LIFE WITHOUT: Eating Animals
By SARAH ELLIOTT
DECEMBER 13— Heading north on Highway 99 last Friday morning (December 2013), I was warm and cozy in the passenger seat of the car. Somewhere between Merced and Modesto (California), I was mindlessly staring out the window when movement from the semi-truck in the lane beside me caught my eye.
It was an 18-wheeler Foster Farms truck and trailer densely stacked with cages of scrawny, pale white turkeys. The truck was uncovered, exposing the turkeys to bitter cold and icy winds. Feathers were flying, and at 60 miles per hour, the birds, of which there were multiple numbers in each cage, couldn’t gain a foothold and were being blown against each other and the sides of the enclosures.
There was blood and feces on the cages. Some of the birds appeared to be comatose or dead.
It was 9:30 in the morning, and a check of the thermometer in our vehicle showed it was 40 degrees outside.
How is this not animal cruelty? And how did we become so disconnected from our food?
The birds were most likely headed to slaughter on this frigidly cold morning. That means one of these beat up, traumatized turkeys could be the centerpiece of your Christmas dinner. Or was sliced deli-style in your sandwich at lunch today. Or will be ground up into a burger and on your plate for dinner this week.
But how is it healthy, physically or spiritually, to eat something that suffered its entire life, then spent its last hours in stark fear?
* * *
I knew I was going to write a “Life Without” installment about not eating animals, but I had no intention of being so graphic. After all, I am a resident of Tulare County, and agriculture is the lifeblood of the local economy. And I’m a native of California, the biggest ag state.
The blame for this insensitivity to the welfare of farm animals does not fall solely on the producers. As consumers, we vote with our food dollars, and we are wholeheartedly supporting Big Meat, which translates to cheap meat.
At 270.7 pounds per person a year, we eat more meat in the U.S. than in any other country on the planet. (The world average is 102.5 pounds annually.)
It’s a vicious cycle, but at this rate of meat consumption, we are putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the animal agriculture industry. The inhumane treatment of farm animals is a byproduct of this demand, which translates into producer profits.
I have been mostly vegetarian for the majority of my life. No activism attached; I simply have never liked the taste or texture of meat.
The inevitable battles with my mom to clean my plate as a child resulted in my missing a lot of desserts over the years. Moving from a vegetarian to a completely plant-based diet was a slower evolution.
However, along with meat and fish, I now forgo eggs and dairy products. This decision was based on animal welfare due to factory farming and my ongoing quest to remain healthy, fit, and active as I age.
We live in the most prosperous nation on Earth and the unhealthiest. My whole-foods, plant-based diet is a small contribution toward eliminating the world’s food problems.
Do you do your part for the planet by driving a Prius? Do you turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and take shorter showers? I hate to break it to you, but those conservation methods are worthless as long as animal agriculture continues its current practices. To raise just one pound of beef, 1,500 to 5,000 gallons of water are required. You could have showered for six months instead of eating that burger at lunch. Nearly every environmental ill on the planet is caused in some way by animal agriculture. It is a wasteful, destructive (and cruel) industry.
It’s imperative that everyone educate themselves about where their food comes from, both for your sake and the animals’. Without going into the gory details (and they are brutal beyond imagination), I guarantee that you will be shocked at the methods of factory farming and the cruelty that occurs at these massive, indoor complexes, and at slaughterhouses and processing plants. And if you think an animal doesn’t suffer or die if you drink milk, eat ice cream, or love your scrambled eggs in the morning, think again.
Most people would never consider abusing their house pets. And even if they did, there are laws that protect our dogs and cats. But animals on factory farms have few legal protections, and unspeakable, ruthless cruelty is rampant. These animals - which have feelings, emotions, and our same five senses - do not know one day of happiness during their entire, abbreviated lives.
My preference would be for everyone to stop eating animals and animal products immediately. Today. Now. But change doesn’t happen overnight. Baby steps will be necessary.
Consider making some days meatless (and fishless). Or make meat the smallest portion of food on your plate, opting instead to eat lower on the food chain by indulging in larger servings of salads and whole grains.
Do it for your health and the health of the planet. The current methods are unsustainable. Humans are headed toward extinction if keeping with the animal agriculture status quo.
Chronic illness is killing us and bankrupting our economy. One out of every three deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease, America’s number-one killer. Seventy percent of Americans are overweight or obese.
The most unsettling statistic of all is that two out of every three 12-year-olds in the U.S. has early signs of cholesterol disease in the blood vessels. We are killing ourselves, and our children, due to a preferred diet of animal products and processed, sugar-laden foods.
A recent assessment by Kaweah Healthcare District found that Tulare County residents — both adults and children — are the fattest of any county in the Central Valley. In fact, there are more overweight kids in Tulare County than in any other of California’s 58 counties.
Most of us in the U.S. don’t eat animals because we must in order to survive. We eat them because we make that choice. And by remaining comfortably oblivious, we are subjecting animals to torture, irreparably damaging the Earth, and putting ourselves at greater risk of disease just to satisfy a desire, a craving, not a need.
How did we get here? We are completely upside down when it comes to food and health.
Our national preference for excessive intake of animal products has caused our blood cholesterol to escalate, our arteries to clog, our cells to become cancerous, and immune systems to spiral out of control. And how do we fix the problem? Take a pill to treat the symptoms rather than address the root cause of the issue.
Ask your doctor who prescribed you that pill what he or she knows about the healing powers of nutrition. Chances are it will be little to nothing.
The great irony is that 90 percent of all Western disease need never exist in the first place. A plant-based diet is a nutritional protocol that has been shown to prevent — and in many cases actually reverse — the many chronic illnesses that unnecessarily plague Western society.
This is not about deprivation. It is, however, about the willingness to release ingrained perceptions about what a healthy diet entails.
Most of us are flying on autopilot when it comes to food. We are conditioned to eat meat at every meal, drink cows' milk, eat eggs from captive chickens.
Why don't we eat our dogs? Why don't we drink milk from cats? Why don't we eat buzzard eggs? We would if we had been habituated from birth to believe that this was what our culture ate and marketing continued to tell us this was the path to health and deliciousness.
There is a common misconception that one will have difficulty meeting their protein needs through plant sources alone. Studies show that vegans have healthier bones, fewer nutrient deficiencies, and higher blood protein levels than omnivores.
Nearly every plant food contains some protein. As long as you consume a wide variety of plant protein sources — nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables — you will not only meet your protein needs but will also devour a plethora of other health-promoting nutrients and anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants while doing so.
Do you long for better sleep quality, decreased sugar cravings, more efficient digestion, natural weight control, better mood, fewer colds, and more energy? Consider a plant-based diet with a predominant focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are free of artificial ingredients.
Once you start to include more whole foods into your everyday life, they will begin to crowd out the room in your stomach — and your life — for the not-so-good foods. Soon, your palate will change, and you’ll be craving plant-based whole foods.
To reiterate, Big Ag/Big Food/Big Meat are broken and unsustainable practices. They are destroying our health and the environment. The food choices we make on a daily basis can make a difference in so many ways.
Here are some super-simple recipes that are plant-based and healthy:
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 teaspoons salt-free chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2¼ cups lentils
15 ounces no-salt-added diced tomatoes
Bring 3/4-cup broth to a simmer in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook about 8 minutes or until onion is translucent and bell pepper is tender. Stir in chili powder and cumin and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add lentils, tomatoes, and remaining broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes or until lentils are almost tender. Uncover and cook 10 minutes longer. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.
2¼ cups whole wheat or spelt flour
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (or raw cacao)
½ cup chocolate chips (or cacao nibs)
½ cup olive oil
1½ cups water
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup over-ripe banana, mashed (no lumps!)
Combine the dry ingredients and chocolate chips, mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients, including banana, together. Combine wet and dry ingredients, mix well. Pour batter into 13x9 greased (with olive or coconut oil) and flour-dusted pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes until done (based on preference, the brownies may be gooey or cakey; adjust baking time accordingly).
Spinach Avocado Pasta
2 cups whole wheat pasta (gluten-free: brown rice pasta)
¼ cup spinach
2 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Boil pasta and drain. Heat a small pan, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and saute the spinach and garlic till cooked. Place the spinach mixture, avocado, remaining olive oil, pepper, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor or high-speed blender. Pulse/blend till creamy. Stir this mixture into pasta and serve.
1 cup raw cashews
(covered with water and soaked for 2 hours, then strained)
¼ cup fresh water
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
Place all ingredients in a blender (except the water used for soaking). Blend until smooth.