CHULAK: Veganism is (not-so) secret to healthy future for America
Opinions Column: The Hard Truth
“We have been eating meat for thousands of years” and “there’s no other way to get protein” are two of the most common excuses I hear for the irresponsible decisions that an overwhelming majority of Americans make every day. Americans eat far too much meat, which has a significant impact on our bodies and the planet. While it may be true that our ancestors needed meat to survive thousands of years ago, in the 21st century we have choices and resources that they did not. Our ancestors did not have unlimited access to fresh fruits and vegetables and they did not have refrigeration technology. Instead, they had to fight for their food and survival. Ancient humans relied on meat because of the caloric density, high fat and protein content of animal products. Additionally, they could dry meat and create jerky that could last for weeks. To say that we should do something because our ancestors did it is not only illogical but is also irresponsible. Times change and civilization advances. Let’s not get stuck in the past, but rather look towards the future.
The USDA recommends that Americans consume 26 ounce-equivalents per week of animal based protein, despite the overwhelming evidence that lower intakes of meats are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. The American Dietetic Association has said that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than a non-vegetarian diet. In a country where cancer, heart disease and diabetes account for over 1 million deaths per year, it is probably best to eliminate these products altogether. Many of us strive to improve our health through diet and exercise, but a large majority are being misinformed about the health consequences of animal products. When the meat industry and dairy industry spends over $4 million and $6 million respectively on lobbying efforts, it’s hard to tell if the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making recommendations based off of science or politics. These industries are a powerful force, which is made clear by the constant bombardment of television advertisements promoting the consumption of animal products. If we want to make informed decisions about our health, we need to listen to scientists and health professionals, not executives and lobbyists.
Even if animal products did not have a negative effect on our health, which they do, we can’t consider ourselves a moral society when we slaughter millions of animals despite plenty of other food options. It may be difficult to change your lifestyle when you’ve been eating the same foods since you were a child, but as rational moral humans, we must be able to critically analyze the consequences of our actions. These animals did nothing to deserve the life they’ve been given and no creature on this planet should be forced to suffer. Many of us can empathize with other species and often feel terrible when watching videos about animal cruelty, yet we still eat animals and pay companies to torture them. We see commercials of pets that have been beaten or abused and we object with outrage, but every day people all over the planet put animals on their plates and in their bodies, while many remain silent. The hard truth is you can’t love one and eat the other. You’re either a compassionate animal lover or you’re not.
As our species continues to grow and thrive, one would think that we would look toward more sustainable options as we approach the carrying capacity of planet Earth. Unfortunately, this is not the case as humans continue to spew smog into the air, dump waste into the water and eradicate vital ecosystems around the globe. Many fail to realize that animal agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change and that by cutting animals products out of their diet, they can mitigate the effects of climate change. Livestock is responsible for an estimated 18 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and 35-40 percent of total anthropogenic methane emissions. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of despair when observing the negligence of leaders in politics and business, but if we want to leave a habitable planet for our children, we need to eliminate animal products from our diet. Many of us tend to think there is little we can do as individuals to solve these problems, but as consumers, our dollars have a voice. When we decide not to buy products that are harmful to ourselves, other species, and the environment, we are telling companies that we will not allow them to destroy our planet. Veganism is quite simply the most humane, healthful and sustainable diet. Veganism is the future and resisting the change only inhibits our progress.
Daniel Chulak is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in environmental and business economics with a minor in German. His column, "The Hard Truth," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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