“Is that a religion?” “No,” I explain for the millionth time. You’d think after seven years I’d stop hearing the question, but its frequency only increases as I explain my “weird” dietary habits to people. When I tell people I’m a pescatarian, I usually get the same response: “What’s that?” I’ll tell you this, it’s definitely not a religion. According to Merriam Webster, a pescatarian is quite simply: “one whose diet includes fish but no other meat.” Easy as that. However, just because there’s a simple definition, does not mean there is a simple explanation. I get asked all the time why I chose to be a pescatarian at the ripe age of 12 years old, and quite honestly, I didn’t have to think about it too hard. As soon as I was exposed to the truth behind slaughterhouses, cutting meat from my diet was something I wanted, for both moral and health-related reasons.
I could eat meat if I really wanted to, but knowing that animals were tortured and inhumanely treated before landing on my plate, hurts my heart. Slaughterhouse practices have been scrutinized for years, yet no significant action has been taken to improve the treatment of livestock. According to the Organic Consumers Association, surveys by veterinarians and animal-welfare groups found that slaughterhouse employees are failing to properly knock out animals before they are put on assembly lines; a violation of federal law. The article then cites a graphic video that shows live cows chained upside down after being supposedly rendered unconscious. Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association of San Rafael, responded to the video with the brutal truth: “We recognize slaughter for food, but not subject to torture.”
Scientific breeding has caused animals to become too large for their frame, in turn causing drastic physical problems and disabilities. According to the New York Times, chickens are bred to grow huge breasts, so once they’re adults, they can’t even stand up straight or breathe. “These birds are essentially bred to suffer,” said Laurie Beacham of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
New federal regulations have left unions, such as the National Council of Food Inspection Locals, powerless to enforce existing laws prohibiting slaughterhouse operators from abusing and torturing livestock. “Drastic increases in production speeds, lack of support from supervisors in plants, new inspection policies which significantly reduce our enforcement authority, and little or no access to the areas of the plants where animals are killed, have significantly hampered our ability to ensure compliance with humane regulations,” said Arthur Hughes, vice chairman of the union.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, there are no federal laws controlling the
conditions in which farmed animals are reared. “Standard” agricultural practices, which
are undefined by the government, are exempt from many state criminal anti-cruelty laws.
As you can see, there is a lot wrong with the meat industry, and although deciding not to eat meat (besides seafood) does not fix the problem, I at least know that I am not supporting slaughterhouse operators’ cruel practices. Of course, people need to eat and I understand that, but I can’t put food in my mouth knowing that an innocent animal suffered in agonizing pain in the process.
However, not only do I have moral reasons to not eat meat, but also physical reasons. According to The Institute for Natural Healing, a detailed review of more than 7,000 clinical studies involving connections between diet and cancer by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) concluded that processed meats are too dangerous for human consumption. In fact, the article argues that people should stop purchasing and consuming all processed meat products for the rest of their lives.
Processed meats, such as the red meat used in frozen prepared meals, are manufactured with sodium nitrite, which is carcinogenic. If you’re not familiar with the chemical, sodium nitrite is a color fixer that turns packaged meats a bright red color so they look “fresh” to consumers. However, the ingredient also causes the generation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the human body, increasing the chance of cancer. So, why do the FDA and USDA allow the carcinogenic chemical to be used in meat production? The answer: “food industry interests now dominate the actions by U.S. government regulators.” For example, the USDA tried to ban sodium nitrite in the 1970s, but its action was overridden by the meat industry, which insisted the ingredient was “safe,” while accusing the USDA of attempting to “ban bacon.”
Meat industry claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to the Yale College Vegetarian Society, up to 80 percent of cancer cases are preventable through healthy diets that contain low amounts of fats and oils, and high amounts of fiber, which is the model pescetarian diet. And scientific studies support this notion. According to the American Cancer Society, twenty-two experts, who reviewed more than 800 studies, discovered that “eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.” Fifty grams of meat is the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog. For red meat, the experts found that there was increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
And what about the health benefits of only eating seafood besides not being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals? According to Today’s Dietician, a study done in 2013 found that the mortality rate among pescatarians was lower when compared with nonvegetarians. “In addition, the study found that pescetarians had lower levels of blood cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as [decreased] risk of diabetes, blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome compared with nonvegetarians,” said Sharon Palmer, RDN, nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life. “They even have a lower carbon footprint.”
So, when people ask me why I became pescatarian, the answer is never easy and straight-forward. With all the time in the world, I would cite every example of animal abuse that takes place behind slaughterhouse walls,display the gross acts of inhumanity and injustice for everyone to see. Because what people forget is ignorance is not bliss, it’s guilt and pain.
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