Meat the truth about your diet
It’s not enough to want change, we need to start making the right choices.
Food is sacred. It brings families together for gatherings, unites friends for social outings, and allows colleagues to bond outside of work. It comforts us after a long day, mixes really well with a movie, and makes sporting events more enjoyable. Whether you’re cutting up a turkey, passing the cheese platter, or cooking hot dogs for everyone, food is the great unifier that simply has to be a part of many aspects of our society. So, when I say we are doing it wrong, and we need to stop eating so many animal products, I also understand that it is very hard to do so. Unfortunately, we’ve been walking on the wrong path most of our lives, and we need to backtrack a bit to examine where we stand. Else, we’re headed for a very, very steep cliff.
It might come as a surprise to many, but food represents up to 30% of a household’s carbon footprint, with meat being, by far, the single largest contributor. In fact, meat is such a large contributor that, by itself, it manages to be the third largest source of emissions, behind vehicle emissions and electricity. Cheese and milk are also strong direct contributors, but there’s another aspect to keep in mind with the dairy industry. Cows have to be pregnant in order to produce milk, and in order to maximize milk production, farmers ensure that cows remain pregnant most of their lives. As a result, at the moment, every litre of milk comes with the production of roughly 17g of meat. Ever wondered where veal comes from? That’s right, milk production is essentially meat production.
The carbon footprint of meat and dairies is not the only thing to consider. Their production also uses up fertile land that could be used for other crops, diverts food away from human consumption to feed animals, often contributes to polluting local water streams, and uses excessively large amounts of water. Unfortunately, we can expect these impacts to continue getting worse as many parts of the world get wealthier. In 1961, the world consumed 71 million tons of meat, a sharp contrast to 2018, where we ate 341 million tons. A similar trend is found in the fishing industry, where overfishing is now threatening entire ecosystems.
There’s another aspect to meat production that is often hidden in the supermarkets. The number of animals we slaughter on a daily basis has now reached levels so high that they are hard to grasp at a glance. In 2018 we killed:
- 94.3 million cows in the United States, or nearly 11,000 per hour.
- 18.55 million in France, or more than 2,100 per hour.
- 26.5 million in Australia, or more than 3,000 per hour.
- 213.52 million in Brazil, or more than 24,300 per hour.
Same goes for other animals too, with billions of chickens being killed every year, and nearly a billion pigs to go along with that.
We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing dead animals everywhere that nobody even questions it anymore. Ever questioned why we eat pigs, but play with dogs? Why is horse meat such a big taboo for many, but cow meat is perfectly normal? Intelligence is hard to define, but it’s also hard to ignore that animals are aware of the terrible things we do to them on an industrial scale. Many studies have found farm animals to have many of the traits we often associate with intelligence, and one can find many stories of animals showing that they’re much more aware of their circumstances than we give them credit for. The biggest difference between the animals we choose to eat and wear, and the animals we choose for companionship, is mostly one of habit. There’s a reason slaughterhouse workers are prone to PTSD: It’s not easy killing a living being that comes up to you looking for affection. Can you imagine what future generations will think when they look back at our system of industrial slaughterhouses? What can be said about a society where killing has become mechanical, and life no longer has any meaning.
An argument often brought up against a change in dietary habits is that of the impact it would have on health. First, it should be noted that vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower body weights, something that is certainly critical withing the context of a worldwide obesity epidemic. Still, there is more to a diet than caloric intake, and nutrients play an important role in keeping your body healthy.
As it turns out, cutting out your intake of animal products, or even just reducing it, can have a clearly positive impact on your health. Multiple studies have shown that people who choose a meat-free or a plant-based diet have a reduced mortality rate compared to the rest of the population. At the same time, research comparing diets using both the Healthy Eating Index and the Mediterranean Diet Score found that meat-eaters have the worst diet overall, with various degrees of vegetarianism following behind, and vegans ranking first with both scoring systems. While the more restrictive diets do give up on certain sources of nutrients, most of them more than make up for it when eating more fruits and vegetables.
In fact, vegetarians and vegans generally have equal or better health than omnivores across the board. Studies have reported lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, cholesterol, and overall mortality when compared with the general population. In turn, the negative impact is that you have to be more conscious of your food variety. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
So here you have it. The typical Western diet is unsustainable, unethical, and unhealthy. Still, “wanting change” and “wanting to change” are two things. It’s about time we, collectively, decide to do something about it. Now, the transition can be hard. After all, food is a cultural thing, and it’s hard to explain to people that you’d prefer going to another restaurant because the one they picked has no vegan option, or that your family’s traditional Christmas dinner doesn’t suit you anymore. At the same time, there’s nothing preventing you from making a gradual transition. Perhaps you now only eat meat on weekends or during social outings? Or perhaps only when it’s offered to you at someone’s house? In the worst case scenario, it will make you a much more sociable person.
At the same time, transitioning has never been easier. Supermarkets have never had a better selection of products, and you can expect it to keep growing. Tofu is also no longer the one thing you’ll find, with a growing selection of products made from tempeh, seitan, mushrooms, beans, and much more. It’s also a good opportunity to try your hand at cooking, something which is inherently more healthy than buying processed food.
Give it a try, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.