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Are We So Addicted to Meat That We Can't See Where the Swine Flu Came From?

A virus like swine flu is a completely predictable outcome of our cruel and appallingly filthy factory farming systems.

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Here's a home run solution that I can't help coming back to: eat less (and eventually no) animal protein. A diet high in animal protein bloats us physically by clogging our bodies with saturated fat, growth hormones, and antibiotics; it has been proven conclusively to cause cancer, heart disease, and obesity.

And the meat industry poisons and depletes our clean air, potable water, and fertile topsoil almost more than any other sector of business. As just one example, the meat industry is responsible for about 18 percent of all global warming--that's almost half again as much as all cars, planes, and trucks combined.

And now it's become all too clear that factory farms are breeding grounds for viruses to mutate and become deadly.

Basically, our current food choices (the average American eats about 200 pounds of meat annually) are killing us on a host of different levels. Perhaps now more than ever, it's time to clear out old, tired, uninformed ways of eating and opt instead for food that nourishes us, is easy on the planet, and gives the animals some breathing room.

Oh, and especially useful in these exceedingly difficult economic times: Eating a plant-based diet is cheap relative to eating meat. Compare the price of grains and beans with that of chicken and cheese. And growing grains and vegetables is by no means the filthy business that animal agriculture has become.

I realize it's not painless to give up what we are used to, what we like the taste and tradition of, in favor of a diet that we know is better for us and the planet. But if we lean into the shift of eating consciously by giving up one animal at a time (give up chickens first, as I discuss here), or eating only vegetarian for two out of three meals, we will find our way and get used to new tastes. We will grow to love different foods that are kinder to our bodies, the environment, and the animals.

As I ponder Obama's call for change and Friedman's vision of a paradigm shift, and I think about recent predictions that unless we turn back now, ecological disaster is inevitable, I wonder if economic collapse and swine flu might be our only hope.

Perhaps in these trying days, the law of unintended consequences may represent our salvation. No one is glad for the swine flu or the economic meltdown, but maybe these great calamities are the push we needed to re-boot and start afresh.

We are a world out of balance, to be sure. But we can begin to eat (so simply!) in a way that brings us back to equilibrium, personally and globally. I just hope enough of us answer the call.

You can find recipes and cookbook recommendations here, and some tips for making the transition here.

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