The Case for a Plant-Based Diet
There are countless reasons to stop the raising and slaughter of farmed animals for food, including health, environmental, and humanitarian concerns. My main reasons for not eating meat or dairy products are humanitarian, but in this paper, I will try to make the case for ceasing the raising of farmed animals for the sake of the environment and vulnerable people groups, in our own and in other countries, who raise animals or animal feed to satisfy Americans’ taste for animal flesh. Good!
People shrug and say that eating meat is “natural”, that humans have always done it, and that’s the way it is—and, evidently, that’s the way it should continue to be. Really? Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.” In fact, eating meat the way we now do it is not “natural” at all. According to Dr. Neil Barnard “[M]eat-eating probably began by scavenging—eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it.” In talking about humans’ early diet, Barnard explains that we “had diets very much like other great apes, which is to say a largely plant-based diet …. To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.” (The Power of Your Plate) Very good!
Nature is cruel; industrializing that cruelty is wrong. ( 2018 U.S. Animal Kill Clock) “No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or brutally as we do. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end — for who could stand the sight?” (Pollan 333)
In 2014, in the U.S. alone, nine billion land animals were killed to produce meat, dairy, and eggs for human consumption. One million animals per hour were slaughtered. Globally, 70 billion were killed. The number of aquatic animals slaughtered annually is in the trillions. (https://awfw.org/factory-farms/; https://awfw.org/factory-farms/) No one wants to think about this stuff, let alone see it: “Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand... that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.” (Foer, 2013)
Farmed animals are not the only victims of the industrialized animal slaughter in the U.S. There are not enough agents to inspect the conditions inside slaughterhouses, leaving industry to set rules and standards that most benefit them and their “bottom line”. Those who do the dangerous, stressful, demeaning work of killing tens of thousands of animals for others to consume are left unprotected.
“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”
Slaughterhouses are operated in remote or rural areas, far from the eyes of urban populations and those who don’t want to know how they get their meat, and slaughterhouse workers come from the most marginalized and vulnerable populations among us. Most are people of color from low-income communities. (http://www.kbia.org/post/largest-slaughterhouses-mostly-rural-communities#stream/0)
Once mostly African-American, many are now Latin-American. Thirty-eight percent are foreign-born, often recruited by the corporations for whom they work. Many are undocumented, knowingly hired by employers to meet high turnover rates. (https://southernspaces.org/2013/low-wage-legacies-race-and-golden-chicken-mississippi-where-contemporary-immigration-meets) Many others are convicted felons, often in “pre-release” programs, unable to find employment elsewhere. And finally, most are “at-will” employees--unprotected from being fired. Undocumented workers live in fear of ICE raids or deportation by employers. Under these circumstances, few are willing to report abuse or mistreatment on the job. (Slaughterhouse Workers:The Forgotten Victims of the Meat Industry)
Animal production for consumption by the developed world hurts the environment in the undeveloped world. Seventy percent of agricultural land and thirty percent of the global land surface devoted to animal production results in adverse effects on all aspects of environmental well-being. Biodiversity loss is extensive, with one-sixth of global species loss. The social cost to local, indigenous populations is extremely high, with widespread loss of local incomes due to the expansion of soybean production in former rain-forested areas in South America.
Relentless deforestation to support the meat production industry has resulted in the irretrievable loss of billions of acres of carbon-rich rainforests, and displacement of indigenous ways of living and disruption of long settled property rights has given rise to widespread poverty and social breakdown. Loss of life-sustaining resources includes the deterioration of water due to run-off from the vast amounts of artificial fertilizers and pesticides used to produce animal feed, the sharp rise in greenhouse gases from methane production of animals, and the waste and pollution generated from cattle housed in highly concentrated numbers, and discharges of ammonia and nitrous oxides connected with intensive cattle feeding. (Francis)
Meat-eating hurts the most vulnerable, disproportionately people of color. The U.S. alone grows enough feed for livestock to nourish 800 million human beings in the world who currently do not have enough to eat. The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Of 7.3 billion people in the world, 795 million suffer chronic undernourishment in 2016--and almost all of them live in developing countries. It does not have to be this way.
Meat-eating is a leading cause of climate change, producer of green gases, the reason for excessive water use, waste production, chemical pollution, enormous land use, rainforest deforestation, pollution of oceans, overfishing, and, as previously mentioned, species extinction.
Beef-eaters use 160 times more land resources than plant-eaters. Beef requires 88% of all U.S. land allocated to producing animal-based calories. In contrast, sustainable plant-based diets help people, animals, and the planet. The one acre of land needed to produce 250 pounds of beef could grow 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 53,000 pounds of potatoes, or 30,000 pounds of carrots. The average person who eats a plant-based diet can save 162,486 gallons a year and cut their carbon footprint in half. if every American stopped eating meat, we could redirect enough grain from the livestock system to feed 1.4 billion people.
For growing numbers of people, not eating meat is an ethical choice on behalf of fellow creatures who have no choice and no voice—human and nonhuman alike. It is about not supporting an industry that profits from the suffering of billions of animals and harms the earth and millions of humans in the process.
In closing, here is a quote my favorite humanitarian, Dr. Albert Schweitzer:
“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”
Great facts and strong quotes—wonderful job!!
2018 U.S. Animal Kill Clock. 2018. Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York, Boston, London: Little, Brown & Company, 2013 Little, Brown & Company. Francis, Taylor &. "The Challenge of Common Pool Resources." Environment Magazine 29 April 2015. http://www.kbia.org/post/largest-slaughterhouses-mostly-rural-communities#stream/0. n.d. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/beef-eaters-plant-eaters-land-resources/. n.d. https://awfw.org/factory-farms/. n.d. https://listverse.com/2015/11/25/10-negative-effects-the-meat-industry-has-on-the-world/. n.d. https://southernspaces.org/2013/low-wage-legacies-race-and-golden-chicken-mississippi-where-contemporary-immigration-meets. n.d. Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals . New York: The Penguin Press, 2006. "Slaughterhouse Workers:The Forgotten Victims of the Meat Industry." 6 December 2017. www.livekindly.co/slaughterhouse-workers-victims-meat-industry/.