Eating a ballpark hot dog or a helping of Thanksgiving turkey used to be ordinary for me, but now that I know these foods come with a side of climate change, heart disease, animal cruelty, and neglect for the essential workers, I’m thinking twice about what I bite into.
After years of dismissing my curiosity for convenience, taste and social norms, 2020 gave me a bit more time to dive into the meatless way of life. Watching the animal rights documentary “Dominion” (2018) gave me even more information about where our meat comes from than I bargained for.
I learned the moment a factory animal is born, a product on a conveyor belt is seen. I saw how pigs are often kept in pens only allowing one or two steps forward, chicks are stacked in boxes and shipped to fattening farms, and cows are masturbated and artificially inseminated into females repeatedly. Kept in barbaric living conditions these animals with no voice are abused at the cost of us licking our lips.
“Unable to see light or exercise, sows [female pigs] muscles will weaken to the point she has difficulty standing up, workers will force them to stand up daily,” according to Farm Transparency Project. The grande finale for these products of corporate animal production includes gas chambers, electrocution and slaughtering mechanisms.
Yet, our dinner plates hardly depict this cruelty.
What I didn't expect to learn was that saving animal lives might just end up saving ours, too.
“Vegetarians are about 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Because processed meat is high in saturated fat and hormones, it is considered a carcinogen with breast, colon, and prostate cancers presenting the highest risks.
Heart disease and diabetes are also on the line with heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cholesterol, a leading component in meat, induces heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease.
Meat eaters tend to kick the bucket sooner. A JAMA report concluded, “Vegetarian women live to an average of 85.7 years, which is 6.1 years longer than non-vegetarian women.”
Some people still deny these facts, claiming meat is essential for protein levels. One Netflix documentary, “Gamechangers,” rebuts this commonly accepted notion.
A few athletic champions credit their accomplishments to plant proteins found in their vegetarian diets. They include sprinter Morgan Mitchell, American cyclist Dotsie Bausch, Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Ferris and linebacker Derrick Morgan, all of whom were interviewed by James Wilkis, a UFC fighter and special forces combat trainer about their plant-based eating regimens.
Vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian summed it up best, “One person asked me, ‘How can you get as strong as an ox without eating meat?’ And my answer was, ‘Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?’”
Climate change is another reason to consider a plant-based diet.
“Animal agriculture and forestry generates 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide,” according to Project Drawdown, and “eating a plant-based diet is the most important contribution every individual can make to reversing global warming.”
As earth’s temperature rise and extreme weather events increase, we cannot afford to inflict this responsibility onto future generations. While our polarized political environment suggests Americans don’t agree on many things, they do agree on the science of climate change, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Most voters, 70%, believe the United States should participate in the Paris Agreement. Among supporters of President Donald J. Trump, about half (47%) agree the country could participate.
The path was clear to me that climate change is real and meat-eating is a big candidate to blame. After a year that has challenged us all, it is time to rethink our relationship with meat, while also showing support for meat manufacturers who took an extra jab.
When meat processing plants around the country turned into coronavirus hot spots, Trump deemed processing plants critical facilities when the government attempted to shut them down. Millions of workers stood shoulder to shoulder in assembly lines as the rest of us stayed home, safely tucked away from the ravages of the coronavirus.
They risked their lives to feed the rest of us.
The sizzle and pop of chicken breasts used to be a part of my weekly diet, but watching my roommates saute what I now view as a critical issue with oregano and garlic, I have begun to speak up. Ignorance of our grocery store diets is a privilege, so now I think I’ll do without the quick fix of flavor. The people we love — and the earth — will thank us.