Kathy Freston

Does Meat Kill More Americans Than Cigarettes Do?

For many years, tobacco companies were able to maintain a strong pro-tobacco façade. Smoking focuses the mind. It's good for you (doctors smoke!). It's great for weight loss. It's sexy. It's cool. The tobacco industry spent big bucks to keep these ideas in the mind of the public for as long as it could.

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Restaurants Should Get With the Times and Add Some Good Vegan Food to the Menu

First off, let me tell you that I'm a friendly vegan! I'm not judgmental, and I truly believe that it's not my business to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't eat. I grew up in the South, greatly enjoying chicken-fried steak and barbecued ribs, and every kind of cheesy thing I could get my hands on. I loved meat; never thought about it. Until I thought about it. After a few years of transitioning, I've been vegan for seven years. And it seems I'm not alone.

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Why a High-Protein Diet May Make You Fatter

In this series of interviews I've conducted with extraordinary nutritional researchers and medical doctors, I've sought to understand the link between diet and health. The common refrain is resoundingly clear in that a plant-based diet is both preventive and healing, whereas a diet high in animal protein is destructive to our health. And now it's become abundantly evident that a high protein diet is not only making us sick, but it also makes us fat.

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How Factory Farms Are Pumping Americans Full of Deadly Bacteria and Pathogens

After reading www.BirdFluBook.org, by Dr. Michael Greger, I was stunned to realize the extent to which we have endangered our health by allowing factory farms to flourish and produce 99 percent of the meat, dairy and eggs we eat. Not only are dangerous flu viruses mutating because of these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), but we are also being exposed to some other very serious bacteria and pathogens. Things have gotten out of hand in our food production, especially in the livestock sector.

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Factory Farmed Meat Can Trigger a Global Pandemic That Wipes Out 60% of Those Infected

I was intrigued (and disturbed) by a book I just read online -- www.BirdFluBook.org -- by Michael Greger, M.D. about the potential of a deadly flu pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen. Greger very clearly delineates how a virus begins, mutates, and becomes dangerous. As with so many problems we are seeing lately -- environmental or health -- factory farmed meat seems to be a big part of the cause. A graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., serves as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. An internationally recognized lecturer, he has presented at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, and was an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. His recent scientific publications in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Critical Reviews in Microbiology, and the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition, and Public Health explore the public health implications of industrialized animal agriculture.

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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.  

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Is Eating a Plant-Based Diet a Cure for Cancer?

I have been working closely recently with a few extraordinary nutritional researchers, and I find that the information they have compiled is quite eye opening. Interestingly, what these highly esteemed doctors are saying is just beginning to be understood and accepted, perhaps because what they are saying does not conveniently fit in with or support the multi-billion dollar food industries that profit from our "not knowing." One thing is for sure: we are getting sicker and more obese than our health care system can handle, and the conventional methods of dealing with disease often have harmful side effects and are ineffective for some patients.

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Eating Meat Is Not Natural

Going through the reader feedback on some of my recent articles, I noticed the frequently stated notion that eating meat was an essential step in human evolution. While this notion may comfort the meat industry, it’s simply not true, scientifically. 

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Our Appetite for Animals Is Taking Us Toward Apocalypse

I've been catching up on my magazine reading and I came across a fascinating piece in a recent issue of New Scientist, which is usually a few steps ahead of the non-scientific press. It is a serious journal - not given to hyperbole - for scientists, although it does try to match scientific rigor with accessibility for interested lay people. The cover title of this usually staid magazine's March issue?

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13 Breathtaking Effects of Cutting Back on Meat

My first post on the effect of eating meat on the environment provoked quite a bit of discussion, so in honor of Earth Day, I thought I should follow up with more information about how our natural resources (e.g., air, water, and soil) are depleted and devastated by animal agriculture.

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The Startling Effects of Going Vegetarian for Just One Day

I've written extensively on the consequences of eating meat -- on our health, our sense of "right living", and on the environment. It is one of those daily practices that has such a broad and deep effect that I think it merits looking at over and over again, from all the different perspectives. Sometimes, solutions to the world's biggest problems are right in front of us. The following statistics are eye-opening, to say the least.

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The Danger of Meat-Heavy Diets

You may have seen recent news articles claiming that a study out of Israel found that the Atkins diet is more effective for losing weight and improving cholesterol levels than a low-fat diet. Unfortunately, the headlines completely misrepresented the study. First, the "low-fat" diet that was compared to the high-protein one in this study was a full 30 percent fat, which is not low-fat as the phrase is used by any of the top nutritionists and scientists who are effectively using low-fat diets to help people lose weight, keep it off and improve their health. Second, the study organizers encourage people to eat vegetarian protein sources, not the animal products encouraged by Atkins and South Beach. I don't know about you, but it seems amiss to me for the media to portray this as a pro-Atkins study, since most of us consider Atkins to be meat-based. Shouldn't the media help us to better understand the science? (By the way, the foundation of the guy who originated the Atkins Diet provided most of the funding for the study. That's always a red flag for possibly biased science.)

Best-selling health writer and nutrition guru Dr. Dean Ornish wrote a good explanation for Newsweek on why the reporting on this study was really quite misleading; he does his usual excellent job of explaining what's so, as he did in the foreword to his brilliant best-seller, Eat More, Weigh Less.

I am reminded of the fact that it's been three years since Atkins Nutritionals filed for bankruptcy. And if your local grocery market is like mine, those once-omnipresent packaged foods with the "no-carb" labels are now harder and harder to find -- with good reason, it seems to me.

While the South Beach Diet books and foods haven't gone away, probably because it gets some things right (i.e., it recommends less meat and cutting out simple carbohydrates -- both excellent pieces of advice), its popularity should wane as the scientific consensus grows that if you want to maintain a healthy weight and fight off disease, the best diet is a truly low-fat diet (more like 10 to 15 percent of calories from fat) based almost exclusively on whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. The South Beach diet is certainly a big improvement on the standard American diet (rightly called SAD), but it's a half-measure, as Ornish and others are teaching us. Indeed, if food industry statistics, celebrity interest and the success of books like Skinny Bitch and (OK, here's a little self-promotion!) my own Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness are any indication, there's a growing shift toward healthy, plant-based diets, especially among people looking to lose weight and keep it off.

All of this is music to the ears of independent, qualified nutrition experts, who object to the "low-carb" diets. I'm not going to overload you with a tome of scientific evidence about why low-carb diets are bad for us. If you are looking for more in-depth information on the topic, I highly recommend checking out http://www.atkinsdietalert.org. Run by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Web site documents the health consequences of diets high in animal flesh, eggs and dairy, and lists the long history of grave concerns raised by medical experts, including an American Dietetic Association spokesperson calling Atkins "a nightmare diet." The experts' concerns are really basic common sense if you ask me, but sometimes common sense gets swept away by a combination of wishful thinking and impressive marketing. Basically, every reputable health agency knows that a mountain of evidence indicates that the saturated fat and cholesterol in animal flesh, eggs and milk clogs your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease, among an array of other problems.

Heart disease is of course just one meat-related health problem; eating animals also raises one's risk of cancer. For example, a massive Harvard study in 2006 found that people who frequently eat skinless chicken (often touted as the "healthy" way to cook chicken) had a whopping 52 percent higher rate of bladder cancer. The evidence that animal protein is carcinogenic is strong, and people who eat lots of it are raising their risk. Diabetes and high blood pressure are also linked to meat-heavy diets, and vegetarian diets are far outpacing those that include meat on an array of health-related issues, as I've discussed previously.
Yet another reason low-carb diets are going through tough times is that people are realizing that these diets do not work over the long run. As with any unhealthy, severely limiting diets, you'll lose weight over the short term (if you eat just grapefruit, you'll also lose weight). But eventually the body objects to any unsound quick fix and the weight creeps back, as Dr. Ornish explains so eloquently.

So what is someone who wants to lose weight supposed to do? The answer is fairly simple: Switch to a diet made up of a diverse selection of foods: vegetables, whole grains (we should skip the refined carbs -- South Beach gets that right), beans, chickpeas, nuts, fruit, lentils, etc. A wide array of evidence shows that vegans are less likely to be overweight or obese than meat-eaters are -- because it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle transition. Because these foods are less calorie-dense and lower in fat than animal products, and because all plant foods contain zero cholesterol, eating that way allows us to shed weight in a sustainable way.

And a well-rounded vegan diet will provide us with a healthy mixture of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats, as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Because most nutrition advice is aimed at meat-eaters, it's worth reading up a bit on how to maximize the health advantages of a vegan diet; I like the Optimal Vegan Nutrition Web page. And of course we shouldn't think that our healthy new diet means giving up tasty food -- Web sites and cookbooks with thousands of delicious vegan recipes abound. Eating should be a celebration -- and we should do it joyfully, like the French and others in the Mediterranean do.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the HuffingtonPost.com.

Eating Vegetarian Is Taking Global Warming Personally

After the tradition of Thanksgiving overindulgence, wouldn't it be nice if we had a good reason other than vanity to start eating healthfully, some other incentive to help us get on a better track in the wellness arena? Luckily, the United Nations just gave us one.

The U.N.'s latest report on global warming has bad news and good news. On the downside, a lot of scary stuff is heading for us at breakneck speed. On the upside, we still have time to do something about it -- and one thing we can all do is actually fun and delicious.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel of thousands of the world's top climate scientists, has described the existence of human-caused global warming in its final assessment report as both "unequivocal," and as having "abrupt and irreversible" effects on global climate. Worse still, these effects are coming stronger and faster than expected in the panel's last report just six years ago. Alarmingly, some effects that had been predicted to arrive decades from now are already here.

The report warns that hundreds of millions of people are threatened with starvation, flooding, and weather disasters. Rain-fed crop production will fall by half, a quarter of the world's species will go extinct, and arctic ice will completely disappear during the summer. We will see more deadly heat waves, stronger hurricanes, and island nations completely obliterated from the map by rising sea levels.

And the good news is...?

Fortunately, there's still time to save ourselves -- but not very much time. The U.N. says point blank: "immediate action is vital." According to the report, we have just a few more years left to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

A problem of such scale will require governments, industries, and private citizens to work together to address what many believe to be the greatest challenge of our time. As with most solutions, the approach must be varied and come from all angles to really make the kind of quantum difference that is necessary. Here's but one -- albeit one of the most powerful -- way to add to the momentum of a turnaround: eat a plant based diet. Give up eating animals and go vegetarian. Seriously.

A U.N. report from just this past November found that a full 18 percent of global warming emissions come from raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and other animals for food. That's about 40 percent more than all the cars, trucks, airplanes, and all other forms of transport combined (13 percent). It's also more than all the homes and offices in the world put together (8 percent).

So, one of the simplest and most elemental (and most delicious) things you can do to decrease your carbon footprint is to choose a veggie burger over a hamburger, "un-chicken" patties (try Garden Protein, the new and much talked about faux chicken/turkey) over actual chicken, or some grilled Portobello mushrooms with marinated tofu (I swear it's really good!). Order the vegetarian option whenever you go out to a restaurant -- and ask everywhere you go that they expand the vegetarian section on their menu, since it's good for owners of restaurants, hotels, airlines, etc. to know that there is consumer interest for tasty plant-based entrees.

I'm all for participating in the myriad things we can do to assist turning back the tide on human-made global warming: writing to a corporation about being environmentally responsible, turning off unnecessary lights and keeping the heat or a.c. on "low", voting for the politicians who will lead us into cleaner living, and driving a smaller more fuel efficient car. But on an ongoing more fundamental level, we can make a huge shift by simply eating differently. Being vegetarian is being green.

Eating a plant-based diet isn't just kind to animals and good for your health (and waistline!), it is also the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

We can each think creatively about how to use our roles in our families, jobs, and social circles, and join as part of the solution to this serious global threat.

With so much at stake, it's the least we can do. After all, the U.N. says there's still time if we act now. Surely that's something to be thankful for.

Vegetarian Is the New Prius

President Herbert Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." With warnings about global warming reaching feverish levels, many are having second thoughts about all those cars. It seems they should instead be worrying about the chickens.

Last month, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.

That's right, global warming. You've probably heard the story: Emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are changing our climate, and scientists warn of more extreme weather, coastal flooding, spreading disease, and mass extinctions. It seems that when you step outside and wonder what happened to winter, you might want to think about what you had for dinner last night. The U.N. report says almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock (i.e., those chickens Hoover was talking about, plus pigs, cattle, and others) -- that's more emissions than from all of the world's transportation combined.

For a decade now, the image of Leonardo DiCaprio cruising in his hybrid Toyota Prius has defined the gold standard for environmentalism. These gas-sipping vehicles became a veritable symbol of the consumers' power to strike a blow against global warming. Just think: a car that could cut your vehicle emissions in half -- in a country responsible for 25% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. Federal fuel economy standards languished in Congress, and average vehicle mileage dropped to its lowest level in decades, but the Prius showed people that another way is possible. Toyota could not import the cars fast enough to meet demand.

Last year researchers at the University of Chicago took the Prius down a peg when they turned their attention to another gas guzzling consumer purchase. They noted that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and egg production requires growing some ten times as much crops as we'd need if we just ate pasta primavera, faux chicken nuggets, and other plant foods. On top of that, we have to transport the animals to slaughterhouses, slaughter them, refrigerate their carcasses, and distribute their flesh all across the country. Producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels -- and spewing more than ten times as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide -- as does a calorie of plant protein. The researchers found that, when it's all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.

According to the UN report, it gets even worse when we include the vast quantities of land needed to give us our steak and pork chops. Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world's forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder. These forests serve as "sinks," absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, and burning these forests releases all the stored carbon dioxide, quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the real kicker comes when looking at gases besides carbon dioxide -- gases like methane and nitrous oxide, enormously effective greenhouse gases with 23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively. If carbon dioxide is responsible for about one-half of human-related greenhouse gas warming since the industrial revolution, methane and nitrous oxide are responsible for another one-third. These super-strong gases come primarily from farmed animals' digestive processes, and from their manure. In fact, while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.

It's a little hard to take in when thinking of a small chick hatching from her fragile egg. How can an animal, so seemingly insignificant against the vastness of the earth, give off so much greenhouse gas as to change the global climate? The answer is in their sheer numbers. The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year, all to sustain a meat-ravenous culture that can barely conceive of a time not long ago when "a chicken in every pot" was considered a luxury. Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death. What we're seeing is just the beginning, too. Meat consumption has increased five-fold in the past fifty years, and is expected to double again in the next fifty.

It sounds like a lot of bad news, but in fact it's quite the opposite. It means we have a powerful new weapon to use in addressing the most serious environmental crisis ever to face humanity. The Prius was an important step forward, but how often are people in the market for a new car? Now that we know a greener diet is even more effective than a greener car, we can make a difference at every single meal, simply by leaving the animals off of our plates. Who would have thought: what's good for our health is also good for the health of the planet!

Going veg provides more bang for your buck than driving a Prius. Plus, that bang comes a lot faster. The Prius cuts emissions of carbon dioxide, which spreads its warming effect slowly over a century. A big chunk of the problem with farmed animals, on the other hand, is methane, a gas which cycles out of the atmosphere in just a decade. That means less meat consumption quickly translates into a cooler planet.

Not just a cooler planet, also a cleaner one. Animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world's acid-rain-causing ammonia, and it the world's largest source of water pollution -- killing entire river and marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs, and of course, making people sick. Try to imagine the prodigious volumes of manure churned out by modern American farms: 5 million tons a day, more than a hundred times that of the human population, and far more than our land can possibly absorb. The acres and acres of cesspools stretching over much of our countryside, polluting the air and contaminating our water, make the Exxon Valdez oil spill look minor in comparison. All of which we can fix surprisingly easily, just by putting down our chicken wings and reaching for a veggie burger.

Doing so has never been easier. Recent years have seen an explosion of environmentally-friendly vegetarian foods. Even chains like Ruby Tuesday, Johnny Rockets, and Burger King offer delicious veggie burgers and supermarket refrigerators are lined with heart-healthy creamy soymilk and tasty veggie deli slices. Vegetarian foods have become staples at environmental gatherings, and garnered celebrity advocates like Bill Maher, Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney, and of course Leonardo DiCaprio. Just as the Prius showed us that we each have in our hands the power to make a difference against a problem that endangers the future of humanity, going vegetarian gives us a new way to dramatically reduce our dangerous emissions that is even more effective, easier to do, more accessible to everyone and certainly goes better with french fries.

Ever-rising temperatures, melting ice caps, spreading tropical diseases, stronger hurricanes ... So, what are you do doing for dinner tonight? Check out www.VegCooking.com for great ideas, free recipes, meal plans, and more! Check out the environmental section of www.GoVeg.com for a lot more information about the harmful effect of meat-eating on the environment.

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