Category Archives: Philosophy and Ethics

No Meat in Public!

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.

Since taking office, President Obama has posed for the cameras eating a hot dog at a basketball game with British Prime Minister David Cameron, eating cheeseburgers with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and stopping at a D.C. burger restaurant to share a cheeseburger with a reporter, among other similar instances. His predecessors, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan have also been caught on camera eating unhealthy foods, from ice cream to a Big Mac.

For better or for worse, celebrities and public officials definitely seem to have an effect on public consumption habits. For instance, widely publicized photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hot dog are credited with popularizing what once used to be a widely disliked food. Now Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. But just imagine if there was a photo op of the president chowing down a Gardenburger or enjoying a Smart Dog at a baseball game!

“The White House would never set up a photo op showing the president buying cigarettes, so why is it okay to show him eating a hot dog?” says Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Processed meats like hot dogs kill more Americans each year than tobacco does, and they cost taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare. As role model to millions of Americans, the president has a responsibility to watch what he eats in public.”

Is meat the new tobacco? A growing number leaders in the veg community think so and see many parallels between the two. One is Rip Esselstyn, son of the famous heart surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn, author of the Engine No. 2 Diet and star of the much acclaimed movie Forks Over Knives, who says “I think we’re approaching a point close to where we were with tobacco in the 1950’s…I believe that within ten years or so there will be a significant stigma attached to eating meat similar to the one against smoking today.”

Last year we took First Lady Michelle Obama to task on setting a good example in public in our article titled A Better Burger for the First Lady. Now it’s the president’s turn. The president never lit up a cigarette during White House photo ops. It’s time now to recognize that more cancers are caused by food choices than by tobacco and to stop giving free product promotion to the meat industry. Indeed, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that diet accounts for up to twice the number of cases of cancer as does tobacco. We have also written about Why It is Important for America to change the food it eats from an even broader point of view.

Presidential appointments have been mixed from the veg point of view. The Surgeon General was a paid consultant to Burger King. The existence of a financial relationship between a big fast-food company and a surgeon general nominee troubles Dr. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat.  “Fast-food companies are not public health agencies; their job is to sell fast food – and the more, the better,” Dr. Nestle said. “For me, this would represent an impossible conflict of interest. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I am aware of the counter argument that if you want companies to become more health conscious, you need to work from the inside. But in my experience, that argument does not hold.”

On the other hand, the food plate promoted by the USDA is the most veg-friendly one ever produced, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who is known to have a copy of Diet for a Small Planet on his bookshelf, has commented on the benefits of a veg diet for both the environment and global hunger.

As we approach the July 4th holiday we recognize the many great Americans who have championed the vegetarian message, including: founding father Benjamin Franklin; founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton; hero of women’s suffrage Susan B. Anthony; inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison; senior speech writer for the Bush administration, and author of the best-selling book Dominion, which advocates a veg diet, Mathew Scully; and, most recently, former president Bill Clinton. Let’s hope that President Obama and all future presidents set a better example with their public food choices.

The Gift of Life

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.

Raising livestock is also the single most important reason the rainforests are being burnt down – to make way for more grazing land for cattle. Here at home, livestock is not only one of the largest polluters of our waterways, but is also responsible for over 85% of all soil erosion in the United States – sapping the life from the soil itself.  By following a vegetarian diet, we are helping to sustain the life of our environment. The point should also be made that a vegetarian diet gives the gift of life to all those farm animals as well.

Perhaps the most vulnerable among us are the world’s hungry who are desperate for the gift of life. The scale of world hunger is truly staggering. According to the Global Hunger Alliance, “840 million people live with chronic hunger, and 9 million people die of hunger-related causes each year worldwide.” We have all seen the amber waves of grain and corn as high as an elephant’s eye, but many of us are unaware of where it all goes. In fact we feed most of the food we grow to farm animals. For instance, in the United States we feed 70% of all the corn and 80% of all the soybeans to farm animals. The problem is that farm animals are very inefficient converters of nutrients. Only about 10% of what we feed to animals ever comes back to us as food. This agricultural fact of life is one of the main driving forces behind the problem of global hunger. According to Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University, “if America alone took the food currently fed to farm animals in the United States, we would have food enough to feed an extra 800 million people, the entirety of the world’s hungry, and we could do it without plowing even one extra acre of farm land.” The Global Hunger Alliance says that “eating plant-based foods offer the most safe, sustainable, and cost-effective methods of ending hunger and malnutrition.” Therefore, following a vegetarian diet can give the gift of life to the world’s hungry.

We also give by being members and supporters of Vegetarians of Washington.  Vegetarians of Washington gives vital information to the community through our nutrition and cooking classes, our books and magazines and especially through Vegfest.  Vegfest provides an easy way for thousands of people to taste delicious vegetarian food, to see cooking demonstrations from well-known chefs and cookbook authors, and to learn from our doctors and dietitians about the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

We also give to each other by providing a genuinely warm and friendly environment at our monthly dining events, where everyone can feel comfortable and supported in their food choices. And remember that in giving, we also receive. We receive healthy food for our bodies, nourishment for our spirits, friendship and the satisfaction of knowing that we are making the world and our community a better place.

France Bans Vegetarian Options in Schools

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.

 

Animals – Those Who Care Are Not Alone

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.

 

Why is it important for America to change the food it eats?

Say No to Meat Book CoverThe 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.

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