Animal-based diets harmful to humans and the environment

While visiting my mom, I saw a video extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet versus an animal-based diet. The video was not the greatest in terms of production values, (i.e. most of the film was shots of someone talking, or stills with voice-overs) but it certainly got the point across.

Most of the content was stuff that I already knew, but which I’ve been somewhat comfortable with ignoring. For example, I already knew:

  • Having meat in one’s diet significantly raises risk of heart disease
  • Meat is an inefficient use of resources, especially water
  • Most livestock is raised in cruel, inhumane conditions

I did not know these and other compelling facts:

  • Chicken and fish aren’t really “healthy” alternatives; impact to the body is much the same.
  • Cutting out all animal-based foods from one’s diet is found to reverse heart disease
  • Not only is heart disease way higher in meat-eaters; so is hypertension and breast/prostate/colon cancer.
  • Deaths from heart disease and cancer attributed to meat in diets account for more deaths than any other killer, including auto accidents.
  • Livestock farms contribute more greenhouse gasses than cars. Cutting 20% of meat from a typical American diet removes more greenhouse gas from the atmosphere than switching to a hybrid car.
  • Livestock-raising is heavily subsidized in this country and the EU; if cattle ranchers received no subsidies and had to pay for water they use or pollute, beef would probably cost around $90/pound.
  • Poorer countries in Asia and Africa have much less meat in their diets, and much lower rates of heart disease and cancer, but in areas where they adopt more Western habits, they are quickly catching up in both.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately switch to a vegan diet, but I would very much like to gradually reduce meat consumption to be far less frequent — I’d like to get to where meat is a rare treat and not a daily staple. I am not so sure about eggs and cheese… I will probably reduce them but not drastically. I also now believe that livestock subsidies are pretty unfair, given the number of people around the world who are starving, and the hugely asymmetrical impact to the environment. Maybe I’ll take a look around for meats that are sustainably farmed…

Also, I’m not a parent, but if I were, I would seriously think long and hard about raising my kid on an animal diet. It’s pretty late in the game for me to get used to a very-low-meat diet, but I would probably have had a much easier time if I had been raised to regard meat/cheese/milk/eggs as an occasional treat instead of a “requirement”.

0 thoughts on “Animal-based diets harmful to humans and the environment

  1. cos

    I have not seen these videos. However, some facts that I do know through research:

    1. Eating some meat is definitely healthier than eating no meat at all, but most people eat way more meat than is needed.

    2. Industrial corn-fed meat has all sorts of problems that traditional grass-fed meat (the kind we evolved to eat) doesn’t have, so which meat you eat may have more effect on your health than how much of it.

    1. nekodojo

      I believe you’re right… both biologically speaking and politically. It’s a bit troubling that cows and chickens have to be given antibiotics constantly. Plus the subsidies that cattle farmers enjoy are an effective way of reallocating land to feed the few rather than the many.

      1. esmerel

        I’m not sure it’s so much that they *have* to be given the antibiotics. I think it’s more “well, if we shoot them full of antibiotics, then we’ll stop any of this nasty crap from happening”. I guess it’s cheaper or something, I don’t know. :/

  2. nlguy

    As you may know, Steve (Spike) and Cole and I are all vegetarian. I am a big advocate for making changes to your diet gradually – it’s painless that way.

    If you cut out meat, you need to make sure you get enough protein, iron and B12. Everyone knows that peanut butter, tofu and dairy provide protein, but I never knew that tahini was so high in iron. I’ve been using it in smoothies.

    1. nekodojo

      Thanks for the reply. I agree that one needs to be careful… especially when trying to change life-long habits by cutting something out and not replacing it as appropriate.

      Be well!

  3. goldenlily

    Our problem as a race is that we’re supposed to do things in moderation, but we don’t, especially in today’s world. If you think about this in a different way – drinking red wine lowers the risk of heart disease, but if you drink it excessively then you will have liver complications. Eating meat per se isn’t bad or good for us. It’s what we’re designed to eat in some ways (i.e. it’s why we are omnivores as classified by our teeth), but we eat too much of it, too much is processed, or prepared in ways that aren’t fabulous. Fish and pork are actually emerging as better meats, though that pork has been genetically modified to produce more omega-3 and I’m not sure about genetic foods either. My mother’s been a vegetarian for 30 years, and it’s been hard on her. You have to be constantly aware of protein levels, and other nutrients. Luckily in europe they have many more vegetables that are fresh and not sitting around for days, so higher in nutrients. So that helps.

    I would definitely advocate cutting out some meat from your diet if you really think you are eating a lot of it. I may eat 1-2 oz every day or two, but the limit should be around 3-5oz per day max. I’ll admit, sometimes I binge and have a steak, but I find if I don’t have some red meat my body screams at me. I find what works better is to remove all traces of fat, and moderate consumption. Make sure you understand what you’re eating too – grades of meat, cuts of meat, preparation, etc.

    Anyhow, my 2c!

    1. nekodojo

      Good advice… thanks! I believe you’re right that humans are designed to eat a small amount of meat. Also I’ve seen references to studies that raising some meat and dairy is a good use of arable land suitable for growing animal feed but not for growing human food (a small percent but it’s there).

      Your point about moderation is spot-on. That’s another thing that’s always bothered me about Atkins and other ultra-low-carb plans.

  4. aelfsciene

    I’m still quite happy being no-flesh, but find myself unwilling to cut either eggs or dairy out of my diet. I’ve heard people rant against drinking cow’s milk, and I know dairy farms are not the happiest places, but I find a life without cheese a sad thing indeed. Eggs can at least be bought free-range fairly easily, which is some comfort.

    In terms of environmental impact, there’s a good argument for eating meat but only buying locally/sustainably raised stuff (which often necessitates eating less, as it’s more expensive). I eat a lot of processed meat substitutes and tofu and the like, which is still more impact than I’d like. There are probably better choices I can make (too much pre-packaged food, but I’m tired/lazy/cooking for one), but I’m trying to take small steps.

    It sounds like you’re being really thoughtful about this and not making drastic, sudden changes, which is great. Good luck whichever direction you end up going with it!

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