This year marks the 30th observance of the Great American Meatout, celebrated on the first day of Spring. Since 1985 Meatout has become the world’s largest annual grassroots diet education campaign. The day promotes a meat-free diet to improve health, protect the environment, and save animals. Thousands of events throughout the U.S. and in dozens of other countries mark this day.
Millions of vegans who follow a meat-free diet prove every day that their regimen can provide the essential nutrients and protein that humans need to thrive. They cite studies showing that vegans decrease their risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other chronic diseases.
Every year, Meatout is supported by a broad coalition of environmental and animal issue-focused nonprofits, plant-based food companies, elected officials across the country, and countless individuals.
Whether it is Beyoncé launching a vegan food delivery service, or richest man in the world Bill Gates funding the startup plant-based company Hampton Creek, one thing is clear: Vegan eating is becoming mainstream. A casual glance through the aisles of most urban supermarkets today reveals an astonishing variety of foods available for vegan eaters.
Although the website encourages full veganism, sensitive vegans counseling “newbies” or “wannabe” vegans sometimes say, “Our diet has been so meat-centered for so long that a sudden switch is going to be difficult, and we don’t want to see you fail at it. Think of this: If, starting out, you ate meat only every other day, that would cut your consumption in half!“
Some science points to factory animal farming as the primary cause of global warming, considering the billions of commercially raised animals worldwide that are destined to become fast food meals or a significant part of every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Millions of square miles of land are devoted to raising animals, or feed for them, when such land might be put to more productive use cultivating grains and vegetables directly for humans.
Factory farm owners have shown themselves to be particularly nervous about journalists and videographers visiting their pens and slaughterhouses. They simply do not want the general public to know what suffering they create for the animals they raise, nor the resources, such as water, feed, and energy, that it takes to produce a pound of meat. And they certainly do not want consumers informed about the massive amounts of hormones and antibiotics administered to the animals to keep them disease-free (and that enter the human body), nor the methane gases and animal waste that are introduced into the environment. Makers of processed and preserved meats use a veritable pharmacopeia of chemicals to package products that will sit on shelves for weeks or months after leaving the factory.
There are many interpretations of what “meat-free” means. Some vegetarians will consume eggs, dairy products and honey, for example, arguing that while these are animal products, they do not kill the animals. Others will avoid meat, but eat seafood, although most of the seafood sold in the U.S. is also farm-raised and subject to additives and genetic tampering.
In some parts of the world, a diet that totally excludes meat or seafood is almost unimaginable. In far northern areas, for example, the growing season is short. In traditional cultures there may be no well-stocked market anywhere within reach. And island countries are surrounded by oceans abundant with protein sources. Even in the U.S. at present, in densely settled poor urban neighborhoods known as “food deserts,” fresh vegetables are rarely seen or are of substandard quality.
As for the labor force involved in the meat and seafood industries, a transition away from animal consumption is obviously not going to happen overnight: As new dietary habits evolve, workers are already being retrained for new jobs. That is also part of the social equation as societies move toward renewable energy over fossil fuels. With the political will to do so, these challenges can be met.
While a universal, totally animal-free diet is hard to imagine any time in the near future and perhaps never, still, for many people around the world, the Great American Meatout provides an opportunity to explore healthier dietary alternatives that will also significantly reduce global warming and animal suffering.