Students and Faculty Talk Human Health, Animal Rights, Environmental Impacts

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With many people becoming vegan and vegetarian to pursue a healthier lifestyle, this shift has brought into question whether the lack of meat achieves better health.

A meatless lifestyle is associated with lower blood pressure and a diminished risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle does pose some challenges for the human body.

Certified Nutrition Coach Laura Cox ’22, who received her nutrition coaching certification after taking a course in nutrition over the 2021 March break, said vegan and vegetarian lifestyles require a diet with a wider variety of foods.

“Most people don’t have to worry about their vitamins if you just eat a variety of foods. If you’re living on mac and cheese alone, you should be a little worried.”

As a rule, a healthy lifestyle involves eating proteins and fibers, Laura said. Vegans and vegetarians can usually consume an adequate amount of fiber through vegetables and whole grain foods. However, meat is the only food that contains all nine essential amino acids of protein, so vegans and vegetarians must get those proteins from several different food sources or through taking supplements.

Kate Constan ’22, who switched from a red-meatless lifestyle to a vegetarian lifestyle in her freshman year to limit her carbon and methane footprints, said she gets enough nutrients without meat.

“Dark, leafy greens can prevent iron deficiency, and legumes—beans and peanuts—are great for protein intake. Oat milk has calcium, just like cow milk. I get enough nutritional variety in fruits and vegetables that I don’t need to take vitamins.”

Tess Bierly ’22, a vegetarian of 10 years because of her love for animals, has taken supplements but said the health benefits of vegetarianism outweigh this need.

“Personally, I’ve had to take iron supplements for years because my iron levels became too low as a result of becoming vegetarian, but I think there are also health benefits to the decision such as reduced risks for certain cancers and chronic diseases.”

Sources: NPR, Harvard Health Publishing

 

Each year on average an estimated 95 animals are spared by one person’s vegan diet, while each carnivorous individual consumes 7,000 animals over their lifetime.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, eating no meat doesn’t spare already existing animals, but it decreases demand and, over time, supply.

Olivia Bancel ’22, who has been vegetarian or pescatarian for six years, said one person’s choice helps.

Olivia explained her main reason for becoming vegetarian was animal cruelty.

“The more people that become vegetarian and vegan, the more there will be a visible difference—it might take a long time, but I think it will happen one day,” she said.

For people considering becoming vegan or vegetarian, Olivia suggests easing into the change.

“The slower the process is, the more it kind of just happens naturally,” she said. Olivia recommended “no-meat Mondays” for instance, as a starting point.

Grant Levinson ’23, who has been vegan for almost two years and vegetarian for seven years before that, started the Animal Rights Club. By being vegan, Grant said, he does not give his money to the meat industry and hopes to help disrupt the cycle of animal exploitation.

“The companies really only care about if you’re giving them your money or not,” he said. “Anything that’s going to take from an animal is going to end up causing pain, and it’s going to be exploitative.”

Ninety-nine percent of farm animals in the United States live on factory farms, which entails wire cages, small enclosures, and unsanitary conditions. Animals are overfed and mistreated for the sole purpose of an eventual trip to the slaughter house.

Grant said while some people may openly criticize factory farming and the meat industry, they still buy the companies’ products. He hopes to spread more awareness through his club and his lifestyle.

“Every movement ever starts with a couple of people. Nothing would have ever changed throughout history if a couple of people didn’t make a change and share their reasons for making that change.”

Katie Baker ’23, who eats meat and dairy products, said she sees the problems within the food industry but doesn’t think vegetarianism or veganism is the solution.

“Those seeking social justice need to think realistically and seek solid action or else nothing will change,” she said. “Lobby for bills that will put restrictions on factory farm operations, seek out eco-friendly and humane brands; whatever it may be, there are plenty of concrete actions that can be taken to help.”

Sources: NPR, Humane Society

 

The agricultural and meat industries’ known environmental impacts drive some people’s dietary choices. Cows pass methane gas, one of the most insulating greenhouse gases; chemicals applied to protect crops from pests filter into ground and drinking water; the infrastructure necessary to sustain large-scale animal farming damages land. What effect does one person’s shift to a plant-based diet have on the environment?

Upper School (US) History and Social Sciences Teacher Matt Turnbull and US Science Teacher Melissa Courtemanche co-teach Environmental Studies, a history and science interdisciplinary elective for juniors and seniors based around the environment and humanity’s effects on it.

The course touches on the impact and practicality of veganism and vegetarianism in their food unit along with pesticides and food production. While 660 gallons of water are used for one hamburger, 518 gallons are used for a whole chicken.

“The food that we eat has a lot of external needs that we don’t see,” Mr. Turnbull said.

The class has discussed the pros and cons of meat or animal- avoidant eating habits. While big corporations and factory farms care less about the environmental effects and use harmful antibiotics and steroids, organic meat production takes up more physical space and costs more for the public.

“The pros and cons are about how many resources we want to devote to eating meat,” he said.

Environmental Studies Student Avery Rubins ’23 chose to go vegetarian to reduce her environmental impact and contribute to the fight against climate change, she said.

“Bigger corporations, not individuals, are affecting our planet most right now. Although this is discouraging, I still want to do the best I can because smaller actions are better than doing nothing.”