The vegan diet has been gaining in popularity at a fairly consistant rate for the past couple decades. So why are people choosing to become vegan? After reading this article, you may be asking yourself, why not become vegan?
After several decades of factory farming being the main source providing our society with its food, the shortcomings of this system slowly began to reveal itself over the past two decades. Documentaries such as Food Inc, What The Health, and Earthlings (to name a few of many) have been increasing the public awareness on this topic. More and more, a plant-based diet that eliminates or greatly reduces the amount of animal products and other processed foods one consumes is being accepted as not just the healthy choice for individuals, but as the socially responsible decision to make. The reasons for this are numerous, including antibiotics overusage, CO2 production, fresh water usage and pollution, and animal cruelty (to name a few of many).
Then we got a ….COVID-19 happened. How do the two relate?
Covid-19 – The Corona Virus Pandemic & Our Food System
As you most likely are already aware, the CoronaVirus (or COVID-19) originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China. If you don’t know what a wet market is, Google it. And be prepared to be very disturbed. Despites some obvious differences between America’s factory animal farming and a Chinese wet market, the conditions inside each operation are strikingly similar.
Animals in both systems are packed into extremely close quarters. This makes direct contact between the animals and all their bodily fluids constant and consistent in their living conditions. These are ideal conditions for pathogens, viruses, and many other diseases to spread. It is why those conditions sound like the opposite of what we have all been told to do in order to keep COVID-19 from spreading. Is it any surprise then that all kinds of diseases run rampant among the animals within American factory farms? For just one example, up to 80% of pigs when they are slaughtered are sick with pneumonia.
How then have factories even been able to even make a product for as many decades as they have been?
If it wasn’t for the use of antibiotics in excess with factory farmed animals, a critical mass of the animals would never live long enough to see the day when they are ready to be slaughtered and turned into the animal products we eat. This excessive use of antibiotics is something medical professionals have been warning the public about for decades. Overuse reduces antibiotic effectiveness by accelerating the evolution of the bacteria they target, creating more resilient pathogens and making the antibiotics less effective. Since the antibiotics were in the animal, the drugs are in the food produced from the animal, and eventually make their way inside your body if you eat that food. This is a ticking time-bomb for many of the medications. Treatments we take for granted to stave off deadly diseases that we assumed stopped threatening humans many decades ago.
When it does come time to butcher the animal for its meat, the issue created by the animals’ living conditions are only exacerbated. Large numbers of animals being slaughtered at the same time in the same area allows for more disease transmission. Some products, such as ground beef, mix many different parts of the animal, and many different individual animals together to produce the same final product. This means that the animals’ fecal matter with E.coli and other harmful pathogens makes it into those animal products as well. This is so accepted as common practice, that 80% of American processed ground beef is treated with ammonia before it is packaged in order to kill the E.coli present in the initial ground product.
So, Why Not Become Vegan?
To sum it up, slaughtering practices in Chinese wet markets and American factory farms are inhumane at best, and can create a mass public health crisis at worst (that we’ve seen this far). As Bill Maher also said on his HBO show, Real Time, “America’s factory farming is just as despicable as a wet market, and just as problematic for our health… If we keep producing food the way that we do, you are going to get sick with something medicine cannot fix”
So how do we keep E.coli outbreaks and other pandemics like COVID-19 from continuing to threaten our individual and societal health? The most straight-forward and simplest individual choice we can make to have an impact is to not participate in the meat economy. There wet markets and factory farms exist because a market exists that is driven by demand for their products. Every human that eats food (all of us) has the power and freedom to either add to that demand, or take away from it.
You can also support local ethical farms, if you still want to consumer animal products. Get your vegetables local from them as well!
What you decide to eat is a very personal freedom we all have. But I highly encourage you to choose to stop consuming animal products. Not because it’s trendy, or because it will lower your cholesterol. Do it so you and your neighbors aren’t forced into another quarantine. Do it so local businesses don’t have to close down. Do it to maintain your freedom to be physically close to the people you love.
As Bill Maher put it, “Animal cruelty leads to human catastrophe… when we put animals in cages, we end up being the prisoner.”