While you might be a vegetarian or a vegan, you probably know many people that are not. Do you know what to tell them when they ask, “Why not meat?” The following information will help you answer that question, and you are encouraged to do research on your own so that you are armed with knowledge—not only to help others but also to strengthen your own convictions.
So what is so wrong with meat, anyway? Is meat that comes from an organic farm healthy to consume? These are common questions, and there are clear and proven answers as to why vegetarians choose to avoid meat and why vegans avoid all animal products. For the purposes of this article, meat is defined as any non-dairy part of any animal, such as cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish.
Non-organic meats are laden with chemicals that are harmful to the human body. Not enough research has been done in order to determine the effects, both short- and long-term, on humans. These chemicals include pesticide residue from the feed, antibiotics used both to keep the animals alive longer and to stimulate rapid growth, and growth hormones. Of all the antibiotics manufactured, 40 percent is used on animal agriculture, and 80 percent of that is used to promote growth.
So what if the package of meat claims it is organic? Under the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule, meat labeled certified organic must not have been given antibiotics or growth hormones and must have been fed an exclusively organic diet. Note that the label certified organic is regulated to a point, but many companies label their products organic and natural or make claims that the animals were not given antibiotics. These claims are not regulated and are essentially meaningless. Even with certified organic meat, the system is far from perfect. The United States Department of Agriculture’s organic meat regulations state, for instance, that livestock must have been continuously organic from the last third trimester of gestation and poultry can start being organically managed at the second day of life. Breeder stock can be non-organic, meaning the mother can be given whatever and pass on disease to the fetus, but the baby animal can still be considered organic. The regulations also state that farmers “must not administer synthetic parasiticides on a routine basis,” so administering these drugs occasionally must be considered acceptable. Also, livestock can be given drugs if ill—and it does not appear there is any ruling against slaughtering for meat livestock with known cancer. There are also no regulations that attempt to make organic meat less contaminated with microbes than non-organic meat.
For the sake of argument, let us say that the meat you just bought is truly organic. There are no antibiotic, pesticide, or growth hormone residues present. So now what is wrong with it? Contamination. The vast majority of food poisonings is due to contaminated meat products. There are two types of contamination: intrinsic and extrinsic. Diseases affecting the animal before it died and that is in the meat cause intrinsic contamination. This includes the particle that causes Mad Cow Disease, bovine immunodeficiency virus (cause of bovine AIDS), leukemia, brucellosis, and cancer—all of which are potentially transmittable to humans.
Why do you think that there are so many precautions for handling meat but not so many for plant foods? Microbes on the meat (not just on the surface) that got there during processing and packaging cause extrinsic contamination. There are many types of microbes that live and thrive on meat, many of which are harmful to humans. There are microbes on plant foods, but the truly harmful microbes thrive wildly on meat. While cold storage does decrease the generation time of bacteria (how long it takes for one bacterium to become two), it does not kill them. Bacteria still grow in the freezer. This contamination causes illnesses such as food poisoning and can be deadly to the very young, to the old, and to people whose immune systems are not functioning properly.
You may have heard the argument that we are supposed to eat meat or that we have evolved to be omnivorous, which means that we eat everything—plants and animals. However, basic anatomical differences between humans and carnivorous or omnivorous animals tell a different story. The meat-eating animals’ teeth are designed to tear apart raw meat. Humans, even omnivorous ones, do not eat cows straight out of the field by gnawing them with their teeth! Not only do people not have a desire to do this carnivorous behavior, they are dentally unable. Predators have claws that rip flesh. Humans have hands ideal for gathering and picking. Human saliva contains alpha-amylase, an enzyme that starts the digestion of carbohydrates in the mouth. The saliva of carnivores does not contain alpha-amylase, since meat contains zero carbohydrates. The high amount of protein in meat is difficult to digest; therefore, carnivores have a lot of hydrochloric acid in their stomachs. Herbivores (including humans) have ten times less. Finally, meat putrefies quickly due to the high amount of microbes that colonize it. Putrefaction produces chemicals that are toxic. To take care of this problem, carnivores’ intestines are about eight feet long so the feces exit the body quickly. The intestinal tract of herbivores is about 25 feet long, which is ideal for digesting the complex carbohydrates found in plant foods but a very inefficient design for digesting meat.
Health care costs in the United States related to meat consumption are estimated to be $60–$120 billion annually. Meat consumption causes disease for all the aforementioned reasons and more.
The most popular argument against a vegetarian diet is protein intake. Do vegetarians have to struggle to get enough protein, or do meat-eaters get too much? Almost all plant foods, with the exception of fruits, contain between 10 and 40 percent protein. We need only 8 to 15 percent of our daily intake to be protein. Omnivorous diets contain twice this amount.
So what? Protein breaks down into amino acids. Animal and plant proteins contain all the same amino acids. However, animal proteins can contain too much of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. The breakdown of these two amino acids causes the blood and urine to become acidic. The body then dumps calcium from its bones to neutralize the acid, and the excess blood calcium is then excreted through the kidney into the urine (leading to osteoporosis). Further, methionine is metabolized into homocysteine, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
You may have heard that obesity has surpassed cigarette smoking as the United States’ major cause of disease and death. An animal-food diet contributes to obesity. Meat-eaters are generally 10 percent heavier than vegetarians and 20 percent heavier than vegans. This is because animal-food diets are calorie dense and generally high fat. High- fat diets may:
- make it difficult to meet nutrient needs.
- lead to obesity.
- increase risk for chronic diseases such as cancer.
- result in a rise in free radical reactions and oxidative damage to body tissues, thus increasing the risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, age-related health problems, and neurological disorders.
The brain, kidneys, and heart are also at risk. Animal protein damages the kidneys, while plant protein does not. Animal protein raises blood cholesterol levels, while plant protein lowers it. Animal protein comes with an ugly package deal: it is always combined with saturated fat and cholesterol, which cause many chronic diseases, especially heart disease.
Cancer has already been mentioned. Studies have shown that ingesting cancerous tissue can cause cancer. But even non-cancerous meat has been shown to cause cancer and is number one on the list of foods that cause cancer.
You now know that high protein diets cause osteoporosis, but meat consumption causes other nutrient imbalances. For instance:
- Vitamins E and C protect the heart and brain, but omnivores get less Vitamins E and C than vegetarians (since meat and dairy products contain almost no Vitamin C).
- Folate protects the heart—omnivores consume less folate than vegetarians do.
- Fiber protects the heart and reduces the incidence of breast cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes—there is zero fiber in animal foods. The recommended daily intake of fiber is 20 to 35 grams/day—omnivores get 10 to 12 grams. Vegetarians get two or more times the amount of fiber than meat-eaters.
The scientific data makes it clear. Not only do we not need to eat meat to be healthy, but eating meat leads to illness. We are born to be herbivores—plant-eaters—which is how we were designed by the Creator.
Sheryle Beaudry, a certified teletriage nurse, writes from Estacada, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters. She may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.