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You read one article about how fish with hot pepper on their lips get upset and try to rub it off on the glass, then another on how arctic foxes will circle around and around in pens until they succumb to something called "cage madness." Next you watch The Cove, where one of Flipper's handlers reveals that the dolphin was so depressed about acting on television that he willfully stopped breathing in the guy's arms, and before you know it, you're ruining everybody's Valentine's Day by posting articles on Facebook implying that anyone who buys roses supports sex slavery and child labor.
Somebody needs to get laid or take a walk.
Man was designed to eat meat
If you eat meat, you probably believe that. But if there's one thing I've learned about nutrition, it's that we really don't know anything about nutrition. Advocates of a Paleolithic diet believe the key to health is to eat a lot of meat and throw boulders for exercise, like our cave-dwelling ancestors. Hardcore vegans, an ordinarily secular lot, will suddenly get all blind-clockmaker about it and claim that humans were designed to eat fruits and vegetables, like the mighty gorilla. Some people still swear by the Atkins diet, although their leader dropped dead of a heart attack. There's a gang of Australians on the internet who advocate eating 30 bananas a day and not much else. These are fit and beautiful people. But I don't know. Name a diet and I can find a pie graph that proves its efficacy. People can live entirely on hot dogs or Big Macs or they can subsist on nothing but green juice and a few handfuls of almonds. If humans are designed for anything, it's adaptation.
Ultimately, what we eat is a choice.
And then there's the environment. I think most people have a general idea that factory farming isn't the greatest thing since Kraft Singles, but let's get more specific. Cows and pigs and all those other hoofed animals are totally big (cows are so big that cow tipping isn't even a real thing). Big animals eat a lot and they take up a lot of space. The amount of land used to feed farmed animals with crops and grazing is roughly the same size as Africa. Over-farming land with crops like corn and soybeans to fatten the animals leads to massive deforestation and depletes the soil so that the crops left over for humans have only a fraction of the vitamins and nutrients they did just 50 years ago.
Big animals also shit a lot, and by a lot I mean somewhere close to 1 billion tons of manure a year. Cow poo isn't just gross and weird to talk about; it releases methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and other gasses into the air, making it one of the top contributors to global warming. Hamburgers starve polar bears. Manure runs off into the lakes, rivers and oceans, which contaminates the water supply, killing a lot of fish, and the contaminated water is none too safe for human consumption, either. Factory farming produces hundreds of pounds of nitrous oxide every day, which is a major source of acid rain. Producing all of this meat takes a lot of resources in the form of oil, water and land use that we just don't have to spare anymore. Of all the crops grown in the U.S., we're feeding 70 percent of them to livestock.
Two shakes of a lamb's tail
Every now and then, barbecue still smells good to me. The scent of singed flesh wafting through the air brings with it the culture of delicious sin, and I get nostalgic. I have a few stock images that I pull up for just these moments.
On a farm when I was a kid, I saw a lamb jump up on a woman and wag its tail, just like a dog. "Pay attention to me," the lamb seemed to say. "I have instant and inexplicable affection for you." It was the cutest thing I've ever seen. Once, I saw a groundhog on his hind legs, staring at the sun; what could he possibly have been thinking about? Cravings hit, and I see a pet rabbit balancing a pancake on his head. Like everything else, the smell drifts up into the sky and floats away.
It's not anthropomorphizing to attribute fear, pain, frustration and joy to animals. These are not uniquely human emotions. If you've ever observed an animal over time, like your dog or cat or a particular deer in your neighborhood, you know that it has its own, distinct traits. I think what we sometimes forget or choose to ignore is that they're all like that. People sometimes argue that it's okay to eat animals if they're bred for the purpose, but what does that even mean? The animals we see scurrying around in the Rattlesnake are the lucky ones. When piglets are born on a feedlot, they don't get the memo that their lives don't matter. They arrive on this earth fresh-faced and ready to party like the rest of us.
Nobody has it worse than the chickens. Around 33 billion are slaughtered every year. Of those, most will never be given more space to move in their lifetimes than the area of a standard sheet of paper. They can never spread their wings or turn around. That stuff you've heard about KFC chickens being bred with breasts so fat that their legs are crushed under the weight of their Frankenstein bodies? It's not an exaggeration. Male chicks are considered a byproduct of the industry and get thrown in giant bins to suffocate or whatever. The girls have their beaks seared off—without anesthesia—so they don't peck each other to death in such close quarters.
Factory farmers do their best to slaughter animals efficiently. Generally, they're strung up by their hindquarters and have their throats slashed, and then they'll usually bleed to death quickly—except when they don't. Animals are dipped in boiling water to strip the hair off their skins while they're still alive, or a cow thrashes on a conveyer belt, or a lamb has its skin ripped off while its eyeballs move panicked around the room, wondering, "Where am I? When is this going to be over?"
This kind of thing happens all the time.
If you think there are all sorts of regulations in place that ensure the animals aren't suffering, well, I have to correct you: It's not really like that. The regulations are designed to keep you safe, not the other animals, and they do a dismal job at that. It's a huge, powerful industry that by and large regulates itself. A worker on a slaughter line kills an animal every 12 seconds; around 2,500 a day. The numbers are so staggering that the mind can't do anything with them but pretend they don't exist.
Nobody wants to hear about this stuff. I don't particularly want to write about it. It would be easy enough to make a case for a plant-based diet without ever mentioning how the other animals feel. The ethics of eating animals usually gets left out of most of these conversations because it's seen as too academic, one of those questions with no answer, like whether capital punishment is okay or who created the earth. It's impolite to bring up the whites of a panicked lamb's eyes in casual dinner conversation.
It's not good mood food
Over time, weird things have happened. Food is no longer food. It's nobody's fault, really. Suppliers were trying to make production more efficient, feed more people and make the food tastier, longer lasting and cheaper. So, like cars, they put animals on conveyer belts. Instead of growing a variety of food on a smaller scale, they went with massive amounts of more versatile crops like soy, corn and grains that they could put in everything and feed to the animals. To make this bland, colorless food more palatable, they started creating tastes in labs, turned corn into sugar, invented fats and came up with calorie-free sweeteners that give rats brain tumors. They genetically modified seeds and tailored pesticides so that a few companies controlled all the crops. Then they set up the system so that the same people who make money off the food are responsible for making sure it's safe for us to eat.
I take it back. Maybe it is somebody's fault.
Companies can't own an apple in the same way that they can own a Nutri-Grain bar. There's no profit in an eggplant that just anybody can pull out of the earth. So what did they do? The industry went in at a molecular level and redefined what our brains consider food. These fake foods mutate our cells and we acquire lifelong addictions, but since we're all becoming chronically ill without dying all at once, we overlook the cause.
What's happening right now is way strange. People are catching on that fruits and vegetables are good for you and eating junk is bad. At the same time, the industry keeps plugging away at us: Now they're redefining health. But we don't need Vitamin Water! We need them to put the vitamins back in our soil.
When it comes to food interacting with our bodies on the cellular level in strange and horrifying ways, these are the top offenders: sugar, dairy, gluten, any kind of highly processed food and, finally, industrially farmed animal products.
Gluten is the gluey stuff in wheat flour, and our systems are rebelling from too much of it. Intolerance to gluten causes inflammation in the body and does mean things to the intestines, along with a whole host of other symptoms too lengthy and gross to get into.
Sugar is linked to heart disease, hypertension, anxiety, depression, war, poverty, death and recession. I can't find any medical condition that it doesn't exacerbate. It's hidden in all sorts of food and comes in many costumes, including maltodextrin, sucrose, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup. I feel like I'm telling you that Santa Claus isn't real, but unless it's an intrinsic sugar, found within the cell structures of natural foods such as fruits and vegetables, there's no healthy reason to eat it. Ever. I have this story in my head from childhood, of a white man introducing refined sugar to Native Americans. The Indian says, "This is the best thing I've ever tasted"and it all goes downhill from there.
And then we have "dairy," which is probably the reason I managed to be a chubby vegetarian for so long. I gave up drinking cow's milk a long time ago, because I had the sneaking feeling that it didn't make sense to drink milk designed for an animal with four stomachs. When it was curdled and hidden in delicious melted cheese, I managed to brush this off. But cow's milk, even organic cow's milk, is filled with hormones, and we don't need any extra hormones floating around in our ladies' systems. No, but really. The most dangerous of these is the growth hormone in the form of insulin that is good for developing calves but, you know, cancerous and horrifying for humans.
The "Got Milk?" website has recently launched a spirited campaign against plant-based milk. It tells you that hazelnut milk is gross because you have to shake it. "What's that stuff on the bottom?" the site says. They think you're nine years old; it's awesome. Their claim is that "real" milk is pure and good because it comes from cows and the only ingredient in milk is "milk," but that's just not true. Cow's milk will always contain industry-acceptable amounts of blood and pus, along with herbicides, pesticides, feces, bacteria, viruses, hormones, fat and cholesterol. It takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese—which means cheese is just heavily concentrated amounts of that stuff I just mentioned.
Like dairy, industrialized meat is filled with hormones, pesticides and antibiotics and the animals' bellies are full of heavily sprayed, genetically modified corn. When it comes to health, the issue isn't animal flesh per se. It's what they have to do to the animals to keep them alive under such untenable conditions that's making us sick.