There’s growing awareness these days of the negative impact that humans are having on the environment. Eco-friendly goods and services are becoming increasingly popular and people are willing to change some old habits, like driving hybrid or other fuel-efficient cars instead of the typical gas-guzzlers.
One aspect of American culture that has been slow to catch up with the times, however, is the way we eat. In a country where fast-food chains are abound and every other TV commercial promotes either a restaurant, snack food, or drugs that alleviate the symptoms of over-eating (we’ve all seen the heartburn, upset stomach and diet pill commercials), it seems as though this nation has a junk-food fetish.
The issue is not so much that we like to eat, but what we like to eat. In a New York Times article published Jan. 27 titled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” the eating habits of those in the United States and elsewhere are brought to light – specifically the penchant for eating meat.
The article points out the correlation between global warming and the huge factory farms that produce most of the world’s meat supply. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization states that a fifth of the planet’s greenhouse gases stem from livestock production. The article also sheds light on the fact that as millions of people worldwide starve, the production and consumption of meat continues to be almost exclusively done by wealthier nations.
The scarcity of fresh water in many areas and manipulation of huge plots of land, coupled with questionable farming techniques has led to an enterprise that leaves something to be desired.
Factory farms pack animals like cattle, pigs and chickens into unbelievably tight quarters, force feed them sub-par grains and other types of feed and shoot them with copious amounts of antibiotics (since they have no room to move around, sickness is rampant among them).
The problems that have arisen as a result of this addiction to meat are numerous and frightening.
The overuse of antibiotics has created drug resistant strains of bacteria in both animals and humans, water supplies in and around these factory farms have been contaminated with manure, pesticides and other toxic debris, and methane, the most notable greenhouse gas produced by these farms, is wreaking havoc in the atmosphere. Plus, lands in Brazil and other areas that have precious rainforests are being cleared at an alarming rate for the production of animal feed.
There is an alternative. Vegetarianism has been shown to be a healthy choice in many ways. Not only would the elimination of meat from the diet help resolve environmental stress, as factory farms and all the horrors that go along with them would be shut down, but also the health of the general population would improve.
It’s estimated that the average American consumes 110 grams of protein a day, way above what’s actually healthy. Heart disease and some forms of cancer have been linked to eating meat, especially red meat.
As a vegetarian of three years, I have found that my overall health has improved since eliminating meat from my diet. Eating more vegetables and fruits has obvious benefits – more vitamins and minerals lead to higher energy levels and better overall wellbeing.
Most vegetarians start slowly. They eliminate one food at a time, like steak or hamburger, and continue until they no longer eat any meat. The one question I and most other vegetarians are asked regularly, however, is where we get protein.
The fact is there are many sources of protein. Soy, beans, nuts, grains, and even fruits and vegetables like broccoli and avocado have more than enough protein to sustain health. The real dilemma in getting more people to become vegetarian is that people are connected to food on a social, cultural, and even emotional level. We don’t want to be told what to eat, especially when we get so much confirmation and enjoyment out of it.
The issue remains, however, that dietary habits have an impact on our bodies and the planet. Also, the methods and practices of many of these farming operations have been revealed to be so barbaric that they are now making headlines.
The USDA is investigating the Hallmark Meat Packing Co., located in Chino, Calif., after an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States revealed shocking abuse of injured cows. The horrible treatment of animals in these types of facilities is nothing new, as many animal rights groups have caught footage that is both sickening and sad.
This is just another thing to keep in mind when purchasing and consuming meat. As the population of the earth grows, and more land and water are used to keep this deadly operation going, perhaps one more change in habit could be considered.
As methane from farms has surpassed carbon dioxide from vehicles as a leading cause of global warming, a vegetarian diet may well be the way the people can save this planet.