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What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You!

by Jaimie Shaughnessy on March 27, 2014

For decades, vegetarians have carried a connotation of tree-hugging, judgmental hippies who take part in a great deal of peaceful protests and annoying, angry blog posts that bash meat eaters. But despite the extreme accusations, becoming a vegetarian is one of the most significant lifestyle choices that one can make when it comes to creating a sustainable environment while gaining many health benefits.  The underlying truth about meat production is often kept hidden but for the past few years, the surfacing issues are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.  The United States produces and consumes more meat than any other country (which is likely why our obesity rates are so high!).  The 10% of Americans who choose to cut meat out of their diet experience a number of direct health benefits (Vegetarian Times 2008).  Furthermore, going veg can greatly improve the quality of the environment and society on an international scale.

Health Benefits

A diet without meat typically consists of lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein while maintaining necessary levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals (PubMed 2003).  As a result, vegetarians reap plenty of health benefits.

In Britain, it is estimated that there are about 165,000 deaths due to ischemic heart disease.  Evidence suggest that a ubiquitous adoption of a vegetarian diet could potentially prevent approximately 40,000 of these deaths (Key 1999). The reduction in deaths by heart disease is only one of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.  Compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians typically have a lower BMI, lower blood cholesterol, and a reduction in chances of developing hypertension and type 2 diabetes (PubMed 2003).  Furthermore, certain cancers such as colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer are more commonly seen in wealthier countries like Britain and the U.S. than in but rare in poor or developing countries countries with predominantly plant-based diets (Key 1999) suggesting that a plant based diet will reduce the likelihood of developing such cancers.  It turns out you really are what you eat!

Antibiotic Resistance

Ever since farmers and ranchers found that feeding antibiotics to their livestock would make them grow larger and faster, animals have been administered small doses which later are consumed by humans (PBS).  This leads to the issue of antibiotic resistance not only within the animals to which they are fed, but also in the people who consume them.  This poses a huge problem when it comes to treating food-borne illnesses.  For instance, if a pig is fed Cipro, an antibiotic used to prevent anthrax and salmonellosis, a person who frequently consumes pork is likely to ingest a decent amount of the drug.  The antibiotic resistance can be spread from the pig to the human so if one may be more likely to extract salmonella poisoning (PBS).  A study from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001, discovered that 20% of ground meat purchased in supermarkets contained salmonella.  What’s worse is that 84% of the salmonella infested beef was resistant to at least one type of antibiotic (PBS).

Indeed, it is important to treat sick animals when necessary but the misuse of antibiotics creates a serious dilemma within the meat industry.  It is absolutely vital to be aware of what you put into your body as well as potential consequences.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to know which piece of bacon may contain antibiotic resistance pork and which does not.

Animal Abuse

We’ve all seen the gut wrenching ASPCA commercials in which Sarah McLachlan manages to pull at our heartstrings while horrible images of adorable kittens and dogs that have fallen victim to animal abuse are displayed.  When watching these commercials it becomes a common question: “Who would do that to such a poor, innocent creature?”  Well, it turns out these monsters exist in modern intensive production farms and slaughterhouses.  Animals in these production farms are so severely mistreated that they are often immobile, have broken limbs, or dying when they reach the slaughterhouse where they are skinned, boiled, or gutted alive.  Puppy or pig, this type of abuse is never justified.

Chickens are fed the previously mentioned antibiotics that cause them to so large that their fragile legs cannot hold their body weight and their organs begin to function poorly.  They are also crammed in such tight quarters that they cannot move.  Therefor it is not surprising that most suffer many broken bones.  The amount of stress these birds undergo is so immense that it causes them to become aggressive.  They physically attack one another so the farmers take it upon themselves to remove their beaks (Peta).

When cows are very young, they are branded with hot irons.  Their horns are forcibly removed. Males are castrated.  All of these unnatural actions are performed without painkillers. Adults are sent to large, poorly kept feedlots where they can be fattened for slaughter. Female cows are used for their milk and are thus sent to dairy farms.  Here, they are repeatedly impregnated and separated from their calves until their abused bodies have had enough and they are ultimately killed (Peta).

Pigs are kept in cages that are too small for their abnormally large bodies.  They too, are castrated and also have their tails clipped without painkillers.  When being transferred from the production farms to the slaughterhouse, they endure extreme weather conditions and may die of heat exhaustion in the hot summers or arrive frozen in the harsh, cold winters (Peta).

Studies show that animals in fear, stress, and pain release hormones including adrenalin, cortisone-like secretions, and certain steroids that may stimulate fear pheromone production.  The consumption of meats containing these substances have been proven to have negative affects on human health including cardiac problems, impotency and general fatigue (Putzkoff).

Save the Environment, Save the World

A vegetarian diet not only benefits the individual, but can also be immensely valuable to the environment.  Studies find that the intensive production farms may be responsible for 18% of the world’s gas emissions (that’s 5.5% higher than the entire world’s transport system!) (Vegetarian Society).  As water becomes a scarce resource, it is important to be as sustainable as possible when it comes to its consumption. Beef requires thousands more liters of water to produce one kilo than to grow the same quantity of grains, vegetables or pulses (Veg. Soc.).  Not only would this conserve water, but it would help put food production priorities in check.  Spending less energy on meat production means more energy can be attributed to growing large quants of grains and vegetables so that areas that many developing countries can have lower cases of starvation and malnutrition.  A reduction in meat production would also help to protect the massive amounts of land that would otherwise contribute to 70% of  Amazon deforestation if it were used for livestock production (Veg. Soc.).


Although going veg can be a drastic lifestyle change for some, it seems a no-brainer when all the facts are finally acknowledged.  Many people simply do not know how beneficial vegetarianism can be in a variety of different ways.  Former Beatles member and civil rights activist, Paul McCartney once pointed out that, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”  The meat industry does not want society to know what goes on behind its walls.  The only way to prevent any further damage is to be the window for society to spread awareness of the enormous benefits that comes with vegetarianism.


Hamilton, Doug. “FRONTLINE: Is Your Meat Safe?.” PBS.

Key, Timothy J. “Health benefits of a vegetarian diet.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 58 (1999): 271-75.

“Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: vegetarian diets.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 64.2 (2003): 62-81.


Putzkoff, Irwin H. “Animal Stress Results in Meat Causing Disease.”


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