor in the onset of puberty in girls.)
There are other health issues to consider with respect to animal products. Nutritional guidelines state that protein should only be between 10-35% of your total caloric intake, and most of that should come from plant sources. Higher levels of protein, especially that from the organs of animals, makes the blood slightly acidic, which requires the kidneys to work harder. The cholesterol and saturated fats in meat stress to blood vessels and other tissues, leading to a chronic state of inflammation. Over time this inflammation can lead to acute illnesses and chronic diseases.
Plant foods, by contrast, raise the blood pH to a more alkaline level, provide food energy that cells can use more readily, and often have healing properties that can reverse the damage caused by poor diet and lifestyle habits. There is strong evidence that eating lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes significantly boosts cancer-resistance, alleviates the symptoms of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, elevates mood and alertness, and in the case of raw foods, can even eliminate the need for diabetics to take insulin.
The Ayurvedic traditions have it right, and make no mistake about it, food isn't just a drug for your senses. Food is medicine!
- For the Environment
Intensive animal agriculture is a major polluter of aquifers, rivers, and the air. In 2006 the United Nations produced a report called "Livestock's Long Shadow" showing that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars. Over 70% of all corn and grain grown in the US is used to feed livestock. Most of that feed is literally belched back into the atmosphere in the form of methane, the waste product of animal respiration. Meat producers bear no cost for this enormous carbon emissions they produce, and in any case it is nearly impossible to limit them.
- For Sustainability
The farmer. He tills the earth with his bare hands. He can guage the quality of the soil by smell alone. He gets a pain in his knee when the wind turns southward. His heart swells bigger than a haystack at every good harvest. Cut! That's a wrap. It's a myth. Today the soil in which we grow most of our food is nothing but a sponge for petroleum-based fertilizers. All the seed companies are owned by petroleum companies. And now most of the crops are being genetically modified in the US to be "Roundup-ready." (It's the pesticide plants crave!) Can this really be the best way?
A healthy world requires good nutritious food. The best food will grow in the best soil. That should be a simple thing to accomplish, given all we understand today about chemistry and biology. If we were serious about agriculture it wouldn't be in the hands of the people who benefit financially from its being in a disaster state. The furnace of profit likes to burn hot and fast, and frankly most of the food grown in this way is spoken-for and will become animal feed, ethanol, or processed foodstuffs. Fortunately today we have more choices if we don't want to participate. We can buy certified organic products, locally-produced food from small farms, and the like. It requires a shift to visit the local farmers' market and to avoid the center aisles where the processed foods are, but there's plenty of extra satisfaction to make up for it.
- For Compassion
Everyone knows in the abstract that factory farms cause endless stress and suffering for billions of animals every year, and yet we are so cut off from the reality that it doesn't really affect us emotionally, so we don't feel compelled to change our behavior. The missing factor is compassion - the ability to relate with another other being and feel what they're experiencing. It's something we humans can have a hard time with, because we make the world into an abstraction, and yet when we begin to relate to others we can be more caring and helpful than any other species.
In times of slavery people rationalized also, wanting to believe the myth of the happy slave. But we became enlightened that the institution itself was evil, for the relationship of dominance it set up led constantly to incredible abuses. When people began to see the real effects of their actions on the world they could no longer remain in denial. But it took some time for the realities to become common knowledge, and for people to develop an appropriate level of disgust.
Developing awareness and compassion requires work, a willingness to seek out the truth behind every façade, because so much of the world we ought to relate to naturally is hidden from our sight. There are many films that look seriously at this issue, such as Earthlings, Peaceable Kingdom, Meet Your Meat, just to name a few. We've posted some of them on our Video page. We understand some of them are hard to watch, but we hope you will engage with these films to benefit from the truths they expose.
Support Vegan Radio
Vegan Radio is a labor of love, depending entirely on listener donations. Thank you for helping to keep us on the air!