ECOSPIRITUALITY AND NUTRITION
“Vegetarianism is not just a struggle against barbarity, but the first step towards spiritual progress.”
Lev Tolstoj (1828-1910)
Intensive farming destroys the planet
It is well known that intensive farming is one of the major causes of environmental pollution.
Enormous wells of waste products, blood from slaughtered animals and excrement give off dangerous fumes of hydrogen sulfide and contaminate underground water with nitrates and antibiotics.
Intensive farms and cultivation of cereals for animal feed constitute the most serious problem our environment faces and they produce a greater quantity of harmful gas emissions than the whole of the transport sector put together (road, air, rail and sea transport). Furthermore, the amount of excrement poured into the rivers and seas constitutes the primary cause of pollution of water.
Global animal breeding plays a central role in the use of water resources, water pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. That is not all, because consumption of fish and marine animals in general also has a noticeable effect on environmental balance and is considered responsible for various problems of an environmental nature. This situation has focused the interest of the scientific community on the incidence of consumption of animal-based food on the environment, and many researchers have identified reduction of consumption of meat as an inevitable step in combating environmental damage caused by intensive farming.
Studies conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have established that more than 51% of Green House Gases (GHG), especially methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide come from intensive farming emissions, compared to 14% caused by transport activities on land, water and sea.
The amount of water that is wasted for cultivation of food for farm animals and for their nutrition reaches staggering figures: it takes about 3,000 litres of water to produce a 250 gram beefburger, which corresponds to the amount of water used by one person using a shower for 2 months.
According to a UNESCO, Institute for Water Education, study, a vegetarian diet would reduce the water footprint by 58%.
Let’s take a few percentages: 33% of the planet’s fresh water is used by intensive farms and 45% of the Earth’s surface is occupied by farms breeding cattle.
Intensive farming is the reason behind deforestation of 91% of the Amazon rainforest.
Apart from consumption of resources, water pollution and deforestation, there is an additional issue of breaches of the human rights of autochthonous populations who inhabit the areas exploited by farming interests.
It only takes a few incontrovertible facts to realise that the system adopted by the majoritarian society for sustaining human beings is a failure, because it will inevitably lead to destruction of the planet. It has been calculated that not eating meat, even for just one day, is equivalent to saving the same amount of CO2 that would be eliminated by removing 5 million cars from the roads for one day.
People who eat meat and its derivatives supplied by large scale retailing have to become aware that in doing so they are supporting planetary massacre.
A carnivorous diet is dangerous for human health
The animals in intensive farms eat GMO animal feed mixed with scraps from their slaughtered kin, which are full of hormones and medicines. They have never seen grass and live in a constant state of stress. This is all transferred to the meat that arrives on people’s plates and it has been demonstrated by researchers that meat derived from animals living in conditions of stress causes a series of problems in the person who consumes it, such as mental disorders, infertility, damage to organs and loss of lucidity.
Yet, the most significant fact regarding harm caused by meat comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Agency specialising in health matters, which is considered the world’s leading organisation for safeguarding the health of humanity.
The WHO, through its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), issued a press release in October 2015 which decreed that meat is carcinogenic. This concerned red meat and processed meat.
The announcement was the outcome of a meeting between 22 scientists from ten countries and the IARC experts in Lyon, France. The aim of this meeting was precisely to evaluate the carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The IARC working group took an important step forward, because it issued its results after considering more than 800 studies that had investigated the associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in several countries and populations with different diets. The strongest correlation between meat and tumour is that of the risk of colorectal cancer, but the IARC also stresses that there is evidence proving a link also with cancer of the pancreas and that of the prostate. According to recent estimates of the Global Burden of Disease Project, it is a fact that about 34 thousand deaths from cancer each year worldwide should be attributed to diets that are rich in processed meat. Analysis of data from 10 studies estimates that for each portion of 50 g of processed meat per day, the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases by 18%.
What about fish?
To escape the danger of developing cancer that comes with eating meat, many people think they can resolve the problem by eating fish. But danger to health exists just the same, the risk is no less and this is proven by more than one study.
Fish contains the same toxins as meat and, there are additional risks of parasitosis (e.g. tapeworms, roundworms), asthma, eczema, skin irritation, allergies, kidney disorders, damage to the nervous system, etc.
The enormous amount of mercury discharged into the sea by industry (about, 10,000 tons per year) passes easily from fish to the human organism.
Fish is meat, putrefying and fat in the extreme, on a level with or more than any other meat. It is highly toxic, stimulating and non-nutritious for the human body. Cooked fat from fish forms creatine, a substance which is lethal for the liver. In fish there are poisonous concentrations of sodium chloride (when cooked these become inorganic mass, causing gastric tumours, fluid retention, serious dropsy), dioxin, retardants and high concentrations of lethal minerals, such as mercury and cadmium.
The disaster of Minamata (Japan) in 1956, should not be forgotten, when waste water contaminated with mercury was discharged by the chemical company Chisso Corporation and led to one of the worst environmental disasters in history, leaving 77 people dead and 360 others with disabilities after eating fish full of mercury. Apart from mercury, though, the presence of cadmium and lead in mussels, oysters and shellfish is also worrying. Mussels often cause hepatitis A.
Fish can also transmit salmonella to humans, as well as the larvae of tapeworms and roundworms. In the past, excessive use of fish in some Third World regions led to the onset of leprosy. Some molluscs may transmit viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases.
Furthermore, fish suffer, just the same as all animals violently slaughtered by humans and then eaten, from terror, anguish and fear, accumulated while they are being captured and killed; the longer and more painful the animal’s death, the more toxins are produced, that are harmful to humans.
Harmful animal derivatives
Production of meat and that of milk are closely linked; one may be considered a by-product of the other. The effects on health of increased consumption of milk and dairy products are similar to those caused by increased consumption of other animal products, such as meat and lard. Nowadays, scientific evidence is available to show that dairy products provide no benefits that cannot be obtained in a better way from alternative sources and that their consumption creates serious risks that contribute to mortality.
The nutritional profile of milk is similar to that of meat. Both these foods contain a similar amount of protein and saturated fats. Like meat, milk is completely lacking in fibre and the hundreds of phytochemical substances that are contained in vegetable foods and which have been revealed as protective factors against degenerative diseases, such as coronary disease and cancer.
It is commonly believed that the content of calcium in cow’s milk makes it an essential food for strengthening bones, especially in young children. The problem is that, even if milk may be an efficient way to obtain calcium from food, it also has many disadvantages, especially a very high content of saturated fats. According to Prof. Walter Willett, an American doctor specialising in nutrition, “Drinking three glasses of milk a day is the same as eating twelve slices of bacon or one Big Mac and a portion of French fries”. Also, the question of keeping bones strong, rather than depending on extra calcium intake, depends on preventing its loss.
Loss of calcium is a normal process that occurs through circulation of the blood, urine, sweat and faeces. The calcium that is lost then has to be recovered from fresh calcium obtained from food or from the bones.
One of the most important factors in the loss of calcium lies in a high protein diet, which ensures that a greater quantity of calcium is lost through the urine.
Naturally, diets rich in meat and dairy products greatly exceed the recommended levels of protein intake. In addition, proteins derived from animal food probably cause greater calcium loss than vegetable food and milk and dairy products are very rich in animal protein, so, even though they may be rich in calcium, the end result is often negative, which means loss of calcium from the bones to compensate.
High incidence of osteoporosis in countries with high consumption of dairy products is a further indication of its ineffectiveness in combating the problem of fragile bones. The recent report by the WHO and the FAO on evidence gathered on the problem of osteoporosis indicates that for the majority of people there seems to be no correlation between increased calcium intake and reduced risk of bone fractures. The WHO/FAO recommendations for osteoporosis point to eating more fruit and vegetables, rather than relying on dairy products.
The problem of ethics
On top of all this, there is the problem of ethics. Every year 170 billion animals are killed for food. That means half a billion animals every day, or more than 5,390 animals per second. In the time taken to read these words, tens of thousands have already been killed. These staggering figures give an idea of the aberration that man-made society finds itself in.
Non-stop factories produce millions upon millions of slaves of other species, for the sole purpose of using them as food for the benefit of humans; massive structures of extermination where other sentient beings are subjected to unheard of suffering, in order to satisfy the human animals. This cruel system subjects animals to a nightmare existence.
Animals are treated as objects and if the activities of breeding, feeding, slaughterhouses and distribution chains are to achieve the economic performance compatible with the levels of productivity demanded by the market, then the price of meat, milk and eggs has to remain affordable for the greatest possible number of consumers.
By now 99% of farms are intensive. Animals are raised in extremely restricted spaces, without ever having the chance to get out into the sunlight. Occasionally cows may be seen at pasture, but they are only a tiny minority, which are treated less badly. However, not even these escape the slaughterhouse, where they are killed without pity. Sentient beings, considered just “items” to be put down. The slaughterhouses are almost always hidden away from public view, since the farmers try to make their consumers forget how the steak on their plate is produced.
Intensive farms are non-stop factories of infinite suffering for the animals. Billions of animals destined for the slaughterhouse are obliged to live in chains or locked up in overcrowded cages, which are totally incompatible with their physiological needs, deprived of the minimum freedom of movement, prevented from satisfying their affective and sexual instincts, mutilated, subjected to constant antibiotic and hormone therapy (both to prevent an explosion of epidemics and to accelerate their growth), to permanent lighting, which prevents them sleeping, being fed with unsuitable, unnatural, chemical food (even to the point of cows forced into cannibalism) and being forced to breathe air saturated with carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia vapour and various dusts, but lacking in oxygen. Animals obliged to live in these conditions, apart from showing serious organic and psychological disorders (chickens pecking each other to death, mother rabbits eating their own young, pigs eating their tails), undergo genetic mutilation and manipulation.
Sheep, even when they live in the open air, are shorn in a brutal manner in winter, then obliged to bear the rigours of the winter climate without the natural protection of their wool. Male lambs are slaughtered at the age of a few weeks, especially for Easter celebrations. Moreover, sheep are expected to breed continuously and are slaughtered as soon as they become less “productive”.
Why is being vegetarian not enough
An increasing number of people are choosing a vegetarian diet. This choice may be determined by health reasons, a wish to protect the environment or ethical reasons.
Many people become aware of the conditions of suffering animals find themselves in and so decide to become vegetarians. However, whether it be for health reasons, or environmental or ethical, being vegetarian does not solve the problem.
The harm from a diet of animals and animal derivatives has already been amply illustrated.
From an ethical point of view, eating meat is the same as eating cheese. There is no doubt that opting for dairy products to replace the steak will not resolve or diminish the suffering of animals in the slightest way.
Dairy cows are genetically selected and artificially inseminated, to produce as much milk as possible. From the age of two years, they spend nine months per year in pregnancy. Shortly after birth, the calves are torn away from their mothers (causing trauma in both of them), so that they do not drink the milk, and locked up in tiny boxes barely tens of centimetres wide, with not even space to lie down and therefore no chance of sleeping deeply.
They are fed an inadequate diet on purpose, so that they become anaemic and their meat becomes white and tender (to suit consumer tastes), then they are sent for slaughter. The cow will then be milked for months, during which time she will be forced to produce an amount of milk equivalent to 10 times what would be required, in nature, to feed her calf. It is no surprise to learn that every year one third of cows exploited by dairies suffer from mastitis (a painful inflammation of the mammella).
To increase milk production, the cow is fed with highly concentrated protein, but often even this is not sufficient, so much so that lacerations are caused to tissues, in order to satisfy the constant demand for milk. This leads to a condition known as acidosis, which may leave the animal lame, which happens every year to 25% of cows exploited by dairies. At about five or six years of age, and already exhausted and pumped dry, the cow will be slaughtered. Its natural life span would be around 20 years.
Chickens cannot expect a better fate. To produce eggs, hens are forced to live (in groups of up to four) in cages of dimensions of the surface area of an A3 sheet of paper. Their wings wither as a result of enforced immobility and their feet grow deformed as they grow in constant contact with a metal grille flooring. To increase profits, many producers use genetically modified breeds, which are destined for further suffering due to painful disorders of bones and spinal defects.
In farms breeding laying hens, the male chicks (which are worthless on the market, since they do not lay eggs and are not suitable for production of chicken meat) are thrown alive into mincing machines, or suffocated in plastic bags, or crushed in special machines to be turned into animal feed, while the female chicks have their beaks cut off to prevent them pecking their companions to death. The latter procedure, which involves cutting soft tissue similar to the flesh that humans have under their fingernails, is so painful that many of the chicks die of shock. This operation also often leaves nerve ends exposed in the beak, meaning the animal will suffer constant pain for the rest of its life.
As soon as the hen’s productivity drops below a certain level, usually after 2 years, its throat is cut and it becomes second grade chicken meat. “Meat” hens are certainly not treated any better: they are raised in overcrowded sheds, up to 10 - 15 hens per square metre, and in permanently lighted conditions, so that they will grow faster. After 45 days they are slaughtered, while in nature they could live as long as 7 years.
The same fate is reserved for turkeys. Geese are even less fortunate, because they are subjected to force-feeding, where they are immobilised and fed through a funnel until their liver disintegrates, in order to produce the famous “Foie Gras” paté. Pheasants are also raised in batteries, before they are released to serve as targets for hunters or, if they are lucky, for the predators within hunting reserves. If they are not killed by hunters or predators, they will die anyway within a few days because they do not know how to feed themselves.
As far as fish are concerned, they are often not even considered “animals”, since they stand on an even lower rung on the ladder of animal rights.
Yet they feel pain, many of them have complex nervous systems and some, such as the octopus, are particularly intelligent and capable of performing elaborate operations.
Apart from fish caught in the sea, aquaculture is becoming more widespread, which means in other words intensive fish farming, where these animals are kept in extremely restricted spaces, where they suffer from stress and unhappiness. Lobsters are also bred in batteries, kept on ice, in most cases with their claws tied, and then boiled alive in the pot, in spite of the fact that the law against maltreatment of animals does not allow this.
This scenario, which is practically Dantesque, is on a par with the suffering caused by transporting so-called “profit making animals”.
It happens frequently that animals are not slaughtered in the slaughterhouse,closest to the intensive farm, but have to undergo nightmare journeys, sometimes long enough to pass through different countries. The animals are crammed into trucks, with no chance of rest, nothing to drink and nothing to eat, including young animals. Many of them arrive at their destination in terrible condition, some die during the journey. If an animal falls inside the truck, it often cannot get up, but is trampled and suffers fractures to its hooves or hips. These animals, even more unlucky than the others, if that is imaginable, are left in the truck in excruciating pain until all the others have been herded into the slaughterhouse, before being hooked up by their broken limbs and dragged out.. They are not offered euthanasia, the breeders do not want to waste money, but they wait their turn to be slaughtered.
Animals that die during the journey are thrown onto a heap, which is known as “the heap of the dead”. Transport is especially hard for horses, since not enough of them are “produced” in Italy, so the butchers take their supplies from Eastern Europe, where horses are still in use and, after a hard working life, they finish their existence in the slaughterhouses and on the tables in our country. For reasons of profit the animals are crammed in trucks in an unbelievable manner, mixed together with the sick, the weak and the very young.
Chickens are worth very little, so they are treated even worse, because if some die during the journey, very little is lost. The trucks are loaded at night, the workers have to load 25,000 animals in the least possible time, so they are treated roughly, thrown from hand to hand, as if they were balls, until they are packed into the cages.
The animals then arrive at the slaughterhouse in serious condition, often so weak that they cannot even stand up. Because of the speed of the slaughter lines (sometimes even 400 animals an hour each), the chickens are often not properly stunned and therefore remain conscious while they have their throats cut, their feathers plucked, their heads cut off, their insides cut out or when they reach the tanks of boiling water to be scalded. For pigs, the moment of slaughter is particularly pitiful, because the numbers slaughtered are incredibly high, up to 1,000 animals in one morning. Also in these circumstances the stunning is often not done very well, so the animals have their throats cut and are thrown into boiling water while they are still conscious. The only death that would be really painless, would require drugging the animal, but that cannot be done because their meat has to be eaten.
As for fish, their death is even worse: they die of suffocation, in slow, silent agony, because we cannot hear the sounds they make, They sometimes reach the fish counters still alive and finish dying in the ice. Crustaceans and shellfish end up boiled alive.
To round off this scene of horror, the new biotechnologies applied to intensive farm animals, should be mentioned. To provide food for humans, transgenic animals are created, with their genetic heritage modified, so that they will produce more, more meat, more milk, or that they will become ill less often. To produce more, BST hormones are used, to make the animals oversized. This leads to certain consequences, inasmuch as the insertion of extraneous genes into the animals is done completely at random and often creates individuals that are not vital or have malformations that cause them suffering. Moreover, the gene that is transplanted (transgene) may destroy part of the natural genes of the host animal and give rise to new, non-vital genes. In one experiment, for example, mice were born with serious deformities, such as missing rear legs, split muzzle and enormous brain defects. It is not always possible to set the desired transformation, so the manipulation has to be repeated hundreds of times on other animals, until the right line is successfully developed, thus causing suffering and death to an extremely large number of animals.
There are also consequences for human health, since the introduction of hormones through genetic engineering creates similar risks to those deriving from the use of hormones in other forms.
So what should be done?
It has been calculated that on average a meat eating person will eat around 7,000 animals during a lifetime. An American research study concludes that a person who lives 80 years will eat, during his or her existence, 11 cows, 27 pigs, 30 sheep, 80 turkeys, 2,400 chickens and 4,500 fish. This means that by abolishing consumption of meat, each person can save thousands of animals, without being involved in any activism in their defence.
On the contrary to what the commonplace would have us believe, humans are not born carnivorous. Human beings are very often described as “omnivores”, but even that is not so. Humans are not carnivorous. The human organism, unlike that of carnivores, is not at all designed for eating animal corpses, because it is poisoned by the toxic substances contained in meat. Neurophysiology, embryology and comparative anatomy confirm that humans are structured to feed on fruit, fresh sprouts, tender leaves, tubers and roots, rather than muscle, bone and offal, like carnivores.
However, we live in a society based on profit, and this profit, as we have seen, is largely based on the exploitation of animals. It is logical to think that culture does not help us to look for alternatives to a carnivorous diet. Yet people are starting to become increasingly more conscious of the absurdity of a diet that creates damage to people, causes cancer, or at the very least a series of psychophysical pathologies, and above all causes unspeakable suffering throughout the planet. Veggie restaurants are multiplying, vegetarians are on continuous increase.
From the data we have provided above, though, it is evident that being vegetarian does not resolve the problem. There needs to be an extra leap in mentality, to become vegan. In other words, adopt a diet that does not include consumption of meat, nor of its derivatives. It is a difficult choice only if you fall for the misinformation that would have people think that eating vegetables, fruit and cereals is complicated, is tasteless and does not provide you with the vitamins and proteins you need. Nothing is further from the truth. Not only is a vegan diet much more healthy, but it is also better balanced than an omnivorous diet.
There are umpteen recipe books on the subject, from which to learn easy dishes to prepare in a few minutes.
All that is required essentially is a leap in mentality, to avoid the pitfalls of false myths and misinformation.
From the book "All children of Mother Earth" by Rosalba Nattero and Giancarlo Barbadoro – Edizioni Triskel