A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Seven Billion and Counting

With more mouths to feed than ever, we can all help by going ‘cold tofu’

By Marc Bekoff

As I write this, we have just reached seven billion humans on the planet. And in the future there will be even more mouths to feed. We’re at a pivotal moment in world history, and there’s no doubt that the Earth can no longer sustain the increase in human population and our over-consuming and destructive ways.

Food is central to our lives, and our choices in food influence the quality of our health, our ecosystems and the lives of billions of animals who needlessly suffer because of our eating habits.

There are many views on why we should stop consuming animal and animal products, especially those from factory farms.

Some are concerned with the environmental effects of slaughterhouses, whose waste literally devastates ecosystems and pollutes water and air. As Farm Sanctuary notes:

“The quantity of waste produced by farm animals in the U.S. is more than 130 times greater than that produced by humans. Agricultural runoff has killed millions of fish, and is the main reason why 60 percent of America’s rivers and streams are ‘impaired’. In states with concentrated animal agriculture, the waterways have become rife with pfiesteria bacteria. In addition to killing fish, pfiesteria causes open sores, nausea, memory loss, fatigue and disorientation in humans.

“Even groundwater, which takes thousands of years to restore, is being contaminated. For example, the aquifer under the San Bernardino Dairy Preserve in Southern California contains more nitrates and other pollutants than water coming from sewage treatment plants.”

Factory farms devastate ecosystems worldwide. And on the local level they decrease property values – the stench alone from factory farms would make a house near one of these facilities a poor choice. An excellent summary of the wide-ranging detrimental effects of factory farming can be found in Gene Baur’s book Farm Sanctuary.

On a personal level, eating factory farmed animals and animal products is very unhealthy compared with choosing a more plant-based diet. More information based on the research of Dr. Michael Greger and others can be found here. As with concerns about the ecological effects of factory farms, being concerned about the wide-ranging and serious negative health aspects of eating factory farmed animals isn’t mere “vegan hype” but is supported by detailed scientific research.

And then there’s the fact that eating factory farmed animals involves the unrelenting torture of sentient beings for unneeded meals.

During the past six months I’ve been to a number of wonderful, inspirational, and highly educational meetings on topics ranging from animals in religion to great ape conservation, and most recently ending factory farming. A common theme to all of these gatherings was the topic of animal emotions and sentience.

Once we understand that nonhuman animals have emotions and sentience, we have to start asking ourselves the question of not what, but who we are choosing to put in our mouths.

Once we understand that nonhuman animals have emotions and sentience, we have to start asking ourselves the question of not what, but who we are choosing to put in our mouths. The lives of factory farmed animals are filled with terror, pain and suffering.

The bottom line is that there is no reason at all ever to eat factory farmed animals.

Even if it’s unrealistic to imagine the whole world becoming vegan, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a significant difference.

It’s really easy to cut down on, and perhaps eventually cut out, animals from one’s diet. There’s no reason to do it rapidly, by going cold-turkey, if that doesn’t work for you. Instead, try going “cold tofu” as I like to call it. You can gradually eliminate animals and animal products so that the transition to a healthier diet that reduces environmental devastation, illness, and animal suffering becomes an easy habit to follow.

So, I ask you to try a number of different things. First, simply refuse to eat factory farmed animals or animal products. When ordering an animal meal at a restaurant or buying food at a store ask where the meat came from and don’t ever buy factory farmed products.

If you eat, for example, five cheeseburgers a week, make a pact with yourself to cut back slowly and replace them with a vegetarian or vegan alternative. Create your own meal plans. A slow transition will likely result in more permanent changes than a rapid one, at least for some people.

We can all make a positive difference in the quality of ecosystems, our own health, and the lives of billions of other animals by changing who we choose eat.

Each of us can add more compassion to the world by not eating factory farmed animals and ending factory farming. This is an indisputable fact so please, let’s begin today. Your choice of your next meal can make a difference. And after you stop eating factory farmed animals being a “conscientious carnivore” means entirely phasing out animals and animal products from your diet, and that is also simple to do.

Note: A version of this essay was first posted on Marc Bekoff’s blog at Psychology Today.

Marc Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The author of many books, he maintains a blog at Psychology Today.