BY JESSIE SPANGLER
For a long time, I knew I would become a vegetarian one day – I’ve been deeply interested in nutrition and health for years, and learning more about the farming industry, mainly how livestock is raised and slaughtered, has been an eye-opener for me.
After watching many documentaries about agriculture, health and industrialized farming, one day I just decided to completely stop eating meat. It’s not like I had anything to lose by not eating meat. None of us have anything to lose by taking meat completely out of our diets. I was tired of telling myself that one day I would do it and decided to make it that day in late June this past summer after watching yet another documentary, this one called “What the Health.” It’s a great documentary, and I definitely recommend it.
When people ask me why I became a vegetarian, the first thing I tell them is because of the negative impact the meat industry has on the environment. And when I say the meat industry, I’m not talking about small farms, but Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animals kept in CAFOs are kept in confinement from birth to slaughter, squeezed between thousands of other animals where cleanliness is not a priority. Live animals eat next to dead animals that have been rotting for days and are typically given the cheapest feed which can contain garbage. If you want to learn more about CAFOs, start by watching the documentary “Food, Inc.”
CAFOs are not good for the environment, period. They take up huge parts of land – more than two thirds of all agricultural land is used to grow food just for livestock, according to Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Two-thirds of agricultural land is being used to feed animals, when instead we could be using these crops to grow more plants to feed more people. Also according to an article in the Guardian, red meat requires 28 times more land, 11 times more water and produces five times more emissions that contribute to climate change than it takes to produce pork or chicken. And if you compare that to rice, wheat and potatoes – it takes 160 times more land and 11 times more greenhouse gases.
The monumental amount of food and water it takes to raise livestock is insane. The emissions coming from these CAFOs also contribute to global warming, and the polluted runoff that comes from these factory farms is dangerous. Giving up meat, specifically beef, will reduce carbon footprints more than not using a car, according to that same Guardian article.
My other reason for not eating meat is that there are not really any nutritional benefits to eating meat. Sure, meat has protein, but you can get that same protein from vegetables with the added benefit of many essential vitamins.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has research that links eating meat to certain cancers – the World Health Organization has found that dietary factors account for 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries. Meat is also high in saturated fat and is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, according to the documentary, “What the Health.”
Your diet is monumentally important to your health and well-being. Not just physically, but mentally as well. When I decided to become a vegetarian, I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be able to keep it up. But it’s easier than you think it is. You just have to get out of that mindset that meat is supposed to be the main part of every meal. Vegetables, or fruit even, should be the main part of your meal.
After a few weeks of not eating meat, I felt the healthiest I had ever been. To replace the calories I lose everyday from not eating meat, I eat more vegetables, fruits and a lot more carb-loaded foods like bread and pasta. While vegetables have a decent amount of protein, I also eat beans, eggs and Greek yogurt to help with that. After a few weeks of being able to successfully eat vegetarian meals every day, even while on a family vacation, I felt more confident that I could stick it out for the long run.
There’s definitely a lot of learning when it comes to being a vegetarian. Even though I just decided to quit cold turkey one day and not eat meat anymore for however long, I did a lot of research about giving up meat beforehand. I looked into different recipes without meat and the benefits of a more plant-based diet. I’ve researched a ton about the meat industry, the health hazards of industrial farming and how animals are treated before heading to slaughter.
Which leads into my third reason why I’m a vegetarian – I love animals. I’ve always been passionate about animal welfare, and the more I learned about the way animals are treated in factory farms, the more I couldn’t ignore the fact that being a vegetarian has a hundred different benefits for this reason alone.
CAFOs are notorious for their brutal treatment of animals, and the Ag-Gag laws now make it even more difficult, or impossible, for journalists and animal advocacy groups to go undercover to expose the conditions inside factory farms. Ag-Gag laws succeed in one thing – ensuring that animal abuse, food safety violations, working conditions and environmental offenses will stay even more secret. Currently, six states have these types of laws in place, and Iowa is one of them.
According to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), animals raised for food are among the least protected group of animals in the U.S. Animals raised in CAFOs live in horrible conditions. They’re all crammed in together, and the young are usually separated from their mothers right after birth. Female cows, pigs and chickens are forced to reproduce as soon as possible until their deaths. They never step foot outside and are given large amounts of antibiotics and growth hormones that not only affect the animals, but humans as well once they consume these animals. According to the FDA, about 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. go to farm animals.
These animals, double the size of what they would normally be, sometimes find themselves not even able to walk or stand because their bodies can’t handle the abnormal growth. This is also bad for human health – known as “downer cows,” the federal government deems them unfit for human consumption. They are three times likelier to harbor deadly strains of E. Coli and have a higher risk of carrying salmonella bacteria.
Animals are also killed in inhumane ways. Pigs are typically stunned unconscious before being slaughtered. However, many end up conscious as they are hung upside down and taken to the scalding tank to be boiled alive, according to the animal advocacy organization Last Chance for Animals. I could go on for hours about the severe animal abuse that takes place within the meat industry.
The biggest thing I’ve learned through all this research about industrial farming is that money talks, and any other voices get drowned out in the process. So the best thing you can do is speak with your money. For me, this meant not buying meat products. The same goes for any other cause you’re passionate about.