The Beef with Beef

IMG_3906 (Medium)Authors: Sean Driscoll, Daniel Alling, Christina Kraus, Katherine Wickstrom, Annie Martin, Connor Lucier

So much information is constantly being thrown at you. Most of the time you retain something that strikes you or something that you perceive as being important. Throw in complex discussions and you have your mind on high-speed. College is often the place where young adults are posed difficult and vague questions, which they fathom over. Finding themselves in a new and informative environment, college students are introduced to a wide variety of opportunities to pursue and experiment with. Pursuing these opportunities usually allows students to further develop their young minds and discover their true identities. This is a critical step for humans on the path to innovation, advancement, and evolution of knowledge and culture.

For Shannon Leparski, an active blogger on her website theglowingfridge.com, the idea of a vegan was not known to her until her college years when she took an elective course at Purdue University. The course dealt with the ethics of animal treatment; and her professor’s enthusiastic and emotional tying of animal cruelty with the consumption of animal products brought Shannon to consider the idea of becoming vegan. Her spiked interest in the subject persuaded her to do some outside research. She started watching documentaries, reading journals and articles, and looking up vegan recipes. After her great depth of research, Shannon decided to take on the challenge of being a vegan, and since then has been quite successful. Her vegan lifestyle, which lives on today, sprouted from her learnings in that college elective course. Shannon is one of many students who has been impacted by an idea so greatly, that she decided to act upon it. With an open mind and further research, students can learn more about a particular subject and may be inclined to engage and take part in their findings.

But without expert researchers and their results, students do not have any material to gather. Researchers have been persuaded to further study familiar topics such as comparing the health effects of a vegetarian’s diet and that of a meat-eater’s diet. There have been debates over whether vegetarians and vegans receive a proper amount of nutrients from their plant-based diet. According to some researchers, nutritionists, and doctors, a vegetarian diet causes a person to have a short supply of vital vitamins, such as B12, calcium, iron, and zinc; and consuming a sufficient amount of red meat provides a healthy supplement of these critical nutrients.

Gareth May, a researcher and author of several published articles, wrote about the benefits of consuming red meat. He introduces a nutritionist to speak of the healthy effects from red meat and pulls from other research to enhance his argument that red meat plays an important role in a human’s diet. The nutritionist, Charlotte Stirling-Reed, speaks of red meat playing a “beneficial role in reducing the risk of iron deficiency anaemia.” May further discusses red meat’s nutrients stating that, “red meat contains heme iron, which is absorbed and put to work much more efficiently than the non-heme iron found in green vegetables.” Also, well known to many scientists and nutritionists is the importance of vitamin B12 in the human body for its role in keeping our nervous and blood cells healthy. Dr. Mercola states that a deficiency in vitamin B12 can eventually result in “permanent nerve damage, depression, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, nervousness, paranoia, hyperactive reflexes, impaired memory and behavioral changes to prevent heart disease and collapsing arteries and nerves.” A study done by Michael Donaldson, Ph.D. of Cornell University tested people who went on a vegan diet, and he found signs of vitamin B12 deficiency in 26 of the 54 people tested. This study eludes to the dangerous results of people voluntarily choosing to be vegan. Basically, a wide range of researchers, nutritionists, and doctors alike have found flaws in vegetarian and vegan diets and have concluded that consuming red meat is the most efficient way to receive the essential nutrients that keep consumers happy and healthy.

Though the researchers and others listed above may insist red meat is an irreplaceable factor in a healthy diet, this claim is myopic and fails to account for the numerous dietary substitutes that prove more beneficial for the human body. While the consumption of normal red meat (not processed) on a limited number of occasions is not shown to have extremely detrimental effects on a person’s health, an over intake of anything leads to negative impacts on the body, and Americans are known to consume meat in excess. According to a report made by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the average American consumes 270.7 pounds of meat a year, dwarfing the international average of 102.5 pounds per person per year, which is still too much to be healthy.

In addition to the harms that the over consumption of red meat has on the human body, America’s dependency on meat also has a detrimental impact on the environment. With an already thinning ozone layer, the addition of more greenhouse gases only brings more harm to the environment. The cows we are breeding for slaughter are responsible for producing tons of methane gas, which creates these disastrous effects. The smart solution would be for Americans to cut back and possibly even eliminate meat from their diets; however, many are dissuaded from becoming vegetarians due to the negative stigma that surrounds that group. The aggressive actions of certain vegetarians at rallies to promote their meatless lifestyle only lead to a tarnished reputation of the group as a whole that is undeserved. Still, it is both beneficial to the environment and healthier for people to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of meat in their diets. College students, as educated individuals open to change, should be the ones to spearhead this shift in dietary practices. Santa Clara University students in particular, who are taught to value “competence, conscience, and compassion” should consume less red meat due to the affects it has on one’s health and the environment.

The consumption of red meat has a great deal of harmful effects on the body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) that strongly agrees with this statement. On October 26th, 2015, the IARC released a report that made headlines with its evaluation of the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red and processed meat. A team of 22 experts from 10 countries considered more than 800 studies that investigated the associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The study concluded by classifying red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen. In addition, processed meats were classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. Group 1 carcinogens are definitely carcinogenic to humans, and definitely cause cancer. Processed meat is defined as meat that has somehow been transformed to something other than plain, raw meat. Simply adding salt to a slab of beef straight from the cow makes it processed. On the WHO’s Q&A page for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat, it is made explicitly clear that the methods of cooking meat are, “not yet fully understood.”  The IARC also concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Fun fact: colorectal cancer is, “of relation to the colon and the rectum.”  Not the best place to get cancer, especially if it can be easily avoided. Dr. Christopher Wild, the director of the IARC, released a statement saying, “These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat” (IARC 1 & WHO 1).

The WHO is not the only organization aware of the toxicity of red meat. WebMD Health Services Group, Inc., released an article in 2011 titled, “The Truth About Red Meat.”  At the time, IARC’s big-time report had not been released yet. WebMD wrote, “When it comes to cancer, the answer is not so clear. Many researchers say it does raise the risk, especially for colorectal cancer” (WebMD 1). As it turns out, these researchers were right. But even if for some reason you see the IARC’s report as a massive conspiracy, WebMD knew years ago that red meat was harmful to human health for separate reasons. “For heart disease, the answer is pretty clear. Some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol. High Levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease.” (WebMD 1).

One final prominent group in the medical world that agreeingly categorizes red meat as hazardous to humans is Harvard Medical School. The following is the introduction to one of their publications based on a series of studies in which 24,000 people were studied over a period of 28 years through questionnaires:

Red meat: in addition to raising the risk for colorectal cancer and other health problems, it can actually shorten your life. That’s the clear message of the latest research based on data from two ongoing, decades-long Harvard School of Public Health studies of nurses and other health professionals. It appears ‘healthy meat consumption’ has become an oxymoron.

Dr. Frank Hu, one of the senior scientists involved with these studies and a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, provided some useful commentary: “This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.” The studies determined that each additional daily serving of red meat (one serving being equivalent to two slices of bacon) increased risk of death by 13%. The impact rose to 20% if the serving was processed, as in food items like hot dogs, bacon, and cold cuts (Harvard Health 1).

It is no longer a question of, “is red meat harmful to your health?”  It has become factual that red meat is very harmful to humans. In the past, this concept was barely considered and only speculated on, but the WHO’s report has really been the key component in disproving counterarguments. Consuming red meat can no longer be reasonably advocated because it is so blatant and obviously true that avoiding it is always the best course of action. Red meat should be avoided for the same reasons as cigarettes. Consuming either is a bad habit, detrimental to a person’s quality of life. This is why the battle against red meat should begin, at the very least, with college students, beginning to limit their intake of the substance. Perhaps future civilizations will look back on our world as one consumed by a ridiculous pandemic that could have easily been avoided by simply choosing not to eat red meat.

Beyond our own health and well-being, the issue of meat consumption is having a dramatic impact on the environment, as mentioned above. While many leading organizations claim to fight for the protection and preservation of the environment, many fail to even acknowledge the severe effects of raising, feeding, and slaughtering animals for red meat in such massive quantities (Cowspiracy). While the organizations focus primarily on clean energy and natural resource conservation, a UN report from 2006 claimed that agriculture centered around cows alone produces more harmful emissions into the atmosphere than all sources of transportation combined. However, these organizations are not entirely at fault, under the Patriot Act, a producer of red meat could sue these environmental organizations for speaking out against the practices of the meat industry publicly.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a government organization in charge of regulating farms, is also the main organization tasked with promoting agriculture, creating a clear conflict of interests (Foer). The USDA benefits from lobbying efforts put forth by large corporations in the animal agriculture industry, so they are caught in the middle of a classic conflict of interest. Any additional regulations set forth by the USDA would undoubtedly lead to higher production costs for red meat, and those costs would have to be passed onto consumers. In essence, any raise in standards or transparency that the USDA enforces causes the industry and their organization to suffer financially. As a result, animal agriculture remains relatively unregulated for its environmental impact, and has become the leading cause of air and water pollution and wastefulness, while the general public has little knowledge about the issue.

For example, the California drought has brought about a lot of mindfulness about water usage, leading to shorter showers and other small changes on an individual basis. However, these changes do not have a massive impact on saving water. While shortening showers, turning off the water when brushing your teeth, and following other suggested water conservation methods can reduce water consumption by about thirty to fifty gallons per day, replacing red meat with vegetarian options in your diet can save up to two thousand gallons of water per pound of red meat (Cowspiracy). Clearly, this fact suggests that eliminating or reducing red meat from our daily diet can and will have large effects that reach beyond our personal consumption of food.

Ultimately, we can protect the human race and the future of the environment more effectively by reducing the amount of animal agriculture. At our current rate, animal agriculture is eradicating native species in largely impacted areas due to deforestation, extreme excess fecal matter, and carbon emissions polluting water sources and the air. It has also been reported to be the cause of various new diseases in humans that may be the origin of the next epidemic or pandemic (Foer). If the population continues to grow and animal agriculture increases with it, we can be certain that the environmental impact of animal agriculture will start having a greater prevalence in the health of the human population.

It is obvious that in order to preserve our environment and our health, we must make important changes to our diets. Recently, vegetarianism and veganism have become important social movements surrounding our choices in diet. Instead of being admired for their sacrifices in an effort to become healthier, vegetarians have become stigmatized and labeled as “drastic” or “preachy.”  Unfortunately all vegetarians have been labeled under these terms, when in reality only some act this way, and this small group is simply trying to spread information that many people wish to be ignorant of. An anonymous author of a blog writes, “some of my vegan facebook friends post shock photos in order to preach” (“How Vegans Ruined Veganism for Me”). Stories and situations like this can be tricky, and while most casual users on Facebook do not want to see gruesome photos of pigs being killed on their Facebook feeds, these pictures are not so different from what PETA uses. These negative connotations surrounding vegetarianism have deterred and made potential vegetarians hesitant to fully commit to this lifestyle, an unfortunate set back on a path for change.

One of the most important stigmas that surrounds vegetarians is the idea that vegetarians are mostly females and male vegetarians are seen as less masculine than men who eat meat. To expand on this, Jennifer Oster writes in Healthy Eating, “The previously mentioned researchers from University of British Columbia found that when vegetarians were rated for masculinity, both male and females were perceived to be less manly than meat-eaters” (Oster “Society’s Perceptions of Vegetarian Diets”). This shows that our culture is not only predominantly meat consumers, but these meat eaters are seen as masculine and those who do not eat meat are, unfortunately, seen as less masculine or even feminine. As a result, these negative stereotypes surrounding meat consumption will discourage many people from becoming vegetarians, in this case it the main targets are males. Young men do not want to be seen as feminine and so they abstain from taking the leap to become vegetarian.

This lack of male vegetarians leads to a lifestyle dominated by females. In her book Vegetarianism: Movement or Moment? Donna Maurer, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland University College, adds that roughly seventy percent of all vegetarians are female (Maurer 11). Yet, even women are hesitant to take on vegetarianism. Maurer writes, “Married life has deterred some women from becoming vegetarians. Some have faced spousal disapproval, rejection, and even violence. As traditional divisions of labor persist, women—both vegetarian and non-vegetarian—remain primarily responsible for the purchase and preparation of their families’ food” (Maurer 12). Women, faced by oppression from overbearing husbands, have become too scared to take on a vegetarian lifestyle due to fear of some sort of retaliation from their spouses.

Both of these inhibiting factors deal with social acceptance: men do not want to be seen as feminine while women face oppression from spouses. In order to dissolve these stereotypes, it is important that we do not label foods as masculine or feminine, and we do not judge the dietary choices of our peers. If we would discourage others from exercising to better their health, why would we discourage a vegetarian diet? Unfortunately,  as long as this practice exists, then we will be stuck in a predominantly meat eating society that will continue to degrade our ecosystem, culture, and individual health.

From the original, primitive unicellular organisms, to the fully developed, cognitive beings we now call humans, evolution has allowed for an impressive amount of change across millions and billions of years. Today it seems we have reached an ethical dilemma, a bump in the road on our way to a future of continued growth and advancement. Research shows that our wastefulness and disregard for future consequences will lead to the tarnished conditions of everything we need to survive. Unfortunately, it seems as though no one cares enough to act. If we can not put aside some selfish and lazy habits for the common good, we are certainly headed for a dead end. An end where we have abused our environment and ourselves to the point where there is no longer hope. When looking at what is at stake, it should make eating a little less meat seem worth the miniscule effort. But if no one cares enough to make this effort to save our health and the health of future generations, if nothing “matters,” then there is basically “nothing to save” (Foer).

 

Works Cited

Andersen, Kip, and Keegan Kuhn. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. , 2014.

“Cutting Red Meat-for a Longer Life.” – Harvard Health. Harvard Medical School, 1 June 2012.

Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Dombres, Christopher. Dead End. Digital image. Flickr. N.p., 8 June 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Foer, Jonathan S. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009. Print.

“How Vegans Ruined Veganism for Me.” How Vegans Ruined Veganism

for Me. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Lee, Elizabeth. “Is Eating Red Meat Bad for Your Health?” WebMD. WebMD, 29 Aug. 2011.

Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Leparski, Shannon. “My Vegan Story – The Glowing Fridge.” Web log post. The Glowing

Fridge. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Maurer, Donna. Vegetarianism: Movement or Moment? Philadelphia, PA:

Temple UP, 2002. Print.

May, Gareth. “Cheer Up, Steak Lovers: Red Meat Isn’t Always Bad for You.” The Telegraph.

Telegraph Media Group, Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Mercola, Joseph. “How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Side Effect of Veganism.” Mercola.com.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Oster, Jennifer. “Society’s Perceptions of Vegetarian Diets.” Healthy

Eating. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

“Q&A on the Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.” World

Health Organization. N.p., Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

“Safety of Meat and Processed Meat.” International Agency for Research on Cancer.

World Health Organization, 26 Oct. 2015. Web.

Wong, Angela. “A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up.” NPR: National Public

Radio. N.p., 27 June 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

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