Thought #1 from a Vegan Teenager

Disclaimer: This is not supposed to guilt you into becoming a full-fledged vegan, where you consume no animal products ever. This is the simple plea of a teenage kid who loves animals. This is me hoping to inspire you to acknowledge the exploitative system known as factory farming and acknowledge the role we all play in keeping this system alive. 

Hi! My name is William Romain, and I became interested in animal issues around a year ago while doing an English assignment, so I am thrilled to write about the different things I have learned over the past year. Throughout this blog series, I am going to debrief topics such as “why most Americans can go vegan or vegetarian” to “the 1% of ethical farmers” to “how to be an intersectional vegan” to “where to find the BEST vegan restaurants in Little Rock,” all partnered with a new recipe for you to try at home! Today, we will be talking about factory farming’s impact on the environment and how we can all help save the planet. 

During the summer of 2020, I read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. In this book, Foer lays the facts of what it means to eat meat in this factory-farmed-dominated country, and this includes the suffering of animals, environmental destruction, and a risk to human health. As I read the book and then listened to panel discussions with Foer, I began to think about the impact animals have had on my life since I was a child. In the past, I used to care for my stuffed animals and wish for zoo animals’ freedom, and as I have gotten older, I lost touch with what it is I am actually consuming when I eat meat: a sentient being. The more I read, the wider my eyes got, and I began to see that not only does eating factory-farmed meat contribute to the harm of innocent animals, but it also is amongst the leading causes for climate change. I began to understand that not only am I unconsciously participating in the slaughter of these animals but by reducing my animal consumption, I can help to save our dying planet.

“If every American reduced their [factory-farmed] meat consumption one less meal a week (about a quarter pound of beef), then that would be the equivalent of taking ten million cars off the road annually.”

Sujatha Bergen, the National Resources Defense Council’s health campaign director

Did you know that over 99% of animals used for food live on factory farms trapped in tiny, filthy, and inhumane cages? Can you imagine living in such a place? In our current environmental climate, factory farming is an unsustainable method of production that is used to raise animals to produce a lot of food quickly to meet the demands of the consumers. Unfortunately, because of the number of animals that are contained in just one factory farm (anywhere from 1,000 beef cattle to 125,000 broiler chickens), there is quite a bit of manure produced. These high quantities of manure, stored in large open-air lagoons, are basically lakes filled with animal waste. These lakes can spill out into other bodies of water and contaminate them, destroying various sea life creatures. To empty the lagoons, a spraying system is employed which harms the local environment as it pollutes air and water and releases harmful amounts of gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide. This ultimately impacts the environment at large and immediately affects the communities surrounding these farms. According to the United Nations, factory farming is one of the top 3 most significant contributors to climate change and other serious environmental problems.

One of the most extreme examples of this phenomenon can be found in Iowa’s farming of hogs. In 2019 alone, Iowa saw that thirty-nine million pigs were to be used for food production in factory farms. According to Dr. Mark Sobsey from the University of North Carolina, an adult swine (pig) produces about ten times as much feces as humans do, making the Iowan pigs of 2019 produce the waste of approximately three-hundred-and-ninety million humans. That is over sixty million more than the number of people that live in the United States. Today, Iowa has over eight times the amount of pigs as they do humans, and because they produce ten times the amount of waste, this causes the citizens to endure overwhelming odors, risk of infectious diseases, the inability to enjoy unpolluted air, and the loss of a clean water supply. 

Now you might say, “But, I need to get my calcium, iron, protein, and other important nutrients from pork/other animal products, so I HAVE to eat factory farmed meat!” Well, according to the American Dietetic Association, a vegan diet is healthy, safe, and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life including pregnancy, fluctuation, and infancy. There are plenty of vegetables and food products that are just as high, if not higher, in the amount of calcium, iron, and protein as animal products. For high amounts of calcium, there are soy foods (soy milk, soybeans), winged beans, okra, kale, and Brussels sprouts. For high amounts of iron, there are lentils, quinoa, chia seeds, and kale. For high amounts of protein, there are chickpeas, seitan, green peas, oatmeal, spinach, and potatoes. The point is that factory-farmed products are not the only, or the best, sources of nutrients available to you. Vegetables, legumes, and soy products, amongst other things, all have naturally high amounts of the same nutrients found in dairy/beef/pork products, and they are safer for every being involved. 

It is important to understand that this post is not meant to blame consumers for feeding into the lies told by most food production facilities in the United States. These facilities purposely try and hide their industries’ disastrous ways because they know precisely the harm they are placing on these innocent animals. However, as a consumer, you can begin to limit your support for these facilities by replacing one meal a day that relies heavily on animal products with a meal that uses little to no animal products. If that seems too ambitious to start with, perhaps you could start by replacing a meal a week and working your way to a meal a day. One of my personal favorite non-animal-based meals that you can try at home is a chickpea, mango, and avocado salad over kale with a side of oven-roasted, lemon zested brussels sprouts and baked sweet potato bites. 

Salad Ingredients:

  1. 1 can chickpeas (1.5 cups), rinsed and drained
  2. ½ red onion, diced
  3. 1 mango, cubed
  4. 1 avocado, cubed
  5. Chopped cilantro
  6. 3 tablespoons lemon juice 
  7. 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  8. ¼ teaspoon ground cumin 
  9. Dash of chili powder
  10. Salt, to taste
  11. Kale (however much you want)

Instructions:

  1. For the salad, combine all the ingredients, except the kale, and chill until ready to serve. 
  2. Once ready, place the combination over kale and enjoy!

Sides Ingredients:

  1. Brussels sprouts (however much you want)
  2. Lemons (for every 10 brussels sprouts, use 1 lemon) 
  3. Olive Oil (for every 10 brussels sprouts, use 1 tablespoon olive oil)
  4. 1 sweet potato
  5. Cinnamon 
  6. Brown sugar 
  7. Vegan Butter (if you want butter)

Instructions:

  1. For the brussels sprouts, put the oven on 400° F
  2. Sprinkle the brussels sprouts with olive oil
  3. Use the juice from the lemon to sprinkle over the brussels sprouts. Then use the rest of the lemon to grate over the sprouts (if you so choose)
  4. Bake the brussels sprouts for about 30 minutes, or until they seem tender
  5. For the sweet potato, peel the skin off and cut it into bite-sized pieces
  6. with the oven still, at 400° F, bake it for 15-20 minutes
  7. Once finished, top it with vegan butter, then the brown sugar and cinnamon
  8. Enjoy!

Now, I may be sharing knowledge that you have already accessed, but if not, I hope that this post has widened your eyes to the truth behind how most of the meat is produced in America and its impact on the environment, just as Jonathan Foer’s book did for me. 

About the Author: 

My name is William Romain, and I am a junior (virtually 🙁 ) at Little Rock Central High School. I have been a volunteer with Be Mighty for almost a year, but I have called the library my home since forever. Working with Be Mighty this past year has been my saving grace with getting through the craziness of 2020/2021 and has led me to work and talk with incredible people: both volunteers and people collecting meals. From talking about institutionalized racism to the incredibleness of David Fincher, I will always cherish my Meal Service conversations. Thank you Be Mighty for being an incredible organization and for allowing me a place to express my thoughts. 

“Changing how we eat will not be enough, on its own, to save the planet, but we cannot save the planet without changing how we eat.”

Jonathan Safran Foer

Citations:

Christen, Caroline. Top Pork Producing States: Who Is the Largest Pork Producer in the U.S.? 1 Feb. 2021, sentientmedia.org/top-pork-producing-states/. 

Curry, Lynne. Is The Movement To Eat Less Meat Actually making a difference? 30 July 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/eat-less-meat-environmental-effect_l_5d39d84fe4b020cd99501f2d

“Ending Factory Farming: Environmental Damage.” Compassion in World Farming, Compassion in World Farming, http://www.ciwf.org.uk/factory-farming/environmental-damage/. 

“Factory Farming: The Industry Behind Meat and Dairy.” Peta.org, PETA, 30 Dec. 2020, http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/. 


“Student Project: Factory Farming: Environmental Impacts.” Research Guides, Pace Law Library, 13 Apr. 2020, libraryguides.law.pace.edu/c.php?g=452979&p=3107602.

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