Monday, 1 October 2012

Eating up the world? The consequences of human food choices


‘Some people think that eating a plant-based, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery.  Some people would call that extreme.” -  Dr Caldwell Esselstyn

'Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food' - Hippocrates

Our planet is in times of great transformation. Things are changing fast in all possible ways. We are facing serious environmental challenges such as food and water shortages, global warming, deforestation, and species extinction that make it pretty clear that we are using the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate.
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But underneath it all something is bubbling. Perhaps inspired by the same challenges, human consciousness is growing rapidly, and we seem to become always more attuned to a natural, more authentic way of living. We are transiting into an age in which the call to become who we truly are, to live our full potential and align ourselves with a higher vibration is becoming too loud to ignore for many of us.

Some may call this a crisis, a catastrophe even. Others may view the changes with a sense of excitement and relief, knowing that we all have a part to play in making this world into what we want it to be. It is now more important than ever that we carefully consider the consequences our actions have on the world we are about to co-create.

In this sense, I have chosen to focus on one of the most significant issues that affect the ill health of our planet today: the food we eat and the wide-reaching effects our choices have on us and the world at large. In particular, I would like to highlight the impact meat production has on many of the problems we are facing, such as poverty, environmental damage and degenerative diseases.

Enough for everyone?

Let’s begin with one of the world’s biggest problems: poverty. Recent statistics show that 790 million people in the world are chronically undernourished and about 27.000 children under five die of starvation every day. I was amazed to find that in contrast to these disturbing statistics, we actually grow enough edible grain to provide 50% more than is required to feed every person in the world. So where does it all go?

Most of this edible grain is used to feed animals for meat, dairy and egg production. The world’s cattle alone consume enough food to feed 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population. Likewise, the amount of water required to produce one kilogram of beef is about forty times as high as that for the production of rice, leading to serious water shortages in several countries such as Australia.

Add to this the facts that over 50% of global human-caused greenhouse gases can be attributed to livestock and their by-products and that a massive 92% of all land degradation is caused by animal industries. For example, cattle-ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

So what is the answer? Experts say that adopting a plant-based diet would make the difference, not only for the future of the planet, but also for our health. Looking around us, it is easy to tell why.

A simple cure for deadly diseases?

Despite having the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever. Two out of every three of us are overweight. Cases of diabetes are exploding, especially amongst the young. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are leading causes of death, and millions suffer from a host of other degenerative diseases.

According to major research studies, most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us could be prevented, reversed and even eliminated by altering our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. Researchers such as Dr T Colin Caldwell, author of the widely acclaimed ‘China Study’ (http://www.thechinastudy.com/) found that people who ate the most animal-based foods suffered the most chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and that people who ate the most plant-based foods tended to avoid them. Large studies in England and Germany show that vegetarians are about forty percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.

Our current response to degenerative diseases is to treat them with chemical drugs, which often produce damaging side effects. The real solution, however, could be as simple as changing our diet and lifestyle, which may not lead to our developing the diseases in the first place. Many of us have been taught that human beings need animal proteins for optimum health, whereas scientific research shows exactly the opposite: that plant proteins such as legumes are healthier and more nourishing.

Food also affects our consciousness in a powerful way. Prana-rich, living foods such as plants nourish our consciousness and spirituality, whereas dead, processed foods dull our senses. Some people believe that the violence that has been inflicted on an animal before it is eaten transfers onto the consumer, and makes us more interested in inflicting violence on others. Many spiritual seekers and traditions therefore adopt a vegetarian diet to elevate their consciousness and follow the principle of non-violence.

Last but not least, let’s consider the animals that are turned into food. I don’t think any of us need much evidence that what goes on in slaughterhouses isn’t pretty. Yes, it is easy to walk into a supermarket or butcher and buy a shiny piece of meat without giving a thought as to where it has come from. But have you considered what the animal has endured before it reaches your plate? Here are some statistics that might make you think.

Every year, 58 billion animals are raised and killed for human consumption. Often, these farmed animals, such as chickens, cows and pigs, have been treated horrendously. Laying hens, for example, are often packed tightly indoors where they become red and raw from constant mating. Half of the born chicks are male and won’t lay eggs so they are gassed or ground up alive at day one. Because laying hens are not ‘profitable’ after eighteen months of age, they are killed and their depleted bodies are used for pet food, stock cubes or fertilizer.

Dairy cows have miserable lives, too. By nature, they only produce milk when they have a calf, yet are artificially impregnated to produce milk for humans while their own babies are killed. Cows are forced into a relentless cycle of pregnancy, birthing and milk production during which they suffer chronic mastitis, liver damage and painful digestive disorders. The journey to the slaughterhouse is long and traumatic without food and water. In the killing line, cows are fully aware of what lies ahead. They are terrified, kicking and screaming. Cows too sick or injured to stand are often dragged with chains to the killing floor, or left to slowly die.

Okay, you might think, so I’ll buy organic. Surely that’s fine. Not quite, I was interested to find. According to animal rights charity PETA, people who buy organic or free-range animal products because they think that the animals are treated well are sadly mistaken.

Many organic and free-range farms cram thousands of animals together in sheds or mud-filled lots to increase profits, just as factory farms do, and the animals often suffer through the same mutilations—such as debeaking, dehorning, and castration without painkillers—that occur on factory farms. Many ‘organically raised’ cows are sent to factory-farm feedlots to be fattened prior to slaughter, where they are caked with faeces and mud. These cows can still be labelled organic as long as they're given organic feed.

Stepping into our power

Pretty bleak, isn’t it? It seems like the planet is eaten up alive by unsustainable food practices that we have little influence on. The good news is that we can change it, one step at the time. We may not own the companies that make these policies, but as consumers, we have choices. We can decide whether we want to contribute to these conditions or whether we want to live in a way that is more conscious of and respectful to the life around us.

As Newton already wisely stated, every action has a reaction. Every single one of our actions has an effect on something else. Investing our money in acts that have detrimental consequences on the wellbeing of others cannot be wholesome and contribute to making the world a more compassionate, loving or peaceful place. When we recognize that we all have an important part to play in the future of this planet, we’re stepping into our power. And we are all infinitely more powerful than we think.

I realize that change isn’t easy. If we are used to a certain type of diet, then we may not want to alter it radically. So maybe we can start by reducing some of our animal protein intake and replacing it with wholesome plant foods. Every small step can make a big difference. Maybe, like me, you will find inspiration in the words of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

To find out more:
  • Watch ‘Earthlings’ – a powerful and informative documentary about society’s treatment of animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Free to download at www.earthlings.com
  • Watch ‘Forks over Knives’, a brilliant, well-researched documentary about the health impacts of our food choices: http://www.forksoverknives.com/
  • Read ‘Conscious Eating’ by Gabriel Cousens, MD, a wonderfully enlightening book on how food influences the way we think, feel and relate to the world around us: http://www.treeoflife.nu/
  • Read ‘From Crisis to Peace’ by S.M. Ching Hai, founder of the ‘Loving Hut’ vegan restaurants. Download this book on environmental and spiritual solutions for free at http://www.crisis2peace.org/
  • Read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran, a father’s journey about making the right dietary choices for his son: http://www.eatinganimals.com/



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