I have been following a vegan diet since August of 2011. I backslide now and then, but less often as time passes. My inspiration for adopting a plant-based diet is my wife Carol. When she first announced that we were going on a plant-based diet, I went along. Why? Because I’m such an agreeable mate. No, just kidding, I’m agreeable enough but the real reason was that I thought it was an approach to quality of life that was well worth trying out for a spell.
There was persuasive data from considerable research that seemed to support such a food pattern. The case for a plant-based diet has been articulated by Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., T. Colin Campbell and Dean Ornish, though many others could be mentioned. In addition, I found my resolve to stay with the vegan-like program reinforced by a well-organized support system of local and national groups. Additional resolve occurred when I noted significant positive changes in my before and after blood lipid panel scores. While I felt great before starting the diet and remain “weller than well” a year into it, the experiment has now become a part of my lifestyle. I do not follow a plant-based diet to manage a medical problem or because I ever struggled with weight, body image or a compulsive relationship with food. (These problem-alleviation motives are compelling for many who make diet changes.) I enjoy a plant-power diet for quality of life reasons.
There is one more reason I readily consented to follow my wife’s lead in pursuing a plant-based diet—the treatment of animals. This concern is one I felt in high school after reading, “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s classic novel that exposed stockyard horrors in Chicago during the early years of the 20th century. Sinclair’s depiction and the public revulsion at the risks of disease transmissions (plus a few horror stories about employees who fell into vats or rendering tanks, becoming ingredients in ground beef) gave me pause. But, over time, I put the matter out of mind, like nearly everyone else. I found it unpleasant to think about the suffering of animals.
However, thanks to the vegan community, PETA and individuals like Philip Wollen, I have revisited the matter. Now I suspect that a diet revolution is needed and will someday come to pass, though probably not in the lifetime of most who inhabit the planet at present.
So, who is Phillip Wollen? Philip Wollen is an Australian philanthropist and former Vice-President of Citibank. He spoke on May 16, 2012 at a debate sponsored by the St James Ethics Centre and the Wheeler Centre in Australia. (Note: I will offer a link to his speech at the end of this essay.) What he said reminded me of remarks expressed by Emma Goldman in an 1898 speech in Detroit entitled, “Living My Life,” “There are . . . some potentates I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. They are Ignorance, Superstition, and Bigotry—the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on earth.”
After listening to Mr. Wollen, I’m ready to offer a fourth category to the list of “sinister and tyrannical potentates”—Carnism. Killing and eating other creatures might make my potentate hit list, if I had one. )Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals.) Click on the video for an illustration of its use.
There were six speakers at the debate: three made the case for getting animals off of the menu and three defended the status quo. Here are highlights of a few points offered by Mr. Wollen:
- Animals must be off the menu … tonight they are screaming in terror in the slaughterhouse, in crates and cages—(in) vile, ignoble gulags of despair.
- Meat is the new asbestos—more murderous than tobacco.
- CO2, methane and nitrous oxide from the livestock industry are killing our oceans with acidic, hypoxic dead zones…90% of small fish are ground into pellets to feed livestock. Vegetarian cows are now the world’s largest ocean predator. The oceans are dying in our time. By 2048 all our fisheries will be dead. The lungs and the arteries of the earth.
- Only 100 billion people have ever lived. 7 billion alive today. And we torture and kill 2 billion animals every week. Ten thousand entire species are wiped out every year because of the actions of one species. We are now facing the 6th mass extinction in cosmological history. If any other organism did this a biologist would call it a virus. It is a crime against humanity of unimaginable proportions.
- Animal rights is now the greatest social justice issue since the abolition of slavery.
- There are over 600 million vegetarians in the world. That is bigger than the US, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, Australia combined! If we were one nation we would be bigger than the 27 countries in the European Union! Despite this massive footprint, we are still drowned out by the raucous huntin’, shootin’, killin’ cartels who believe that violence is the answer—when it shouldn’t even be a question.
- Meat is a killing industry—animals, us and our economies. Medicare has already bankrupted the US. They will need $8 trillion invested in Treasury bills just to pay the interest. It has precisely zero! Cornell and Harvard say’s that the optimum amount of meat for a healthy diet is precisely ZERO.
- Water is the new oil. Nations will soon be going to war for it. Underground aquifers that took millions of years to fill are running dry. It takes 50,000 litres of water to produce one kilo of beef.
- One billion people today are hungry. Twenty million people will die from malnutrition. Cutting meat by only 10% will feed 100 million people. Eliminating meat will end starvation forever.
- If everyone ate a Western diet, we would need two planet Earths to feed them. We only have one. And she is dying. Greenhouse gas from livestock is 50% more than transport—planes, trains, trucks, cars, and ships.
- Poor countries sell their grain to the West while their own children starve in their arms. And we feed it to livestock. So we can eat a steak? Am I the only one who sees this as a crime? Every morsel of meat we eat is slapping the tear-stained face of a starving child. When I look into her eyes, should I be silent?
- The earth can produce enough for everyone’s need. But not enough for everyone’s greed. If any nation had developed weapons that could wreak such havoc on the planet, we would launch a preemptive military strike and bomb it into the Bronze Age. But it is not a rogue state. It is an industry. The good news is we don’t have to bomb it. We can just stop buying it.
- George Bush was wrong. The Axis of Evil doesn’t run through Iraq, or Iran or North Korea. It runs through our dining tables.
- This (removing meat from the menu) is the Swiss Army Knife of the future—it solves our environmental, water, health problems and ends cruelty forever. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. This cruel industry will end because we run out of excuses.
- Meat is like one and two cent coins. It costs more to make than it is worth.
- And farmers are the ones with the most to gain. Farming won’t end. It would boom. Only the product line would change. Farmers would make so much money they wouldn’t even bother counting it.
There is much more, the best of which are in the non-data but highly passionate remarks that you can experience in the video. Mr. Wollen summed up in a manner that informed a part of the title of this essay, suggesting that if meat came off the menu, “governments will love us. New industries would emerge and flourish. Health insurance premiums would plummet. Hospital waiting lists would disappear. Hell We’d be so healthy; we’d have to shoot someone just to start a cemetery!”
Of course, not just the other side in the debate but many food experts and the entire meat industry would not agree with Mr. Wollen’s claim that animal consumption causes a wide range of cancers and heart disease. But, they might have a hard time answering his challenge to show evidence of any one disease that is caused by a vegetarian diet.
I encourage you to watch the video—it’s only ten minutes in duration. It contains some memorable phrases, such as the following: “The peace map is drawn on a menu. Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the presence of justice. Justice must be blind to race, color, religion or species. If she is not blind, she will be a weapon of terror. And there is unimaginable terror in those ghastly Guantanamos. If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we wouldn’t need this debate…Let’s get the animals off the menu and out of these torture chambers. Please vote for those who have no voice.
You can read and/or listen to an excerpt of the speech here.
Be well, look on the bright side, think carefully about what you eat and consider justice and kindness as well as health and good taste.