Green Eggs and Ham
Most of us don’t genuinely question a meat-rich diet, even amid inquiries about the morality of it all and summons to a vlog-worthy lifestyle.
Most of us don’t genuinely question a meat-rich diet, even amid inquiries about the morality of it all and summons to a vlog-worthy lifestyle. Given how accustomed we are to eating meat regularly, it becomes easy to cite “the circle of life” and dig in; however, this outlook neglects to put history into perspective. Yes, humans have been omnivorous for 2.5 million years, but not to the extent that a plate without an animal product on it wouldn’t be considered a proper meal. In fact, only a few decades ago, a meat dinner was a rare delicacy. Additionally, while this is less present at Lawrenceville, there’s often a general cultural perception of the more vocal vegetarians and vegans as preachy—just check out any vegan youtube channel. But hey, if I were saving the world one tofu sandwich at a time, I’d talk about it too—because vegetarians and vegans are in the right, even if the rest of us haven’t seen it yet.
From a utilitarian perspective, using meat to feed earth’s population is horrifically wasteful and unsustainable. Globally, meat production accounts for over 80 percent of the earth’s farmland and over a fourth of our total freshwater consumption, a massive amount of resources that isn’t proportionate to the quantity of food we extract; per 1kg of steak produced, a cow consumes up to 25kg of grain and uses up to 15,000L of water. If we simply used those resources to feed ourselves, we’d have enough left over to nourish an additional 3.5 billion people. Meat production is also a significant contributor to climate change, responsible for 15% of all human greenhouse gas emissions—as much as all cars, ships, planes, and trains combined. Thus, several scientists and climate organizations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most recently, have urged the public to adopt plant-based diets. And that isn’t even considering animal rights—humans kill 200 million animals a day, the majority of which are bred in factory farms that feature atrocious quality of life for animals on the product line. This isn’t the same thing as hunting animals in wild or even maintaining a farm. Industrial farming is dairy cows and sows forced to breed continuously only to be forcibly separated from their youth; pigs raised in massive, windowless sheds; feedlots with beef cows eating continually without being let out to expend calories; animals kept pens and cages impossible to so much as turn around in; chickens packed so tightly together that their beaks have to be cut off to prevent fighting; male chicks, deemed useless to production, gassed and shredded; and several other horrors. The price we pay for cheap meat is mass animal cruelty to fuel an uncompromising industrial system. I’m not going to equate this to killing a human, but I don’t think we can justify it for our dietary convenience if it’s not a necessity, and as established, it isn’t. The realities of factory farming are not the circle of life, and we need to acknowledge that—in fact, I’m sure future generations will be aghast at how common this practice was, much in the way we can’t understand how it was once normal to enslave another human for personal convenience.
It doesn't feel great to know that when I make that quick purchase at Chick-fil-A, ravenous after a game, I’m indirectly promoting all of the above. But is that going to stop me from ordering a spicy chicken sandwich instead of a salad? Probably not. Many people, Lawrentians included, live fast-paced lives that make it nigh impossible to adhere to strict diets if it’s not a medical or religious necessity—and people who do manage it have all my respect. However, I recognize that we’re not just going to suddenly experience a collective change of heart and go no meat products cold-turkey. The alternative could be to let ourselves get tricked into it, much in the way subsidized renewable energy initiatives gradually convert people to solar; we wait until scientists do the work for us and begin making meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger readily available so we can satisfy our meat cravings without guilt. However, we can also take control of our own habits by consciously minimizing meat consumption in our diets. I propose a renewed “Meatless Monday” initiative—committing to a solely plant-based diet one day of the week. It’s not perfect, but it would still make a significant difference if the whole school managed it, or even if one person sustained the habit for several years.
If not for moral reasons, there are also several health benefits to a more vegetable-based diet. Processed meat, which includes bacon, hotdogs, and most of the options we see in the deli bar, are strongly linked to cancer, according to the World Health Organization, with processed meat now classified among the group 1 carcinogens, right alongside asbestos and plutonium exposure and smoking. They may also significantly increase the chance of suffering from strokes, diabetes, and heart disease later in life. Most public health agencies recommend cutting down meat consumption to 500g a week and cutting processed meat as much as possible, which is far from the 1600g that Americans average. And athletes aren’t exempt-—not only are The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in agreement that a vegetarian or vegan diet can provide adequate nutrients to support an athlete, but elite athletes are increasingly opting for plant-based diets, and one day a week of no meat (it could even be Sunday) or a general reduction in meat products (swapping out a meat-based “refueling food” for something high carb) will not negatively impact an athlete’s performance.
Thus, advocates of plant diets are right, no two ways about it—meat production is unsustainable and industrial farming is not OK. But instead of shrugging our shoulders and carrying on with our day, we can consciously change our own habits, improving both ourselves and the world just a little bit.