The answer is on our plates
My friend told me that her dad is in the early stages of heart disease. I was sad to hear it, but not surprised: He, like many other Filipinos, does not eat well. According to a recent analysis, the Philippines’ rate of meat consumption is one of the fastest-growing in the world, and the country is expected to be among the top 10 consumers of beef, pork and chicken within five years.
Four years ago, the government reported that Filipinos were eating animal-based foods at an alarming rate: Between 1978 and 2008, average per capita meat consumption jumped 152 percent, from 23 grams to 58 grams a day, and poultry consumption jumped 257 percent, from 7 grams to 25 grams a day.
If we don’t reverse this trend, the human health consequences will be dire. Eating meat has been linked to higher rates of heart disease—the leading cause of death in the Philippines—as well as cancer, diabetes, and stroke.
In a report published last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” which means that foods such as sausage and bacon now carry the same classification as tobacco and asbestos. The WHO report also warned that all red meats are “probably carcinogenic,” and that eating just 50 grams of processed meat a day—that’s less than two slices of bacon—increases one’s likelihood of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The health risk is clear, yet you can go to any grocery store in the Philippines and find what seems to be the world’s largest selection of hot dogs.
In our growing economy and globalized world, many people are drawn to the unhealthy, animal-based eating pattern that’s common in countries like the United States, whose national health is in decline. Meat consumption is also soaring in China, where an estimated 100 million people have diabetes, more than any other nation in the world. Concerned about its citizens’ eating habits, the Chinese government recently issued new dietary guidelines and launched a public-awareness campaign designed with the intent to reduce the consumption of beef, pork and chicken by 50 percent.
The Philippines should do the same, but instead of waiting on the government, Filipinos can do something now to improve their health: Go vegan.
Nutritious vegan foods are completely free of cholesterol, typically low in saturated fat, and high in complex carbohydrates, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and artery-cleansing fiber. One study found that eating only plant-based foods lowers the risk of developing prostate cancer by 35 percent.
Switching to plant-based foods would also help reverse another unhealthy trend: insufficient fruit and vegetable intake. Between 1978 and 2008, Filipinos’ consumption of disease-fighting fruits and vegetables dropped by 48 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
“The impact of [chronic] diseases should not be underestimated,” says Janette Garin, MD, a former health secretary. “Exercise, healthy eating with the inclusion of fruits and vegetables, plus adequate sleep should be encouraged.”
But one of the most compelling reasons to go vegan is to help stop the suffering inherent in producing every piece of animal flesh that we serve on our tables. More than 800 million animals are killed for food in the Philippines each year, and the vast majority of them endure lives of misery and deprivation before being sent to slaughter.
More than 20 million pigs are killed in the Philippines every year. Before being sent to slaughter, they are castrated, their ears are notched, the ends of their teeth are clipped off, and their tails are chopped off—all without any painkillers. On the killing floor, they are electrically shocked and hung upside down, and then workers slit their throats and throw them into boiling water, often while they’re still conscious.
Chickens are crammed by the tens of thousands into filthy warehouses. As a result of crowded conditions and genetic manipulation that encourages unnatural growth, they often develop crippling bone disorders, ammonia burns, and ulcerated feet. To prevent stressed-out chickens from harming one another in the egg industry, farmers use hot blades to cut off the ends of their beaks when they are still just chicks.
Raising and killing billions of animals every year accounts for at least 51 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the Worldwatch Institute. The methane that animals produce is a leading contributor to climate change, as are the fossil fuels required to run factory farms, grow and fertilize feed crops, haul animals to slaughterhouses, and ship their flesh and body parts around the world.
According to researchers at the University of Oxford, we can reduce our individual carbon footprint by 60 percent just by eating food that comes from plants. The United Nations has stated that a global shift toward vegan eating is necessary to combat the worst consequences of climate change.
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Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Asia has just published the second edition of its vegan starter kit, and you can order it for free on our website. I’ll be giving one to my friend’s dad. If he’s open to going vegan, it could save his life. But even if he isn’t, we can all help animals, ourselves, and the environment by eating more plant-based foods, and we can start with our next meal. There’s no time like the present to start saving the world.
Jason Baker is Peta Asia’s vice president of international campaigns. To get involved with Peta’s work in the Philippines, please visit PETAAsia.com or call 8175292.
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