I have been working up to posting the heavy-duty stuff on this page: the unbelievable and horrifying details of the meat industry.
Let’s start more gently: a brief summary of why you don’t need meat (or fish, especially given the very high levels of heavy metals in them), in which I’ll include an outline of the meat industry.
Plenty of people will tell you that we do need meat in order to be healthy. This is a myth, and I’ll include more on it later on the ‘Nutrition’ page. Meantime, click here; and you can also find on the links page information on what a healthy vegan diet consists of.
Plenty of others tell me that they’ve tried a vegetarian diet and don’t thrive on it. Often, these are people who have simply omitted the meat part of a meat-and-veg diet, but haven’t the experience and knowledge to combine foods differently. It’s not surprising: until the advent of the internet much of our nutritional knowledge, collectively, was a bit hit-and-miss if it didn’t revolve around the convention of meat-eating.
And yes, there are of course unhealthy vegans – it is possible to eat a junk-food vegan diet, high in processed foods, refined flour pastries, crisps, sugar, saturated or trans-fats. But it’s equally possible to have top-level health, and many of the links will tell you why it’s healthier than a meat-and-dairy-eating diet. Some world-class athletes are vegan, so it doesn’t have to mean joyless, thin, pale, wan and weedy.
The truth is, almost no one actually needs meat for health (I’m omitting, clearly, peoples such as the Inuit who have no option, vegetable-growing being just about impossible so far north in the Arctic circle. This doesn’t apply to us in the affluent West.)
We have choices
One of the rather crass questions that meat-eaters sometimes pose to vegetarians is ‘Do you think that carnivorous animals are bad, evil, then?’ Well, of course not! They’re eating what their bodies need and are adapted for. They have no choice.
Unlike carnivorous animals, we have the kind of consciousness – quite apart from our physiology – that allows choice.
We’re newcomers to meat-eating…
Physiologically, our digestive systems, and our teeth, have more in common with herbivores than carnivores.
Another thing is that meat-eating, surprisingly perhaps, is a comparatively recent addition to our diets.
He explains that we only relatively recently (historically speaking) began eating meat. The inclusion of meat in our diet came well after we became who we are today. ‘…the birth of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago at a time when it became considerably more convenient to herd animals.’ Our basic biochemical functionality, however, has evolved over at least tens of millions of years; this functionality is adapted to and depends on the nutrient content of plant-based foods.
President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Dr. Neal Barnard says in his book, The Power of Your Plate, that early humans had diets very much like other great apes. This would be a largely plant-based diet, rich in foods we can pick or pick up with our hands. Meat-eating, in fact, probably began by scavenging – eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. Barnard adds that our bodies have never completely adapted, and that present-day meat-eaters exhibit a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems. (There is much evidence for this.)
Yet popular belief says that meat is a necessity. It is, after all, the dominant ideology, and the meat industry is very good at promoting its cause; not least with its cute images of happy healthy cows grazing green grass and clucking hens scratching around.
The happy-cow fairy tale
This picture couldn’t be further from the truth. The bulk of animals intended for the meat industry are reared exclusively indoors, usually in extremely crowded, dirty conditions, and generally on concrete; often in small crates or cells, and with no natural light – for the whole of their lives. They’re also routinely fed antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters and other chemicals (which of course we’ll ingest), plus pesticide use on the animal is generally mandatory and herbicide on their feed (often genetically-modified) is the norm, except in organically-reared animals.
If the animals are the inevitable ‘by-products’ of the dairy industry, male calves intended for veal, they are taken from their mothers at a few days of age (they would, if left to themselves, suckle for at least 6 months at their mothers’ udders), and crated, in semi-darkness, until they are killed at a few weeks. There are stories of calves attempting to suckle the fingers of the abattoir staff as they are in line to be killed. ‘Lucky’ calves grow into bullocks, to be killed at a year or so. (Bear in mind that, in order for a cow to be lactating, she needs regularly to produce calves. 50% of these will be male.)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has done much to raise our awareness of the conditions of battery chickens in England. (More on that another time, but in brief, ‘improved conditions’ mean that they now have a crate-space the size of an A4 sheet of paper to squat on. All their short lives.)
Most people seem unaware of the fact, though, that almost all pigs, that most intelligent of species, are reared in appalling conditions, indoors, on slatted floors in small crated cells. In some large units, the sows are kept farrowing, dropping the piglets through slatted floors into conveyor belts where they, too, can be raised for the meat industry. Yes, really.
But what if it’s organic?
In England, organic meat certified by the Soil Association improves the lives of the animals, at least a little. It means that, at least, in order to satisfy welfare standards, they’re not pumped full of chemicals, and they have to graze outdoors for part of the year. I believe I’m right in saying that chickens have to be free range if they’re to carry Soil Association certification.
However, their lives are still shorter, their conditions of rearing still unnatural, their treatment often very wide of the mark, their transportation to the slaughterhouse still frightening, and within the slaughterhouse itself brutality and abuse is rife (links to come).
Some people have also pointed out that, given that animals also experience emotions, having come to trust the humans who tend them, that trust is betrayed, in the end. Undoubtedly, their distress levels, fear and panic are high (and some say that the levels of toxins produced in their systems by such fear are not good, when ingested, for human health either).
There are many scientific studies that confirm our ability to be healthy and thrive on a plant-based diet, and many posts containing the necessary nutritional information, on the internet. I’ve put links to some here.
More on this to come.
Soon, also: why lacto-vegetarianism doesn’t go far enough.