“It’s my diet, it’s my choice” is a common response I hear when encouraging people to eat a healthy, plant-based diet. Eating meat may be your choice, but it has far reaching consequences for everyone else, which raises the question, is eating meat really a personal choice?
Before we tackle this question, let’s first look at how dietary choices affect everyone through the cost and quality of healthcare, as well as the environmental destruction that results from animal-based diets.
How Your Choice Affects Everyone’s Healthcare
Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and all the other non-accidental, non-viral illnesses are mostly diet related. In fact, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, dietary choices account for nearly 81% of the deaths that occur in America every year.
Side Note: I’ve lumped Alzheimer’s in with dietary related deaths because it’s now believed that diet may play a larger role in Alzheimer’s than any other factor. The blood vessels in your brain get clogged just like the arteries in your heart…it’s just on a smaller scale. Restricted blood flow in your brain may kill your brain tissue, leading to Alzheimer’s.
More than 1.5 MILLION people die every year because of their “choice” to eat an unhealthy diet. That means if and when you die, you have an 81% chance of it being caused by your dietary choices (unless you eat a plant-based diet).When you die, there's an 81% chance it was caused by your diet. #wfpb #plantbased #vegan Click To Tweet
In addition, most of these 1.5 million people must be treated for several years in doctors offices and hospitals, while undergoing expensive surgeries and taking expensive medications to keep them alive.
And this number doesn’t include the 273 MILLION Americans who are living with dietary illnesses, receiving regular treatment and/or taking expensive medications to keep them alive so they can continue eating food that’s killing them. The individual and public cost of personal dietary choices is astronomical.
According to the CSPI again, we spend close to ONE TRILLION dollars every year treating diet related illnesses, and the cost is growing rapidly. That’s roughly $9,000 per American. Every. Single. Year.We spend close to ONE TRILLION dollars every year treating diet related illnesses. #wfpb #vegan #plantbased Click To Tweet
As a result of the rapidly increasing number of people being treated for personal dietary choices, the cost of insurance and healthcare has been growing at the same rate or faster.
That means that even though I eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, rarely go to the doctor and currently take zero medications, the cost of my insurance has gone up while the quality of my coverage has gone down (so the giant insurance and hospital corporations can continue hitting their profit projections).
The same thing has happened to you and to everyone else. We are all affected by everyone else’s dietary choices both financially and through the quality of care we receive when we do need it for non-dietary illnesses.
No, It’s NOT Genetics
People often bring up genetics or family history as the reason for health-related illnesses. “It’s not my fault! Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. runs in my family!”
It’s hard to know for sure what percentage of people truly have a genetic predisposition to these illnesses because our families have been eating so poorly for so many generations that everyone has a family history of disease. To quote Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org, “The primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.”Disease may run in families because diets run in families. #wfpb #vegan Click To Tweet
Many people think our health problems started with the 1980’s low-fat craze, but the leading causes of death have been diet related (except during wartime) since they started keeping track of the numbers.
Heart disease has been the number one killer of Americans for over a century. In 1950 alone, over 550,000 Americans died of heart disease. Again, diet related but with cigarette smoking also a large contributor back then.
It’s believed that a very small percentage of people have a genetic mutation that increases their chance of getting these diseases. But even if you do have bad genes or a bad family history, you can cut your risk in half by eating a healthy diet and getting a little exercise every day (20 to 40 minutes of walking at a brisk pace is all you need).
The bottom line is that dietary choices are killing millions of Americans while decimating our healthcare system. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing, even for those who live a healthy lifestyle and rarely need it.
When your choice affects the cost and quality of everyone’s healthcare, is it still a personal choice?
How Your Choice Affects the Environment
The vast majority of environmental damage to air, land and water is caused by animal agriculture.
How Animal Ag Destroys the Air We Breath
Animal agriculture and specifically factory farming is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (more than all forms of transportation combined).
It releases toxic gases into the air like nitrous oxide, ammonia, particulate matter, endotoxins, hydrogen sulfide and Monensin, an antibiotic that is commonly used in human medicine.
It produces an unbearable stench for local residents who live near factory farms. The stench causes numerous health issues and destroys their property value.
Farm workers and local residents “suffer from respiratory irritation, bronchitis, lung inflammation, dust toxic syndrome, asthma, and possibly cardiac arrest. Ammonia emissions can cause a variety of harmful health effects like dizziness, eye irritation, respiratory illness, and nausea.” [source]
When your choice affects the air everyone breathes, is it still a personal choice?
How Animal Ag Destroys Our Land
Animal agriculture is responsible for 80% of deforestation worldwide. The world’s rainforests are being clearcut to make room for farm animal grazing, as well as to grow the grain needed to feed farm animals.
Forests have been called the Earth’s lungs. They filter the CO2 out of the air and release oxygen back into the air. Cutting them down not only prevents them from filtering our air, it causes them to release all of the CO2 they have stored in them back into the atmosphere. It’s like a left-right punch to the gut.
In addition to deforestation, animal ag uses waste lagoons to store the nearly ONE BILLION tons of urine and feces produced by farm animals every year, but this is only a temporary stop. The waste is then sprayed into the air over large fields so it will more quickly disperse and evaporate. This not only destroys the air quality in surrounding areas, it also contaminates the soil on the land where it’s sprayed and the groundwater under the land.
When your choice affects the land everyone lives on and the forests we depend on for survival, is it still a personal choice?
How Animal Ag Destroys the Water We Drink
As I already mentioned, the billion tons of waste generated by farm animals is stored in large lagoons the size of a football field or multiple fields. These lagoons are prone to leaks that contaminate the groundwater, as well as surrounding streams and rivers.
Since these farms are often located in low-lying areas, they’re also prone to flooding, which sends the waste directly into nearby streams and rivers making the water so toxic that fish die by the thousands and the water becomes undrinkable.
“Unlike human waste, animal excrement from factory farms is not processed as sewage—making it about 500 times more concentrated than treated human waste while leaving pathogens (like Salmonella and E. coli) and volatile chemicals intact.” [source]Farm animal waste is untreated and is 500 times more concentrated than treated human waste. #vegan Click To Tweet
Runoff from animal ag also makes its way to the oceans, creating over 400 massive ocean dead zones worldwide where no life can exist. According to Scientific American, “Perhaps the most infamous U.S. dead zone is an 8,500 square mile swath (about the size of New Jersey) of the Gulf of Mexico, not far from where the nutrient-laden Mississippi River, which drains farms up and down the Midwest, lets out. Besides decimating the region’s once teeming shrimp industry, low oxygen levels in the water there have led to reproductive problems for fish, leading to lack of spawning and low egg counts.”
When your choice affects the water everyone drinks and the habitat of sea life, is it still a personal choice?
How Your Choice Takes Away Another’s Choice
This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the choice that’s taken away by your personal choice.
It’s estimated that the average meat-eater is responsible for the death of 7,000 animals during the course of their lifetime. That breaks down to “11 cows, 27 pigs, 2,400 chickens, 80 turkeys, 30 sheep and 4,500 fish” on average.The average meat-eater is responsible for the death of 7,000 animals during their lifetime. #vegan Click To Tweet
Each of these sentient beings wanted to live. It was their choice to live, but your personal choice took that away from them.
Despite what we’ve been taught by religion, government and corporate marketing campaigns, humans are not superior to other life on this earth. We are simply more intelligent and technologically advanced, but we do not have more right to be here than any other sentient being.
I’m going to save the “but plants have feelings too” debate for a different blog post. We have to eat to live. But we don’t have to eat sentient beings, which also destroys our environment, health and healthcare.
When your choice eliminates the choice of another sentient being, is it still a personal choice?
Is Diet Really a Personal Choice?
When you drive on the highway, do you think to yourself “It’s my car and my life so it’s my choice how fast and recklessly I drive.”
Or do you obey the traffic laws that dictate how fast you can drive for both your own safety and the safety of those around you?
If you drive too fast or recklessly, you put the lives of others at risk, and if you cause an accident, you’re responsible for covering the cost of the repairs and hospital bills. You’re even required to have insurance so those costs are guaranteed to be covered. And if you’re really irresponsible, you can go to jail for the way you drive.
We all accept these laws (well most of us anyway) as necessary for the greater good, so why is our attitude so different with diet?
Everyone thinks diet and health is a personal choice, but your diet affects me and everyone else, just like my diet affects you and everyone else as described above, so why is eating a diet that increases the cost of healthcare for everyone while reducing the quality of healthcare for everyone, as well as destroys our air, land and water, still a personal choice?
How is this any different than driving as fast and as recklessly as you want to on the highway?
Yulin Dog Meat Festival
As I write this, the Yulin dog meat festival is in full swing. Their culture is different than ours and they don’t see a problem eating dogs. In America and most of the western world, this is illegal and cause for riots. “How can they do something so cruel?!” people scream.
Yes, this is cruel, and disgusting. But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 60,000,000,000 (that’s 60 BILLION) land animals and over 1 TRILLION ocean fish and other sea life killed for food and as bikill EVERY YEAR.
Once you realize there’s no difference between a dog or cat, and a cow, pig, chicken, lamb, rabbit, duck, turkey, fish, octopus, etc., you’ll be just as outraged over the animal ag industry as you are about the Yulin dog meat festival.
We have lots of laws protecting animals in the United States, most stemming from the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and amended 8 times over the years.
You can’t have dog fights. You can’t torture and kill your cat. You can’t have a bullfight or a cockfight. You can’t let a horse starve to death. In many states, you can’t leave a dog in a hot car. Lots and lots of animal protection laws specifically to prevent animal abuse.
So why is it legal to eat meat when the very act of eating meat is the result of animal abuse, especially in factory farms? You can’t eat a porkchop without killing the pig and there’s no greater abuse than death.You can't eat a porkchop without killing the pig and there's no greater abuse than death. #vegan Click To Tweet
Why Eating Meat Is Still Legal
There are only two reasons why eating meat is still legal. First, it’s the way we’ve always done it. Humans have been eating meat, mainly for survival, for the past 2.6 million years out of our 15 to 20 million years of evolution.
We don’t need meat to survive anymore, though. In fact, we’re healthier without eating meat or at least rarely eating it. But it is a long-standing tradition and despite the knowledge we’ve gained about the harmful effects it has on our health and the environment, people don’t like to change tradition.
The second reason eating meat is still legal is because the animal ag industry is very powerful. While the Animal Welfare Act and its amendments apply to most animals, it explicitly excludes farm animals and animals used for research purposes.
The animal ag industry has also done a great job of manufacturing doubt about the harmful health effects of meat, dairy and eggs.
They sometimes claim their products are healthy or environmentally friendly based on their own pseudoscientific research. More often, though, they fund studies that call into question the prevailing scientific consensus. If they can sow doubt, enough to confuse people, that’s all people need to continue their tradition…their personal choice to eat meat.
When you say or hear someone say, “For every study you cite, I can find one to contradict it,” that’s manufactured doubt at work. We’re unwitting patsies when we succumb to their manipulations so it’s our duty to find the truth and distinguish it from propaganda.
Animal ag is also very good at keeping horrific farm animal conditions behind closed doors. To quote Paul McCartney, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” And if factory dairy farms and egg farms had glass walls, everyone would be vegan.If factory dairy farms and egg farms had glass walls, everyone would be vegan. #vegan Click To Tweet
Should Eating Meat Be Illegal?
If you accept the laws that forbid the abuse of “any live or dead cat, dog, hamster, rabbit, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, and any other warm-blooded animal” as stated in the Animal Welfare Act, then those laws should apply to all animals, including farm animals.
There is no logical or rational reason for excluding a whole class of “warm-blooded animals” from a law specifically designed to protect “warm-blooded animals.” Animals are animals. Period. We should either be able to abuse, kill and eat all of them or none of them. There is no middle ground.
If you’re against the Yulin dog meat festival but still eat meat, that is the epitome of hypocrisy. There is no substantial difference between the various species of animals you deem edible or inedible. They may look a little different, but they’re all basically the same. They all have personalities, likes, dislikes, social relationships and a desire to stay alive. Your choice is not more important than their choice.
Switching to a Plant-Based Diet
Until our laws catch up to our morals and ethics, your diet is your choice and I sincerely hope that you choose to switch to a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet.
You’ll feel better physically because your body is evolutionarily designed to eat plants, and you’ll feel better mentally because you’ll be living in line with your stated values to not harm animals.
A vegan diet is not necessarily healthy, but a WFPB diet is extremely healthy. And thanks to decades of research conducted by real scientists and doctors, we know exactly what it takes to eat a healthy WFPB diet. It’s the healthiest, most satisfying diet you can eat, but making the switch can be a little challenging.
Each one of these plans has a different twist with different types of recipes. Most of them eliminate all oils in addition to all animal products. While our plan strives to reduce the use of oils as much as possible, we don’t remove them completely. That makes our plan a little easier to follow for new and transitioning plant-based eaters.
When a choice affects everyone else, including future generations, it’s our duty as civilized humans to consider everyone else when making that choice. Please choose wisely and with compassion.