Today’s #FoodForThought Topic: Plant-based lifestyles
(which, in case you don’t know, means being vegan, though I support people who choose vegetarianism over veganism because the latter is a major life change that takes time and commitment)
That’s in 4 years. Closer to 3 actually, because 2016 is waning quickly and will soon give way to 2017. 3. Years.
And they’re not just saying this as a scare tactic. For a long time, humanity has had good ole mother earth on the fast track to an early death. We recently passed the point of no return for CO2 in our atmosphere, meaning that we will never see CO2 levels in our atmosphere lower than 400 ppm (ideally, we want levels below 350 ppm)
And while making a massive change in the way that we fuel our lives (i.e. moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy resources such as solar and wind) is a step in the right direction, we need to do more to stop global climate change where it is and work to reverse it. This is where converting to a plant-based lifestyle comes in.
I know, I know, how does eating plants help get rid of Carbon Dioxide? Don’t they take in the Carbon Dioxide and turn it into Oxygen?
Well, yes, they do, and you can always plant trees to contribute in that way, but livestock production (the raising of animals for slaughter–a questionable practice in many ways) is one of the biggest greenhouse gas contributors.
At every stage of livestock production, there’s a massive amount of greenhouse gases:
|A handy graphic that shows all the parts of livestock production that create GHG emissions.|
Livestock farming is just a really problematic practice.
To start with, the grains that are used to feed livestock in the United States alone could feed 800 million people. To put that in perspective, about 795 million people don’t get enough to eat worldwide. We could literally solve world hunger if instead of giving these grains to livestock, we distributed them worldwide to those who do not have enough to eat.
Then there’s the amount of greenhouse gases that livestock animals emit (this is just fancy-talk for these animals doing what they do at the end of the digestive process, i.e. pooping), which actually makes up about 37% of GHG emissions (scroll down to “Sources of GHG in Livestock farms” section in this article).
And don’t forget the inhumane practices that go into livestock production. These animals are usually given growth hormones from birth to ensure that they get nice and big to produce plenty of meat, and often their size and/or rate of growth is unhealthy for them (read about chickens here). Not to mention the cruelty that goes into farming these animals (I hesitate to use the word “raising” when it comes to factory farming because raising implies caring for) whom are given too little space, and generally treated badly. After all, why be kind to an animal that you’re just going to kill in a few months anyway?
And no matter what your argument for eating meat is, there are more reasons not to consume animal protein.
1. But where are you getting your protein? You HAVE to have protein!!
Yes, protein is a necessary part of a balanced diet. However, at least in the United States, people eat waaaaaay more protein than they actually need (we’re talking like double the recommended amount here) (in case the Huffington Post isn’t a good enough source for you, here’s the CDC diet/nutrition guidelines page). I seriously get this question like anytime I mention the fact that I don’t consume meat. And not in a concerned person kind of way, it’s like a defensive “WHERE YOU GETTIN’ YOUR PROTEIN, HUH? MEAT HAS PROTEIN” like I’m not attacking you for eating meat, why are you attacking me for not?
2. But human beings EVOLVED to eat meat! That’s why our teeth are the way they are.
Yes, in a way. Way, way, way back in the day, when humans were mostly hunter-gatherers, they needed to eat meat to get their appropriate caloric intake. The vegetables and fruits and other plant-life that were gathered by the gatherers simply didn’t provide enough calories for these societies to move around and do all the things that they had to do to survive from day to day. As we moved away from hunter-gatherer societies and toward agricultural societies, it still made sense to eat meat because when the entire family was out working on the farm all day, they still needed all those calories. But once the Industrial revolution hit, and the majority of people started working jobs where they were stationary all day and using less calories, the need for eating meat kind of decreased a little. And now we’re a post-industrial society in which a large quantity of people work in offices or retail and basically sit or stand around all day and live sedentary lifestyles unless they make a point of getting active.
So yeah, people ate meat and their teeth had to be suited to do that, but as we surpassed the hunter-gatherer, agricultural, and industrial stages of society, we didn’t need to eat meat as much. And now people who eat meat are largely doing so by choice, rather than out of necessity.
3. But meat tastes good.
I mean, I disagree with that statement. Like I think meat tastes nasty. I can’t convince you to not like the taste of meat. But that’s a pretty weak argument.
Because a lot of meat that’s on the market is a result of animal cruelty. Even companies that produce “free-range” meat aren’t really taking care of their livestock the way that every living creature deserves. We love our pets; cats and dogs and small mammals and reptiles and birds, so why not promote loving ALL animals? Why does a cat’s cuteness get it a free pass from this horrible life and into your home to be fed, loved, and cuddled but a cow doesn’t? Cows are pretty darn cute, I mean, look at this face:
But we’re okay with eating the animal that is attached to it?
4. But plants are living things, too.
Okay, yeah. Plants are living things. But, like, what else are we supposed to eat? Rocks? Dirt? Air?
Plants are the only sustainable option for human consumption. Livestock is unsustainable.
5. What about hunting?
Are you hunting animals that are approved to be hunted? And following all of the laws surrounding hunting them? Are you doing it humanely? Are you planning on doing something with the animal?
I mean, animals that are hunted (deer, rabbits, turkeys) are cute and I love them, but I can vaguely understand the arguments for hunting. Like overpopulation of these animals can cause major issues in ecosystems that support them. So if you insist on hunting animals, just make sure that you’re doing so in a humane way (like, please don’t make them suffer–it only takes one good shot to the head to kill most critters) and in the correct time of year (there are apparently “seasons” for hunting-I don’t know much about that) and without harming the environment in which the animals you hunt live.
Just be mindful about that kind of stuff, okay?
And please, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop posting pictures of yourself with a dead deer. Like, that’s gross.
Okay, so now that we’ve gotten through your arguments for eating meat and my counter-arguments against 4/5 of those, let’s move on to other things.
Simply changing to a plant-based lifestyle isn’t inherently good.
There are plenty of unsustainable things out there which are totally plant-based.
I think most people know this, but palm oil is harvested in an unsustainable way that harms local ecosystems and kills primates (orangutans, more specifically, which are like super cute ginger primates like King Louis in the cartoon jungle book) and violates human rights in a lot of cases (because the people who harvest it often force indigenous people from their home lands) and contributes to deforestation. So watch out for palm oil and try to avoid buying things which contain it (it’s a challenge, for real, more than half of products on the shelves in American grocery stores contain palm oil–and not just foods, it’s in everything).
And I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop living their life the way they’ve been doing for years right now and go vegan (though I’d love if they did). What I’m trying to get across here is that the meat industry is a big problem for the world, and everyone can do their part to help.
Ways you can help (from least change to most change from a standard American meat-eating diet):
- Start participating in #MeatlessMondays. This is actually a great step in the right direction. It’s only one day of the week and gives lots of people a chance to see how easy it is to just not eat meat. There’s even a whole website about it.
- Cut red meat from your diet. This is another good step. Red meat (like beef) is not only unsustainable, but also unhealthy. Harvard Health offers a great take on this.
- Try going pescetarian (this is a fancy word for a person who doesn’t eat meat except for fish). It’s not really the most sustainable because overfishing is a big problem, but if you’re looking to keep some animal protein in your diet, this might be the answer. I started out as a pescetarian, and it worked for me for a while, until the awful stomachaches I was getting clued me in that maybe fish was not something I should eat (with a slight possibility that I could have developed an allergy to fish like my mom did–seafood is among the top allergens, so allergies can happen). Information on pescetarianism is available here and many other places online.
- Become a vegetarian. Meaning you do not eat the flesh of dead animals. There are different types of vegetarians. You could be a lacto-ovo, lacto, or ovo vegetarian (eating dairy and eggs, dairy but no eggs, or eggs but no dairy, respectively) depending on your preference/allergies you may have (dairy and eggs are among the top allergens). The Vegetarian Resource Group has resources for vegetarians (as the name suggests).
- Go vegan. Now, technically speaking, a vegan does not consume anything that is made with any animal product, meaning no dairy or eggs or honey or wool or leather or anything that was part of an animal ever. I adhere to a notion that veganism is not so much a binary (you are or you aren’t) as a spectrum, like gender. I think of there as being many different kinds of vegan. You’re definitely not vegan if you consume dairy or eggs or both, though. Resources from International Vegan.
I consider myself a low-key vegan. I don’t go out of my way to avoid honey because honey isn’t inherently bad. Now, I’m not that into honey, so I also don’t really go out of my way to eat it. It’s just like if it’s there, then okay, but if not, then great! I also don’t avoid wool. Wool can be, and often is, sheared from sheep in a healthy and humane way; and sheep and other woolly animals need to be sheared yearly in the spring so that they do not overheat. Allowing these animals to continue growing their wool year-round is inhumane to them. (That being said, Uggs are created by skinning sheep which is 1000% NOT okay). I avoid leather and other fabrics that are made of something that requires the death of an animal. A good rule of thumb is that if it kills an animal, don’t consume it. And if the treatment of the animals that create it is inhumane, don’t consume it. (this is where the eggs and dairy comes in–comb honey is also something that we should be wary of, as the bees need the comb to survive the winter). A lot of vegans are also anti-fig because sometimes a wasp will like climb into the wrong kind of fig (they lay their eggs in figs and the babies hatch and escape, but this only works with the male figs, the ones we don’t eat–sometimes a female wasp will climb into a female fig and then she’s completely screwed and the fig breaks her body down and she becomes part of the fig which later is consumed by a human or other animal). I personally think it’s a little silly to be upset about the possibility of consuming a wasp that made a mistake, but to each their own.
You can see how this gets a little shady, right? So if you’re all about veganism in the not consuming dairy and eggs way, but still like honey in your tea, then rock on. You’re an admirable person for coming this far.
Now, there are more intense diets, like the high-carb raw vegan diet, which involves not cooking any of your food, and as far as I can tell people who have this diet eat mostly fruit. I don’t know enough about it to put my seal of approval on it or not, but if this intrigues you, you can do research on it.
So, in a nutshell, what I’m trying to say is: eat less meat. You’re probably eating too much anyway.
Wild animals worldwide are counting on you.
The Fierce Feminist