Consider being a vegetarian for yourself and the planet

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This weekend I watched John Tucker Must Die with my roommates and was confronted with an upsetting stereotype. One of the main characters, Beth, is a bleeding-heart animal rights activist whose lack of substance conveys that she has only adopted a vegan lifestyle because it may be considered trendy. At this I was both shocked and frustrated-- is that really how the American public views vegetarians and vegans? I have been vegetarian for four years and, when declaring this, I am almost always asked, "So do you do it for the animals or because you don't like meat?" as if those were the only two plausible explanations for being vegetarian.

Animal friendly lifestyles are not the result of a trend; they are supported by scientific research and observation in regards to its positive effect on health, the environment, and, of course, the animal population.

Although vegetarians are often criticized for living an unhealthy lifestyle, this belief couldn't be further from the truth. The USDA recommends a diet based mainly on grains, fruits and vegetables and supplement with protein from various sources (both animal and plant). However, the standard American diet relies heavily on animal proteins and consumes far more protein than their daily-recommended amount, mistakenly believing that eating large amounts of proteins will be beneficial.

According to "The Protein Myth" released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine- "Contrary to the fad diets currently promoted by some popular books, a diet that is high in protein can actually contribute to disease and other health problems."  

Some of the adverse affects associated with increased protein consumption include kidney disease, cancers of the colon and breast, osteoporosis, weight gain, and heart disease.  It may be surprising that those who do not consume milk products actually have a lower rate of osteoporosis, but "The Protein Myth" goes on to explain, "Diets that are rich in protein, especially animal protein are known to cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Plant-based diets, which provide adequate protein in addition to calcium through the consumption of leafy green vegetables, beans, and fortified fruit juices, can help protect against osteoporosis."  Also, according to an article published in the International Journal of Cancer, milk consumption has been linked to increased rates of ovarian cancer.

Along with the problem of excess protein, much of the American diet consists of red meat, which doubles your risk of colon cancer, according to an American Medical Journal study released in 2005.  After eating, red meat should be expelled from the body within 24 hours, or it becomes putrid and toxic to the colon.  However, carnivorous animals, not humans, have short digestive tracts to expel red meat within this amount of time.  Humans have longer digestive tracts, as well as weaker stomach acid, which retain meat in the colon for 48 hours or longer.

Some cite the vegetarian lifestyle as unnatural, claiming that people have eaten meat since the caveman days and has, thus, evolved to eat meat.  According to an article from Jainstudy.org, "Many modern anthropologists believe that the diet of prehistoric man consisted of nuts, fruits, plants and probably some insects. Scientists have established that early man originated in a warm climate where growing plants was easier than hunting. In the Stone Age, man started eating meat, but he ate far less of it than many of today's non-vegetarians do. It was during the last ice age when fruits, nuts and vegetables were unavailable that early humans had to start eating animal flesh in order to survive."

The China Study, which states it is the "most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted," shows the health effects of animal protein versus plant protein consumption.  According to Dr. Colin Campbell, the study's facilitator, "People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored."

The China Study recommends a five percent, or lower, intake or animal proteins and recommends that all other proteins come from plant sources.  

This study also states that genes, thought to be the main component in contracting cancer, is secondary to eating a diet high in animal fats.  The study says, "A major review on diet and cancer, prepared for the U.S. Congress in 1981 estimated that genetics only determines about two to three percent of the total cancer risk. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed."  

It is a common misconception that the only reason vegetarians and vegans disdain the meat industry is because of the killing that takes place.  If only the ending of an animal's life were the only issue.  The animals that live in the factory farm are deprived of all familiar livelihood, denied veterinary care, abused by factory workers, malnourished and fed unnatural diets, and suffer in agony as they slaughtered using the cheapest, and extremely inhumane, methods.  Keep in mind that these are not family farms concerned with ethical treatment of animals, the meat and dairy industry is ruled by corporations whose main goal is maximizing profit through any means possible.

A dairy cow, which can live from 20 to 25 years in its natural environment, can only survive four years on a factory farm.  The Humane Society's web site states that dairy cows are perpetually pregnant, forced into tight spaces that allow little or room to walk a few steps.  Dairy cows are massively overworked, and fed an unnatural, high protein diet that causes complications in the foot and gut.  Professor John Webster, who writes in the report "The Welfare of the Dairy Cow," says, "The amount of work done by the cow in peak lactation is immense ... To achieve a comparably high work rate a human would have to jog for about six hours a day, every day."

Overwork also causes the udder to become infected, a painful condition called Mastitis that is common in herds, according to vegansociety.com.  In order to quell this infection, workers must use antibiotics on the cow, which, of course, accumulate in the animal's flesh when it is slaughtered (the government claims all milk is tested to be free of antibiotics before sale).

When a cow gives birth, the calf is taken from the mother within two days of being born, whereas a calf would naturally be fed by the mother for up to a year. Professor John Webster states that it is the "Most potentially distressing incident in the life of the dairy cow ... The cow will submit herself to considerable personal discomfort or risk to nourish and protect her calf."

The following gives graphic depictions of ritual slaughter, so be warned the descriptions may be disturbing:

When a cow is no longer considered productive, she will be shipped off to the slaughterhouse.  The slaughtering method includes stunning an animal through an electric shock to the brain, then hoisting it into the air by its legs where its throat is cut open.  According to Dr. Harold Hillman, electric stunning provides paralysis and, as with an electric shock, is painful and the animal, although not able to react to pain, can still feel.  

Hillman uses this example, "A spastic person can still feel. It is not permitted to do experiments on paralyzed animals, because they can still feel."

 Although the Humane Slaughter Act, supplement by the Federal Meat Inspection Act, outlaws any and all inhumane treatment before and during killing, the meat industry is in continued violation of this law.  According to the Humane Farmer's Association, outright abuse of animals has been cited in several investigations, many past workers on the factory farm have released statements entailing their experience.

 One worker states, "All the workers can open the legs, the stomach, the neck, cut off the feet while the cow is breathing. It makes noise ... . And the cattle go down the line for many minutes and they're still alive. They cut the legs and everything. The cattle move their eyes and their nose. They're looking around. I would estimate that one out of 10 cows is still alive when it's bled and skinned."

The method and treatment of hogs is very similar- inhumane living conditions and cruel slaughter.  Another statement from a factory farm worker reveals this about the treatment of pigs, "The preferred method of handling a cripple is to beat it to death with a lead pipe before he gets into the chute. It's called piping ... . When I worked as a hog driver, I would kill up to 11 hogs a day by beating them to death with a lead pipe." Abuse of disabled animals is another direct violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The treatment of hens is also inhumane, especially considering hens are excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act.  Hens are overcrowded in battery cages; the stress of which is so great their beaks must be seared off, without anesthetic, to keep them from pecking each other.  According to the Animal Welfare Institute, "To ... promote an additional laying cycle, hens are deprived of food and water for up to two weeks."  Male chicks, useless to the farming industry because they cannot lay eggs, are immediately killed after hatching, usually by suffocation or being ground alive, then used as feed for other chickens (ever wonder why some egg cartons say "Vegetarian Fed"?).  Chickens, similar to cows and hogs, are killed through cutting their throats.  The effect of factory farming and exploitation of the animal population on the environment is no light matter, and its consequences will be felt from generations to come.  According to a report issued in 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from the meat industry outweigh those emitted from transportation.  These levels must be halved, it continues, in order to keep the problem getting worse.  

A central, yet often overlooked issue concerning factory farming is that the amount of grain used to feed cattle requires an increased amount of water to be used for agricultural uses. Most of our water, especially that used for agricultural purposes, is from underground water, called aquifers.  Aquifers are large bodies of water that take an average of 1,400 years to replenish.  According to an article by the World Watch Institute by Payal Sampat, "On almost every continent, major aquifers are drained far more rapidly than they are being replenished by nature. Groundwater depletion is most severe in parts of India, China, U.S., North Africaand the Middle East ... . Almost 99 percent of the rural U.S. population and 80 percent of India's villages depend on groundwater for drinking."

Aquifers are extremely prone to absorbing and retaining pollution, more so than other water sources because they are not flowing bodies of water.  Pesticides and other manufactured chemicals are up to 100 times more potent than they were 30 years ago, which intensifies the crisis.  The factory farm is a huge contributor to this type of pollution, as well as requiring more water for meat production (approximately 2,500 gallons of water per pound of beef).

Eating vegetarian is far from impossible.  A plant-based diet is beneficial to anyone when carefully planned.  Meat substitutes are growing in variety, making the transition to this lifestyle much easier.  The immediate, cold-turkey (no pun intended) switch to vegetarianism or veganism can be overwhelming.  It is not necessary to do so overnight, indeed, there is great benefit in the simple decreased consumption of animal products.  Do what feels right for you- experiment and use resources such as goveg.com.  

Each one of us harbors empathy and compassion within us.  To participate in a lifestyle, which thrives on the exploitation and continued violation of another species independence, causes use to quell those protests of the conscience.  How often can we silence these inner voices, which have been given to us to promote peace good will, before we are completely callous to them?

This article was not written to attack or manipulate anyone who eats meat, but rather to educate and encourage a lifestyle, which promotes health, conservation and compassion.  

In regards to animal livelihood, few can describe their plight more eloquently than Henry Beston- "We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals ... We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far beneath ourselves.

And therein we err, we greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth."  

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Thanks Kelly for this wonderfully informative and well researched article!

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Thanks a lot for your article.
A vegan in Belgium ;-)
Keep the faith we are ONE and it is NOT a trend... I am vegan since 99 ;-) It is people like you that help us to promote the vegetarian way of life because you base your articles on facts !

Take care,

Rudy

PS : I am 39 and I did a marathon !
I am in better shape than in 99 and now I can sleep(I do not participate anymore to animal killing!)

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Great article

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