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About two years ago, I made the decision to go vegan, which means I consume no animal products whatsoever. Though there are many reasons why someone might choose this lifestyle, for me, it was purely an ethical choice. I wanted to lessen the suffering of innocent beings and live in a way that aligned with my morals. Don't worry, I will not ask you to go vegan. Instead, I will ask you to examine the choices you make in your everyday life and consider their impact on your health, the environment, and animals, and what you can do to make a difference.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat every year. This comes with some serious health risks. Most Americans consume three to five times more protein than they need, and this can cause a lot of health issues like osteoporosis. In 2015, the World Health Organization placed processed meats, in terms of cancer risk, in the same category as smoking cigarettes. It’s estimated that diets high in processed meats cause 34,000 cancer deaths worldwide every year. Following a vegetarian diet lowers your risk of cancer by 10-12 percent. Studies have also shown that consuming red meat increases your risk of heart disease, while a vegetarian diet decreases your risk by 32 percent.
Poultry isn’t safe to eat either. It can actually have the same impact on cholesterol as red meat. The FDA has also admitted that arsenic is given to chickens to promote faster weight gain. When it is ingested, arsenic can cause liver, kidney, and lung cancer. Processed and red meat aren’t the only issues. Fish living in our polluted waters means that they absorb dangerous contaminants like mercury or lead. People who eat seafood also ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.
Eating meat can also cause resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotics are not only used to treat diseases but also to promote growth in the animals so that the time needed for them to grow is significantly shortened and they are ready to be sold and killed sooner. It has been reported that almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture. The problem with this is that bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics when given excessively and this poses a threat to public health. Before antibiotics, if you got an infection, there was a good chance you would die from it. If we continue at this rate and keep building our resistance, antibiotics will be useless in treating illness or infections.
Eating meat also has a negative impact on the environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Association, livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources. It takes almost 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant-based diet because the crops are consumed directly rather than being used to feed the animals. In the United States alone, 56 million acres of land are used to grow food for animals. Since 1970, more than 90 percent of all Amazon rainforest land cleared has been used for grazing livestock. It also takes an enormous amount of water to produce meat. To produce just one pound of beef, it takes over 2,400 gallons of water. By comparison, one pound of tofu only takes 220 gallons of water to produce. Nearly half of the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food. Commercial fishing has also taken a toll on our oceans. According to the New York Times, in just 50 years, overuse of commercial fishing has cut 90 percent of the oceans’ population of large predatory fish. If this trend continues, we could see oceans without fish by the year 2048.
It’s impossible to fight against climate change without addressing the issue of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is also one of the leading causes of climate change. It is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all of the world’s transportation systems combined. Eating less meat significantly reduces your carbon footprint. Eating one less burger a week would be the same as taking your car off the road for 320 miles. If one family skipped meat and cheese for just one day a week, that would be the equivalent of not driving for five weeks, and if the entire U.S. did this, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 billion cars off the road.
The strongest argument against eating meat is ethics. In factory farms, thousands of animals are crammed into windowless sheds or kept in small wire cages. They are often given so little space that they can barely move around. Because of the crowded living conditions, chickens and pigs will often take their frustration out on each other. To prevent this, chickens will have their beaks cut off shortly after birth and pigs will have their teeth pulled and tails cut off, all without anesthetic.
For many of these animals, the only time they will see the light of day is during transportation. The conditions are incredibly inhumane. The animals are put into large trucks, sometimes traveling long distances, without food or water, and are often subject to extreme temperatures and unsanitary conditions. After enduring long journeys, some cows will be too exhausted or sick to walk, so they are dragged off of the trucks with ropes or chains. Those that are healthy enough to walk are often too afraid to move, and they will be shocked or dragged off as well.
Eating meat means directly supporting an industry that causes unnecessary animal suffering. By reducing the amount of meat you consume, you won’t be directly rescuing these animals from slaughterhouses, but by lowering your demand you will be contributing to fewer animals being killed in the long term.
In conclusion, eating meat has a negative impact on your health, the environment, and animals. However, I understand that not many people are willing to give up meat entirely. I encourage all of you to find ways to simply reduce the amount of meat you consume, maybe by meatless Mondays or incorporating more vegan or vegetarian meals into your diet. Even a small change can make a big difference.