Are Chicken and Fish as Unhealthy as Red Meat?

Over the last couple of years, I've noticed some similar recurring responses that people have when I tell them I'm vegan.

They go something like this, "Oh, I'm practically a vegetarian. I mean, I don't eat red meat." Or, "I don't eat any land animals, just fish."

Maybe people equate red meat with more health risks, or maybe people can more readily identify with cows or lambs or pigs, and so they stop eating them. Whatever the reason, it seems the majority is more comfortable forgoing steak rather than sushi.

But, in the interest of logic, ethics and even your health, it makes more sense to leave chicken and fish off your plate.

Why? Well, if you're concerned with how the animals you eat are treated, hear this: chickens are probably the most abused animals on the planet.

I'm not kidding.

The Humane Slaughter Act, a loosely enforced law that is supposed to reduce the suffering of animals killed for food, conveniently excludes all birds. That means that there are no laws on the books to protect chickens. They are kicked, punched, thrown around, have their legs broken, beaks cut off, and many are boiled alive in a defeathering tank when they are not properly slaughtered. All of this is legal.

Chickens make up over 95 percent of all the animals slaughtered in the U.S. The sheer numbers killed are astounding. Over 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year. That's 24 million a day, 300 per second.

By the time you've finished reading this, thousands of chickens will have been killed. Logically, it takes a lot more chickens than cows to feed a person. Not that I'm endorsing beef, just pointing out the obvious. Couple that with the enormous popularity of chicken meat, and the numbers start adding up.

The other thing about chicken you might find shocking is that it contains a shit load of cholesterol. In fact, pound for pound, chicken pretty much has the same amount of cholesterol as red meat! It may be "leaner" with regards to fat, but trust me your arteries will not know the difference.

Considering that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., that should give you some serious pause. Did I mention there is absolutely no cholesterol in plant foods? Just sayin'. 

Now let's get into fish. So many fish are killed each year for food that we can't even count them in terms of individual animals. They're measured by weight, hundreds of thousands of tons, which amounts to billions and billions of animals.

Commercial fishing has become so ruthless they now employ enormous fishing nets called trawlers -- when I say enormous, I mean it -- you can fit up to 12 747s in these motherfuckers.

They literally rake miles of ocean, catching all kinds of sea life indiscriminately. "Bycatch" is the industry euphemism used to describe the wildlife caught by trawlers that were not specifically targeted and are considered inedible. In other words, millions of sea turtles, dolphins and birds are needlessly killed each year.

In fact, we've overfished the oceans so much that 90 percent of all large fish such as tuna and swordfish are gone. Bluefin tuna, a popular choice for sushi aficionados, is practically extinct. It's literally an endangered species.

If you wouldn't order a bald eagle sandwich or a panda bear burger, why the hell would you order bluefin?

Now, I can already hear you saying, "But fish is so healthy." Check yourself.

When you're done reading this, type mercury and PCBs into Google.

Those are two highly toxic materials that are regularly found in fish these days thanks to all the pollution we've dumped in the oceans. In fact, many doctors are now telling pregnant women to cease fish consumption altogether.

There is also growing evidence of pharmaceuticals ending up in the oceans that fish consume, which messes with their hormones and sex organs. That's right, your Chilean sea bass is a chick with a dick. And here's another fact that'll twist your knickers something fierce: Remember the chicken cholesterol issue? Well the same goes for fish. Most fish has the same amount of cholesterol as chicken or beef.

One issue that is rarely talked about is fish farming.

Please understand that this may be touted as "sustainable," but the conditions in fish farms are sickening. Fish are literally crammed in areas so small they hardly have room to swim. And what they're swimming in is mostly their own shit, and they are covered with lice.

Appetizing, right? To prevent disease, they are doused with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. And on salmon farms, workers artificially color the salmon pink by dyeing the water since the salmon are not eating the crustaceans that naturally give their flesh a pink hue.

Most fish on farms are fed corn, because so much of it grows in the ocean. Welcome to the world of frankenfish. 

Now, I know most of us don't think of fish having feelings or experiencing pain, but the most recent scientific studies tell us that fish have a brain and a central nervous system similar to mammals. The science is in: fish can suffer. Even if they experience only half of what we feel, can we really defend how we treat them?

The catfish on one North Carolina farm are snapped into the shackles of an eviscerating machine. A conveyor belt runs through a machine that slices open the fishes' bellies and rips out their organs. The fish are still conscious and struggle throughout this process.

There are no laws protecting fish at any point in their lives, including slaughter. As Peter Singer says: "All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals."

While we should applaud any effort people make to reduce suffering with regard to what they eat, I think we can all do better. Challenge yourself.

With all the amazing alternatives out there to chicken and fish, weaning yourself is easier than ever. There's even vegan sushi nowadays!

I'd like to leave you with one more startling statistic: Scientists now say that if we don't stop our current fishing practices, the oceans will collapse by 2048. Let's all be conscious before we sit down to our next meal. Every bite counts.

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