Choosing Compassion through Plants
As a cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr Ellsworth Wareham noticed that the blood vessels of vegetarians were healthier than that of meat-eaters. As a result he gave up animal foods, and went on to live a robust and productive 104 years. In fact, his health allowed him to build fences with his own hands and perform open heart surgery, even into his 90’s (1).
This vibrant, plant-fueled lifestyle is experienced by many within Dr Wareham’s religious community, the Seventh-day Adventists, who have argued for over 100 years that God’s original plant-based dietary prescription is the optimal one for humanity (2). Science is now proving that they are right. Researchers are discovering that plant-based diets are healthier, more environmentally-friendly, and more cruelty-free. In short, choosing to live the Adventist health message is better for the sick, the hungry, animals, and our common home. Simply: it is the more compassionate way to live.
Below are four reasons why plant-based eating is compassionate living.
Care for the sick
By 2020, one-third of all diseases will be the result of lifestyle choices (3). Many millions of people are suffering from diseases that in many cases can be prevented and potentially reversed through lifestyle changes, with a significant contribution coming from whole foods plant based nutrition. Some of the health benefits of plant-based diets include:
prevention of chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease (4– 8).
reversal of our leading killer, heart disease (9 – 14).
reversal of type 2 diabetes (15, 16).
up to 10 years of additional years of life (17).
healthier weights and superior for weight loss (5, 18).
preferable for cultivating a healthier gut microbiome (19, 20, 21).
We also know that animal foods have been linked with unfavorable health effects including:
acceleration of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the blood vessels) through the effects of the gut microbiome (25).
processed meats are definite carcinogens and red meat is a probable carcinogen (26).
In his 20’s, Adam Sud was obese and addicted to drugs and was diagnosed with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, ADHD and even bipolar disorder, and as a result, he was put on many medications. However, due to the faithful work of individuals like Rip Esselstyn, Adam Sud started to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and has since reversed his chronic diseases and gotten off all his medications. He then in turn shared the power of plant-based nutrition to his twin brother who was also obese with type 2 diabetes. Since then, his brother also has reversed type 2 diabetes. Now they are both enthusiastic advocates for plant based nutrition.
Plant-based nutrition is potentially life transforming. Broadcasting the powerful benefits of whole foods plant-based nutrition demonstrates compassion for the sick and the suffering.
Stewardship of the environment
Plant-based eating is better for planetary health as well. When it comes to global warming, many in the public are not told how much animal agriculture degrades our common home. This is most unfortunate because the facts are absolutely stunning:
the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than driving cars (22).
livestock supply chains account for 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (23).
30% of methane emissions come from livestock; much of it due to these animals “burping” out the gas during digestion (23 - 25). Methane gas has 25 times the global warming potential vs carbon dioxide (24, 25).
Slurry pits and manure generates 31% of our nitrous oxide (25).
Rapid and massive deforestation activities lead to more CO2 release into the atmosphere and massive tree loss (26).
These are eye opening facts, but choosing plant-based diets can make a difference. For example:
high levels of meat intake was associated with 2.5 times the greenhouse gas emissions compared to a vegan diet (28).
switching from a high meat diet to a low meat diet would reduce an individual’s carbon foot print by 920 kgCO2e every year, moving from high meat diet to a vegetarian diet would reduce one’s carbon footprint by 1230 kgCO2e/year and switching to a vegan diet would reduce this by 1560 kgCO2e/year. 29 This means that just two people switching to a vegetarian diet would equal running a small car for 6000 miles (29).
the typical western diet is the least environmentally friendly compared to more plant-based dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean or Pro-vegetarian diets (30).
the vegan diet was associated with 45% less land use and 51% less greenhouse gas emissions (32). Vegetarian diets result in 37% reduction in water use (32).
Better composting and cooking methods for a standard western diet will not do the trick since the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions comes during the production stage (between 66% and 74%) (31).
Feeding the world’s hungry
Over 800 million in the human family are considered hungry (33). Switching to whole foods, plant-based diets may go a long way in helping to reduce world hunger. For example, researchers estimate that if every single American ate plant-based, there would be enough food to feed every American and an additional 350 million people (34). This additional food would be enough to address hunger in Central America, South America, Africa, and save the 3.1 million children each year who die from hunger, and still have enough to feed another 50 million people (33). This is just one single country, think of the potential if more turned plant-based?
This might come as a surprise to many but consider the following facts:
30% of all ice-free terrestrial land on the whole entire planet is occupied for animal agriculture purposes (26).
70% of all agricultural land is used for animal agriculture (26).
animal agriculture consumes about one-third of earth’s fresh water (27).
If we used more land and water to grow food for the human family rather than farm animals, then we would have enough food. Feeding loads of soy and grains to livestock and then feeding these livestock to humans is inefficient. It is healthier and more efficient to just give the plant foods directly to humans.
Limiting animal cruelty
Switching to plant-based diets would alleviate the suffering inflicted on billions of animals. In 2013/2014, 32.5 million cattle, 112 million pigs and an astronomical 8.5 billion chickens, were slaughtered in the United States alone (35). These billions of animals raised for human consumption do not live healthy, happy lives. The suffering these animals endure include:
being cooped up in very narrow cages often so narrow that many don’t even have enough room to move around freely or to spread their wings. Such close quarters breeds disease among animals necessitating the use of high amounts of antibiotics.
cutting off the beaks of chickens leaving them in pain for up to a month
cows in the dairy industry are kept perpetually pregnant
cows are genetically manipulated to produce 10 times more milk than is natural. Cows get mastitis from repeated milking
Animals are often fed unnatural diets to fatten them up. Sometimes, they get so fat, they often have a hard time keeping themselves up
Videos of workers whipping piglets onto the ground in order to kill them, and chickens being literally strangled to death, are easily accessible.
Paul McCartney says, “If slaughter houses had glass walls, everyone would become vegetarian” (36). This is absolutely true. In recent years, these abysmal conditions have been brought to light and as a result, many are choosing to protest animal cruelty by eating only plants. On top of this, the extensive clearing of forests for animal agriculture results in habitat destruction and death to wild animals. The more animal foods we leave off our plates, the less animals suffer.
It is a travesty that humans directly kill so many animals in order to eat their flesh. But the foolish irony in all of this is that their flesh in turn kills us. Simply put, eating animals is cruel to both animals and us.
Conclusion: Make the compassionate choice
In a major 2019 report, the Lancet Commission concluded that if the human family were to adopt more plant-based diets, it would be healthier, help feed more people, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% (37). To put it another way, choosing to eat plant-based is choosing to live more compassionately. Sharing plant-based nutrition to the sick demonstrates compassion. Plant-based diets support compassion towards animals, can help feed our fellow brothers and sisters across the globe who are suffering from hunger, and is good stewardship of our common home. Choosing plants is choosing compassion.
Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution.
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