The next stage of my personal journey into good health and wellness is a bit of a controversial topic that can cause highly emotional debates… the subject of eating meat and becoming vegetarian.
This is what my training focused on last week. The whole philosophy with IIN is that every person is unique and has different needs and so they in no way direct us as to whether we should or shouldn’t eat animal meat or products. They simply give us the information to enable us to make informed decisions about our own choices and to be able to guide our clients to make their own informed choices.
This was quite timely for me as I have been contemplating becoming vegetarian for some time. I don’t eat a lot of meat as I simply don’t enjoy it very much and I wouldn’t say my body particularly needs it, but for the sake of keeping family meals simpler, and to keep eating out at restaurants and friends houses easy, I do eat chicken from time to time.
However, the course content hit home that sometimes we have to make that bit of effort and accept inconveniences, in order to do what we feel is right for us. I watched videos on factory farming and read factual accounts about the industry and I’ll be honest, it distressed me deeply.
To educate myself further I approached a very informed friend who also follows a vegan diet. I decided this would make a great guest blog post to get some clarity on the subject, as having talked to a few others, I know this is a subject that weighs heavily on many shoulders.
So Martyn, over to you. Tell us a little about yourself and your background
Hi I’m Martyn Elton, I’m 55 and, after living and working in Spain for 11 years, now live in the wonderful Haute Vienne region of France. After leaving school I studied microelectronics at university followed by a fascinating career in research for 25 years. However, my real interest has always been health, medicine, and cell biology.
Having the privilege of retiring at quite a young age I was finally able to study something I felt passionate about. I started studying for a Health Science degree five years ago. I’m now in my final year. The course has taken a very analytical look at the role nutrition plays in maintaining a healthy body.
Additionally, it has confirmed my fears about the incredible power the meat and livestock industry has in England, and the EU as a whole, and how good health and the food industry certainly don’t go hand in hand.
Aside from the academic knowledge, I know you’ve had some practical experience that affected you deeply. Can you share this please?
For over 25 years I have supported the charity Compassion in World Farming (UK & France). However, I became totally vegan after being co-opted onto a review panel for the Meat and Livestock Commission a few years ago. The remit of the working party was a review of slaughterhouse protocol & procedure and we visited a number of slaughterhouses and processing plants. The images and sounds of dying animals will never leave me.
To sum up, the slaughter process is barbaric and defective. Animals don’t have a quick, humane, death, there’s no such thing. Post slaughter, the processing systems are, from a bacteriological point of view, still defective and seriously flawed. Economic considerations take priority over real food security, don’t be fooled by glossy advertising campaigns. Many people don’t appreciate the reality of slaughter and post slaughter processes. It’s messy and very, very, dirty.
I am also concerned by the proven links to cancer. What do you know about this?
This is a quote by one of my fellow students following a recent statement from The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) confirming the proven link between certain cancers and processed meat :
“Meat is processed in refrigerated rooms however bacterial contamination is still a problem, especially on complex processing machinery. (I used to design those machines). The rooms and machines are very expensive to run and plants usually run 3 shifts. Everything gets a hot water wash every 12 hours. Everything also gets hosed down, continuously, with anti-microbial chemicals. The machines, the meat, everything. One manufacturer of these chemicals is EcoLab.
The chemicals do not have to be declared as food additives, despite their presence on the meat when it leaves the plant. Burger, sausage and the like are special because the chemicals get blended in – they cannot be rinsed off as can be done with something like a steak.
The presence of these chemicals is not generally known. The plant operators and chemical suppliers know. The employees know, although working on the floor of a meat plant is a very low wage job that attracts people who speak little English. I know because I spent a fair amount of time in the plants dealing with problems -like bacterial contamination threatening a plant’s certification.
Who is asking hard questions about what may, or may not, be a carcinogen? Is it the meat or is it the stuff on the meat that nobody has to tell you about?”
During the late 1990’s I lived close to a cluster site for Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (mad cow disease). During my degree I examined the aetiology of this dreadful disease. The infectious agent which causes this disease is an abnormal prion, its evolution directly due to intensive farming techniques. In the 1990’s, the prion was only moderately infective. I believe us humans had a lucky escape and the next may be more infectious. Inevitably, it will only be a matter of time before another prion or other infective agent crosses the species barrier. I suspect it’s very likely this infective agent will come from intensively farmed animals. It may be another prion or an antibiotic resistant bacterium resulting from the vast quantity of antibiotics routinely fed to intensively reared animals.
During the course of your studies and experience, what has shocked you the most?
After the realization of enormous scale of the dreadful suffering involved in intensively farming animals (50 billion per year), it is the vast ‘industry’ which goes to great lengths to ensure we all keep eating animal flesh. There isn’t another industry on the planet which enjoys such practical, political and financial help in continuing their trade. Within governments, farming lobbyists work tirelessly to ensure animal welfare and human health takes a second place to profit. Advertising companies spend billions each year to relentlessly bombard us with meat and meat related products. As we’re close to Christmas, try switching on a commercial TV station and see how long it takes for an advertisement for a meat based product to be screened.
What about maintaining good health on a vegetarian or vegan diet?
I know this may all sound very negative and gloomy but my advice for anyone concerned with their own health, or the health of their family, is to just stop and think. Removing meat from your diet has considerable, well documented, benefits.
A diet high in fibre and low in cholesterol infers a longer, healthier, lifespan. I recently had a routine ‘well man’ blood screen. When my GP received the results he called me in to see him. I was, naturally, apprehensive. He explained my good/bad cholesterol ratio was abnormally good. He asked about my diet and I tentatively explained I didn’t eat animal fats (rare in the Haute Vienne)… he sighed and said ‘if only my other patients could obtain such a good result!’
Is it difficult to maintain such a diet?
No, it’s not rocket science…it’s simple….and tasty. Vegetable lentil curry is one of my favourite dishes, served with rice and a glass of fresh orange juice, it offers almost all essential nutrients and minerals in one meal.
There’s stacks of help and recipe advice available on-line, my favourite being the Vegetarian Society. Their site offers 100’s of ideas for meals and tips on obtaining a healthy diet. Many friends, who have switched from meat to a veggie diet, suddenly realised weight loss diets were a thing of the past. When you cut out animal fats you cut a huge number of calories without being aware of it. Bonus!
But not everyone wants to switch to a meat-free diet. What can they do?
If you feel you can’t switch to a completely meat-free diet, for whatever reason, then do consider organically produced meat. It’s often locally sourced and animals sometimes (but not always) have a more natural life and have been subjected to less pharmaceuticals. Transport times to slaughter are also often reduced which helps to improve animal welfare.
Thank you very much Martyn for your insights and advice!
My intention here has not been to railroad anyone into becoming vegetarian or thinking that all farms are barbaric, they’re not! But factory farmed meat and animal products are what are most readily available and affordable to consumers, so I simply want to share the realities of this along with solutions.
After talking to Martyn, I made the decision to commit to a vegetarian diet for 3 months and review how I feel. Personally, I believe my body will manage fine without meat but I will need to get more creative in the kitchen so that I can adapt meals to be served with or without meat as this is my decision and I’m not asking or expecting my family to follow suit.
My next step is to find local farms that produce meat and animal products that are either organic or as close to as possible, so that I can support the highest standards of animal welfare as well as the health of my family. This comes at a financial cost without a doubt, but having been exposed to the realities of factory farming, I just know in my heart that I have no choice. I can’t unknow what I now know.
I hope this has helped any of you who have been thinking along the same lines. I have two requests for you this week…
Firstly, please help me build a resource of reputable farms and meat suppliers. I particularly welcome recommendations in any location in France, (on-line searching is much easier in the UK where websites are common practice), as it will help create a great knowledge base for all interested readers wherever they reside.
Secondly, I would love to build my own resource of veggie recipes, so if you have any favourites you’d be happy to share, I’d be very grateful.
You can comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a Facebook message. Thank you. Until next week….