How To Fight Climate Change If You’re a Broody Meat Lover

Image credit: @mosesartgallery

Wanna save the planet from the looming climate crisis? Go vegan and don’t get pregnant – the latest in offensive solutions that most people just can’t commit to. And understandably so.

We’re in the midst of a fucking climate crisis, a single-use plastic epidemic, a coral-bleaching disaster, a biodiversity-loss balls up.

But what if I told you that you didn’t need to do either? What if there was something A LOT easier almost all of us could do to play a part in saving our only home?

Image credit: @nrdc_org

Most of us (that have not been living under a climate-change-denying rock) are already aware of a host of ways in which can reduce our individual carbon footprint, i.e. switching off lights/plugs not in use, minimising air travel, using public transport to get around, buying less shit, avoiding single-use plastics, etc. But there’s something more, something of greater impact, that most of us can do every single day to fight climate change.

Before I get into it, I’ll be dead honest with you. I am vegan and disinterested in reproduction – BUT I genuinely have no desire to convert you from your carnivorous ways, or encourage you to withhold the fruits of your loins. If I happen to inspire you to do either, I won’t complain – but that’s not why I’m here today.

Wait, wot? A vegan that doesn’t want to convince me of how trash my habits are?

Yeah, believe it. I’m not going to canter my high-horse along the moral high-ground and tell you how much better I am than you. I want to be real with you: we’re in the midst of a fucking climate crisis, a single-use plastic epidemic, a coral-bleaching disaster, a forest-clearing fiasco, a biodiversity-loss balls up. Shit is bleak and we ALL need to do what we ~can~ to fix the gargantuan mess the Boomers have gotten us into. #OkayBoomer

One Meal A Day is a movement, community and campaign whose goal is to support people just like you to change their relationship with food.

So, what’s the so-easy-to-do something to be done by those who are broody and in the moody for meat and dairy? Well, whether you’d like to reproduce is a very personal choice and one I have no right to comment on. So, I’ll leave you to it. The proposition I do have for you is this:

Eat however you want, except make one meal per day plant-based. That’s it! Easy-peasy, planet-pleasy.

But how is that going to make a difference tho?

Suzi Amis Cameron of One Meal A Day (OMD) says, “If you eat just one plant-based meal a day for a year, you’ll save almost 200,000 gallons of water (that’s 11,400 showers!) and the pollution equivalent to about 3,000 miles driven in your car (roughly LA to NYC). And, if everyone in the US reduced their meat and dairy intake by just 50 percent, it would be equal to taking 26 million cars off the road.”

OMD is a movement, community and campaign whose goal is to support people just like you to change their relationship with food by swapping at least one meal a day with something plant-based. You can learn all about their work and download a helpful eating guide at their website here.

Image credit: @nrdc_org

That sounds like a huge difference being made by people who are not vegan, people who are simply cutting down on their animal-product consumption in lieu of our only home potentially turning into an apocalyptic wasteland. And there’s even more good news. Eating one plant-based meal a day is not only good for the planet, but also good for your health and the world’s communities. Let’s unpack.

One Meal A Day For The Planet

After the release of a major report on the relationship between land use and climate change, UN experts have said that changing to a plant-based diet would be of significant impact in the fight against climate change.

It’s no secret that the West LOVES their meat and dairy products. And in our Western-influenced South Africa, it’s pretty much the same story – just on a smaller scale. I mean, our Heritage Day celebrations consist largely of cooking meat over the open fire, and pap and vleis is a staple meal for millions.

It is not sustainable to keep eating animal products the way most people are, the way you probably are.

And, while some vegans may want to castrate me for saying this, I don’t actually have anything against people who choose to eat meat and dairy – as long as they’re conscious of the inhumane torture they’re paying for. You see, the abuse of sentient beings (especially in factory farms) is something people have long ignored because of taste preference.

But now there’s a bigger issue that even people who don’t care about animals’ suffering can no longer disregard…

The animal agricultural industry is the second worst producer of greenhouse gasses, second only to the burning of fossil fuels, and contributes more emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Read that again: the animal agricultural industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than every single plane, car, truck, bus, and bike combined. Yikes.

It’s also one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water pollution. In layman’s terms, it is not sustainable to keep eating animal products the way most people are, the way you probably are.

Image credit: @theecoguys

But even the experts aren’t saying “go vegan or vegetarian”. They’re simply saying that more people could be fed using less natural resources and land, if we all ate LESS meat and dairy. It makes sense and it’s not a lot to ask since, you know, we have literally nowhere else to go when our planet fucks out. The fact is, if we (the people who ~can~) don’t cut back on our consumption of animal products, we will never meet the climate targets needed to avoid the looming crisis.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not talking to the tiny margin of indigenous peoples and those with autoimmune diseases and the like that CANNOT go plant-based. I’m talking to people who are fully capable of going plant-based, but choose not to because of taste preference. And remember, I’m not saying go vegan. I’m saying eat ~one~ plant-based a day. That’s it.

If all you can commit to is one plant-based meal a day, that’s enough 🙂

You can find out what your current diet’s carbon footprint is here, and learn more about how climate change and food are linked here.

One Meal A Day For Your Health

“You have to eat your veggies, or you won’t get any dessert” – I heard it growing up, and I’m sure many of you did too. It is a generally well-known truth that eating a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods is imperative to staying healthy. But now, a host of medical studies have found that healthy plant-based diets can be even better for us than we thought.

Again, every individual case is different and I’m not talking to people who would literally die if they went plant-based, so don’t @ me.

For too long, plant-based nutrition as a preventative measure against chronic diseases – including cardiovascular diseases, which are the world’s leading causes of death – has not been given the respect it deserves. But now, a host of recent studies have found that a plant-based diet can play a vital role in not only preventing these diseases, but reversing them as well.

For example, this case study highlights the potential role of a plant-based diet in helping to reverse systolic dysfunction, or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

This other case study by a host of respected doctors aims to educate physicians on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, which is defined as “a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.”

They go on to say, “Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.”

And professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center Dr Randall Stafford says, “Vegetarian diets have been associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality by as much as 29 percent and cancer incidence by 18 percent.”

Each year about 56 billion animals are slaughtered for consumption worldwide.

Please take note that the focus is on a ~healthy~ plant-based diet, meaning whole foods that have been processed/refined as little as possible and are free from additives and other artificial substances. Basically, foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.

Living off of vegan junk food, like Oreos and white bread sarmies slathered in vegan mayo and imitation cheese, isn’t going to cut it – though some of us wish it would. Remember: just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

I won’t bang on about it anymore because I think you get the point that eating more whole plant-based foods and less animal products is simply better for your health (most of the time).

You can read up on a variety of plant-based diets and learn which one might be best for you in this Harvard Health Publishing article. But, obviously, if you have existing health issues or concerns it’s best to consult your doctor.

One Meal A Day For Communities

Animals poop and pee. And when there are billions of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, etc. pooping and peeing all the time, it leaves farmers with one gargantuan stinky problem: what to do with all the doo-doo. Each year about 56 billion animals are slaughtered for consumption worldwide. That’s more than eight times the amount of people there are on Earth right now, and more crap and urine than you could ever imagine.

Image credit: @estherveganlin

There are two main ways animal waste is dealt with by the animal agricultural industry: fertiliser and lagoons.

Let’s begin with fertiliser. Using manure as a fertiliser for fields can only be done effectively by small farms that are able to compost the excess manure their crops cannot absorb, and then market it as fertiliser. Industrial farms, however, produce way too much manure to even consider doing this.

So, they resort to spreading the manure out in surrounding fields via spray, aka ‘sprayfields’. The amount of manure sprayed onto these fields often accumulates heavily and ends up running off into local waterways, polluting them catastrophically.

High quantities of nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen, can cause an outbreak of algae that steals all the oxygen in the water – killing aquatic life and impacting the lives of people who depend on those waterways.

For example, in 2011 an Illinois hog farm spilled 200,000 gallons of manure into a creek, killing more than 110,000 fish. A similar incident occurred on an eight-acre hog lagoon in North Carolina, where a lagoon broke and released 25 million gallons of manure into the New River, killing 10 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands used for shellfishing. Similar environmental pollution has resulted from chicken and dairy farm runoff in Maryland, California, and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Cesspools of Shame, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Farmers also often spray fields regardless of windy conditions, seeing neighbouring properties covered in a gut-wrenching mixture of urine and faeces. Residents have reported not being able to escape the sock-knocking stench, even with all windows and doors tightly shut. This is not only unpleasant, but poses detrimental health risks. I’ll come back to those in a bit. Let’s backtrack to lagoons real quick.

If the word ‘lagoon’ conjures an inviting image of a blue body of water fringed with palm fronds and bikini-wearing babes, you can forget that shit right now. In reality, lagoons created by factory farms are acres-large man-made cesspools of piss and shit that stretch as far as the eye can see, permeating the air with a pong so bad it can quite literally make you ill.

Even though these lagoons are lined with plastic or clay, closer inspection has far too often revealed shocking seepage rates of up to millions of litres per year. That’s millions of litres of toxic animal waste seeping into drinking water, rivers, creeks, and delicate ecosystems that host a variety of wildlife and human activity.

Image credit: Rodrigo Gutierrez/Reuters via The New York Times

When these cesspools overflow, leak, or break, they deliver dangerous microbes, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and hazardous levels of nitrate into drinking water supplies. And let’s not forget that beyond being one of the worst smelling substances on Earth, decomposing animal waste also releases a deathly cocktail of toxic gasses, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and, of course, methane.

But how exactly can people be effected?

Gas-inhalation
People who live near or work at factory farms have no choice but to breathe in the aforementioned gasses. Hydrogen sulfide alone is extremely dangerous, even when ingested at low levels. Some of its irreversible effects include sore throats, seizures, comas, brain damage, and even death. Methane ingestion can have the same adverse health effects, along with vision problems and heart palpitations.

Drinking water contamination
As mentioned, seepage from lagoons and sprayfields penetrates groundwater, contaminating it with nitrates that severely increase the risk of blue baby syndrome. Blue baby syndrome is when nitrates form compounds in the body that change haemoglobin to methemoglobin, decreasing the ability of blood to carry oxygen. Sadly, babies with this syndrome rarely survive.

There’s no escaping the toxic gasses, the unbearable stench.

Nitrate-contaminated drinking water near hog factories has also been linked to unexpected abortions. I hope you think about that the next time you have the urge to say “but bacon tho”.

Beyond dead babies, there have also been several outbreaks of diseases and viruses linked to drinking water contaminated by waste from factory farms. Back in 1993, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that manure made by dairy cows contributed to a cryptosporidium contamination of Milwaukee’s drinking water, which “killed more than 100 people, made 400,000 sick and resulted in $37 million in lost wages and productivity.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Livestock are routinely pumped with antibiotics to get them to grow faster and bigger, as well as keep them from dying from the plethora of illnesses they can catch while living in the deplorably inhumane conditions of grow houses. Humans then eat their antibiotic-ridden meat and contribute to the rise of bacteria that becomes increasingly harder to treat in humans.

Image credit: @weanimals

Loss of assets
And if that wasn’t all bad enough, property owners near animal agricultural farms can kiss their purchase’s value goodbye. Even if the waste management improves and waterways go unpolluted, there’s no escaping the toxic gasses, the unbearable stench. Absolutely NO ONE will buy your property from you.

Even worse, many of the communities living near these farms are people living below the poverty line, people of colour. People that mega-rich farm owners – and seemingly the government – simply couldn’t care less about.

And if you think the neighbours have it bad, you’d best believe that the factory-farm workers have it worse.

The lives of factory-farm workers
Working in a factory farm is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It is not only physically strenuous and hazardous, but also psychologically taxing. The well-being and safety of workers is something that is all too commonly of little concern to slaughterhouse management.

Their work includes castrating male pigs, clipping pigs’ teeth, and cutting the tails and ears off of piglets – all without anaesthetic.

Slaughterhouses have some of the highest employee turnover rates ever recorded and are comprised largely of unskilled minorities – most commonly people of colour. Unsurprisingly, factory-farm workers are also some of the most poorly paid workers on the planet.

Many of the States’ slaughterhouse workers are undocumented migrants that are less likely to make a fuss about low wages and horrendous working conditions. Basically, it’s modern-day slavery.

These workers endure conditions that most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies, and what’s worse is that they’re largely unaware of the imposing health hazards of their work environment. Fuelled by an ever-increasing demand for cheap meat, workers are forced to work at speeds that put them in danger and force them to inflict shocking abuse upon the animals.

Here is an account by an employee being interviewed by Gail Eisnitz in her fight for humane animal and worker treatment:

“I got cut across my jugular, I was scared, scared to death. Stitches go with the territory in a packing house. I can live with stitches. I can live with getting cut once in a while. What I can’t live with is cutting my own throat.”

Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry, Eisnitz, p. 55, 2009.

At hog houses, their work includes castrating male pigs, clipping pigs’ teeth, and cutting the tails and ears off of piglets – all without anaesthetic. A traumatic experience for both parties.

At chicken hatcheries, their work includes determining chicks’ gender at high-speed, killing the male chicks, cutting off the tip of female chicks’ beaks without anaesthetic, and shoving them into crates to be transported to the growing farm.

At growing facilities, the second-last stop before the slaughterhouse, work includes the removal of dead animals and the killing of sick, injured or weak animals – often by beating them with metal pipes (aka ‘piping’). They then have to force the remaining live (and terrified) animals into trucks when they’re ready for slaughter. I don’t even want to go into what workers have to do at slaughterhouses, but you find out for yourself here.

Image credit: @konrad.lozinski

After a day of torturing, killing, inhaling a hazardous concoction of gasses, and surviving accidental lacerations, a variety of chronic health conditions persist long after their shift ends. Motivated by the need to support their families, most of these workers have no choice but to continue working despite their serious health issues.

Let that sink in: workers have to compromise their physical health to maintain the most basic level of financial security. If the way the animals are treated doesn’t already say something to you about the industry’s ethics, then the way the workers are treated surely should.

“Rather than raise the standards of the industry, many employers have sought to recruit workers who will simply accept less – most of the time we’re bargaining just for basic human decency.“

– Union Advocate Greg Denier, for Los Angeles Times.

And lastly, although the study of the psychological experiences of slaughterhouse workers is very limited with only a few credible sources, there are some that lend harrowing insights that cannot go ignored.

In Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing is a study by Rachel M. MacNair that describes Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that slaughterhouse workers experience. The symptoms include drug and alcohol abuse, panic, paranoia, dissociation, anxiety, and depression stemming from the act of killing.

Image credit: @konrad.lozinski

The following quotes offer some insight into what killing animals all day feels like for slaughterhouse workers:

“The worst thing, worse than the physical danger is the emotional toll. If you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things, but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, “God, that really isn’t a bad-looking animal”. You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.”

A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by
Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress Through Legal Reform
, Dillard, p. 398, 2008.
Image credit: @estherveganlin

“I actually thought I was going crazy at one point. I’d hit the bar after work every day, pound down four or five beers, come home and just sit and stare off into space through three or four more. If I talked at all, it was to bitch and chew. I was an SOB, royally. I mean gold-plated. My wife thought all this was directed at her. I’d want to tell her the truth, find the right words so she’d really understand, but I never could. Little things would set me off. I was putting a new alternator belt on my wife’s car and the wrench slipped and I gouged my knuckle. I stood back and had a fit beating that car. I was beating it, kicking it, screaming at it. It was like I’d lost my mind.”

Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry, Eisnitz, p. 61, 2009.

If I read anymore of these, I might lose all hope. But you can continue learning about the experiences of slaughterhouse workers here.

And before you @ me saying that these issues are only in the United States, I’m sorry to tell you that, that simply isn’t the case. I’ll do a separate post on the state of affairs in South Africa. Either way, wherever you live, wherever your meat comes from, the situation remains the same: the global population needs to consume less animal products. Period.

The impact the animal agricultural industry currently has is a fucking unnerving reality to digest. It’s an industry that is cruel to everyone involved; the workers, the animals, the communities, and the environment at large. It’s why I choose to be kind at every meal and every purchase.

It’s why I’m vegan – a political stance that sees me choosing the kindest option possible at every intersection. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying my best to learn as much as I can about what effects my choices have, and on whom. You don’t have to go vegan, but you have to become conscious of the causes of climate change and how your individual impact contributes to them.

If you’re keen to live kinder, all you need to do is start with one meal a day. And if you’re keen to live the kindest, slide into my DMs and let’s talk veganism. If you could choose to live a kinder life, why wouldn’t you? Do what you ~can~. Just start today.

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