Plant-based: For the animals, the environment and my health
For the animals
When I was nine years old I watched together with my parents in the cinema chicken run. An animated film about chickens doomed to a life of egg-laying on a farm. When a rooster arrives on the scene, the hens hope he can teach them to fly to freedom. However, when a chicken-pie making machine is installed, their need becomes urgent and they must devise other means of escape.
From that moment I refused to eat meat. At least that is how I remember it. My parents say it is possible that I didn’t want to eat meat already before this movie. My love for animals has always been there. In kindergarten I wanted to have a baby pig so badly. Later I convinced my parents to adopt a cat. I promised to take care of her with all my heart. Each evening she would snuggle under my blanket and stay there till I felt asleep.
As a teenager I started to feel uncomfortable that people prepared extra food for me. None of my family members or friends was vegetarian that time. I started to eat meat again when I was invited. I think I started to question myself. Why is it only me who is not eating meat? Is it unhealthy? Something I realized recently is that my mum kept buying meatless burgers for me. I am incredible grateful for that.
It is nice to say that we are against cruelty. Most of us are. But how many of us actually take these abstract values and put them into concrete action? I know that many do not want to give up eating animal products. But what about eating less but high-quality animal products? Animals that were allowed to live outside, treated well and lived longer than just five or less years. That would already have a big impact! If you want to know more about the cruelty animals have to face every day please watch Dominion or Earthlings.
For the environment
After watching the documentary Cowspiracy beginning of 2016 I stopped eating dairy products and eggs. I am aware that some facts in this documentary are wrong. But the main conclusion stays the same: Our diet is a major contributor to global warming! An elderly gentleman, a former cattle rancher, said: „You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products”. Since being sustainable is very important to me this sentence motivated me to change my diet. The 30-Day Vegan Challenge was a help.
Animal products (meat, dairy products and eggs) account for 48% of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland (Jungbluth, N. 2011). One single cow releases 200 liters of the climate-damaging greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere every day. Thus it damages the climate just as much as a small car covers a distance of 18’000 km. Raising animals for food uses enormous resources (space, water, food, and energy). For every kilo of meat or dairy, many times that amount of plants must be used to feed the animals for those products. About half of the grain produced in Switzerland is fed to the animals. One kilogram of beef consumes 15,500 liters of water. (Water Footprint. Not to mention the energy consumption in the preparation, storage, and transport of animal food. They contribute hugely to deforestation (Species extinction) and is the leading cause of all fresh water pollution (ocean dead zones).
For my health
I have to admit that I used to be very sceptical if eating a plant-based diet is healthy for you. So I did a lot of research and read many scientific studies (see sources). If comparing omnivores with people on a plant-based diet it is very important to collect other information as well. Like how much sugar one eats for example, how balanced the nutrition is, placebo effects, the impact of stress, representativity of the sample, the design of the study, how much one sleeps and exercises, and other influencing factors. In summary: It is possible to eat a plant-based diet and stay healthy if you eat balanced and supplement vitamin B12 (every other day) and vitamin D when the synthesis is reduced (e.g. weak sunlight, age and darker skin). Plus it is incredibly satisfying and can be low on the budget. Through a plant-based diet you consume less hormones, less antibiotic (75% of all antibiotics prescribed in Germany are taken by animals. No wonder more and more people are developing resistance to antibiotics), less carcinogens, less LDL cholesterol and less saturated fats. This results in less heart problems, less cancer, less type 2 diabetes, less overweight, and better cholesterol level.
What we eat is very important to our health (e.g. Campbell & Campbell, 2005). Multiple sclerosis for example is a progressive autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. As usual the medical treatment to slowdown the disease is very expensive and has several side effects. According to Swank and Goodwin (2003) by far the most successful treatments for multiple sclerosis are specially designed diets. The common denominator of most of these diets are the avoidance of dairy products, eliminate gluten and eating blueberries, blackberries or blackcurrants (Wood et al., 2012).
There exist two great documentaries that show how the change to a plant-based diet influenced the lives of people who had either cancer, overweight, diabetes, or other problems. Both of them (Forks Over Knives and What The Health) are available on Netflix.
In the end everybody is free to decide what seems right for oneself. For my part I want to reduce suffering. I try to buy local, seasonal and fresh products from sustainable farmers who do not use any artificial fertilizer, and no monoculture. Sometimes I do eat cashews, coconut milk and other exotic products because they are delicious. I try my best but I don’t want to suffer myself. Something I had to learn and not feel guilty about it.
I am aware that I have the privilege to have a choice. I am not living in the Antarctic or on a small island with no land for agriculture. Through travelling I am experiencing that the consciousness is gradually increasing as to what huge impact our consumer behavior has. Not only for ourselves, but also for the animals and the world in which we live.
- Wood, T. R., Sverdrup, U., Ragnarsdóttir, K. V. & Sverdrup, H. U. (2012). Investigating the root causes of multiple sclerosis using systems analysis and dynamics, developing an integrated treatment strategy. Oral presentation at the System Dynamics Society conference at St. Gallen, Switzerland.
- Swank, R. L. & Goodwin, J. (2003). Review of MS patient survival on a Swank low saturated fat diet. Nutrition, 19, 161-162.
- Campbell, T. C. & Campbell, T. M. (2005). The China Study.
- Jungbluth, N. et al. 2011: Environmental Impacts of Swiss Consumption and Production: A Combination of Input-output Analysis with Life Cycle Assessment. ESU-services Ltd. u. a. Bern.
- Jungbluth, N. 2011: ESU-services GmbH, Uster. Berechnungen für den WWF Schweiz.
- Water Footprint: http://www.project-platforms.com/files/productgallery-new.php
- WWF: https://assets.wwf.ch/downloads/wwf_faktenblatt_ernaehrung_2011_de_3.pdf
- Öko-Institut: https://www.oeko.de/oekodoc/328/2007-011-de.pdf
- PETA: https://www.peta.de/tiereesseninfografik