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Meat or Meat free?

October 3, 2010

In honor of World Vegetarian Day last week, I thought I’d discuss the topic of meat.

Growing up, I was always under the impression that vegetarians or even the rare vegan I came in contact with, were picky, animal lovers.  I didn’t understand what their deal was exactly and I can recall wondering why my vegetarian Aunt Clare, “couldn’t just eat like everyone else.”  I was though, always impressed by her unconventional food concoctions.  She deviated from the norm which then was so weird.  Now, I think it’s pretty damn cool.

I was raised eating meat and I’d bet that you probably grew up eating an assortment of beef, chicken, steak, pork, and cold-cut meat too. I’d even wager that most of you still eat those meats.  As your folks likely did, my Parents (specifically my Mother, Joan) made sure we ate our vegetables along with a some sort of meat, limited our un-healthy snack intake, and my two brothers and I were very healthy, active children.  It seemed like the recipe for success.   Kid-tested, Mother-approved.

I fairly recently decided to go vegan.  Yes, after nearly 25 years of eating meat, I woke up one morning and completely eliminated it from my diet (along with dairy). Though it might sound as though I must have had some awful nightmare Food Inc. esque the night prior , my decision was actually very well thought out.  I try very hard to keep myself very well-read and up-to-speed on issues pertaining to the environment, energy and food.  Over the course of my own investigations into the meat industry, I was alarmed at my findings, time after time.  So armed with too many Pros(to go vegan) and so few Cons (to keep eating meat), I took the plunge.

My mission here is not to preach, it’s to inspire.  So far all you skeptics saying to yourself “here we go with some leftist, environmental, animal-loving bs” sit tight and please read on.  Let’s forget about how the meat industry is impacting the environment (for a moment) and let’s focus on your health and well-being. You are what you eat afterall, right?

Next time you bite into a cheeseburger, cut into a juicy steak, or grill a piece of chicken, try and uncover where that piece of meat came from.  “The supermarket” isn’t a sufficient answer nor is “Tyson” or even “McDonalds” (excuse me while I throw up in my mouth).  Envision that animal alive and try to figure out where it spent its days living. This will be a difficult task for you because the meat industry has cleverly made it very hard for consumers to find out this information. They don’t want you to know how that animal spent its days living and they certainly wouldn’t want you to know the conditions it lived under, the food it was fed and the chemicals it was injected with.  I hate to break it to you all but the meat or milk you’ve already ingested today didn’t come from a happy animal, free to roam a beautiful, green pasture.  He or she was likely a very, very sad animal. Here’s why.

Let’s use a cow named Teddy as an example. Now, recall the very last piece of meat you ate from a cow and envision it came from Teddy.  During Teddy’s unhappy existence, he was pumped with an assortment of chemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones throughout his very short, little life. Teddy’s home was NOT a beautiful, green pasture. He resided in a horrific place called a factory farm. It is here where Teddy was subjected to intensive confinement, darkness and various other horrific conditions.

If you’re not familiar with factory farms they are quite simply terrible, disgusting places.  They’re big businesses and the most profitable factory farms are the ones who produce the most meat, in the shortest time.  As with any successful enterprise, time is money and the most efficient factory farms make the most money. Animals here are viewed as nothing more than a unit passing along an assembly line before they’re brutally slaughtered.  Unfortunately, your health as a consumer is sacrificed due to the Meat businesses’ practices and when any business is threatening the health of consumers, it’s just not OK.

I’d like to introduce you to a factory farm’s most valuable asset, hormones, because they play a huge part in producing the meat on your plate so promptly.  Factory farmers pump animals like Teddy with hormones to move mother nature along and get the animals to the size and weight perfect for slaughtering as quickly as possible.  With dairy for example, rBGH is the hormone used to increase milk production and it is said that the average dairy cow produced almost 5,300 pounds of milk a year in 1950. Today, a typical cow produces more than 18,000 pounds.  That sounds pretty natural, right? You should know that The United States is the only developed nation in this world to allow people to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone. All 27 countries of the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have banned its use in milk destined for human consumption.

So when you eat a piece of meat or drink a glass skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk, you are putting hormones into your body.  Young girls are now reaching puberty alarmingly early by the way and childhood obesity rates are on the rise. Have you considered that the hormones in meat and milk might have something to do with these issues?  I’m just saying.  One more assembly line practice factory farms use to increase efficiencies is the cutting off cow’s tails and debeaking.  These practices decrease interference in the assembly line production and help the farmers to increase yields.   In doing so, they cause so much stress and pain for animals like Teddy.

Now, enter antibiotics. Antibiotics are the quality control of the meat business.  They ward off diseases in the animals.  What most of you probably don’t know is that many of the diseases these antibiotics prevent are a direct result of the inhumane conditions on the factory farms. Since the animals are kept confined indoors as closely together as possible, this in turn exposes them to high-levels of toxins from decomposing manure. So to counteract the diseases inherent in such conditions, animals are given constant doses of antibiotics. These antibiotics prevent diseases such as Mad Cow Disease and “TSE” (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies”).  Rather than combat the real problem, they just give the animals antibiotics.  (This is very similar to our Healthcare system in America.  Why get to the root of the problem when there are so many great drugs out there to prescribe.) I reluctantly will share with you what causes TSE.  I’m hesitant to share this because you may lose your appetite for the rest of the day.  TSE is spread by feeding infected nervous system tissue to other animals. Yes, that’s right, you just read that.  Factory Farms will feed their livestock dead and processed remains of other animals.  Such cannibalistic practices are at the root of the diseases they try and prevent with the antibiotics.

A very common misconception and a question which I’ve been asked frequently since transitioning to veganism is “where do you get your protein from?”  I must admit that I too was convinced of this myself at one time.  Where did we all get this idea that we need animal meat to survive? My theory is that good advertising and PR were hard at work.  The dairy and meat industry have done a tremendous job in convincing the public that we NEED their products to be “healthy”. It just isn’t true. It is proven that you DO NOT need to eat animal meat to get protein in your diet. In fact, humans don’t need much protein in their diet at all. Americans on average are consuming way more protein than we need and our nation is eating more meat than any other nation in the world. An overabundance of protein can actually lead to serious health problems. You can attain all the protein your body needs by just consuming a healthy amount of vegetables, legumes and fruit in your diet.  Plus, protein from plant sources doesn’t include excess calories from fat and toxic residue.  Additionally, unlike animal products, vegan foods have absolutely no cholesterol and barely any saturated fat.  I’m not sure if you’re aware but meat has an enormous amount of saturated fat. If you don’t believe me, look into it yourself.

Now for those of you who still aren’t convinced that the meat industry sucks, let’s take a very quick glimpse into its impact on the environment. Factory farms consume a tremendous amounts of energy, they pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn and soy which is a dependency that has led to the destruction of the world’s tropical rain forests. The livestock sector is responsible for a very large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 18%. (Livestock emit methane and other greenhouse gasses through excrement and belching). If you’re curious as to how the Meat Industry pollutes waterways, here’s how. The growth promoting hormones not only remain in the meat we consume (gross), but they are excreted in the animal’s manure. When the manure from factory farms enters the surrounding environment, the hormones contaminate surface and groundwater.  Also, the vast majority of the grains we grow in the U.S. go to feed livestock, not people, and an enormous amount of Greenhouse Gases are Emitted from the grain production, transportation and the fossil fuels used to make the artificial fertilizers etc, etc, etc.  One last thought provoker.  Right now, almost a billion people on the planet do not have access to clean, safe drinking water which equates to one in eight of us.  The amount of fresh water used in the meat industry is terrifying. Think about that one.

When you eat a piece of meat, drink a glass of milk or eat scrambled eggs, you are ingesting all of the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics from the animal into your system.  You are also essentially supporting an industry that doesn’t give a rats a** about you.  They are making a profit at YOUR expense.   This industry will continue these harmful practices so long as consumers such as yourselves continue to purchase their products.  You can make a difference by choosing how you spend your money.  Start asking questions and demanding answers.

The next time you’re about to pick up meat from the supermarket or order steak from a restaurant, I urge you to envision where it’s from.  Perhaps after reading this you may opt for something else or even just adopt a “Meat Free Monday” policy to try something new. Change can be challenging, exciting and fun.  And when you meet someone who is a vegan or vegetarian, accept and embrace them.  They aren’t “picky” elitists, they’re thoughtful, caring people. They don’t judge you for eating meat, so don’t judge them.


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