A growing number of people want the president to stop eating meat in public. As Health Educator in Chief, many people expect President Obama to set a good example by eating healthier food in public and at the many official photo opportunities.
Now let’s be clear: it’s no-one’s business what a political leader eats in his or her private life. But these are photo ops, each one carefully arranged by the White House in order to create an intentional image. And time and again, they feature exactly the food products that federally funded research has shown to cause heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other health problems, and that health officials are encouraging us to avoid.
For many people, the holiday season is a time for gift giving. We consider following a vegetarian diet a profound way of giving the most precious gift of all, the gift of life. Consider that, on average, vegetarians live longer and healthier lives than non-vegetarians. In fact, those who have followed a vegetarian diet for at least half their lives live an average of 13 years longer than others, while experiencing lower rates of most common diseases. In this way a healthy vegetarian diet can give you the gift of life, by adding years to your life and life to your years.
A vegetarian diet also gives life to the earth and to the animals who share it with us. Many people are surprised to learn that there are now 56 Billion farm animals in the world. That’s eight times the human population. This enormous population does not come without consequences. For instance, a report by the UN said that raising livestock causes more global warming than all the cars, buses, trains, boats and airplanes in the world all put together – that’s from all the methane the animals produce, in addition to the fuel used to grow, fertilize and transport the food to the animals, the animals to the slaughterhouses, the refrigeration and transportation of the meat. Read more
France has taken a bold step in the wrong direction and it’s one that, if not overturned, could hurt every vegetarian student in the country.
A decree and bylaw, published in the “Journal Officiel” on October 2nd, forces school canteens to respect a set of standards meant to guarantee the nutritional balance of the meals. Each meal necessarily has to contain a protein dish where proteins are exclusively animal-based (meat, fish, eggs or cheese), overriding the plentiful availability of vegetable proteins. A dairy product is supposedly necessary as the only way to cover calcium needs, ignoring untold vegetable and mineral alternatives. For meats (beef, veal, lamb, or offal…) and fish, a minimum frequency is specified as mandatory.
So, from now on, it is impossible for regular school cafeteria users to be vegetarian, or impossible for them to maintain their vegetarian diet every day, and it will be impossible to be vegan for even one meal. Vegetarian children, who may manage to leave the meat on the edge of their plate, would be forced to have unbalanced meals, as no alternative would be available.
This decree appears to be a short-sighted political move designed to protect the French animal farmers, who have been scared by the success of speeches by famous people such as Paul McCartney, advocating eating no meat one day a week. Let’s hope there’s sufficient uproar by health and human rights advocates in France, for the politicians to see the folly of such a move.
If you care about the animals and value their lives, you’re not alone. Caring about animals has never been more popular in America. For instance, a study published in the Congressional Quarterly found that two thirds of Americans believe that an animal has a right to live free of suffering. In addition, a third of Americans are worried that existing laws are inadequate to protect animals. That same concern has also been contributing to the rise of mainstream friendly animal welfare organizations. For instance the Humane Society of the United States now boasts over 11 million members.
Recently, the growing concern has also become translated into legislation. A measure that, by 2015, bans farmers from raising egg-laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant pigs in overcrowded cages and crates so small that the poor animal can not even turn around, has passed in California by a substantial majority. Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have passed similar laws for pigs and veal calves. Fearing a massive victory in an Ohio voter initiative, the state’s farmers have voluntarily agreed to humane reforms.
And just in the past few months, an historic national agreement was reached between HSUS and the chicken industry. Chickens across the country will finally get some federal protection under new legislation, which proposes phasing in cages that give hens up to 144 square inches of space each, compared with the 67 square inches that most hens have today. It would also mandate more humane slaughter methods, along with other improvements. Backed by both the Humane Society and the chicken industry, which was noticing the public pressure for change, this legislation is likely to pass.
So let’s take a look beyond the headlines and see what’s going on. There is a growing confluence of three currents in our society: the increasing public appreciation of and concern for animals, new scientific information confirming the reality of animal suffering along with the healthfulness of vegetarian diets, and religious and moral leaders who advocate extending moral questions to the humane treatment of animals.
Farm animals today are forced to live a much harder life than in former times. Most of today’s farm animals are raised on so-called factory farms. Modern factory farms revolve only around efficient, low-cost production, which unfortunately results in harsh conditions and greatly increased suffering for billions of farm animals. Chickens and pigs are packed into overcrowded cages so small that they can’t even turn around. Cows raised for veal are chained up their entire lives. More and more Americans are learning about these inhumane conditions. Exposes and videos showing outrageous abuses in slaughterhouses cause even the most reserved to cringe. Indeed it has often been said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarians.
Science is making its contribution too. Not only have scientists confirmed that mammals such as cows and sheep can feel pain, but now even fish have been found to have pain receptors in their brain. The Merck Veterinary Manual, the standard reference in animal science and veterinary practice, states, “Based on what is known to date, all vertebrates, and some invertebrates, experience pain in response to actual or potential tissue damage.”
In a way, researchers have known this for some time. They have been in the untenable position of testing pain medications on animals while trying to deny that they can feel pain. Over time, many Americans have become suspicious of this kind of double talk when it comes to animal suffering. Author Mathew Scully puts the matter clearly when he says “And how much simpler to drop the pretensions, call cruel things by their name.” The American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists now bluntly states that animal pain and suffering are clinically important conditions that adversely affect an animal’s quality of life both in the short and long term.
Scientists and medical researchers have also confirmed the many health advantages of a vegetarian diet. Marion Nestle, Chair of Nutrition at New York University, sums it up well when she says “There’s no question that vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get. The evidence is so strong and overwhelming, and produced over such a long period of time, that it’s no longer debatable.”
Many religious and moral leaders have long advocated for the compassionate treatment of animals or the vegetarian diet that goes along with it. The list is, perhaps, more extensive than many realize. A short list would include John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church), Saint Francis, and two Chief Rabbis of Israel. Founding fathers such as William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) and Thomas Paine (who started the American Revolution) spoke out boldly against cruelty to animals. In more recent times spiritual leaders such Pope John Paul II, Cardinal John Henry Newman, William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army), C.S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, Professor of Theology the Reverend Andrew Linzey, Thomas Merton (a Trappist Monk), Ghandi, Martin Luther King’s wife and oldest son, the Dalai Lama and many more have spoken out to increasingly receptive audiences.
The American public reacts against animal suffering, but they have to know about it first. The problem is that they don’t often know about it, or the information is presented to them in a way they find objectionable. Americans have big hearts. More and more will sincerely care, when they find out what happens in today’s factory farms.
Those who care are not alone. Every year, more and more people choose a vegetarian diet as a way of expressing their compassion for animals, improving their health or reducing their environmental footprint. If you’re not yet a vegetarian but would like to be, we’re here to help. Try coming to one of our monthly dinners, reading our books, The Vegetarian Solution and Say No to Meat, attending one of our free cooking and nutrition classes and enjoying our two day festival, Vegfest. By making vegetarian food choices, you will be saving farm animals with every bite and maybe, just maybe, the day will come when all the animals will be saved.
The following is an extract from our latest book, Say No to Meat, by Amanda Strombom and Stewart Rose:
Raising meat is weakening America and threatening our future. That burger at McDonald’s may cost only a dollar but it’s really very expensive. Meat is costing us dearly in human terms, in terms of health-care costs, and in terms of the quality of our land, air, and waterways.
A country is only as strong as its people are healthy. Meat has cost more American lives than all the wars in history put together. There’s a nutritional crisis in America today threatening the health of its people. Deadly diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and some cancers linked to a meat-centered diet are running rampant, causing needless suffering, shortened lives, and a staggering medical bill that our country no longer has the money to pay.
Part of the richness of America comes from our beautiful and bountiful land and waters. Raising the grain needed to feed livestock erodes our soil, the waste produced by livestock pollutes our waters, and the greenhouse gases the animals emit contribute to global warming. Fixing the damage caused by the livestock industry is costing America a fortune.
While America still faces serious threats from abroad, there’s also a battle to be fought on the home front. Meat threatens our lives and our land. Seen from this perspective, there are few acts more patriotic than becoming a vegetarian. America has always risen to meet every challenge. A country strong enough to save the world from both fascism and communism can save itself from damaging food choices.