Taking A Bite Out Of The Global Financial Crisis

These days, you can't look at your reader, or turn on the news, without seeing stories of financial implosion or economic crises.  Then there's global warming and the costs associated with fighting climate change.  All of this gives us another reason not to eat meat (at least most of the time)...  Turns out that eating less meat could wipe $20 trillion off the global cost of fighting climate change.

Earlier this month, "Climate Benefits of Changing Diet" by Elke Stehfest and colleagues was published in Climactic Change, a journal out of the Netherlands.  (Source:  New Scientist Magazine.)

The underlying premise is that raising animals for consumption causes climate change.  By cutting our consumption of animal products, much of that farmland could then be devoted to growing food crops.  Vegetation helps to absorb carbon dioxide, and there would be a significant reduction in the methane gasses produced by livestock.   These gasses are responsible for global warming.

The current goals to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 are 450ppm.  The estimated cost to achieve this goal is $40 trillion, and it will require a 2/3 reduction in emissions..

Cutting our consumption of animal product will reduce the need for expensive retrofits, such as "clean coal" power plants and other carbon-saving technologies.  It certainly seems advisable, in this economic environment, for all of our governments to consider promoting a less-meat based diet.

Of course, there are other factors which will mitigate the levels of greenhouse gasses saved by producing few animal products... Will the land be given over to vegetation or urban development?  What about the increase in pesticide use to grow additional plant-based food crops?  Does this report take into account any projected improvements in animal-farming technologies?

Regardless of all this, there are many reasons to consider eating less/no meat.  If you haven't already done so, Jane and I would urge you to read Livestock's Long Shadow, and The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.

Another Reason Not To Eat Meat

As if there aren't enough reasons not to eat meat... According to New Scientist magazine, consuming red meat and dairy puts humans at risk from a rather nasty strain of e. coli.  This particular strain attaches itself to a sugar molecule that humans can't produce, but is ingested when we consume meat and dairy products.

"This toxin originally evolved to attack cattle or some other animals," says Ajit Varki, an expert in molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was involved in the study. By eating the toxin's intended target we made ourselves vulnerable too, he says.

When unlucky meat-eaters ingest this particular E. coli strain, its toxin kills the cells that line the gut, eventually causing bloody diarrhoea, Varki says. It also heads for blood vessels and the kidneys.

"It's a sort of worst of all worlds if you're a human and you eat some of this stuff," says Paul Crocker, who investigates the biological role of sugars at the University of Dundee, UK. Animals that produce GC naturally have the sugar in blood serum, where it mops up the toxin and keeps it out of the gut.

Varki suggests that other ailments could also be due to GC from meat and dairy as the immune system mounts a response against it. "We think other diseases associated with red meat – cancer, heart attack and autoimmunity - may be explained by this ongoing reaction."

Source:  New Scientist

Don't forget to send us your Thanksgiving Recipes if you'd like to be included in our vegan Thanksgiving recipe roundup.  Rules here.

PCRM Says Food Contamination Originates In Meat And Poultry

Tonight I received email from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (It's not that I'm special, I'm on their mailing list).

It's worthy of sharing, so here's the email in it's entirety.

Foodborne Infection Originates in Meat and Poultry

Ninety-seven percent of human disease from the pathogenic bacterium C. jejuni originates in animals farmed for meat and poultry, according to a study by researchers at Lancaster University, Lancaster, U.K. Researchers analyzed DNA from 1,231 cases of C. jejuni infections in Lancashire, England. Only 3 percent of cases were traced back to environmental contamination or wild animal sources, while 97 percent of cases were traced back to farm-raised chickens, cattle, and sheep. These results implicate livestock as the primary transmission route for the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the developed world, which is thought to infect 2 to 3 million people per year in the U.S. alone.

Wilson DJ, Gabriel E, Leatherbarrow AJ, et al. Tracing the source of campylobacteriosis. PLoS Genet. September 26, 2008;4(9):e1000203.

Wow. Let's repeat that... These results implicate livestock as the primary transmission route for the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the developed world, which is thought to infect 2 to 3 million people per year in the U.S. alone.

Sounds to me like another really good reason to give up eating meat!

Climate Change and Meat Consumption — Eat Vegan

The UN's top climate scientist, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, is suggesting that people should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming. The IPCC collates and evaluates climate data for the world's governments.

UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.

"The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions," he told BBC News.

"So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider."
Source: BBC News

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, total global meat production contributes 18% of greenhouse gasses, while total global transportation contributes only 13% of greenhouse gasses.  The largest source globally of carbon dioxide from meat production is land clearance, particularly of tropical forest.

According to Dr. Pachuri, people should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, and should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further. -- Source The Guardian

Meat eating is expected to double by mid-century.  This is such an easy and important step for us all to take.  It's something Jane and I strongly believe in and have blogged about a number of times (see More Reasons Not to Eat Meat and Vegan Eating Trumps Eating Locally).  I'm assuming most of the people who are reading this blog are vegans or are interested in veganism.  But this is a message we can bring to our omivorous friends and family.  Imagine the impact to the enviroment and the animals if everyone ate vegan just one day a week.

Omnivore? Herbivore? Frugivore!

Most of us have experienced a bit of antagonism about our food choices. One of our cousins always has something combative to say. He and I went out for a beer last night, and he decided to play the "humans are omnivores" card. I discussed with him some of the things we covered in our August 5th post, Yet Another Reason Not To Eat Meat, specifically that we produce a slightly different version of a molecule found in other animals and when we consume that molecule there is some evidence that it can cause a host of chronic diseases. I also mentioned that more research still needs to be done.

But he had his mind made up, and it felt like nothing I said made it past his ears. So we changed the topic and talked about the Olympics and who he's currently seeing. But I knew I couldn't let it drop. So today, I scoured the internet for a few short pieces of info that might make an impression before he got bored and moved away from the topic. A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a series of "Answers About The Vegan Lifestyle In New York." The series was written by Rynn Berry, the author of The Vegan Guide to New York City 2008. You may want to take a look at it yourself. Anyway, this is the third question/answer down the page. (The fourth also deals with the human evolution.)

Q -- Yet another sanctimonious tree-hugger with no understanding of human physiology or evolution. Look in your mouth — there are teeth that have evolved for crushing plant matter and teeth evolved for the ripping and tearing of flesh. Additionally, humans have the digestive tract of an omnivore, not a vegetarian. Say you are vegan (isn’t that someone from Las Vegas?) because of moral issues, but don’t try to defend your lifestyle choice with bad science and dubious anthropology.

— Posted by Meateater

A -- To say that humans have the anatomical structure of an omnivore is an egregiously inaccurate statement. The great taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus, (1707-1778), a Swedish naturalist and botanist who established the modern scientific method of classifying plants and animals, classified humans not as carnivores, not as omnivores, nor even as herbivores, but as frugivores. Linnaeus writes: “Man’s structure, internal and external compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables are his natural food.”

It's sitting in his inbox. I haven't had a response. If my cousin will be true to form, he won't respond.

If you're interested in reading more of Berry's Answers About the Vegan Lifestyle, here are links to each of the three parts:

Yet Another Reason Not To Eat Meat

Recently, I've been reading a lot about the "natural" human diet. Some people argue we've evolved to be meat eaters, others that we're naturally vegetarians. Obviously, we're pro-vegan here, but the question still rages. Are humans natural omnivores?

A few weeks ago, I bookmarked an article I saw referenced on Vegan.com. It's taken me awhile to get around to reading it, but I'm glad I did. The article, entitled "Mystery of the meat-eaters' molecule" was published in The Telegraph, and postulates that human physiology may not be able to tolerate meat and dairy. The study is being conducted by Ajit Varki, co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California, San Diego.

Varki has built up a range of evidence that potentially links Neu5Gc, a so-called sialic acid, to chronic disease. This is because the animal version is absorbed by humans as a result of eating red meat and milk products, and there is evidence that the body views it as an invader.

Professor Varki has determined that we are the only primates who do not produce this molecule, Neu5Gc. Instead, we produce Neu5Ac, a precursor to Neu5Gc. So what does this mean?

This tiny change could potentially explain some of the more unusual differences between humans and apes. Chimpanzees do not seem to suffer from heart disease, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis or bronchial asthma - common conditions in humans.

Professor Varki believes that Neu5Gc elicits an immune reaction that might contribute to a whole spectrum of human-specific diseases.

After testing a range of foods, they found the highest levels of Neu5Gc in red meat: up to 11,600 micrograms could be absorbed from the recommended daily serving of beef, 5,100 from pork and 4,900 from lamb. The level in goat's cheese was 5,500, but fell to around 700 in milk and salmon. Cod, tuna, turkey and duck were in the twenties.

Not only did the foreign sugar show up in the body soon after eating, but tests also revealed that many people carry antibodies that react to Neu5Gc - a protective immune response, but one which could trigger damaging inflammation.

Interestingly, we've been reading more and more about how better health can be achieved by eating vegan, or at least cutting down on meat and dairy products. We've found information showing that rheumatoid arthritis can be improved with a vegan diet, and that non-fat and lo-fat milk can be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Of course, Varki's studies are still in their preliminary stages. As he stresses:

"we have not proven any link to disease, just suggested that it is something to explore."

I'm looking forward to reading more about his findings. On a lighter note, Kate posted this YouTube video and commented it's one of the funniest she's seen. I agree, so here it is, it may not be the definitive explanation, but hey, it supports my point of view ;).

For further reading:
Dept of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UCSD
Varki Lab page

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Jane and I are sitting here watching television. We're both actually glued to the television, and I find myself writing this post during commercial breaks. What has us so captivated? We're watching National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change the World, it's a program devoted to what might happen as global warming increases the temperature of our planet one degree at a time. It's based on the book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas. Since we never got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth, I can't speak to how much of this is overlap, but it's a pretty impactful thing to watch.

There is a segment early on, which discusses the carbon impact of the little things we do in our daily lives. The segment is authored by Jamais Cascio, and his in depth analysis on eating cheeseburgers can be found here. But the bottom line:

The greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs. There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US. (note: The 6.5 million SUVs are the equivalent of consuming one cheeseburger per person, per week, 19.6 million SUVs corresponds to three cheeseburgers per person, per week. This relates to US consumption.)

Unfortunately, the National Geographic program doesn't drive home the point that eating lower on the food chain is a more carbon-friendly thing to do. They also don't discuss eating locally as another option to help reduce the carbon output. For more on this, see our posts "More Reasons Not To Eat Meat" and "Vegan Eating Trumps Eating Locally."

The basic premise of Six Degrees, is that things will become untenable if we remain on our current course. We have a limited opportunity of time to make effective changes. Though the program doesn't mention it, eating vegan is very easy change to make which can have a dramatic input on your carbon output.

Mad Cows And Dementia

My mother was recently visiting with a friend. They got around to talking about their kids and she mentioned that Jane and I have been vegan for awhile, and that we've been blogging about our vegan experiences. My mom, who is not vegan by the way (hi mom!), explained veganism to her friend and discussed the cruelty perpetrated on the animals we, as a society, eat. (Go mom!) My mom expressed that it made her sad, to which her friend replied, "I don't care, I like meat." Wow. I know others have talked about experiencing this, but so far, the worst I've heard is, "I don't want to know, I still want to eat meat...."

If the environmental reasons aren't enough, here's a little something I've been reading about which should get those people who like meat to reconsider, at least the beef eaters.

I've been reading Thanking the Monkey and on page 192 Karen Dawn writes

How rampant is mad cow disease? We don't know. A study at Yale found that of forty-six patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer's, six were proven to have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) at autopsy. (Ms. Dawn cites Guy McKahann et al., Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders 1989 - pages 100-109.) Other studies have shown that mad cow prions can cause a disease with a molecular signature indistinguishable from sporadic CJD. Therefore there is no way to determine if the many deaths from CJD misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's are actually linked to mad cow disease. (Ms. Dawn cites Michael Greger, MD, "Could Mad Cow Disease Already Be Kliling Thousands of Americans Every Year?" CommonDreams.org, January 7, 2004.) So we cannot know how widespread mad cow disease is in the United States, or whether humans are infected. It seems that the government is in no rush to help us find out.

Yikes! Then there's always this blurb from the National Institutes of Health page on CJD.

The appearance of the new variant of CJD (nv-CJD or v-CJD) in several younger than average people in Great Britain and France has led to concern that BSE may be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated beef. Although laboratory tests have shown a strong similarity between the prions causing BSE and v-CJD, there is no direct proof to support this theory.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NIH)

The more I read, the happier I am that I'm vegan.

More Reasons Not To Eat Pork

I used to be an avid fan of The Simpsons. I still like the show, and watch the reruns often, but I don't watch it nearly as much as I used to. That doesn't stop me from quoting the show however. One of my favorite quotes is from the Episode "Lisa The Vegetarian."

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No!
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

Most of my friends and family members are omnivorous. Many of them believe they are doing the "right" thing by eating organic foods. I've put right in quotations, because right is a subjective term, and organic is perceived as being a better choice than conventionally produced foods. However, it appears this isn't necessarily the case, for pork at least.

“Animal-friendly, outdoor farms tend to have a higher occurrence of Salmonella, as well as higher rates of parasitic disease,” said lead study author Wondwossen Gebreyes, associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University.

Site: The PigSite.com

Wondwossen Gebreyes and colleagues at Ohio State University in Columbus tested US pigs for antibodies - telltale signs of infection - to pathogens that can also affect humans. They found traces of Salmonella in 39 per cent of pigs raised in standard indoor pens and routinely given antibiotics, but in 54 per cent of organic pigs raised outdoors without the drugs.

This poses a dilemma, says Gebreyes: giving pigs routine antibiotics favours antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but not giving them drugs means more animals carry Salmonella, which causes a million cases of food poisoning a year in the US alone.

Site: New Scientist Magazine

It gets even better... Gebreyes' team found traces of Toxoplasma in 7 percent of free-range animals but only 1 percent of conventional pigs. They also found two organic pigs infected with Trichinella. This is particularly troubling as Trichinella is virtually non-existent in livestock in the the US and Europe, although it is still found in wildlife populations. Finding this parasite in two pigs of the 600 tested is 23 times its average frequency in US pigs.

Any way you slice it, it looks like the "magical animal" isn't so wonderful. If you eat conventionally raised pork, you are contributing the overuse of antibiotics, pollution, and a more inhumane treatment of animals (among other things). If you eat "organic" pork, you are potentially exposing yourself to bacterial infection, contributing to the contamination of groundwater with pathogens such as Salmonella, and contributing to a slightly less inhumane treatment of pigs (among other things). The costs of eating meat are simply too high.

More Reasons Not To Eat Meat

So, tonight on our local news program, they did a short blurb on eating locally to save the environment. In itself, this really shouldn't bother me. However, I find myself wondering, why, if the local news is so interested in saving the planet (yes, I'm making an assumption here)... why then didn't they suggest eating vegan, or at the very least for people to cut down on their meat consumption?

It's been well documented that you can make much more of a positive impact by eating vegan, than by buying local produce. We wrote about it in our post, Eating Vegan Trumps Eating Locally, where we cite the New Scientists article Food Miles Don't Feed Climate Change, Meat Does:

To drive his point home, Weber calculated that a completely local diet would reduce a household's greenhouse emissions by an amount equivalent to driving a car 1600 km fewer per year. He assumed the car travels 10.6 km per litre of petrol (25 mpg). Switching from red meat to veggies just one day per week would spare 1860 km of driving.

The New York Times ran an article by Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, entitled Rethinking The Meat Guzzler, in which he states:

"If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals."

Then there's Livestock’s Long Shadow, the UN report which states:

The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2. Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.

The University of Chicago published a study in 2006, stating that Vegan Diets Healthier For Planet/People Than Meat Diets:

“We say that however close you can be to a vegan diet and further from the mean American diet, the better you are for the planet. It doesn’t have to be all the way to the extreme end of vegan. If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you’ve already made a substantial difference.”

I could go on, there's plenty of material out there. So why isn't the news media screaming for us to cut down on our meat consumption? (Can we say lobbies? or Powerful Corporate advertisers?) Come on people, this is the obvious solution to a very large problem, the facts are staring us all right in the face. Oh, that's right, the earth is flat, and there be dragons here!