Our most celebrated foods are killing us softly with smiles on our faces.
Chances are, like the majority of the nation, you eat twice as much protein as you should. This is dangerous: for your body, your future and your environmental safety.
Animal-product consumption increases chances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular problems. Heart disease alone is the primary cause of death for most Americans. But a way to protect yourself exists: Switching to a plant-based diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 20 percent.
Drink milk? Then you are also drinking the sex hormones forced into cows to hasten their growth. Studies show these hormones increase your risk of cancer — a disease with which 41 percent of the population will be diagnosed during their lifetimes, according to the President’s Cancer Panel, and claims the prestigious title of “second-leading cause of death” in the nation. A vegetarian or vegan diet can reduce your risk of cancer by up to 34 percent.
Eat sushi regularly? Then you are probably eating mercury, too — you know, the stuff that made the Hatter in “The Alice in Wonderland” go mad. It is probably insufficient to scatter your brains, but it certainly could give your potential offspring some serious learning disabilities and a lack of motor skills. Kiss dreams of Junior’s football scholarship goodbye. Unfortunately, sushi and mercury are not the only culprits. Other meats are laden with toxins, too.
Live near livestock? Then you are likely to suffer the consequences of air pollutants such as small pieces of animal feed and hay. The effects of this pollution manifest in diseases such as bronchitis or asthma — the latter of which is one of the fastest-growing ailments in the nation.
Enjoy getting diseases such as ringworm and salmonella? Pathogens like these can contaminate your groundwater, because factory farms store feces and blood in ponds or spread it across fields as manure. Rain and irrigation then transport germs from the waste to water meant for human use.
Furthermore, as factory farms use most of the world’s antibiotic supply on livestock, bacteria strains turn into villainous superbugs, impossible to defeat with antibiotics. This causes terrifying and lethal disease outbreaks. For instance, one superbug bacterium responsible for causing staph infections kills more Americans each year than AIDS. Even more importantly, as more bacteria become immune to superbugs, doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to offer cures for future diseases.
Tally up all those cases of superbugs, obesity, diabetes, hormonal disruption, bronchitis, strokes, high cholesterol and toxin intake, and you have a serious killer.
“Every morsel of meat we eat is slapping the tear-stained face of a hungry child,” said Philip Wollen, former vice president of Citibank. Indeed, the meat industry’s insatiable appetite for resources results in the plundering of global water, land and energy reserves in a far greater magnitude than their production does. For perspective: Turning other animals into commodities is so resource-intensive that just one person going meatless can provide enough water for hundreds of people to sustainably survive.
Instead of feeding the planet, we are destroying it. Animal agriculture produces a large fraction of the worst greenhouse gases, such as methane, which fuel climate change. Demand for meat has turned Latin America’s rainforests into scorched grazeland, China’s pig-meat factories into dog-meat factories and California valley-water supplies into wells of poison.
The meat industry wants you to believe survival without them is impossible, while it continues to destroy our terrestrial home, the efficacy of our medical arsenal and our families’ health. Increased regulation is desperately needed, but it will not be provided by the industry-affiliated people appointed to protect us at a federal level.
So change is left to the public. I am not talking about “cutting down on consumption” with “Meatless Mondays.” I am asking you to take serious steps. For yourself. For your family. For the rest of us. Do not let McDonald’s commercials and “Got Milk” posters dictate your diet. Go cold turkey, without the turkey. When so many alternatives exist, why continue in such harmful practices? Oh, right: custom, cravings and convenience. To that I say: Expand your palate. Eat to live, not the other way around. Ditch the steak, and bite that cake instead. You will be doing us all a favor.
Heliya Izadpanah is an undergraduate student in the department of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.