It's not really an accident that I no longer eat meat. Rather, it's a demonstration of my values in practice. I have long known that eating animals has negative health, environmental and world hunger implications. And, it's not good for the animals either. Here's the facts:
For the Planet:
- Fresh Water: It takes 100 times more water for animal protein than the same amount of plant-based protein.
- Energy: Animal-based protein takes 11 times the energy (fossil fuels like coal and oil) than creating plant-based protein.
- Climate: On a global scale, livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than transportation.
- Hunger: 66% of all the grains grown in the US are fed to livestock.
- Hunger: 1 million people are undernourished globally. If everyone in the world ate no more than 80 pounds of meat each year, 400 million tons of cereal per year would be freed up for human consumption which could eliminate world hunger.
- Health: I've had my own experience with this one.
For the Critters:
- The battery cages hens that lay eggs are confined to are often smaller than a 8.5x11 sheet of paper.
- Millions of male chicks born in the egg industry each year are killed because they don't lay eggs.
- Female breeding pigs are kept in gestation crates so small the pigs can not move for virtually their entire life developing physical ailments and behavioral issues from not being able to move.
I'll admit it's not easy to walk away from foods you've been eating most of your life and the influence of advertising and lobbying by the meat, dairy, fast food industries is pervasive. I opened the newspaper this morning and a giant ad cut in the shape of a box of McDonald's fries fell out and my mouth started to water and my eyes fixated on the fries texture. A little more obvious (and comical) is the 2011 My Plate guide from the government (the new food pyramid) with its glass of dairy off to the side (well-played dairy industry). Don't worry, if you dig in on the website, you'll see non-dairy items like plant-based milks (soy, almond, etc.) meet the requirement just fine.
Although it's not easy, let's take the insight of Confucius: “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” So, instead of giving up all meat and dairy today forever, maybe try a shorter-term plant-based challenge, like the 28-day Engine 2 challenge, or just reduce your consumption by adding Meatless Mondays or Mark Bittman's "Vegan before 6pm" strategy.
When I first started last year, I struggled because I viewed the change as "going without" because I simply tried to substitute vegan alternatives to the things I already ate (fake meats, etc.). But with the Engine 2 challenge, I started to see it as "expanding my options" because there were lots of new recipes and tasty food and I was seeing great health results. I'm still not there though. The big hold out is cheese (damn you, dairy industry!), but I'm working on it.