10 Signs Vegetarianism Is Catching On

On Thanksgiving, I spent some time taking stock of my life and the world around me and, as we’re supposed to do over the holiday, giving thanks for all the joys -- little and big -- in my life. One of the larger joys for which I am giving thanks is all of the recent attention that has been lavished on a topic that is near and dear to my heart -- the cruelty and environmental harm involved in raising animals for food.  

I struggled to cohesively construct an article about some of the many recent and important developments on this topic, but there is just too much. Instead, I decided on a top ten list (a tip of the hat to David Letterman) -- the 10 most interesting articles on the farmed animal welfare front.  

So without further ado:

1. World Bank scientists conclude that eating meat causes more than half of global warming (conservatively).

World Bank agricultural scientists Robert Goodland, who spent 23 years as the Bank’s lead environmental advisor, and Jeff Anhang, a research officer and environmental specialist for the Bank, argue convincingly that more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to our desire to eat chicken, pigs, and other farmed animals. That’s right: Add up all the causes of climate change, and you find that eating meat causes more than everything else combined. 

Honestly, this was the biggest point for me: How can I possibly take the environment seriously if I’m still participating in what is -- by far -- the biggest contributor to warming? 

Which might explain: 

2. Prominent Stanford biochemist pledges to focus ALL his energy on promoting veganism.

Most of us have heard of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. RK Pachauri from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and his lectures all over the world promoting vegetarianism. Now along comes Dr. Patrick O. Brown who, as reported in (of all places) Forbeswill spend the next 18 months focused on “put[ting] an end to animal farming.” Explains Dr. Brown, “‘There's absolutely no possibility that 50 years from now this system will be operating as it does now… I want to approach this as a solvable problem.’ Solution: ‘Eliminate animal farming on planet Earth.’” 

3. Al Gore is taking notice.

Although Gore’s Global Warming Survival Handbook noted that “refusing meat” is the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” (emphasis in original), Gore had not spoken publically about the issue. Now he has -- repeatedly. For example, on Larry King recently, Gore explained that “the impact of meat-intensive diet is a significant factor” in warming the planet, that “the growing meat intensity of diets around the world is bad for the planet,” and that “the more meals I've substituted with more fruits and vegetables, the better I feel about it…” The truth is becoming less inconvenient, thankfully. 

4. Celebrated author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close publishes riveting book based on three-year investigation of factory farming.

Jonathan Safran Foer has been widely hailed as one of the greatest novelists of his generation, was one of Rolling Stone's “People of the Year,” and Esquire's “Best and Brightest” -- and after just two extraordinary works. As Nobel Prize for literature novelist J.M. Coetzee puts it about Foer’s latest work, “The everyday horrors of factory farming are evoked so vividly, and the case against the people who run the system presented so convincingly, that anyone who, after reading Foer's book, continues to consume the industry's products must be without a heart, or impervious to reason, or both.”  

In his interview with Mother Jones Magazine (the entire interview is worth reading), Foer points out that Americans “now eat 150 times as much chicken as we did 80 years ago,” and that it “takes between 6 and 26 calories to make one calorie of meat. It is an incredibly inefficient protein because we are cycling through all of these other grains that humans could eat.” 

5. Actor Alicia Silverstone and Chef Tal Ronnen on the New York Times bestseller list.

For some weeks now, Chef Tal Ronnen’s Conscious Cook and actress Alicia Silverstone’s Kind Diet have joined Foer and former model agent Rory Freedman (whose book convinced home run slugger Prince Fielder to adopt a vegan diet) on the list with books that make the case for vegetarian eating. You may recall Ronnen from his appearances on Oprah, which caused Oprah to exclaim, “Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying.”  

6. Martha Stewart promotes a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

As my friends at Ecorazzi put it, “Martha Stewart has proved once again why she’s a pioneer in the kitchen. Having someone with as much sway as the famous host show people that the big feast doesn’t have to include meat to be successful is huge. Even better, she took the opportunity to educate her audience on factory farming industry -- with help from author Jonathan Safran Foer (of Eating Animals) and filmmaker Robert Kenner (Food, INC.).” 

7. Egyptian mummy heart disease in LA Times

I’m not sure it belongs in my top 10 list, but I found it extremely interesting that “CT scans of Egyptian mummies, some as much as 3,500 years old, show evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is normally thought of as a disease caused by modern lifestyles...” What on earth could have caused it? I think I know: “The high-status Egyptians ate a diet high in meat from cattle, ducks and geese, all fatty.”  If only the ancient Egyptians had the wisdom of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn!  

8. Honesty at the Turkey Pardoning

First Obama talks about factory farming and animal rights as a candidate. Then he puts in a garden at the White House. Now he’s adding some honesty to the annual turkey pardoning -- talking about the fate of other birds, the fact that it’s a fairly new ceremony, etc.  

Might he have celebrated a vegetarian Thanksgiving? The White House isn’t saying, according to Gail Collins of the New York Times in her delightful Thanksgiving Day contemplation of the turkey pardoning. Okay, I’m kidding a bit (could he really get away with having a veggie Thanksgiving, given the power of Agribusiness -- as documented in this sad piece on FoodConsumer.org), as was Collins of course, but the honesty at the event is refreshing, and we do have the first President who understands the harms of factory farming and who is taking global warming seriously. 

9. Cargill launches dairy-free cheese!

The largest privately held company in the United States (six times the size of McDonald’s) has just launched “a 100 percent non-dairy cheese analogue for pizza and other prepared food applications” that “replicates the functionality of dairy protein and replaces it fully at an outstanding cost advantage for the manufacturer.” According to Cargill, “its appearance, taste and texture perfectly match those of processed cheese” and it “also offers health advantages as it contains reduced calories (less fat and no saturated fats) and… a unique opportunity for vegans to enjoy a product that has the characteristics and taste of cheese but without any animal-derived ingredients.” It’s also Halal and Kosher.  

10. Yet another study is exposing the horrid treatment of workers by the all-powerful meat industry.

A recent six-part piece in the Lincoln Journal-Star documents the horrid conditions endured by slaughterhouse workers. Sadly, nothing has changed since Human Rights Watch released their report on the industry, “Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” six years ago. Then and now, researchers have documented “systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.” It’s becoming all too obvious that if we care about worker rights, it makes sense to go vegan. 

For information on making the switch to vegetarianism, please check out my previous post, “A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Eating.” 

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