Being mindful about eating animal products
Updated: May 29
My main motto about eating healthy is the closer to nature, the better. The American food supply has become further away from nature. And it’s not just the highly processed junk foods: animal and plant products have also gotten further away from nature. Large companies have taken over American livestock and agriculture and have largely replaced the local farmer.
It was my daughter that made me more aware of the problems with America’s animal product industry. She said “I feel more bad for the animals than the meat makes me feel good”. So I started to read and look into it, and uncovered some unhealthy and sad facts.
And again, this is another level of trying to get as close to nature as possible with healthy eating. Sometimes it’s not possible to get to the healthiest level, but here is the information for when it is possible. It takes work to educate yourself and compare products to make the best decisions possible. In other countries, most of the food is local and there are stricter standards, so it is easier to purchase food you can trust is healthy. In America, unfortunately corporate interests have come before the consumer, so it is up to the consumer to have to figure out the best option.
*Note: there are some sad pictures of animals in this article, I chose to include them to show a little of what the livestock industry is trying to hide
Humans used to consume animal products that were hunted: i.e animals ate and grew naturally in their natural habitat. Humans then started raising livestock for the purpose of consumption of dairy, eggs and meat. This usually was in a controlled environment but still replicated their natural habitat, such as farm pastures. This has rapidly shifted away to a more crowded and unnatural environment. In the last 50 years, the livestock industry has become more and more industrialized. It used to be the local farmer with a barn and a pasture with cows, chickens and pigs that supplied a local community with dairy, eggs and meat. Now barns and pastures are replaced with Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). In these “factory farms” the animals are treated like an object (a food product) instead of a living being: they have very little movement, do not have access to natural diet, are crowded and exposed to waste and disease. We are told by the companies these large facilities are needed to to “keep up with demand”. But like any other business, their goal is profit, and the more “product” they produce the more money they can make. Just like junk food, cheaply raised animal products costs less. And when it costs less, it is less valuable, and more is consumed and wasted. Americans eat more animal products than ever before. Animal product consumption has more than doubled in the past 50 years.
This unnatural way of raising livestock has created many problems I will outline below.
Antibiotic use and drug resistant bacteria.
Again, the livestock industry has gotten away from nature, and more crowded and unnatural. In 1987, the average pig farmer had 1,000 pigs. Today the average factory farm has 30,000 pigs. You can imagine this unnatural crowding of animals causes problems, including infection. To solve this problem, factory farm animals are often given antibiotics regularly to prevent infection and promote growth (it is often an ingredient in animal feed: a concoction of grain and antibiotics). In fact, 80% of the antibiotics used in America is in the livestock industry. This causes bacteria in the animal’s guts to grow resistant to antibiotics. The animals are then slaughtered with fecal matter with drug resistant bacteria contaminating the food product, and that is how it enters humans. This is what happens when humans get too far away from nature, a snowball of one problem causing another: livestock crowding causes high risk for infections, so antibiotics are given to prevent infections, which causes drug resistant bacteria, which causes human disease. In fact, approximately 20,000 humans die of resistant bacteria per year, and it is estimated the majority of those “superbugs” started in the livestock industry. And this is also the reason why there are an increasing number of food recalls, which is ironic when industrialized animal product has to be thrown away because it is mass produced (small farms have less antibiotic and recalled products, so in the end is more efficient). Antibiotic use in livestock
Animals in their natural environment are healthier and have healthier products to consume. When animals spend most of their time outside they get vitamin D from the sun. When animals eat grass and grubs they get omega 3 fats. In the livestock facilities they don’t get sun, so their products lack vitamin D. They are fed corn and grains, which are high in omega 6 fats and not omega 3 fats, so their products are high in omega 6 fats (which in my nutrition blog I told you increases inflammation). Animal products from animals raised in industrial ways are less nutritious. I think of them as factory made plastic protein without the other nutritional value that natural animals have.
Maltreatment of animals.
Animals that are mass produced face many ethical problems. The farmer used to care for his animals. Now in the factory farms they are treated like inanimate objects instead of living beings.
Broiler chickens grown for meat are bread and modified to be unnaturally large. Their legs cannot support their unnaturally large body, often they can’t even stand, and so they lay in waste and suffer. Hens for eggs are kept in cages they can barely move in, and suffer from overcrowding, injuries, and disease.
Female dairy cows are inseminated to have calves so they produce milk, but their baby is not allowed to drink their milk so it is saved for humans. Dairy cows are sometimes given hormones to produce 4 times more milk than they would naturally, and they are so engorged sometimes they cannot stand with the weight of the milk. Maltreatment of animals in CAFOs
Pigs in CAFO’s are the saddest. They are kept in cages they cannot even turn around in. Mom pigs are kept in gestation crates that separates her from her piglets. The worst part is they are the 5th smartest animal on earth: smarter than dogs, and as smart as a 3 year old human. So I think of how much a 3 year old child is aware of and understands. A pig is aware of the unhappiness and pain they experience in a CAFO being confined to a cage, showed no love and only neglect and abuse, and before their life is lived they are thrown into a semi truck and mass slaughtered. I will never forget passing a semi truck full of pigs heading to slaughter: the squealing was stuff nightmares are made of, and I knew they knew what was happening.
Beyond neglect (not able to live a happy and healthy life), many animals are abused and tortured. Untrained workers (instead of a trained farmer) are in charge of thousands of animals, and again the animals are seen as dispensable objects instead of living beings. All that is a set up for abuse. There has been many hidden videos taken of animals beaten, set on fire, inhumane mass slaughtering practices, skinning and starting to butcher meat while still alive, etc. Organizations are starting to go undercover and reveal this neglect and abuse.
The livestock industry does not want consumers to know what happens behind the walls. And most of the CAFO facilities are hidden in rural America. They put pictures of pastures and barns on the packages to make you think the animals grew up in a happy farm instead of a CAFO. But more and more information about the true origin of industrial animal products is coming out. If you don’t know the farmer, you have no idea how the animals are treated. And if consumers stop buying mass produced animal products, then the industrialized animal companies will be a thing of the past and we will go back to the local farmer. Hindu culture believes that if an animal is treated humanely, the meat is more nutritious: turns out they are right.
Plants have a positive influence on the environment: they use CO2 and produce oxygen. Humans and animals do the opposite: consume oxygen and produce greenhouse gasses. The bigger the animal the more greenhouse gasses. For instance, a cow produces methane, which is 24 times per potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. In fact, the agricultural industry is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas, that is more than all the transportation industry. The amount of greenhouse gas from 1 cow is equal to driving a car 7800 miles! Eating less animal products is one of the most high yield things to decrease carbon footprint. For every meal that you don’t consume animal products, that is equal to not driving a car for 100 miles. Environmental problems
There are other ways livestock hurt the environment. Industrialized agriculture is focused on short term production and not long term sustainability. It comes with hidden costs: pollution of the land water, and air, climate change, chronic disease, loss of land and resources. The livestock yards produce lots of waste, the average CAFO produces more waste than 16,000 humans. This waste eventually gets back into our air, land and water. One of the most disturbing things I discovered is that CAFO waste is often sprayed onto crops (no wonder we have drug resistant bacteria ending up on our romaine lettuce). This also causes air pollution when the particles are sprayed into the air. There is increased asthma and COPD in people who live by and work in factory farms. Pollution from CAFO
The inefficiencies of the livestock industry is becoming more apparent: corn is grown in one place, shipped to another place to be fed to animals, animals are shipped to another place and sold, and 30-50% of the product is wasted in the process.
Sustainable agriculture is being researched and implemented with comparable efficiency. A local farmer can have the animal feed it’s natural diet in pastures, and local people buy it and use it quickly and closely. Research has shown we can feed the world in a sustainable manner. Plus 30% of Americans are overweight or obese, and this is in part due to Americans eating twice as many animal products as necessary. So if we eat the recommended amount of animal products, we don’t need the factory farms! Sustainable agriculture
Increased production equals increased consumption. It used to be hard to have animal products: raise and milk own cow, gather own eggs, kill an animal. Families used to not kill a chicken and eat it everyday. Now animal products are commonly in every meal. Americans eat twice as much animal products as recommended in a healthy diet. Chronic disease
We are now learning increased animal consumption increases risk of diseases such as heart disease, inflammatory conditions, and cancer. Therefore, increased animal product consumption is another contributing factor of the standard American diet causing chronic disease. Animal products are high in saturated fat and pro-inflammatory compounds. Fat and proteins in animal products form polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines when cooked at high temperatures and/or long length of time. Also highly processed meats, such as deli meat and hot dogs, have artificial ingredients that are unhealthy. One preservative, nitrite, is a known carcinogen. Healthy eating
Not only do excessive animal products promote disease, the animal products from factory farms are lacking nutrients such as omega 3’s and vitamin D that help prevent disease. Those nutrients are crucial for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. So the quality of animal products has decreased, and the quantity has increased, which is not a healthy combination.
There is hope. Humans are starting to realize the problem and demanding humane animal products. People are becoming more mindful about what they purchase and eat. Communities are blocking companies from putting CAFOs and processing plants in their area, like the Tonganoxie community did with Tyson. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kansas-town-rejects-tyson-chicken-plant-1600-jobs/
There is a local food and farmer movement. There is a movie just released, “The Biggest Little Farm” about a family who starts an old fashioned and sustainable farm. Biggest Little Farm
Personally, my daughter and I became so concerned, and it became more and more difficult to find animal products we trusted, that we rarely eat animal products. It is possible to eat a healthy plant based diet that is good for your body, the animals, and the environment. I will write another article on the logistics of eating plant based. For the rest of our family who still eat animal products, I make sure the quantity and quality is the best possible.
Quantity: Animal products do provide nutrients. They are a source of complete protein (provides all 9 essential amino acids). There are nutrients that are harder to find in plant products such vitamin B12. But plants are meant to be majority of our diet, and animal products are meant to be a maximum ⅓ of our diet. And it is possible to live a healthy life without animal products (I always point out that elephants are herbivores!).
It’s relatively easy to decrease the amount of animal products. When possible I provide plant based, such as plant based milk. And watch the portion size, each person doesn’t need a full steak or giant chicken breast. I try to provide more white meat than red meat. Most breakfasts are meatless, and I make some dinners meatless for the whole family. Meatless Mondays is a movement that helps families have at least 1 day a week without meat.
Quality: Be mindful of where and how your animal products came about. Most of the branded products come from the industrialized livestock. And be wary of labeling and marketing. If it says “cage free”, it may mean the chickens are still in a building with no access to outside, they just aren’t in cages.
I have researched farms and where I can get the best quality. I try to get eggs, dairy and meat from animals that I know are treated nicely, out in the sun, and eating grubs and grass. Luckily more people are getting more aware and mindful about food, and local good food is becoming easier to find. Local farmer’s markets are great to find farm to table sources. If you don’t have time to go to farmer’s markets, look up their vender list. Many farms have delivery and CSA options to join, or pick up at the farm.
The common thing I hear is “local small farms are more expensive than industrialized food”. My response is: 1. It is healthier for you, so lessens risk of disease that you will pay for later 2. You should only eat 1/3 of food as animal products, so its better to eat smaller more nutritious animal products. Again we need to decrease our quantity of animal products and increase the quality. 3. There is less waste when food is valued, and no recalls of local farmer’s food. 4. Maybe local food isn’t so “expensive”, but that the industrialized food is too cheaply made. Plus we are supposed to spend a large portion of our income on food which is a necessity. And if you really cannot afford the top option, there are ways to find the best possible option: such as Aldi’s has grass fed beef (you can’t be guaranteed how they were treated, but at least it’s a step above regular beef).
In summary: be MINDFUL of your food, the closer to nature the better!