Eat for the Future

28 07 2013

Sometimes, you don’t have to travel far to learn a lesson in cultural exchange. The contrast can be almost as stark when comparing urban and suburban as it can be between two countries.

Growing up, I lived down a long dirt road, on 7 wooded acres, where I walked a mile to go visit my best friend. I pined for sidewalks and paved streets to ride my bicycle along like my friends at school had. I loved playing down in the woods, discovering another world, sun dappled on the valley floor.

There weren’t a lot of kids nearby for me to play with. None were in my grade, or even at the same school, since many went to private schools in surrounding towns. The neighbors were quite varied, some very intelligent and cosmopolitan, who valued the solace of this peaceful, rural area. Most were older, retired, and kept to themselves. It was the kind of neighborhood where you don’t want to be when it comes time to score candy on Halloween- that’s why we always went to the suburbs to Trick-or-Treat each October.

At age eleven, I decided to become vegetarian. It wasn’t peer pressure (nobody in my circle of friends was vegetarian at that time). Everyone in my family thought it was a phase. Boy, were they wrong!

veg 1I didn’t actually know a single person who was vegetarian, but I came to realize all on my own that I was not morally okay with eating other living beings. I started getting curious, staring at a gray plate of beef stroganoff, trying to draw the connection between the farm and this meal. I asked the question, “Which animal is this?” and could not bear to live with the answers. I wouldn’t eat my beloved childhood cat, Mooney, and I couldn’t see much difference with other creatures. That was it. My mom struggled with this, and we went back and forth on various compromises, but eventually I prevailed. I was a strange kid in my neck of the woods.

By age 12, I was learning how to write a research paper, and was excited to learn more about vegetarianism. I spent hours in the school library, pulling 3”x5” pieces of cardstock from the large, wooden file of card catalogs. I discovered that there were more than 6 different types of vegetarian, depending on who you talk to, and that I was a Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian, which means that I still ate eggs and dairy. A Pescetarian is someone who also thought it was okay to eat fish, and a Vegan is someone who does not consume any animal products whatsoever.

It was an eye-opening experience for me, to start to see how many shades of gray there were to this moral battle that I was defending. Who am I to say that you are wrong to eat fish, if that is where you draw the line? After all, there were others even stricter than I, who would see me as morally deficient for consuming honey and other ‘stolen animal products.’ What right did I have to judge others?

There is more to the story than just being an animal lover, however. I also gained more knowledge to support my own stance, based on broader issues. As a budding environmentalist- soon to be President of Earth Club- I learned about the larger scale impact of choosing not to eat animals. It’s not just about an individual choice, it’s about the big picture!

veg china studyWhy do we eat so much meat? The health and nutritional facts are clearly in support of less meat or meatless diets. The arguments from 20 years ago about not getting enough protein have long since been proven invalid, based on false arguments and propaganda. If you’re still not sure, try reading The China Study to see why study after study has proven the value of plant-based diets for your health.veg protein

We eat meat because we can afford to. It is a sign of affluence! But, if an accountant were to review the numbers, she would quickly say, “This doesn’t make sense.” You could generate 100 times as much food with the same basic resources by simply focusing on the food that comes from the land. We could eliminate world hunger if we simply shifted those same resources towards a plant-based diet.

The grain production required to create a certain amount of caloric fuel via meat is staggeringly disproportionate to the amount of energy it takes to generate that meat. When you factor in the cost, labor, water, and energy it takes to feed, fertilize, house, medicate, ship, kill, and process a pound of meat, it is simply staggering. It’s like saying, “I’m going to spend $200,000 to buy a yacht to cross that river, even though I could get a canoe that would perform the same function.” It’s overkill, and wasteful.

Let’s just look at one example. Water. Potable water is a scarce resource, and land wars are erupting every day over water rights. “Studies on world food security estimate that an affluent diet containing meat requires up to 3 times as many resources as a vegetarian diet.” Farming accounts for around 70% of all freshwater withdrawn from lakes, waterways and aquifers (the accessible underground layer of water).29 Based on variations in water consumption, the production of a kilo of meat compared to a kilo of wheat is at least 13:1, and in some cases, 200:1.

veg deforestationThere are numerous other issues to be considered, all with surreal numbers. Just look for yourself at things like deforestation, fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, artificial hormone ingestion, and food security. If those aren’t enough consider the health care crisis. First world countries like the U.S. are suffering a rapid increase in preventable epidemics in heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer. These are directly correlated with diet, and a heavily meat-based diet.

None of these issues were on the radar in the town where I grew up. But as an adult, I have found that awareness is growing. While only 2% of the population is vegetarian, there is a growing trend in meat reduction.

You don’t have to become vegetarian. You can have a dramatic impact on your health, your society, and the planet, by simply reducing your meat consumption and being mindful of where your meat comes from. Learn how to cook something new, and help to make your family healthier.

Start small! You might try starting out with Meatless Mondays, an international trend where families simply avoid meat for one day. Then, look to purchase meat from local farmers instead of big factory productions. If you can’t identify what animal it came from, should you really be eating it? Is baloney even real meat? What hormones and chemicals are you ingesting in that processed stuff? If they can’t answer these questions at your supermarket, seek out a local farmers market or butcher shop instead.

I work with people everyday who aren’t familiar with this topic. They think it’s simple. They grew up eating animals, and that’s normal. Why question tradition?

Our world is changing rapidly. It’s a global economy, like it or not, and issues in Africa are impacting the way we live and breathe. As developing countries grow up and try to emulate prosperous nations like the Unites States, forests in the Amazon are being bulldozed to make room for cattle production. Habitats are being permanently lost for endangered species you’ve never even heard of. Water is being polluted, and competing fossil fuel consumption is driving up prices at the pump in your own town. If we can’t change our path, how can we expect others to do so? The entire planet cannot survive if we all lived the “American Dream.” We have to adjust, and redefine what it means to be Americans.

If you consider yourself a humanitarian, if you claim to follow Christian values, if you believe in the Golden Rule, and if you care about your family’s health, then you owe it to yourself to pause. Just take a minute to consider the bigger picture. Are you willing to change, just one day, to free up more resources for others who are less fortunate? To reduce your children’s risk of diabetes? To ensure that they will have clean lakes to swim in? Just one day, that is a start.



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