7 Reasons Your Family May Want to Become Vegetarian
By Ketura Persellin
You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.
In spite of that, global consumption of beef, lamb and goat is expected to rise by almost 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. This may not surprise you, given how many kids love burgers and fries. With that in mind, here are seven reasons you and your family might want to become a vegetarian — or at least cut down on how much meat you eat.
1. Environmental damage. Industrial-scale meat and poultry production harms the environment — from the pesticides used to grow feed and the manure that runs off into waterways to the fertilizer that releases greenhouse gases and then pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans. You know the slime covering the lake where you spend time every summer? Tell your kids that large-scale meat and dairy production connects directly to the sign at the lake saying it's not safe for them to swim. And it's not just a matter of your vacation plans: That slime can cause permanent harm to people and animals and destroy marine ecosystems.
2. Climate change. Kids love fart jokes, but cow flatulence isn't just a laugh line, but a significant contributor to climate crisis. Cow burps play an even bigger role, producing 22 percent of U.S. emissions of methane, a gas with a worse effect on the climate crisis than carbon dioxide. Eliminating or reducing meat from your diet is the biggest contribution an individual can make to helping mitigate climate disaster. And because of their developing bodies, children are more vulnerable to the harmful chemicals emitted by pesticides and fertilizer, as well as disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change.
3. General health. The hormones fed to animals on factory farms can increase the chance of cancer in people who eat it. Red and processed meat have been linked to chronic disease, including cancer. Meat is a primary source of dioxins, a group of pollutants connected to reproductive and hormonal issues, and negative impacts on the developing fetus. By contrast, a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of cancer and lower the incidence of heart disease. One large study shows vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index than meat eaters and are one-fourth less likely to die of heart disease.
4. Expense. The cost of meat is coming down as demand for it grows, but a diet that doesn't include meat is easier on the wallet. For instance, as a source of protein, legumes are far less expensive than meat and poultry.
5. Sustainability. Production of meat and dairy hogs resources. It uses grassland inefficiently, and a tremendous amount of water, and that's just for starters. Cutting it out entirely, or just reducing your consumption, will benefit the environment.
6. Drug resistance. Most kids are untroubled by the abstract idea of drug resistance, but Mom and Dad should worry. Animal overcrowding in factory farms increases livestock's risk of illness. Farmers try to "solve" the problem by routinely dosing even healthy animals with antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." Over time, with the overuse of antibiotics, these bacteria, such as salmonella, become resistant to the many forms of antibiotics commonly used to treat sick children. According to a recent EWG report, 20 percent of salmonella strains found on grocery store chicken were resistant to the drug. This makes it far more difficult to treat children, who are more likely than adults to get salmonella in the first place.
7. Environmental justice. Your family's meat consumption makes an immediate impact on the people, including kids, living near the factory animal farms where most meat is produced. The stench of manure that reaches for miles is something the people who live nearby — often people of color of lower economic means — can't escape. When it rains, it's likely the ensuing runoff will flood the neighborhood with manure, fertilizer and other debris. In addition to nausea, headaches and other health problems, factory farm neighbors see increases in the cases and severity of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, to which children are especially vulnerable. Unable to spend time outside, residents feel trapped indoors. Their drinking water wells can be contaminated, and so can the rivers and streams where they fish.
Not ready to eliminate meat entirely? Resolve simply to eat less of it. Consider meat a meal's side show, for instance, instead of the star. Or make some meals completely meatless. If you eat one less burger a week, it's as if you'd taken your car off the road for 320 miles or line-dried your clothes half the time. That's the thinking behind the New York school district's decision to institute Meatless Mondays, and it's a good rule of thumb: Small changes do add up.
And there's no need to worry your kids won't get enough protein if you cut the meat and dairy. Americans eat too much meat, and too much protein in general. The average child age four to six years old needs just two small servings a day — one ounce of meat or fish, or an egg, is one serving — and age seven to 10, a slightly larger portion of two to three ounces.
Most adults eat too much protein too, so while you're at it, you may want to take a look at your own portion control. Here are the USDA's protein guidelines.
Vegan Meat Substitutes: The Ultimate Guide https://t.co/FBOSU1BMV9— Vegan Future (@veganfuture) February 4, 2019
Ketura Persellin is the editor at Environmental Working Group.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>