It’s a simple thought that came to me while I sat in a lecture at a conference. The lecturer was a mentor of mine, Bill Tara, a brilliant man who’s forgotten more about the natural order of the planet than most of us will ever know.
He was talking about how easily we could slow climate change through living sustainably.
He said the words as I thought them: “The world won’t change unless we change. We have to stop killing animals.”
So what does that mean?
It means what it says.
Killing animals carries with it a tremendous amount of baggage. And I’m not talking karma here (although that’s huge and changes everything); at least not yet.
Killing animals for food is killing the planet on which we live. And that’s the truth.
The environmental impact of livestock farming is enormous, leading to water pollution, land degradation, loss of biodiversity in crops, acid rain, deforestation and coral reef destruction. We see it in the impact of climate change. Animal farming contributes to 18% of humanity-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. I panic when I read that’s more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other forms of transportation.
Climate change poses enormous risk to the health and wellbeing of the planet through extreme weather events like droughts, floods, heat waves and monster storms, making it the greatest risk to humans in the 21st century.
Meat Production is Highly Inefficient
This is particularly true when it comes to red meat. Producing one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain to feed the animal and roughly 15,000 liters of water.
30% of the earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming. 30%! With food, water and land becoming scarce in many parts of the world, it makes for an inefficient use of resources.
…Which Brings Us to the Poor…
Feeding grain to livestock increases demand and drives up the prices of whole grains, making it harder for the world’s poor to nourish themselves. If we weren’t producing so much meat, we could use the grain to feed people and all that water to irrigate crops. If we took those steps, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Industrial farming contributes to inequitable use of resources.
Let’s Talk About the Real Victims
If we accept, as many people do, that animals are sentient creatures with feelings, then we should ensure they are at least minimally cared for and that we do not cause them to suffer unnecessarily.
Industrial meat production falls waaaaaaaaay short of this standard. Most meat, dairy and eggs are produced in ways that largely or completely ignore animal welfare. Most factory farms do not provide sufficient space to move freely, have contact with other animals, and access to the outdoor space to roam.
And Then There’s Us
Here’s where industrial animal farming gets personal. Relying heavily on antibiotic use to accelerate weight gain and control infection (in the US, 80% of all antibiotics are used by factory farms), contributes to the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance with more than 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria.
High meat consumption, particularly red, cured and processed meats, which are typical of most wealthy industrialized countries, has been directly linked to poor health outcomes (and that’s an understatement). Most of our lifestyle diseases can be directly linked to our consumption of meat-heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a variety of cancers, including colon cancer.
And here’s the thing. Not only does meat damage animals, but the diseases its consumption creates represents a huge portion of the global disease burden on healthcare systems. The public health benefits of eating less meat are substantial.
And with the current average meat consumption of people in affluent countries being 200-250 grams daily, (far higher than the 80-90 grams recommended by the United Nations), changing up to a plant-based diet could save up to 8 million lives a year worldwide by 2050…and…lead to healthcare savings…and avoid some of the damage caused by climate change.
Remember I Mentioned Karma?
Most of us would agree that an action that promotes the welfare and happiness of others is morally good, right? Most of us would also agree that actions that cause suffering or harm without incredible justification (I can think of nothing right now…), is morally wrong.
Eating meat is morally wrong, but not because of the cows, pigs, chickens, goats, fish, dogs or cats but because of the absolutely irrefutable harm it causes to every single living thing including our fragile planet.
So it stands to reason that if our nutritional needs can be met by choosing foods that are less harmful to other creatures, the planet and ourselves, is that not the most moral thing to do
In my humble opinion, we humans have evolved from hunters and gatherers to agrarian omnivores. I think…and believe that our evolution to herbivore is to be in harmony with creatures and humans around us.
And doesn’t that sound wonderful? The world we live in is filled with hatred, division and strife. What if our food choices could lay the foundation to change all of that?
Trevor Noah recently made a joke. A quite unfunny one, but a joke nonetheless. He was talking about a report that was of the opinion that If we don’t move more toward plant-based eating, our planet could die. He weighed the options on air: “Dead planet or vegan. Well, we’ve had a good run.” The audience roared with laughter that death was preferable to becoming a vegan.
That seemingly harmful joke overlays the kind of hateful message says that’s it’s ok to belittle a group for their beliefs and lifestyles. It’s funny to me (strange, not Haha) how it’s ok to trivialize or hate on vegans, but we never see it said about carnivores. You never hear a stand-up comic, celebrity chef or pundit make people who eat meat the butt of their jokes or the subject of their ire.
It’s time to change that and treat every sentient creature with respect and compassion; no judgment…from puppies to cows to carnivores, omnivores and herbivores.
It could change the world (along with eating more veggies and a lot less meat). We are all in this together. And we better on this if we want to ensure a healthy planet for our children and their children and…well, you get the idea.