2: The Sustainability dilemma
Around the time when I first discovered the truth about the conditions on factory farms and the horrific way the animals are treated, I also became aware of the enormous environmental devastation caused by these ‘farms’, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. This is the official name for these meat, dairy and egg factories where a large concentration of livestock are cultivated and processed on a very small area of land. Intensive agriculture at its peak.
I read about the negative health and environmental impact of huge amounts of manure generated by such operations in the United States:
“The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce… Depending on the type and number of animals in the farm, manure production can range between 2,800 tons and 1.6 million tons a year. Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities… Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.
“The EPA’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory found that 29 states specifically identified animal feeding operations, not just concentrated animal feeding operations, as contributing to water quality impairment. A study of private water wells in Idaho detected levels of veterinary antibiotics, as well as elevated levels of nitrates…”
– National Association of Local Boards of Health, Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities
I glossed over that one. After all, those were just farms in the US and other western countries. Our Nigerian farms were not causing such problems (as far as I knew).
Then I watched a documentary about the global impact of these CAFOs and realized that intensive livestock production was affecting ALL of us:
Nothing could have prepared me for this documentary. (I cried at the point where Kip took the chicken to the animal sanctuary instead of killing her.)
Cowspiracy was a big turning point for me. I had no desire to eat any kind of meat after watching it.
It showed me that there is a very strong, concerted campaign by the meat and dairy industries to cover up the link between global warming, rainforest depletion, species extinction, ocean dead zones and livestock production, and between disease and consumption of animal products, because they know that if people found out, demand for meat would dissipate. It made me realize that there is no such thing as sustainably raised meat or fish or chicken or pork – there are simply not enough resources in the world to maintain enough livestock to feed 6 billion people with animal products without destroying the environment. It proved to me that our practice of raising livestock to support our meat eating habits were destroying the planet, and would eventually destroy us too.
And then it also made the claim that human beings are not even supposed to eat meat to begin with! Here I had to pause. Meat that people have been eating since prehistoric times? Haba. Being my curious, questioning self, I started doing the research to find out whether this was true. My research led me to the China Study.
3: Health considerations
The China Study, conducted by Dr. T. Olin Campbell, was the most comprehensive epidemiological study of nutrition ever conducted, spanning nearly 10 years and involving 6,500 adults and their families. Dr Campbell discovered that there is an undeniable link between consumption of a diet containing animal products and highly refined foods, and incidence of diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancer.
But ain’t nobody got time to read that whole book. So I watched Forks Over Knives, a movie based on the conclusions of the China Study.
There’s a summary of the movie’s main points here.
So everything I had ever known about milk and meat was a lie? I have to be honest, I was depressed for a while after watching this. We were being told so many lies, I was just weak. I knew it was wrong to eat animals, but now these people were saying it was also unhealthy? But everyone knows lean meat is the best source of protein and milk is the best source of calcium.
I concluded that Forks Over Knives and the China Study were legit. But as I read about veganism, I saw again and again references to B12 deficiency in vegans. So I researched the nutrient sufficiency of vegan diets. I found that vegans only seem to lack one nutrient: B12. It is the only essential nutrient not made by plants. But it is not made by animals either . In fact, most livestock these days are given B12 supplements. Plus, meat eaters are just as likely to have B12 deficiency as vegans and vegetarians (whether or not you eat animal products, it’s a good idea to get checked). The reason is that B12 is made by bacteria that live in healthy soils, in the presence of a mineral called cobalt. But because modern farming practices drench the soil in chemicals that kill off all organisms in it, these bacteria do not survive. Plus, we are so clean and hygienic now that the bacteria which would normally stay on our hands and get ingested when we eat food with dirty hands, are no longer there. Which is not a bad thing, because good hygiene keeps germs away and prevents disease. But that has also gotten rid of the good bacteria. So basically, we all need supplements to get adequate B12 these days.
Overall it made more sense to me to take B12 supplements and not eat meat, than to eat meat from an animal that had been fed the same supplements. Why filter the nutrient through an animal’s body?
That was it for me. It was clear from all my research that animal products were an unnecessary and even harmful part of our diet, and our consumption of it was being promoted by selfish corporate interests. So all the suffering we were putting these animals through was just so we could eat something that happens to taste good but was also killing us slowly? I resolved to go vegan and spread the word to as many people as possible. All this needless torture of animals needed to stop.
So there you have it. That’s how I switched to a plant based diet. And I fully believe it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I’ll leave you with this wonderful, compelling presentation by Gary Yourofsky, a prominent advocate of veganism, called “Why Vegan?”