Arielle Fischer, features editor

November recognizes a plethora of groups and peoples; however, this month also represents Vegan and Vegetarian Month. Over the past few years, veganism and vegetarianism, along with other diets, have become growing trends in modern society. All over the world, people are reducing their intake of meats and highly processed foods, leaving a large population to question why.

Livekindly.co said that “vegan and flexitarian diets are more popular due to the innovation of the plant-based industry as well as the rising awareness of issues around animal agriculture.” The Independent also argued another reason for veganism’s rise to fame is because of its health appeal in social media and the popular influencers behind it that glamorize dieting. 

Scientifically and environmentally, there are plenty of benefits to reducing the amount of meat one eats or even going completely vegan. Brian Campbell, associate professor and department chair of environmental science and studies, gave his input on veganism and the importance it holds on not only the human body but the world. 

“Eating more vegetables is healthier overall because you’re getting less fats in your diet,” Campbell said. “However, there are also concerns with the way our meat is raised and how it affects people’s health. These animals are treated horribly, raised in feedlots, standing in their own feces and then rushed to slaughterhouses as fast as possible. The corn diet we feed them is not good and not natural. Corn causes a build-up of acid in the stomach and makes [the animals] very sick, so workers must give them tons of antibiotics. By not eating meat, you’re most likely avoiding more antibiotics and potential hormones that could be added to the meats, which causes other health problems in humans.” 

Campbell said that consuming less industrial meat and more naturally sourced items like produce or local livestock is far better for both the economy and the environment. Campbell argued that by eating less mass-produced meat, less money is going towards huge, pollutive corporations and more towards small businesses and farmers. Additionally, Campbell added that buying from local farms and eating more vegetables is supporting a far more sustainable agricultural system than what large industries are producing for the American population. 

By following this pattern of sustainability in one’s diet, “Environmentally, you’ll have less confined animal feeding operation systems where you have lots of pollutants,” Campbell said. “‘Point-source’ pollutants come directly out of these feedlots, as well as methane gas released into the atmosphere that contributes to climate change.” 

Campbell continued to say that by reducing these main pollutants in the meat industry, the entire surrounding environment benefits. Campbell recalled one instance wherein a hurricane swamped several chicken factories and cattle lots a few years ago. As a result, the manure and feces lagoons outside the factory overflowed into main waterways and groundwater, killing thousands of wildlife and causing horrible pollution to usable water. Campbell said this event “shined a light” on how poorly managed and unhealthy the livestock facilities are in the Southeast. 

“We already are seeing the effects of unsustainable diets in the people and the environment in America,” Campbell said. “You have the emergence of noncommunicable “western diseases” due to the western diet, lots of increasing obesity, type-2 diabetes and early onset problems in children, which never used to occur. When you combine a processed, industrial diet with our sedentary lifestyles, it results in a lot of health consequences. Environmentally, we’re going to continue having these problems with rural landscapes, where their quality of life in these communities is degraded because of these confined animal centers. They have to deal with the smell of meat operations and the possibility of these lagoon spills prohibiting them to drink from their water system.” 

Consequently, Campbell said that these problems will likely become exacerbated if people do not make changes to lifestyles and diets. But Campbell believed there might be something good on the horizon. 

“I do, however, see a lot more people becoming conscious of these problems,” Campbell said. “There’s more desire to support local farmers and eat produce. It’s not just driven by environmental concern, it’s a personal health concern. More people are becoming aware that if they eat these poorly treated animals full of antibiotics and hormones, or vegetables covered in herbicides and pesticides, it’s not good for them. So, people have turned towards organic farmer’s markets and vegetarianism.” 

Campbell admitted food from natural sources is more expensive but argued that he and many others are actively trying to make sustainable food available for all, not just wealthy people who can afford it. 

According to Campbell, more people haven’t switched to a more sustainable or vegetable-keen diet because taste palettes are habituated towards fatty, sugary, salty foods, specifically fast food. Oftentimes, families are in a hurry or tired from a long day, so they’ll stop at a fast-food restaurant instead of cooking at home. Campbell said that evolutionarily, people are geared to enjoy less healthy items because they taste better and combined with the easy accessibility of American fast foods, people are far more likely to choose a quick meal over a dinner that takes hours of preparation and ingredients. 

Campbell finished with the sentiment that honest conversations lead to better futures. For instance, after exposing the horrors of the animal production industries in America to his mother, she quit eating meat almost immediately. Campbell suggested that it is important for people to try to become more sustainable in their diets and show others why they should as well. This may be one of the only ways people can aid both the environment and public health. 

In addition to Campbell, sophomore Jamie Bell, a member of the Vegetarian and Vegan Society at Berry, and devout vegetarian for almost 9 years, gave her sentiment on vegetarianism and its impacts. 

“As a country, meat is a really big part of our diets,” Bell said. “In America, it’s hard to go to any restaurant chain and find options that don’t include meat. From what I’ve read, it seems that the majority of Americans not only have too much meat in their diet, but they also have too much protein.” 

Bell said that when faced with the option of going vegan or vegetarian, many people have become too accustomed to the norms of grocery shopping. Bell explained that when people go to the store, they simply put items in their carts and go about their day, never wondering where the food came from or the effect it may have on animals, workers or the environment. This mindless shopping has become a habit for America. Bell explained that another reason people may be holding back from experimenting with vegan or vegetarian diets is because of a fear of judgment. People may worry about not having enough nutrients or being left out at family dinners, but Bell insisted that doing what is better for both the environment and personal health is absolutely worth it and surprisingly not as difficult as it seems. 

“From what I’ve read, vegan and vegetarian diets can significantly decrease your risk of heart issues, diabetes and lowers chances of obesity,” Bell said. “These diets are usually lower in bad fats and sugars, but higher in good fats and sugars. But I think the biggest benefit of eating less meat is the decrease in heart concerns because you’re not consuming as much cholesterol.” 

Additionally, Bell said that along with health benefits, the consumption of more plant products and less meat is far better for the environment and animals involved in industrial production. 

“If you think about where food comes from, vegetarians and vegans basically eat right from the source,” Bell said. “Instead of having to grow the vegetables and grain to feed the animals, you’re eating the vegetables and grain yourself. So, you’re saving land usage and the water it takes to both hydrate the animals and water all the crops that feed them. Also, cow farms and feedlots produce a ton of methane, so the more methane you have, the more it contributes to global warming. It may seem small now, but over time these things add up.”

Possible livestock cruelty is another reason people might be concerned about consuming meat products. 

“Animal welfare has been a big concern too. There’s not a ton of laws to regulate how they’re treated,” Bell said. “A lot of companies will say things like ‘free-range’ but really there aren’t a ton of definitions on what that entails. In a way, by eating less meat, you feel like you’re not taking part in something you don’t personally feel comfortable supporting. For me, I knew I couldn’t be the one to take the life of an animal, so I don’t want to go to the store and indirectly have someone else do that for me.” 

Bell believes that contributing to the cause, even a little bit, can be beneficial. Bell gave the example of “Meatless Mondays,” a trend in which people do not eat any meat products on Mondays but consume a regular diet the rest of the week. This might be an option for those who want to help the environment and eat more plants, but do not want to fully commit to a diet. Bell also said another way of supporting the vegan and vegetarian cause at Berry would be to join the Vegetarian and Vegan Society, which meets biweekly on Mondays at 7:00 pm on campus. 

While going completely vegan or vegetarian may not be for everyone, both Campbell and Bell agree that there are plenty of benefits for the environment, animal treatment and human wellbeing that come from simply eating less meat. By eating more plant-based items, people are contributing to not only a healthier body but a healthier world. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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