9 Reasons to Stop Eating Meat in Honour of Earth Day
By: Zoe Eisenberg and Kristina C.
There are tons of psychological reasons why many people still eat meat, from cultural affiliations to early formed habits, flavor preferences and more. Whether you’re flirting with vegetarianism or reaffirming your commitment to the cause, here are a handful of reasons to stop eating meat in honor of Earth, and everything that inhabits it.
Eating meat is downright bad for the environment. From water pollution to deforestation, our country’s meat consumption is wreaking havoc on Mama Earth. A 2009 study found that 80 percent of Amazon deforestation was linked to cattle farming, and factory farming methods are a notorious culprit for water pollution.
Eating meat can kill you. From heart disease to colon cancer, numerous studies have shown the deadly dangers of a meaty diet. Frequent meat consumers aren’t the only ones who should be worried. A Harvard study concluded that just one serving of red meat a day increases the risk of early death by 13 percent.
Eating meat kills endangered animals. Cows and chickens aren’t the only ones at risk from our society’s carnivorous appetite. Researchers at Florida International University uncovered that meat consumption is the number one cause of species extinction due to habitat removal. Next time you order a burger, think about your furry friend the panda.
Eating meat depletes precious fossil fuels. Forget driving cars. Meat consumption is what takes up the majority of our fossil fuels. To make matters worse, meat consumption is an inefficient use of these precious fuels. It takes eight times the fossil fuels to produce meat than to produce plant-based proteins.
Most meat is infested with bacteria. Because of our large-scale factory farming practice, the majority of the meat consumed across the country is riddled with bacteria. A 2013 report by the FDA found that of all the meat tested, 81 percent of ground turkey was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Pork chops came in at a gross second, with a 69 percent infestation rate. Ground beef ranked at 55 percent and chicken brought up the rear with 39 percent.
Meat consumption is unsustainable. “Sustainability” has become a major buzz word, from coffee to chocolate and everything in between. Despite the interest in becoming more sustainable, many fail to realize (or choose to ignore) that eating meat is one of the least sustainable things you can do. The large amount of energy meat production consumes has been shown to contribute to global warming, as well as a loss of important biodiversity, soil erosion, grassland destruction and more.
Meat consumption contributes to world hunger. Wait what? That’s right. While an estimated 56 million acres of land are producing feed for livestock, only 4 million are growing veggies for human consumption. A simple shift could equal much more food for the world population.
Meat contains harmful hormones. What does Europe know that we don’t? When it comes to meat consumption, the answer is, a lot. The European Union has repeatedly stated they want nothing to do with U.S. beef because it is pumped full of harmful, synthetic hormones known to increase risks of breast and prostate cancer. Yikes.
Its health dangers rival that of cigarette smoke. According to a 2013 study in the journal, Nutrients, eating a diet heavy in meat is just as harmful to your health as smoking tobacco.
The easiest way to help out our planet is to cut meat from our diets. However, for many giving up meat completely is out of the question. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Reducing your daily consumption and consuming more consciously can help—but not as much as quitting, pardon the pun, cold turkey.
Can Eating Meat Be Just As Bad For You As Smoking?
Can changing what you eat and what you do influence the likelihood of your risk for getting cancer?
With a new year starting, many of us may be making pledges to improve our health, whether by quitting smoking or cutting down on our consumption of beer, wine or meat. A review published at the end of 2013 that analyzes food supply data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provides some motivation for sticking to your newly-made resolutions. According to this study, eating a meat-rich diet could be as bad for you as smoking or drinking.
The study was published in an online, open-access journal, Nutrients, and was undertaken by William B. Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center in northern Califronia. It’s an ecological study that draws on data collected by others (in this case, the FAO) about populations, but without knowing specifics about the people studied (i.e., if they had any medical conditions, or if there were environmental factors, that might have made them more susceptible to cancer).
Correlations Between Cancer and Eating a Diet Rich in Animal Products
Various types of cancer (including lung, prostate, breast, stomach and liver, among others) among men and women in 157 countries were considered. Data from 87 of those countries was focused on, as these countries (Japan, the U.S.) are said to have “high-quality data” about health and diet.
Based on the notion that there is “generally a lag of up to 20 years between dietary changes and peak cancer rates,” the study looks at data that goes back to 1980. The author found that smoking and consumption of animal products (meat, fish, milk and eggs) were correlated with “over half of the cancer incidence rates, with alcoholic beverage supply explaining a smaller amount.” For men, smoking was found to play more of a role in increasing cancer risk; for women, eating animal products played the greatest role.
Overall, the study found that consumption of meat and dairy products was most strongly correlated with cancers of the “female breast, corpus uteri, kidney, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, testicular, thyroid cancer, and multiple myeloma.” Consumption of alcoholic beverages was only found to be linked to colorectal cancer while lung cancer was found to be “associated with animal fat supply in addition to cigarette supply.”
Additional research that takes factors such as people’s medical histories and lifestyle choices into account is needed to confirm that a diet rich in animal products is as bad for your health as smoking is.
Why Would Eating Meat Increase Cancer Risk?
The study does not explain why eating meat might increase one’s susceptibility to cancer. The India Times comments that eating animal products is correlated with cancer risk “since animal products promote growth of the body as well as tumors through production of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I).”
Other research has tied eating meat to increased cancer risk. Research published in March found that eating a lot of processed meat (ham, bacon, sausages, burgers) in particular was associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer and heart disease. In October, researchers from the University of Southern California reported that eating red and processed meat was significantly associated with a greater risk for colorectal cancer in people with a certain genetic mutation.
In the United States, the early 1980s saw a push for eating fewer carbohydrates and increasing protein intake, as called for by the Scarsdale diet and, in the 1990s, the Atkins diet. That is, even while meat consumption has been linked to heart disease and to being at a higher risk for total, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, people have had their reasons to increase their meat intake.
If you must eat animal products, eating meat that is minimally processed and from antibiotic-free animals who’ve been raised using sustainable methods and in humane conditions could be a way to minimize any risks. As the Nutrients study suggests, eliminating it from your diet and going meatless is a very good way to get your 2014 off to a very healthy start.
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.