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Republican Senator’s Ill-Conceived Plan to Block Vegetarian Options in the Military

Factory Farming

Factory Farming

Across the United States and most of the developed world, there is a growing awareness of the problems caused by overconsumption of meat, and an attendant growth in vegetarians and vegans. One of the many campaigns to help spread awareness and moderate our diets is Meatless Monday. This program, endorsed by many public and private organizations, encourages people to forego meat at least one day a week in favor of plant-based alternatives. The Department of Defense, one of the largest and resource-heavy organizations in the world, is considering adopting the practice in military dining facilities.

Jodi Ernst, a first-term senator from Iowa and retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, has recently introduced legislation into the United States Senate to actually block the Department of Defense from implementing “meatless Mondays” in military chow halls. She claims that daily meat consumption is necessary to satisfy nutritional needs. This is so facile and disingenuous that only a caveman could defend it. If you actually read the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is suggested to eat less meat and eggs. But for legislators like Ernst, facts and logic cannot get in the way of their gut instinct.

If we dig deeper, it turns out that Iowa is actually the nation’s largest pork- and egg-producing state, and the agribusiness industry contributed at least $200,000 to Ernst’s 2014 Senate campaign. That is a good return investment for an industry whose 2014 sales were $186 billion. Because this isn’t about nutritional needs, obviously–it is about cold, hard cash. Like everything in America. Everyone knows that meat is not necessary for proper nutrition. It has actually been clearly linked to cancer, and the enormous consumption of meat in America has helped create not a healthy and balanced population, but one with an uncontrollable obesity epidemic.

I was in the US Army for four and a half years and spent two years deployed to Afghanistan. In this time of my life I was still a typical American meat-eater. I ate meat nearly everyday while deployed, and I can attest that the quality of the food was low, and it was in no way necessary to offer meat everyday even to highly active soldiers. In retrospect, I wish there had been more variety of food offered in the chow hall like meatless Mondays that would have given me different options and helped me lower my meat intake earlier.

I became vegetarian and then vegan after leaving the army, and I have not eaten any meat or animal products in over four years. I am light and healthy and energetic, and I practice rock-climbing several times a week with better physical performance than I ever felt during many years of army training with a heavily carnivorous diet. Senator Ernst is either ignorant or willfully lying on this issue. Neither is a good look for an elected politician.

Furthermore, Ernst, like all of her Republican colleagues, loves to completely dismiss either that climate change is happening or that it is caused by humans, saying things like “I’m not a scientist.” On every other issue, they are experts, however. On abortion, they are medical experts; on gay marriage, they have a direct line to God; on guns, they are all enthusiastic hunters and potential freedom fighters. It’s all hypocrisy. Everyone who studies the issue knows that not only is climate change the most urgent crisis humans have faced since the last ice age, but that intense industrial meat production is one of the largest single causes of pollution and climate change (I’ve written about climate change here). Factory farms, like the ones that are concentrated in midwestern states like Iowa, are enormously inefficient and harmful to the environment. And that is to say nothing about the ethical question of raising billions of sentient, emotional creatures to live short brutal lives in cramped metal cages, pumped full of steroids and antibiotics before being slaughtered. It has been said, with no irony or exaggeration, that modern factory farms are humanity’s biggest crime.

Senator Ernst was elected on a platform of freedom and her military experience. She deployed to Kuwait as a combat tour. She has also falsely claimed that National Guard duty is the reason she missed over half of the votes in the Iowa State Senate. She thinks these things make her an expert on military matters, and that all military personnel and veterans will support her no matter her policies. As a veteran myself with two years of deployment on a remote outpost in Afghanistan, I can say that most veterans see through self-serving and corrupt politicians quite easily. That is why Bernie Sanders’ top contributors are active duty military members. This is also important because Ernst is one of the people who will be considered for the Republican Vice President nomination because she is a woman and a veteran. Too bad she is also a corrupt fraud like most of her party’s standard-bearers.

The Republican Party, which has long made “freedom” its watchword, does not seem to understand what it actually means. It often tends to conveniently ignore freedom for people that disagree with them. It does not take a political philosopher to realize that freedom does not count if it only means restricting other people’s freedom. The Republican Party, which claims to want “smaller government” while insisting that government should be able to regulate and block the most personal individual choices in people’s lives, has struck again with an absurd logic-bending proposal about people’s most personal individual choices.

Eating is one of the most personal things we do. Just like religion, sexual preference, whether to have a child or not. In all these cases, the supposed party of individual freedom wants to restrict freedom. In the spirit of 1984, the Republicans would operate a Ministry of Freedom that insures everyone eats what they told to eat and prays how they are told to pray. It is hypocrisy, unmasked, not even trying to be masked, in fact. Like many Americans, I’m tired of it and want to change the system. One important way is to follow political campaigns, be active, and vote. Arguably even more important is to vote with your wallet with the products you buy, and get involved and stay involved in local or personal issues that you are passionate about. That is why I do not take it lightly when I see a hypocrite try to spread lies about meat consumption in order to help prop up a hundred billion dollar industry, or spreading lies that it is necessary to eat meat to be healthy when it is clearly the opposite. Veganism is an idea whose time has come as more and more people are learning that it is better for their health and for the planet (and for the animals). Fortunately, people have more freedom to do as they please than people like Senator Ernst realize.

The Strong Case for Veganism

My objective for this post is to spread awareness about veganism and about the benefits that ensue from this philosophy. Therefore, it is necessary that I first reintroduce and build upon my earlier post on this website, Why I Am a Vegetarian in light of my evolution away from the use of animal products.

I still fully support everything I wrote in ‘WIAaV’, and I believe that my arguments are still valid. I listed four reasons, in ascending order of importance, why I am a vegetarian. It is cheaper, it is healthier for the body, it is healthier for the environment, and it is the higher ethical, or moral, position. I do not believe that any of these arguments can be refuted, and any one of them should ideally be enough to convince a rational person of abandoning a diet built around the consumption of dead animal flesh. There is only a growing body of evidence in support of each of these arguments, some of which I briefly outlined in the original post, and much more of which can be found quite easily on the internet. The only excuse for not adhering to a vegetarian diet at this point would seem to be ignorance of the benefits and costs, which cannot be claimed by any of the readers here. Basically, the issue with my earlier post is that I did not go far enough in stating the case for not using animal products of any kind. This is because, at the time of writing, I was still only a vegetarian, but not someone who rejected the use of milk, cheese, eggs, honey, and other things. In light of further information I have become aware of, and more thinking on the subject, I have completed the evolution from vegetarian to vegan–that is, someone who chooses not to use animal products of any kind.

What ‘awakened me from my dogmatic slumber’ (to use Kant‘s famous phrase about David Hume’s Enquiry) was a video by animal-rights activist, vegan, and motivational speaker Gary Yourofsky. This video, with over 1 million Youtube views, and available in 26 languages, is 70 minutes long, but I would encourage you to find time to watch it (and to pass it on to others). Also, in the ‘Links’ menu to the left you will find the website for Yourofsky’s organization ADAPTT–Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow–where you can find more videos, information, recipes, links, and much more.

Yourofsky is a dynamic speaker, and his 100+ annual speeches are aimed at a primarily American and college-aged audience. Nevertheless, his arguments are valid for peoples of any age and nationality. Though the factory farming excesses he discusses might be most widespread in America, they certainly exist in most other countries as well. In addition, the segment in which he presents vegan food alternatives is probably not as useful to people outside America, and is designed to be most convincing to university students who are already used to such typical processed and pre-prepared microwaveable-type meals. Living in Italy, for example, I have neither access to any of those brands or products, nor the desire to eat them. I do have access to a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and other basic ingredients to make delicious vegan concoctions.

One of the strongest points of the video is, in my opinion, his unmasking and debunking the myths surrounding milk and the dairy industry. It was this point that was most responsible for forcing me to complete the path from vegetarian diet to vegan philosophy. Obviously, the argument for not eating meat is strong and self-evident. However, the argument for not using other animal products, such as milk, is not as intuitive, and requires overcoming misconceptions and propaganda from the dairy industry. It is striking how Yourofsky emphasizes that the number one reason why vegetarians do not become vegans is cheese. We use cheese on everything, and most people are loathe to give it up. All cheeses contains a substance called rennin, which can only be obtained from the stomach of baby cows, because it is necessary for them to properly digest their mothers’ milk. Humans are only designed to consume human milk, and only until the age of one or two. After that, we have no need for milk of any kind for the rest of our lives. There are adverse health conditions that result from dairy consumption. For example, we are told that we need milk for our calcium needs and to have strong bones, but the highest rates of osteoporosis occur in countries, such as the US, were milk consumption is highest, while this medical condition is almost non-existent is many African and Asian countries where dairy intake is almost zero.

Besides the fact that we don’t need milk, and that it is actually not healthy for us, we need to recognize that most dairy cows eventually get sent to the slaughter-house to become ‘beef’ as soon as they are too old to produce milk. Actually, in America the majority of beef comes from old, worn-out dairy cows. The environmental question is just as clear-cut. There are billions of cows raised every year only in order to produce milk. These cows need massive amounts of grain, steroids, growth-hormones, and produce massive amounts of waste and methane gas. The amount of grain used to feed farm animals in America every year could easily alleviate world hunger. 90% of corn grown in the US is used for animal consumption (cows naturally eat grass, not corn, by the way). There is actually more than enough food produced in the world every year to feed every human, but there is not enough money to pay for it! One of the reasons for this is that such a huge percentage of food is used to raise unnecessary animals instead of humans. In this way, humans who eat meat or use animal products are only getting their nutrients second-hand, by way of an animal, instead of first-hand, by way of the plant material itself. Hundreds more examples and statistics could be summoned to continue building up this unassailable argument, but hopefully you are already convinced.

Besides the health, financial, and environmental reasons, there is of course the ethical reason. Is it correct that 70 Billion animals are raised each year only to become food for humans? The vast majority of these animals live lives of such unimaginable squalor and suffering as to dull the senses. There seems to be a widespread idea that animals, for some reason, don’t feel pain or suffering like humans, or that they only exist to feed humans. These are such juvenile ideas that they would almost be laughable if they weren’t so repugnant. Notwithstanding the active abuse dished out to untold numbers of animals and the horrible conditions that they inhabit during their short, sad lives, the worst part of this issue is the fact that most humans feel that there is nothing wrong in our very mentally which justifies the slavery and subservience of all other animals to our appetites and whims, and that humans are naturally superior and ordained to dominate and rule the earth because we are the most intelligent species. This is an example of an intelligence I want no part of. We are animals too, and this slavery and abuse is unacceptable and should not be tolerated or even allowed.

Once again, these arguments apply mostly to the huge industries of food production and animal exploitation, but, you might ask, “What if the animals are locally raised, cared for, and killed for food in a humane way when their time is up?” I will respond that we do not need to eat animals to live, and that there is no excuse for killing an animal merely because you enjoy the taste of its flesh. I admit that I like the taste of meat, and have eaten it for most of my life up to this point. It is not a question of taste, but of choosing not to eat it because we don’t need it, and because it is healthier and more ethical in so many ways. Finally, while I know that I will never eat meat again, I am not yet at the point where my veganism is absolute or dogmatic, and I don’t think it needs to be. I do not buy or use animal products, and try to avoid them at all costs, but understand that sometimes there is an occasion where it is too difficult to avoid something with a bit of cheese or egg or milk. For me, this could happen while I am traveling, or as someone’s guest, or another similar uncontrollable circumstance. Maybe I will eventually change my views, but for now I agree with Peter Singer, Australian philosopher and author of Animal Liberation, on this issue.

For more facts, you can find a very informative chart here. If for some reason you still have doubts, just remember that even elephants and gorillas are vegans!

Why I Am a Vegetarian

Pythagoras was an early Greek philosopher and ascetic who made vegetarianism one of the central tenets of his ‘school’. His ideas were influential for centuries as the became adopted by Neoplatonists and Christian sects (and later, monks) alike. Socrates was possibly a vegetarian, saying in Republic that if meat-eating was allowed in the ideal society, there would be more need for doctors. Ovid in the Metamorphoses stated that human and animal lives are so entwined that to kill an animal is virtually the same thing as to kill a human (ancient precursor to Peter Singer’s modern ethical stance: see below). Leonardo da Vinci, Lev Tolstoy, and Albert Einstein were vegetarians, with the last saying that, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” While such august examples are interesting, they do not lend any actual evidence to the question at hand.

There are three reasons Why I Am a Vegetarian [I could also give a fourth reason regarding the financial benefits, but this is really just a ‘bonus’, and not required for me to make my case. Though I personally save money by rejecting meat, it is not necessarily given that everyone will save money, since there is a possibility to spend an equal amount of money on ‘replacement’ nutrients and calories that were previously spent on meat.] I include two ‘natural’ (or ‘common-sense’) reasons, and one philosophical (or ethical) reason. I believe that any one of these reasons could stand on its own merits to defend vegetarianism, and all three together are virtually unassailable. In ascending order:

1.  Personal health benefits

There shouldn’t be any debate about this. Vegetarians are shown to be healthier, happier, less obese, and longer-lived than meat-eaters in every study done on the subject. It is always possible that there are other factors that contribute to these findings (such as the fact that vegetarians are already more health-conscious, smarter, non-smoking, etc., in general, which could skew the results even more in their favor). Every vitamin and nutrient, as well as protein and iron, can easily be found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and even fortified cereals. This renders the high-protein content of meat irrelevant. Avoidance of meat also helps to minimize any number of corresponding health problems such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, to name five. While there are occasionally food safety issues with plants (which can be mitigated by choosing local, organic, pesticide-free products whenever possible), there are clearly many more such issues with the process of making animals into meat. People might sometimes eat meat only because it tastes good, which I will discuss below. For me, all of the non-meat products that I listed taste just as good, with the added psychological benefit that I know that they are healthier while I am eating them, which makes me even more satisfied and energetic. There is much more evidence on this aspect that I need not detail– anyone who is interested can find all the sufficient data quite easily on the internet. However, if you are still not convinced…

2.  Healthier for the Environment

Now we are dealing with something more important. Any individual who chooses to eat meat can do so by his own free will, despite any known personal health effects. When it comes to the environment, there is much more at stake than the decision of any single individual. And when there are 7 Billion people on the planet, the effects caused by dietary habits such as meat-eating can readily be seen to be unsustainable at best, cumulatively disastrous at worst. If there were only as many people on the planet now as there were even 200 years ago, with vast unexplored forests, plains, and jungles all intact, this would probably not be an issue. But the population explosion has created a monstrous system of producing factory-farmed meat on a huge industrial scale. It is ridiculously bad for the animals (obviously), for the planet, and, accordingly, for humans as well. According to a United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest worldwide contributors to environmental degradation, and modern practices of raising animals for food contribute on a massive scale to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. Animal farming (especially bovine) produces a huge increase of greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, which have, respectively, 21 and 296 times more Global Warming Potential than carbon dioxide. There are somewhere around 70 Billion animals raised in the world each year for the sole reason of providing a source of meat for human consumption. These animals consume an ungodly amount of grains that could otherwise feed Billions of humans. In the US alone, animals consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and 70% of the grains. This requires half of the water supply, and 80% of the agricultural land of the United States. If there was an unlimited amount of fresh water available to every human and animal on earth, this might not be as much as a problem. Similarly, if there was no starvation on this planet, maybe these numbers wouldn’t be quite so shocking (though I’m still not sure). It requires 10 times as many crops to feed animals being raised solely to provide humans with meat than it does to feed the same number of people on a vegetarian diet. Even if we callously ignore the horrible condition of animals on factory farms and the disgusting nature of that mega-industry, the havoc wreaked on the environment by such practices should still be enough to make any thinking person think twice before downing another cheeseburger. There is much literature on this subject for the interested reader (or would-be convert), including the recent exposé of factory farms and commercial fisheries by Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals.

3. Ethics and moral justice

Most likely, anyone who is not convinced by the first two reasons will most likely feel no compulsion to see the reason in this third, slightly different perspective. That is a shame because it is, in my opinion, the strongest and most logically consistent argument. It is possible (if extremely hypothetical) to imagine a scenario in which the issues from the first two points were untrue: there were no added health benefits derived from the vegetarian diet, and there was no harm whatsoever done to environment because of the enormously damaging effects of the livestock industry. Even if that were true, the fact would still remain that humans eat animals only by choice-only because they like the taste of meat. OK, I know I am discounting the exceptions for the small percentage of people with anemia (who could still get iron from other sources), as well as remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in New Guinea, the Amazon, etc. Unfortunately, such exceptions are quite rare, and do little to disprove the reality of the current state of human meat consumption. Peter Singer, a prominent Australian philosopher and theorist of practical utilitarian ethics, wrote a book in 1975 entitled Animal Liberation. He is considered the father of the animal rights movement.  One concept he describes is “speciesism”, which is discrimination of one species (Homo Sapiens) against another (every non-human animal). We are all, in fact, animals, and there is no logically consistent way in which we should consider ourselves better than other animals. It is true that we are the most intelligent beings on the planet (and, so far, in the universe), and this has allowed us to finally establish and maintain dominance and control over every aspect of the planet’s life and resources, including all plants and animals. He argues that the ethical criterion should not be based on intelligence, however, but on capacity for suffering. There is no reason to believe that animals, especially higher mammals of the type that are raised and slaughtered for meat, do not feel the same level of pain and suffering that a human does. Cows have been shown to make lifelong friends, elephants are seen to mourn deceased relatives, all the great apes have social habits and even a certain morality that is not so different from humans (there are examples like this to be found in virtually every species). In this regard, there is no way to justify the immense suffering and anguish that is endured by billions of non-human animals each year only in order to feed human tastes. A cynic could point to supposed flaws in this argument, or even disagree outright that animals deserve the same justice as humans, who some people feel to be inherently morally superior to every other life form. I do not subscribe to these views. To be logically consistent, we must also admit that any animal that can be killed and eaten in a humane and painless way would not fall under the ethical prescriptions of Singer’s view. But I think we can also see that the number of animals who qualify for this exception is so vanishingly small as to not really affect the issue in any way. The only question is: Do you like the taste of meat so much to disregard personal health, the precarious environmental balance of the planet, and the unabated suffering of myriads of sentient fellow animals?

If you are a vegetarian looking for more ways to make your case and rhetorically defend yourself against interested interlocutors, this article has some great points as well.

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