Are you willing to change your diet?

Five questions for NCR readers, to which I suspect and would wager the answers will be yes -- definitely yes:

1. Do you want to decrease ruthless cruelty?
2. Do you want to decrease global warming?
3. Do you want to decrease hunger and starvation?
4. Do you want to decrease destruction to the environment?
5. Do you want to decrease risks to your health?

As the yeses are being counted -- unanimity, right? -- a sixth question looms: Are you willing to change from an omnivore to a vegan diet, to personally stop paying money to the suppliers of animal flesh and animal products and do one's part that way -- the noncomplicit way, a morally effective way?

It is less and less possible, and equally less and less rational, to ignore the mounting, irrefutable and well-researched evidence that animal agriculture, in its many forms, is unrivaled in causing what may be irreversible damage to the planet. It's supply and demand, regardless of whether the demanders realize that the pleasure they take from consuming meat or animals products is causing much of the global blights that are worsening by the minute.

Solutions to human-caused violence -- inflicted globally in factory farms on millions of animals daily and on the fragilities of the planet's land, air and water -- rest with humans and our choices.

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Few sources of information are as rattling or relevant than "Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret," a 91-minute documentary I came upon recently. Co-directors Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn's persuasive and artfully told argument is that animal agriculture, with livestock covering 45 percent of the planet's land, has a negative impact whose severity has only lately begun to be measured.

A sampling of their findings, gathered from a range of bipartisan sources that include the United Nations and such U.S. federal agencies as the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration:

  • "Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation."
  • "Methane [from livestock] has a global warming power 86 times that of CO²."
  • Almost 900 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of cheese; 477 gallons for a pound of eggs; and 2,500 gallons for 1 pound of beef.
  • "Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the U.S."
  • "1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food. 1.5 acres can produce 375 pounds of meat."
  • "Californians use 1,500 gallons of water per person per day. Close to half is associated with meat and dairy products."
  • One dairy cow produces approximately 120 pounds of waste every day.
  • "Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 97% of Brazilian Amazon destruction."
  • Worldwide, "more than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour."
  • "The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat a year."
  • Eighty-two percent of starving children reside in nations where livestock animals are fed.
  • "Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction."

Up against this kaleidoscopically grim tally, it's not the elephant in the room -- it's the cow. And the hog, the chicken, the duck, the turkey, the fish and all creatures whose body parts are savored by predator humans.

In "Cowspiracy,"Anderson, the film's narrator, masterfully moves beyond what could have been another gut-shot, however deserved and needed, against the politically powerful meat, dairy and eggs lobbies, by telling the story of his own responses to the bleak realities he uncovered. He became a vegan. He chose to live lightly, explaining that he "had come to the full conclusion [that] the only way to sustainably and ethically live on this planet with 7 billion other people is to live an entirely plant-based vegan diet."

"Cowspiracy" joins "Forks Over Knives," "Meat the Truth," "Farm to Fridge" and other reliable investigations into what appears to be Earthicide. As for the conspiracy, it's one of silence, conjoined by big agriculture, the establishment media and political leaders intent on pretending that we have worse threats to get worked up about. The pretense is all but a sacred cow.

[Colman McCarthy directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. His recent book is Teaching Peace: Students Exchange Letters With Their Teacher.]

This story appeared in the July 3-16, 2015 print issue under the headline: Are you willing to change your diet? .

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