CAFOs and E. coli, carrots and beans

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Okay, I admit it — I’m a liberal, vegetarian, California co-op-dwelling female with a hefty amount of tie-dyed clothing, a flock of chickens and those toe-shoes that are supposed to bring you “back to barefoot” — or something like that. I’m that girl who buys organic sometimes and at farmer’s markets more times and bikes around balancing eggs on the handlebars.

Are you ready to write me off?

That’s what I’m here to address. You likely almost threw the article down because I’m probably one of those pretentious, preaching vegetarians.

Hang in there. While I’m all about throwing my veggie loving tendencies out there, others seem to be embarrassed about admitting they don’t want that piece of chicken. “I’m vegetarian” apparently mandates an apologetic tone accompanied by a downward glance and some uncomfortable foot shuffling.

But why? Food choices matter, both for your health and happiness and the health and happiness of the environment, animals and other humans.

They should be made consciously and shared with confidence. This is why the self-conscious, bashful vegetarian irks me: being vegetarian mandates a constriction of food choices — it means you have thought about what you’re putting in your body. Surrounded by rising rates of obesity, health problems and global warming (all of which have roots in our current industrial food system), thinking about what you’re putting in your body is a simple step that can have huge positive implications. Like a healthier, happier world.

This is the consciousness that I see as seriously lacking in today’s Americans. And it’s why I’m hopeful when I run into vegetarians and vegans: they are at least thinking daily about what they are eating. But you can be just as conscious as a meat eater as those who just consume veggies. Unfortunately, for the most part, the default is to eat what’s in front and forget what you just ate before you’ve swallowed the last bite.

While I’m not trying to convert anyone, meat is certainly an easy target — it’s hard to believe that someone aware of their food choices or imprint would continue to eat meat for reasons concerning health, the environment and human well-being. Well, factory farmed meat, at least, which is about 99 percent of the meat out there.

Meat production in Concentrated Area Feeding Operations requires high intake of corn (for feed) and widespread use of antibiotics (to prevent the cows from getting sick).

Monocropping of corn has resulted in disease vulnerability and huge carbon release into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

Excessive use of antibiotics results in dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be life threatening to humans.

CAFOs also result in concentrated manure — lots of it. These manure lagoons pollute rivers, kill large areas of land and are intolerable to be near because of the stench.

Moreover, saturated fats found in meat increase your risk for cardiac disease and other pathogenborne diseases, because meat is often infected by life-threatening E. coli, cyclobacterium and other diseases you can contract from eating feces (yes, factory farmed meat often contains fecal material — there is poop in your meat). Not to mention that the working conditions in industrial slaughterhouses and CAFOs are horrendous: meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S., according to Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Every year, more than 25 percent of meatpackers sustain a work-related injury.

That’s over 40,000 men and women.

Your food choices should be a reflection of your beliefs and your beliefs should be something you, you know, believe in. Now hear me out. I by no means want you to read this article and then buy a poster of a vegetarian or vegan and write HERO in big letters across the top (though if that pleases you, who am I to stop you?). No, the choice to eat or not to eat meat is a personal one and a decision each and every one of us has to think about, educate ourselves about and then decide.

Take a few minutes right now to think about the foods you put into your body on a daily basis — the vegetables, the grains and carbohydrates, the processed foods, the sweets and desserts and if applicable the meats — and after thinking about the roles these foods play, I want you to make a conscious decision to eat or not to eat meat. If you don’t know enough, educate yourself — read Eating Animals or Fast Food Nation. Start conversations. Once you consciously make a decision, own it. Be proud because you feel comfortable in your own skin knowing that it has been built by food molecules in a food system that you support. I’m proud to be a vegetarian just as much as I am to be a friend.

We are our values, and we might as well stand up for them.

Fannie Watkinson is a senior at Stanford University.