Originally Published: December 18, 2015 6 a.m.
Humorist Tom Purcell asks: "What's the beef with meat?"
The short answer is cancer, cholesterol, contamination, inflammation and obesity.
Investigative reporter Eris Schlosser details what's in the beef and how it got there in his exhaustive expose, "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal." Dean Ornish, MD. chronicles the astonishing health benefits that result from the Plant-Based (vegan) Diet in his "Program for Reversing Heart Disease." Paul Pitchford's textbook, "Healing With Whole Foods," covers many health conditions that can be ameliorated or reversed with diet. The documentary "Fat, Sick and Almost Dead" is the true story of a seriously ill middle-aged truck driver who regained his health through dietary change.
We can summarize their information as follows.
Cancer, especially colorectal cancers, are now a leading cause of death in America, just as Americans are now eating three times more meat each day than they did 80 years ago. In 1988, the American Dietetic Association noted the higher risk of cancer; as did the National Cancer Institute in 1995. The NIH studied over 500,000 AARP volunteers, and reached the same conclusion: "We can prevent about a third of all cancers if people would maintain a healthy weight, eat a plant-based diet and be physically active." (Dietician Alice Bender, American Institute for Cancer Research.) Fresh fruits, vegetables and greens are rich in nutrients, moisture and roughage that keep the digestive tract working quickly and smoothly.
Cholesterol is found in all animal products (except egg whites), and excess cholesterol is stored as plaque, inside your arteries. The heart must work harder and harder to force blood through these ever-narrowing apertures, resulting in high blood pressure, burst blood vessels, strokes and heart attacks. Even 30 days of a vegan diet can significantly lower blood pressure, as plants have zero cholesterol (and no side effects, unlike statins).
Contamination includes "intentional" contamination, like adding hormones, antibiotics, and "high protein" to cattle feed, to bulk up the animals. But the high protein (prior to the Mad Cow epidemics) was made up of "downer" cows (cows who simply died for no apparent reason), pigs, chickens, and euthanized dogs and cats. Later, the FDA banned sheep, goats, cattle, deer, mink, elk, dogs and cats, but permitted dead horses, pigs, poultry, chicken parts and manure, and cattle blood and fat. Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine stated that chicken manure can contain tapeworms, Giardia, arsenic, and heavy metals.
"Unintentional" contamination was underlined in 1996, when the USDA studied random samples of meat from packing houses. They found salmonella, listeria, staphylococcus monocytogenes, and clostridium perfringens (all potentially fatal) occurring in 7 percent to over 50 percent of the samples. In 1993, over 500,000 people became ill with E. coli 0157:H7 from Jack-In-The-Box burgers. The CDC warns that although the acute phase of "food poisoning" may be short, there are potential lifelong consequences including irritable bowel disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disorders.
Paul Pitchford explains the link between inflammation and meat. Meat gives rise to the production of arachidonic acid in the body, a prostaglandin that causes redness, swelling, pain, deformity and even crippling of the joints (as well as other damage). Anyone with arthritis, rheumatism or inflammatory autoimmune disorders may find significant relief from the vegan diet, without prescription pain medication. Even deformed joints may re-form with time, although this is a much longer process.
Obesity and its frequent partner, diabetes, benefit most from the plant-based diet. Type II diabetes can be controlled with no medication, and Type I can be much improved. (The Tree of Life Center in Patagonia, Arizona, has a DVD on Reversing Diabetes in Thirty Days.) And if you are overweight, you will lose weight slowly but steadily on a healthy vegan diet (providing you don't decide to live on bread, cake, and donuts!) until you reach your natural weight. I lost 43 pounds in 43 weeks without "dieting" and without sacrificing chocolate.
This is much less depressing than undergoing a quadruple bypass, having your colon replaced, living in a wheelchair after a massive stroke or suffering amputations due to uncontrolled diabetes. Food producers and sellers are increasingly aware of the plant-based diet, and are catering to that market with products that are tasty, healthy and easy to prepare.
Lots of cookbooks and online recipes give us delicious gourmet-quality meals. We even have some local ranchers raising "vegetarian" (grass-fed) beef! So we can, like Tom Purcell, enjoy our barbecues - with veggie burgers, grilled mushrooms, fresh salads, and no cholesterol.
Pam Gordon is a retired attorney who has been vegan for 14 years, and teaches classes on the Plant-Based Diet through the OLLI program at Yavapai College.