What you’re not told about your health
Plant-based eating is our future. With climate change said to be a focal point of the Biden administration, there is a lot of conversation about how we can not damage the economy and why people claim that being vegan or vegetarian is more sustainable than a diet that includes animal products.
I have been vegetarian since April of 2019, and I am coming up on my two-year anniversary of being vegetarian. Since many people ask me: the difference between vegan and vegetarian is that vegetarians eat animal products such as butter, eggs and milk. Vegans won’t eat anything that comes from an animal at all.
So why be vegan? Why have meatless Mondays and what does that have to do with climate change? A lot actually. It has a lot to do with how we produce and consume food. We talk about climate change, global warming, deforestation, pollution but everyone is so busy trying to decide if they believe the science that Americans seldom stop to ask how and why?
Why is the Amazon being cut down and losing land? Animal grazing. The Amazon is being cut down so that there is grazing land for cows, goats and other kinds of livestock. The Yale School of Environment’s global forest atlas reports: “Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation… accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates.”
When most people are conducting their own research to form an opinion on the subject, Google is the first place people look. When you search, “Amazon cut down for…” or “Why is the amazon being cut,” Google tells you the reason is to create “vast plantations where products such as bananas, palm oil, pineapple, sugar cane, tea and coffee are grown,” with cattle listed at the bottom of Google’s provided excerpt saying how cows further cause deforestation.
It is only once you specify your search that google will tell you that cattle ranching is the actual cause. This demonstrates the influence of surface-level research and what it does to spread misinformation and half-truths.
Why does it really matter that the land is being cut down for cattle grazing though? Well, cow burps. Cows burp methane which is a greenhouse gas. Methane is actually 24 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon is.
That means that cutting down on our ranching and meat consumption actually would be more effective than other popular methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I also found a study published by Green Biz suggesting the opposite and surprise surprise it’s funded by beef farmers and ranchers.
It’s also very hard to tell what foods are considered healthy because many health studies actually are paid for by the company that manufactures the product. For example, contrary to popular belief, eggs are not that healthy for you. Despite being advertised as a health product, they are actually high in cholesterol and have been linked by some studies to heart disease.
Dairy and meat companies are also guilty of publishing research saying that their products are healthier than they actually are by omitting negative results found by the studies or designing the studies to produce requested results.
In 2015, the study, “Diets with high-fat cheese, high-fat meat, or carbohydrate on cardiovascular risk markers in overweight postmenopausal women: a randomized crossover trial” was heavily criticized for being designed so that the results supported the meat and dairy industry instead of coming from an unbias standpoint. Next time you’re doing research on healthy foods, check who the sponsors are.
It gets worse. I am sure many of you have heard of the food pyramid. It is created by the FDA to outline healthy eating habits. You may have also heard of My Plate, a graphic showing what portion of your plate should be meat, carbs, vegetables and so on. These graphics are often what our school lunches were modeled after, especially after First Lady Michelle Obama pioneered the movement to make healthy foods more affordable and accessible to everyone.
An article by Green Choice said, “With significant power over legislation, major food and beverage companies have a huge influence on what gets published in the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, and subsequently, what the Food Pyramid looks like.”
The government tells you that you need to reduce your intake of saturated fats, sugar and sodium. Yet it does not tell what foods on the pyramid are linked to those health problems. For example, eating red and processed meat is actually considered carcinogenic.
That means that eating foods like bacon, hotdogs and lunch meat have all been linked to causing cancer with the cancer council reporting: “Current research shows that there are certain chemicals in red and processed meats – both added and naturally occurring – that cause these foods to be carcinogenic.”
Real nutrition is available to you though. Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate shows a more balanced diet with vegetables being the largest portion of the plate and also telling you foods to avoid like white rice and red meat. There are also lots of notable health benefits. MDAndersonCenter.org reports that eating a plant-based diet reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, lowers your risk of cancer, increases fiber and helps maintain a healthy weight.
Furthermore eating a more plant-based diet is not as difficult as many would prefer you believe. My vegan three bean chili tastes just like the real thing, especially if you add plant-based hamburger like the phenomenal beyond beef. Another amazing company is Morning Star. One pot of chili can last me almost an entire week of dinners and usually some lunches.
Assuming you have no seasonings, vegetables, or ingredients in your fridge my personal chili recipes cost 11.64. That is less than 1.50 per serving. If you add meat crumbles to that recipe, the total comes to 15.61, or around 2 dollars per serving.
Popular meal kit services, like Hello Fresh, have “veggie” recipes on their menu for the week and have tried several of them. I can tell you with confidence that they are very good. Coupons for these services are also fairly common and you keep the recipes so if you really enjoy a certain recipe you can go get the ingredients yourself which will keep cost low while still keeping your rotation of meals fresh!
Maybe you’re not in a place where you can go 100% vegan and never eat meat again. I am not. I have two jobs and go to school full time so if anything, I am very short on time. For you, it might look like having meatless Mondays and choosing the plant-based options in the dining center.
There are some simpler lifestyle changes you can make to protect the earth and protect yourself. Cutting out lunch meat may be a good place for you to personally start.
However, our current rate of consumption of meat products must change. If we don’t, we put our planet at risk. Our future is plant-based because if we don’t turn to plant-based eating, we don’t have a future.