As the world looks for more sustainable sources of food, a question that keeps coming up is that of eating meat vs a plant-based diet. People around the planet are seeking solutions. Is it time for lawmakers and leaders to finally do something? Author Stuart Waldner thinks so. His bestselling book, Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet! tackles topics like harm factory farming causes the planet, the multi-billion dollar meat industry, and more.
In your book “Escape the Meatrix” you offer information about the industry of meat production. What should people know about the US Government and the meat industry?
The meat industry and the U.S. government are in bed together and our elected officials have done the bidding of the meat, dairy, and egg industry for decades. I give many examples in my book of this incestuous relationship, but here’s one. In 2015 the USDA’s dietary guidelines mentioned that plant-based foods were more nutritious than the current standard American diet and were associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and less environmental degradation. The meat industry was extremely unhappy with the guidelines’ wording and aggressively lobbied congress to have it removed. The following year, congress did just that.
How bad is factory farming for the environment?
It’s not just factory farming, but all animal agriculture that is bad for the environment. For example, many people believe that getting their beef from a local farmer is better for the environment, but it’s not. Studies show that the environmental impact of growing animal-based foods, regardless of where it’s sourced or how it’s raised, is always associated with greater environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based proteins. Many people who are against factory farms choose local, free-range meat believing it’s better for the environment, but it’s not. Also, cows that are free range are more active, meaning they require more food and generate higher emissions, than lot-fed cattle. My book discusses all of this in more detail.
Can you provide some data or statistics you uncovered while researching your book “Escape the Meatrix” about the real cost of putting meat on the table?
Yes, I can. A study looking at the true cost of a four-dollar hamburger determined that its actual cost could be as much as $200 when accounting for the burger’s greenhouse gas emissions and whether deforested land, such as the Amazon Rainforest, which has been significantly cleared to make way for cattle farming, was part of the supply chain. Additionally, according to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001, “If water used by the meat industry were not subsidized by taxpayers, common hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound. You need 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat—2,500 gallons to generate a pound of meat.” Curious what impact water prices in my hometown might have on the cost of a pound of beef, I discovered the Kentucky American Water Company’s price in 2019 for 1,000 gallons of water for farm customers was $17.87. Multiply $17.87 for 1,000 gallons by 2.5 (for the 2,500 hundred gallons of water needed for one pound of beef), and the water cost alone would be $44.68 for every pound of beef. When one considers everything, not only the water, required to bring that one pound of hamburger to you, the actual price per pound of beef is mind-blowingly high. Another mind-blowing statistic is that it takes one hundred times more land to produce one gram of protein from beef or lamb than from tofu.
How does politics impact the meat industry? Are our government officials looking out for the best interests of its people and the planet?
Sadly no. Our elected officials repeatedly do the bidding of the meat, dairy, and egg industry, and even go against government agencies that are trying make us healthier and safer. For instance, early in the pandemic, after intense lobbying from the meat industry, President Donald Trump signed an executive order forcing meat processing plants to reopen. This order went against state and local health department guidelines for staying healthy during the pandemic and had dire consequences. By the summer of 2020, communities around meat processing facilities had much higher rates of COVID than the rest of the country. In all, an additional 250,000 cases of COVID-19 and 5,000 additional deaths from COVID-19 were reported in communities near meat processing plants.
Additionally, in 2013, the National Institute of Health sent a memo to U.S. physicians suggesting they recommend a plant-based lifestyle to all their patients, especially those with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Yet, the USDA’s dietary guidelines continue to contain animal-based foods as part of a healthy and nutritious diet. This is contrary to the science I’ve reported on in my book and in direct opposition to the National Institute of Health’s recommendation.
The USDA has dietary guidelines about consuming a balanced diet. Can you share your thoughts about it?
Our nation’s nutritional guidelines are supposed to be based on the latest nutritional, scientific data. But the committee responsible for those guidelines is a part of the USDA, which represents farmers, including ranchers and dairy farmers. Because of this relationship, the guidelines recommend animal-based foods known to lead to poor health. The guidelines are updated every five years, and in 2020 more than half of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had direct or indirect ties to the meat and dairy industry or were associated with industry-funded research or memberships in industry-funded foundations and advocacy groups. It would be better if an impartial, unbiased group of dieticians were responsible for our dietary guidelines rather than one with economic ties to the Meatrix.
Why should people in power read your book?
Everyone should read my book, but people in leadership positions should read my book because they have the capacity to be agents of change for not only themselves, but others. Leaders should know the ways the American public is being betrayed—lied to, made unhealthy, and harming the planet. An example of pioneering change is Burger King, Austria which last month started asking every customer whether they wanted a normal or meat burger. They’re working to normalize plant-based burgers and, by asking people, they’re requiring the consumer to make a conscious choice. It’s too soon to tell what impact this will have, but it’s only happening because someone in a position of power said this is what we’re going to do.
What should young people seeking to make a difference do to encourage others to escape the Meatrix?
We all have strengths and talents we bring to the table. I encourage those who have escaped the Meatrix to think about how they can be agents of change in their family and community. I believe the plant-based movement will grow exponentially at the grassroots level and that young people can be the start of this. But this can only happen if those who have escaped the Meatrix encourage others to take the red pill too. I invite people to think about what they specifically can do to help others. Maybe its sharing plant-based food or recipes with family and friends or promoting a plant-based message on social media, creating art that promotes a cruelty-free world, attending protests and rallies, and supporting plant-based authors (that’s a great one!).
Read more on the Escape the Meatrix website and find out more about author Stuart Waldner.