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).

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

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Videos of workers whipping piglets onto the ground in order to kill them, and chickens being literally strangled to death, are easily accessible.

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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.




References 

 

  1. Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution.

  2. http://healthministries.com/articles/gc-nutrition-council/factsheet-vegetarian-diets

  3. Egger, G & Egger, S. Lifestyle Medicine: The Australian experience. Am J lifestyle medicine. 2011. Vol 6, 1: 00. 26-30 

  4. Le, LT & Sabate, J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: Findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients 2014, 6, 2131 – 2147 

  5. Fraser, G. Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases?  Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 89 (suppl): 1607 – 12S

  6. Rizzo, N et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns are associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Care, Vol 34, May 2011. p 1225 - 1227

  7. Orlich, M et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med. (2013); 173(13): 1230 - 1238

  8. Snowdon, D et al. Meat consumption and fatal ischemic heart disease. Preventive medicine. (1984); 13: 490 – 500

  9. Ornish D et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The lifestyle heart trial. Lancet 1990; 336:129 – 33

  10. Ornish D et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998; 280: 2001 – 2007 

  11. Esselstyn, C. Resolving the coronary artery disease epidemic through plant-based nutrition. Preventive cardiology. 2001

  12. Esselstyn, C. Defining an overdue requiem for palliative cardiovascular medicine. Am J of Lifestyle Medicine. 2016. Vol 10, No. 5. 313 – 317

  13. Esselstyn C. Upating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiology. Vol 84, Aug 1, 1999

  14. Esselstyn, C. A plant-based diet and coronary artery disease: a mandate for effective therapy. J Geratric Cardiology (2017) 14; 317 – 320

  15. Barnard N et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, Vol 29, No 8 , 2006 

  16. Lee, YM et al. Effect of a brown rice based vegan diet and conventional diabetic diet on glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes: A 12-week randomized clinical trial  PLoS ONE 11 (6)

  17. Fraser, G & Shavlik, D. Ten Years of Life. Is it a Matter of Choice? Arch Intern Med. 2001; 161: 1645 – 1652

  18. Turner-McGrievy, GM Davidson, CR et al. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition. 2015 Feb; 31 (2): 350 –  8. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.09.002

  19. Maukonen J & Saarela M. Human gut microbiota: does diet matter? Proceedings of the Nutrition society (2015), 74, 23 – 26

  20. Singh R & Chang HW et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med (2017) 15: 73

  21. Glick-Bauer, M & Yeh, M. The Health Advantage of a Vegan Diet: Exploring the Gut Microbiota Connection. Nutrients. (2014). Nov; 6(11): 4822–4838

  22. Livestock a major threat to environment. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html

  23. Livestock solutions for Climate Change. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i8098e.pdf

  24. Wahlquist, A. Eating beef: cattle, methane and food production. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. (2013); 22 (1): 16 – 24

  25. Wanapat, M, Cherdthong, A, Phesatcha, K & Kang, S. Dietary sources and their effects on animal production and environmental sustainability. Animal Nutrition. (2015): 96 - 103

  26. Steinfeld, H, Gerber, P, Wassenaar, T et al. Livestock’s role in climate change and air pollution. In: Steinfeld, H, Gerber, P, Wassenaar, T et al. editors. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2006. p. 79 – 123

  27. Herrero, M Pavlik, P et al. Biomass use, production, feed efficiencies, and greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock systems. PNAS. (2013); 110 (52): 20888 - 20893

  28. Willet, W, Rockstrom, J Loken, B. et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancent Commissions (2019); 393 (10170), p. 447 - 492

  29. Scarborough, P., Appleby, P., Mizdrak, A., et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climactic Change. (2014); 125: 179 – 192

  30. Fresan, U, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Sabate, J et al. Global sustainability (health, environment and monetary costs) of three dietary patterns: results from a Spanish cohort (SUN project). BMJ Open 2019; 9: e021541

  31. Corrado, S, Luzzani, G, et al Contribution of different life cycle stages to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with three balanced dietary patterns. Science of the Total Environment. (2019); 660: 622 – 630

  32. Aleksandrowicz L, Green, R, Joy, E, Smith, P, Haines, A. The impacts of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and health: a systematic review. PLoS ONE. (2016); 11 (11): e0165797. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165797

  33. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2018): http://www.fao.org/3/I9553EN/i9553en.pdf

  34. Shepon, A et al. The opportunity cost of animal based diets exceeds all food losses. PNAS. (2018); 115(15):3804 – 3809

  35. Frohlich, T. States killing the most animals for food. USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2015/04/15/247-wall-st-states-killing-animals/25807125/

  36. https://www.peta.org/videos/glass-walls-2/

  37. EAT Lancet Commission: Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lacent. (2019); 393 (10170), p447-492

George Cho