Natalie Durrant delves into the dark secrets kept by our food industry and the best way we can reduce the impact we have by what we eat, to live as kindly as possible.
Our awareness of what we eat and where it comes from has increased dramatically over the past decade. People are asking more questions than ever before, and as a result, the secrets of our food industry are beginning to show.
The demand for meat-free options is rapidly increasing, and in 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation. 1 in 3 Brits now regularly buy plant-based milks, as well as 1 in 3 reducing or completely stopping their meat consumption. This trend is internationally visible – countries all over the world are constantly breaking records for the ethical diet, with Italy’s vegetarian population growing faster than anywhere else between 2011 and 2016, and Iceland being rated the most popular country for veganism this year. The USA is also looking for kinder alternatives, with just as many people searching for vegan Thanksgiving recipes as meat recipes in 2018.
We are clearly becoming conscious of our diet decisions, but where does our health come into it, and are our new choices really ethical? Through years of personal experience and a heaping of scientific research, this article will show how the food on your plate truly makes a difference to our struggling world, and how eating kindly can help save both our Earth, and you.
How our Food Industry Became a Monster
The human population has rapidly increased in the last 200 years, rocketing from one billion to 7.7 billion as of April 2019. During this time, the pressure on the food industry to feed our growing world has unfortunately meant that welfare and sustainability have been ignored for efficiency and profit, and we now live in a reality where the animals we rear experience something akin to what we define as Hell.
Laws exist to protect to welfare of livestock, however these are either ignored or are simply not good enough. For example, the adverts we see of free-range chickens running happily through sunny grass fields do not reflect the reality of ‘free-range’ farming. EU legislations state that no cages can be used in free-range practice, but that as many as 9 chickens can occupy one square-meter of floor space. This means that free-range eggs and chicken actually come from vast sheds crammed with hens, frustrated and barely able to move. Loop holes like this exist throughout the food industry, where babies are taken from their mothers and animals are exploited to absolute exhaustion.
Opinions differ on what is humane, but if the definition “having or showing compassion or benevolence” is correct, very few, if any, methods of farming would meet the criteria.
In the meantime, seemingly harmless ingredients like palm oil, as well as nasty pesticides and chemicals, are destroying forests all over the world, endangering species and polluting our environment. Humans are not exempt from these effects, with workers being paid unfairly for the food they produce and the grain we grow to feed livestock being able to potentially fight world hunger.
Vast, secretive and widespread, the food industry sells us its products through a rose-tinted façade. However, over the last few decades, the truth about our food industry has been uncovered by people who wanted to know the truth. Now, with better alternatives ever more accessible, we have the option to be kinder to the Earth and all its inhabitants, simply with the food we eat.
A New Era of Social Justice
Research suggests that the plant-based lifestyle is the biggest social justice movement in history, and it is hard to disagree. With marches, rescues, investigations and festivals taking place all over the world for the protection of animals and our planet, the food industry has been forced to adapt in order to cater for the new demand.
Supermarkets are now pressured to state where food came from and how it was produced, and conditions for farm animals are slowly increasing due to undercover investigations. We are also being made more aware of how our food has impacts around the world, from deforestation to ocean dead zones – information that is now easy to access and increasingly prominent in mainstream media.
However, what prevails are the concerns around our health, and it is one of the biggest hurdles for people switching to a more ethical diet. The topic is still widely debated, but years of research by dedicated scientists has uncovered effects of the modern diet on our bodies that go against everything we have been told.
The Confusing Topic of the Human Diet
There is, of course, evidence in human physiology to suggest that humans can lead healthy lives on an omnivorous diet, but research into the contrary is increasingly outweighing this view. Not only is our modern diet shortening our life span, we might not be cut out to eat certain foods at all.
Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke has been repeatedly linked to the consumption of meat, and although they cannot be linked directly, countries that have a high intake of dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Additionally, in a study from the U.S. National Vital Statistics Report, it was found that consuming the amount of cholesterol in a single egg every day can cut a woman’s lifespan short as much as smoking five cigarettes a day for 15 years.
In one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on the human diet, biochemist and nutritionist Dr. T. Colin Campbell analysed the links between the consumption of animal products and a range of chronic illnesses in China spanning over 20 years. The China study concluded that, in areas where the Western diet had become more common (high consumption of meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods), instances of these illnesses such as cancer and heart disease were significantly higher. In contrast, areas that continued to eat a diet consisting of mainly vegetables, fruit and grains had drastically less instances of these diseases, and, in turn, longer lifespans.
In a world where countries with the best access to dairy products have the highest levels of osteoporosis, and where chronic illnesses can be reversed by switching to a plant-based diet, there is no doubt that even if we can eat animal products, we certainly weren’t designed to be consuming the amount that we currently do.
Show Our Planet Some Love
So, how do we choose a more ethical diet, and how easy is it? There is no point lying: it can be quite tricky to begin with, but it’s no wonder when so many of us have grown up with the same diet and when unethical foods are constantly shoved in our faces. However, the production of ethical foods has rapidly increased in recent years, as well as access to information on what to avoid. These tips will help make those first decisions and make altering your diet that little bit easier.
Ditch the dairy
Cheese is slightly trickier (although there are some delicious brands out there), but with the amount of tasty plant-based alternatives available to us now, there are very few excuses not to ditch dairy. A 2018 study led by Joseph Poore of Oxford University provided detailed information into how the production of different animal products and their alternatives impact the environment through water use, land use and emissions. For non-dairy milks, all of them cause less environmental damage than dairy milk, however soya and oat milk appear to be the most environmentally friendly. It is also important to note that whilst the production of soy can cause significant deforestation, soy crops are mainly used for animal feed and biofuel.
Avoid processed soy such as soybean oil which (like all processed foods) can cause health problems, try to purchase non-GM, organic soy products, and research where companies sources their soy. And, if you haven’t found a dairy-free milk you like yet, perhaps you just haven’t looked hard enough!
Real free-range eggs
The best advice is to either cut out eggs from your diet completely, or significantly reduce them. The general rule is that if you buy free-range eggs from a mainstream supermarket, and even some health food shops, they are probably not ethically sourced. It might take a while and will probably be more expensive, but if you really want to continue eating eggs, it is worth searching for a company that allows their hens to roam freely outside, lay their eggs when and where they want to and feeds them natural food.
Opt for organic
As mentioned already, organic and non-GM (genetically modified) is a brilliant way to reduce to impact your food has on the planet. Without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals, your food will be better for you and the environment. Don’t be put off by slightly strange shapes and colours – embrace nature’s diversity and tuck into some real tasty food!
There is no doubt that meat production is causing unbelievable damage to our world, and putting sentient beings through unimaginable cruelty. There are a number of ways you can reduce your meat consumption – try having a few meat-free days each week, explore the many vegetarian options available to us, or choose certain foods to get rid of and / or replace. It is also a good idea to avoid meat from any high scale factory farms, and buy local to stop supporting the cruel practice of live-transport.
Boycott palm oil?
Palm oil has recently come to the attention of the public as a huge environmental threat. The rapid deforestation of rainforests for palm oil plantations is displacing indigenous peoples and endangering wildlife. Palm oil plantations currently cover 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface, and its product finds its way into almost everything we buy. Though, it is important to remember that unsustainable agricultural practices cause the problem, rather than the palm oil crop itself. It is possible to produce palm oil without causing deforestation, and companies such as Kelloggs, Nestle and Unilever have received high ratings for their commitment to sustainable palm oil. All products are now required to state palm oil in their ingredients, and many have approval stamps of sustainable palm oil, so always check the label!
Check out how your favourite brands score on WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard.
Say no to plastic
Last but not least, a great way you can have a more ethical diet is too avoid plastic packaging on your food. This is easier said than done when supermarkets seem to wrap every single item of food in plastic, but there are ways to help. When possible, choose produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic (fruit and vegetables evolved with skin around them for a reason!), and always try to reuse your bags. It is also important to make sure you recycle properly and do some research into the many affordable non-plastic alternatives out there (toothbrushes, straws, bags, water bottles etc.). It is also important to note that a study recently found that 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch come from fishing nets, so it may be time to evaluate your appetite for seafood.
There is by no means one straightforward way in which to lead an ethical lifestyle, especially when it comes to diet. People will always make mistakes, but what matters now more than ever is that we learn from them. Whether you give food companies a piece of your mind about their production methods, march through the streets with other protesters, or simply refuse to buy unethical food, we should all be doing our bit to help make our world a happier, healthier place.
Love conquers hate, and it starts with the food on your plate.
About the author: Natalie Durrant is studying Marine and Natural History Photography at Falmouth University and has a strong passion for helping our planet through photography and writing. She aspires to travel the world and tell stories that need to be heard. Her photography Instagram is @nat.ography_.