When you drive through the rural prairie lands of our fine state, they are no longer filled with flowing grasses, wild flowers and bison. The highways are lined with corn and soybean fields, and pasture land for grazing cattle. I grew up on one of those farms.
The biodiversity of the Minnesota landscape that evolved over thousands of years has been replaced in the last 100 years with top-soil degrading agricultural practices. When the same crops are grown year after year in the same fields, it reduces the fertility of soil, increases erosion of soil when crops are cleared, increases disease and pest problems in the crops (leading to more pesticide use), and a whole host of other issues.
Why do the majority of farmers only grow corn and soybeans? Why does the government subsidize their production? It’s sort of shocking to find out that livestock consume 47% of soy and 60% of corn produced in the US. So when we talk about our farmers working hard to feed our country, what we need to realize is that they’re working hard to feed cows and pigs.
Another 30% of corn produced in the US goes to produce ethanol fuel. So what’s left for human consumption? If these statistics are correct, only 10% of corn produced in the US is directly eaten by humans. According to David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University, “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.”
Makes you think a little differently about world hunger…
Because developing countries are now making more money and experiencing a higher standard of living, demand for meat is increasing. Because more land is needed for farming to provide feed, countries like Brazil have begun soybean production. Brazil produces nearly as much soybean crop as the United States. In fact, soy production in Brazil has quadrupled in the past 20 years.
Along with clearing land for logging and commercial farming, there is an increasing amount of forest cleared for grazing cattle. One of the most bio diverse landscapes on the planet is being degraded at an alarming rate. Since 1970, about 20 percent of the Amazon basin has been deforested-an area larger than France. The majority of cleared land ends in cattle pasture; studies from Brazil’s INPE Institute calculate this amount to equal 45 million hectares or 62x of the total cleared area.
That’s just a small facet of how meat production effects the environment on a mass scale. Studies show that livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions leading to global climate change, ocean dead zones (pesticides have to go somewhere…) and species extinction due to habitat loss.
But that’s just the environment (which, by the way, we depend upon for survival), how is meat affecting us in other ways?
Why does this all matter?
Within the standard American diet meat is typically the “staple” of every meal. You’ve probably all heard reasons as to why you should eat less meat, but the reasons are never that convincing. Trying vegan or vegetarian foods can be akin to eating a handful of dirt, and it can be a major deterrent because the same flavor profile that you’re used to isn’t there.
Changing your diet means changing your taste for food completely. It also means learning how to cook differently. I LOVE to eat tasty food, and it is possible without the presence of any animal products (more on this in my next post).
But how will I get proper nutrition without meat?
One of many myths about meat is that you need to eat it to get proper nutrition. This is completely inaccurate. You can get complete protein and amino acid profiles by eating a plant-based diet and by taking supplements. Even livestock are given certain supplements because the soil is so degraded that they can no longer receive certain necessary nutrients from grazing. Another reason being that their diet solely consists of feed.
So, there is the concern about what you’re not getting when skipping that juicy steak, but what about what you are getting? Meat isn’t as great as it’s touted to be.
You may have recently noticed an article circulating about how in 1976 the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to release a review of their studies finding that fat, not sugar was to blame for America’s expanding waistline. The movie Merchants of Doubt outlines how major US companies have used marketing tactics like this to sway public opinion about tobacco, pesticides, flame retardant materials, and the list goes on and on. I can guarantee you that more and more evidence will come out about how the meat industry does the same exact thing.
There is growing research indicating that consumption of animal products leads to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and other major diseases. Eliminating animal products from your diet has the potential to stop, and sometimes even reverse the top 15 leading causes of death among Americans. You’re still going to die, sorry to say, but perhaps not as soon, and without having to suffer through the difficulties of major disease.
For some specific nutritional research outlined by Dr. Michael Greger, watch this VIDEO entitled: How Not to Die. Heads up, he has an extremely dry humor.
His web site http://nutritionfacts.org/ provides the latest in medical research regarding the foods we eat and how they’re affecting us. It’s a non-profit web site providing free information and videos. Support for the web site relies on individual donations instead of corporate backing, so he can tell the truth without having to appease any big money interest groups.
But I only eat grass-fed/sustainably raised meat!
Even if meat were truly healthy for you, there is no longer such a thing as “sustainable” meat or fish. If you pick up the latest issue of National Geographic the story, “The Blob That Cooked The Pacific” is about the increased rates of unnatural deaths of sea creatures ranging from invertebrate “by-the-wind sailors” to whales and other salty friends due to rising ocean temperatures.
On a recent trip to Alaska, the effects of global climate change were made very apparent to me after seeing how far glaciers have retreated compared to past events. Going on a whale watching tour, we were told part way into the boat trip that the whales didn’t follow their normal migration routes, so we would not be seeing any whales. The fish aren’t coming in as close to shore so fishermen have to go further out to catch anything. Some of the larger sea mammals are dying because their food sources are so diminished. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average.
If everyone were to choose and eat grass-fed, pasture-raised meat, we would have to convert most of our land into grazing pastures. Out of 2.3 billion total acres of land in this country, 408 million acres is currently used for cropland, and 614 million acres is used for pasture and grazing.
There are 89 million head of cattle in the US (to give perspective, there are 324 million people). Even if you conservatively gave 2 acres of land to every head of cattle, that would be 178 million acres of land JUST for cows. An area larger than Texas would be dedicated cattle pasture. And that’s to support current demand.
Given our population size, and the projection that over the next 70 years it’s going to DOUBLE, these strategies just aren’t feasible any longer.
But I would never eat my pet!
People make a common distinction between domesticated pets and livestock animals. A couple of years ago my family sat on the floor of the vet office crying and petting our dog Molly as we waited for her to be euthanized. But knowing that she had lived a long and full life and was suffering made it an easier choice to let her go.
My family had also raised sheep for a few years. My little brother Zach named one of the lambs Lucky because it had narrowly survived birth. Zach fed him daily and watched Lucky grow. About a year of caring for his pet sheep, the day came to slaughter him for meat. Guess he wasn’t so lucky.
In our American culture, we would be horrified if we heard about someone doing that to his dog. So why is it acceptable to do it to a sheep? There is a huge disconnect between the fact that these animals are living, breathing, thinking creatures just like our pets, and ultimately just like us. People may justify their meat-eating decisions with claims that these animals aren’t intelligent, they don’t think the same way that we do, they don’t feel pain like we do and therefore they don’t matter as much as we do. We often have a very human-centric view of the world. But why do we matter the most? And why do we get to eat whatever we want? What inherently gives us that right?
But it’s too hard to give up meat!
Have you seen the hash tag #firstworldproblems ?
In all seriousness, I can commiserate with the challenge of drastically changing your diet. I stopped eating gluten 5 years ago. To get to the bottom of gastrointestinal discomfort I was experiencing, I went on an elimination diet. For two weeks I took out wheat, dairy, red meat, refined sugar, corn, soy and eggs to give my body a break (all of these are common allergens and common GMO products). When I began to slowly re-introduce foods back into my diet, it became increasingly clear that wheat was the culprit of my discomfort (I’m talking about stabbing pains in my guts that sent me into writhing fits). Our body gives us signals when it’s not happy. These signals can range from acid reflux to cramping and tiredness after eating. We have to build the awareness to listen to those warning signs. Instead of suppressing warning signs with prescription medication so we can continue our harmful habits, we should use that information to start with the very building blocks of our body: the food we consume.
You are what you eat!
So now, I’m gluten-free AND vegan.
It’s really not that complicated. Just like going gluten-free, it took time to make the transition. I figured out what foods worked and which ones didn’t. When you stop to consider the brilliant array of grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits that are on this planet, it’s ludicrous to make any excuse of why you need to eat meat or any animal-product.
So, why eat meat?
If, after recognizing that you can get complete nutrition without eating meat, why continue? Knowing that your health will ultimately benefit from drastically reducing if not completely eradicating meat from your diet, then what stands in your way?
If it’s clear that you no longer need to participate in the cruel treatment and murder of animals, and can recognize the hypocrisy of loving and cherishing some animals while eating others, then maybe that will help you make a shift.
Change is hard. Change can take time. I had the conviction that I should stop eating meat for years. With the implications and evidence, I can no longer contribute to a system that is harmful to me, and ultimately the entire planet. Since making this shift in my own life, the reasons keep piling up to stop participating in a meat-hungry world.
We often find evidence to support what we want to think or hear, not what the truth is. I would love to be able to keep eating meat. Sure I’ve had a dream about eating sausage and meat crosses my mind occasionally, but just because it’s tasty and easy doesn’t mean that it’s a good decision. Meat is engrained in our culture and in our daily life. But I can no longer take the easy road and choose this path of harm and destruction.
There are over 7.4 BILLION people on this planet. Our population continues to balloon, and at the rate we are consuming and polluting, I’m not confident how long we will be able to go on like this. I’ve made this decision to go meat-free as a healthy lifestyle choice for myself and as a sustainability/ethical choice for the billions of other creatures on this planet we share.