Sustainability: The dark side of meat eating

by Leonardo Castaneda

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

America loves her bacon. We love our bacon, our hamburgers and our fried chicken so much that it’s easy for us to simply overlook what all this meat is doing to our nation. Our reckless meat overconsumption, however, is doing more damage to our faltering environment and budding waistline than we’d like to admit.

While much has been said about our addiction to oil, our potentially more destructive addiction to meat has been ignored. Socially, our appetite for meat has been on a steady rise for decades, despite our shrinking investment in food. We eat 65 percent more meat now than in 1950, yet the percentage of our income spent on food has decreased by 62 percent. That means we eat 80 to 90 percent more meat than we need to. In order to meet increasing demand, huge corporations are turning to inhumane factory farms to churn out everything from cows to fish at low prices, regardless of true costs. We gladly consume this cheap food with a matching disregard for consequences.

The first, and most ignored, victim of this unsustainable food production model is the environment. Livestock accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases in the environment, thanks to all the methane they fart, burp and crap out. And because of farm animals’ high food demands, they are the leading cause of deforestation and soil erosion – the kind of soil erosion that brought us wonderful times such as the Dust Bowl.

But even this is not enough to satisfy us, and our hunt for a meat fix stretches far from our cruel factory farms and deep into the depths of the ocean. Overfishing is driving many crucial species to extinction. The Atlantic bluefin tuna, a staple of Japanese sushi and one of the Mediterranean’s largest and most important predators, is expected to become extinct by next year unless drastic steps are taken. Fish farms have been offered as an alternative, but they aren’t without their own problems. Oftentimes, they pollute local water sources. And because fish farms rely on wild fish catches for food, they simply shift the burden from one species to another.

However, unless you currently live in a ranch that was once a rainforest, the environmental damage is easy to ignore. Far more visible is the breathtaking deterioration of our society’s health, spearheaded by our meat-based diets. One of the most pressing dangers oozing from our food is the prevalence of antibiotics throughout the animals’ entire life cycle. Long ago, the meat industry figured out that if it fed animals low doses of antibiotics it could squeeze a weight increase of as much as 3 percent. Excited by the possibility of increased profits, these so-called “sub-therapeutic” antibiotic doses became the norm.

Adding to the problem is the blanket treatment with antibiotics in overcrowded and unsanitary factory farms whenever one animal is sick, to prevent deadly epidemics.

All this adds up to high antibiotic concentrations that kills almost all bacteria. The few strains that survive are super bacteria, resistant to many of the antibiotics we use. A 2001 study found that 20 percent of supermarket meat had salmonella, 84 percent of which was immune to at least one antibiotic.

By eliminating antibiotic-drenched meat from our diets, we can keep those vital antibiotics efficient. The health benefits to a meat-free diet don’t stop there. Vegetarians have been shown to have lower rates of obesity, lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also show decreased risks of heart disease, several cancers and type 2 diabetes. Some studies even suggest vegetarians might live longer and be more likely to be able to dunk, one-handed, from the free throw line. OK, I made that last part up, but the point is this: The less meat we eat, the healthier we are.

I’m a vegetarian, but that fact doesn’t mean all I eat is rabbit food and I shed a tear every time I see someone eat a hamburger. It means I find new ways to eat delicious food without having to deal with the cruelty and destruction meat production often carries with it. Believe me; once you make the decisions to cut meat out of your diet, it’s easy to find great alternatives and substitutes to meat. And once you start noticing the health benefits to your own body, you probably won’t want to go back.

Of course, I’m not naïve enough to think this column — though eloquently written — will push anyone to vegetarianism. What I do believe, however, is that even slightly reducing your own meat consumption can bring about a huge change in your own health and that of the planet. And yes, you can even keep your bacon.

— Leonardo Castaneda is an economics and journalism freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.