At the ranch in Colorado

Why an Educated Cowgirl Out West Went Vegetarian on Thanksgiving

At the ranch in Colorado

Calving Season 2012

It’s time to answer some of the questions about my recent vegetarianism. My reasoning behind it is even longer than my recent job descriptions. It isn’t really a new and sudden thing, it has been a long battle. In high school I raised beef cattle and show-lambs for the local fair. These eventually paid my first trip to Europe, which opened up my world and expanded my views of the world. I’ve competed in western events with my horse most of my life, even helped out at the cattle ranch moving cattle. Horses and cattle have been a part of my life about as long as I can remember. In high school ag classes I learned to vaccinate, trim and castrate with the best of the boys. I learned to numb myself to “things you have to get used to because they’re better for the overall good” things. But as I got older, I started to question if such things really were necessary. Is meat necessary?

 When I went to college in 2005 at Colorado State University (CSU), one of the top ag. science, and specifically veterinary science schools in the country, I was an equine science major. It only took a year before I realized that I really hated science, I mean, I hated doing it, I think science itself is wonderful and fascinating. I thought, “I probably shouldn’t be a science major” at some point sophomore year. I realized I was an artist, a writer, and a linguist and was in the wrong college in the university. I realized I obviously didn’t need an equine science degree to have an enjoyable life with horses. I wanted to go to school for something I didn’t know how to do. I still knew lots of ag majors though, and through them and general education at a university I began to learn the secrets of the animal industry, and question it.

I met Temple Grandin at CSU and learned about her honest efforts at making the lives of beef cattle a little less horrific, a very worthwhile plea (see film trailer for the movie about her story below). At the time, the beef industry “was what it was” to me and I pushed it off on the back burner, keeping my focus on school. I didn’t have to think about it. I hated driving by the feed lots, but brushed my concerns aside. It is what it is, “I cant do anything about it,” I thought. Colorado is a big beef producer, and driving through Greeley, Colorado I could smell the processing plants. I imagined the blood running down the drains and people who needed jobs so badly they too turned themselves numb to the jobs they were doing. I know what goes on in there, so how do I continue to support it by eating meat? The outside world doesn’t see behind those walls, that world couldn’t handle it. Humans are predators,  just doing what we have to survive, as are the workers in those plants (who are also suffering under often unjust working conditions). But just as humans are smart enough to be top of the food chain, we are also smart enough to know that we don’t have to survive on meat, something else that puts us above the other animals in the animal kingdom. We also have compassion, and if you had the option to make a kind choice and be compassionate, why wouldn’t you?

 

 

 

 

In 2010 I met film producer Ivan Sainz-Pardo ( http://ivansainzpardo.blogia.com )  who was, at the time, also taking his first steps on the road of enlightened vegetarianism and perhaps veganism (I can’t remember). He shared his reasons for it, healthwise and morally, and of course took my brain back to the roller coaster of hesitations and concerns about the meat industry, something I kept brushing off making a commitment or taking a side on because of my cattle industry history. If I can be compassionate, why wouldn’t I? I raised cattle. Ivan has produced films about his reasons for taking the leap. It hit home for me, and left me leaving the Sitges International Fantasy and Horror Film Festival in Spain with a heavy heart. I would ponder my meat eating heavily for the following 2 years.

During my Camino de Santiago hike across Spain in September of 2013, I met many more enlightened individuals along The Way who had made the decision to go vegetarian for their various reasons. People I respected and admired, and all of these people who were living in ways I admired, they were aware of their health, body and soul seemed to know something I didn’t, they had found a sort of peace I had been searching for. The more I read up on vegetarianism and talked to vegetarians, discussing my decision, the more I realized that vegetarianism is linked to more energy. Without the heavy red meats weighing my body down, and filling myself up with vegetables and fruits, of course I found a renewed energy. I started jogging, I hike even more, I have an abundance of energy, which is saying a lot from a person who has been active her whole life. I don’t “relax” much. My relaxation is a long hike with a great view at the top, and knowing I accomplished that that day.

Hikers1

Flash  back to 2010 when I lived in Germany. I noticed something especially different about the animals in the lush pastures there. Their cattle were very muscular. Maybe, I thought, knowing how much meat is consumed in Germany, there is another way! I’d never seen cattle like that before. Their cattle had glistening coats and bright eyes and seemed a shining example of animal health. They lived in pastures. Sure, Germany is also a mass producer of beef; we all know the Germans love their Weinerschnitzel and Bratwurst. In fact, I assumed that all Germans  must love meat, just as one assumes that all Germans love beer. But I found something else to be true, many Germans make very educated personal decisions. I was amazed at how many German vegetarians I met. A recent study  by the Institut Produkt und Markt, found that 9% of the population (7,380,000 people) are vegetarian.[1] Coincidentally Germany also has six of the top 100 universities in the world and 18 of the top 200[2] . It made me wonder. These educated people are paying more attention to what they are putting into their bodies, and that means either making educated meat purchases from family farmers who are passionate about their jobs, or not eating it all together.

Germany has one of the highest shares of 25-64 year-olds who have attained at least an upper secondary education: 86% compared to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) average of 75%.[3] But Germans are also much more aware of their overall footprint on the world. Their energy and waste consumption is impressively miniscule.

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A cow high up in the Swiss Alps

The dairy cattle I saw in Austria and Switzerland, known for some of the best chocolate and cheeses in the world were equally as fit and bright eyed, and had more muscles than I’d seen on any american dairy cow. Might there be some connection to the quality of their foods compared to the mass produced meats and dairy of the United States? These Europeans put a lot of passion into their delicacies and wouldn’t want such harmful antibiotics seeping into their delicate sweets, and we wonder why it tastes better there. Here is one group from Germany who is making a change:

 

 

 

America is famous for mass-production; and sure, we do it effectively. Many Germans would ask me about it when I lived in there, like how America manages to produce so much meat, or “don’t you know what you are buying?” Some friends from other European countries praised the U.S for its brilliantly oiled machine of mass producing the most possible meat for the lowest price (ever seen Food, inc.?). Whatever means possible, right? I wonder then, why 1-6 people in America face hunger, and still 30% of the adult population in the United States are now deemed ‘obese.’  (http://www.cdc.gov/pdf/facts_about_obesity_in_the_united_states.pdf )

The more research I did into the animal industry, the angrier I became. I started speaking out against the whole industry and praised farmers and family cattle ranchers. These kinds of farmers are struggling.  Did you know that as soon as that grass/pasture raised steer leaves that happy Colorado ranch, sold to a larger producer, they’re also then pumped with the hormones and antibiotics while standing in the feedlots before slaughter? How can we win?

A phrase that set heavily in my heart as soon as I heard it, was one a friend of mine from Ireland said, “If everyone was required to kill their own food, we’d have a lot more vegetarians.”

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, the whole world would be vegetarian,” written by Linda McCartney in her book, Linda’s Kitchen: Simple and Inspiring Recipes for Meals Without Meat.

Now if you can stomach watching the lives drain out of an animal’s eyes, then by all means, go ahead and utilize his entire body for your own needs.

All emotion aside, our massive amounts of meat consumption are leaving a heavy footprint on our world. A recent NPR article states,

“Meat has more of an impact on the environment than any other food we eat. That’s because livestock require so much more food, water, land, and energy than plants to raise and transport.”[4]

The United States is a huge country, and it takes a lot to feed such a large country.

“Though meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped off slightly in recent years, at 270.7 pounds per person a year, we still eat more meat per person here than in almost any other country on the planet. Only the Luxumbourgers eat more meat than we do.”[5]

“As U.S. beef consumption began to decline in the 1970s, poultry began to rise quickly. A couple of years ago, chicken surpassed beef as our No. 1 meat of choice. Our consumption of pork has also risen slightly over the years.”

“Yeah but chickens are dumb, and cannibals”, “they deserve to be eaten.” I know, strong argument to battle against. Or the, “Well, cattle are dumb anyway.” I realize that chickens can be cannibals, but they are shoved into cages with their beaks shaved off at birth, they don’t live in normal conditions. I’m also not really basing my vegetarianism off being an animal lover, although I am one. When a weak baby chick is in with a group of other baby chicks, the others will pick it apart, until it too dies.

When chickens are in cages packed like sardines, they will peck each other to death, go figure. Therefore their beaks are shaved down. Sure we can do it, but does that mean we should?

Why not be compassionate… if we can?

It’s like having the upperhand in a fight, sure you could smash a guy’s face in, but the honorable thing is to walk away and be the bigger person. Furthermore, what is our solution to mass-producing chicken? Modify their growth so that they grow as fast as possible and are of course amazingly ready for slaughter at 5-7 weeks of that, if they live beyond that their legs are no longer able to carry their weight. Efficient, yes. Right? No, it’s sickening. These sad individuals are known as broilers. I stopped going for any sort of chicken meat long before I stopped eating meat all together, these were just the beginning of my lessons in meat, I won’t even get into the issues with chicken coming out of China and other countries that is being brought into the United States.

 

 

“The meat and poultry industry is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture. Total meat and poultry production in 2011 reached more than 92.3 billion pounds, up 200 million pounds from 2010”[6], in order to feed 312 Million Americans.

In 2011, the meat and poultry industry processed:

  • 8.7 billion chickens
  • 246 million turkeys
  • 110.9 million hogs
  • 34.1 million cattle
  • 2.2 million sheep and lambs

Why? Because we can, and because most people pay no mind to what they buy in the grocery store. They don’t really care about what they are putting in their body, as long as it fills their belly.

So with this rise of veganism and vegetarianism, what is the #1 vegetarian city in the U.S.? New York city was voted as having the most veg-friendly restaurants. Oddly, in 2006, New York had the most post-graduate life sciences degrees awarded annually in the United States, 40,000 licensed physicians, and 127 Nobel laureates with roots in local institutions.”[7] Surely this number has only risen. People are starting to think about what they are eating.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 12.32.00 PM

Then look at this, the number of Americans with college degrees has surged in recent years. “Last year (2012), 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”[8] Now, Approximately 2.5% of adults in the United States and 4% follow a vegetarian diet.[9] Consequently, I found this graph in an article discussing the rise in vegans since 2004.[10]

Why only the recent rise? What has changed so much in our bodies and our lifestyles to cause such a rise in certain problems in, particularly, cancer, among others. Celebrities are going vegetarian/vegan, one article claims, the increased interest could be due to the recent explosion of vegan celebrities . It could, however, be a more meaningful trend. Studies have recently come out linking veganism to a variety of beneficial health effects: everything from better heart health to improved diabetes to lower rates of obesity. Reducing meat consumption is also beneficial for the environment.”[11] I base my conclusion, though, on education, and the rise in educated individuals making more educated decisions on their buying habits. Do we need meat in our diet? No, I don’t believe we do and a great many doctors would agree.

Today there is a list (http://www.greatveganathletes.com/bodybuilders) of vegan athletes, even body builders, to counteract the opinion that vegans are “weak and scrawny,” “not getting the nutrients they need.” Studies are now showing the links to health benefits from eating a vegetarian diet.  I could just make educated meat buying decisions in general in life and support my cause of buying meat from local farmer’s and stop buying the crap in most grocery stores, but then it is too easy to become lax in day to day occurrences, like when there is a BBQ and I don’t know where the meat came from. Usually, I’d just let it go for that visit, to be more simple. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m cutting it off altogether to be true to myself. And at least make the point to myself.

I held off from being a vegetarian because I didn’t want to be “difficult” or that “special needs” eater at the table and would eat mostly vegetarian on my own time but would accept meals when I didn’t have much of a choice. Heck apparently people also wouldn’t date a ‘vegetarian’  in the same way they wouldn’t date a ‘smoker’ or ‘alcoholic.’

On Thanksgiving Day of 2013 I went vegetarian, that included not eating the turkey that day. I like the stuffing more anyway, and I havn’t looked back since. At first though I hadn’t thought about how many things have meat in them, not that I didn’t realize it was meat, it just hadn’t occurred to me how many of my favorite foods had to be modified. It all went along with my quest to eat more healthfully and I happily gave up pepperoni’s on my pizza or my one fast food splurge, Weinerschnitzel (with their chili dogs and chili cheese dogs) in order to more strictly monitor just what I put into my body. Always being neither a lover nor a hater of salads, I’ve since fallen in love with salad, looking forward to the brightly colored leaves and diversity on my plate. Instead of letting myself have the local hamburger, I am forced to pick the healthier alternative on the menu.

Essentially, it has meant adding even more fruits and vegetables to my diet, and researching almond and soy milks and other alternatives to getting the proper nutrients I need in my diet, all healthy consequences you could say. I did it for myself, my body, the only one I have or will ever have.

Horses1

Thanksgiving Day 2013, I decided to go vegetarian for myself, to know that I am contributing my little 1% by not contributing to the over-consumption and mindless purchasing that plagues the United States and is contributing to our overall obesity, and I’m doing it for my own body. I want to give my body less to think about so it can keep running smoothly and effortlessly on all cylinders.

I hope the education continues and that those who continue to eat meat will start buying from local farms. Buying locally raised beef brings more money back into the family farms and the buyer’s local economy.

Make educated decisions for yourself. Our bodies don’t NEED meat to thrive.

Linda McCartney, Linda’s Kitchen: Simple and Inspiring Recipes for Meals Without Meat

http://www.oecd.org/edu/Germany_EAG2013%20Country%20Note.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15702597

 http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/vegetarian-diets-advantages-for-children 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters_

http://www.cdc.gov/pdf/facts_about_obesity_in_the_united_states.pdf

“Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Economic Development Corporation President Andrew M. Alper Unveil Plans to Develop Commercial Bioscience Center in Manhattan” (Press release). New York City Economic Development Corporation. November 18, 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-19.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/education/a-sharp-rise-in-americans-with-college-degrees.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

New York City Economic Development Corporation. November 18, 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-19.)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/02/interest-in-vegan-diets-on-the-rise_n_3003221.html

http://www.meatami.com/ht/d/sp/i/47465/pid/47465


[2] Top 100 World Universities”. Academic Ranking of World Universities. Archived from the original on 22 August 2008. Retrieved 28 March 2011.

[9] American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada. “Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets.” Canadian journal of dietetic practice and research: a publication of Dietitians of Canada = Revue canadienne de la pratique et de la recherche en diététique: une publication des Diététistes du Canada 64.2 (2003): 62–81. Print.

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