American patriotism is a matter of pride for many and action for few. Many of those who fly the flag seem to simply be proud that they’re proud, but lose sight of the meaning and basis of patriotism. When traced to its roots, the latin word patriota means fellow countrymen, and the greek origin patrios means “of one’s fathers” which means that patriotism is a sort of filial commitment to one’s countrymen and to serving and aiding one’s countrymen.
Two interesting things come of this. The first is that the commitment to one’s fellow countrymen, like the commitment to family includes all other Americans, even those with differing political views. It is not a commitment to one’s party, but to all American people. The second is that the commitment to those descended from one’s forefathers include younger generations and those generations still to come, but how many supposedly patriotic people regard millennials with disdain and paint them with a broad brush? and how few seek to act in the interest of their fellow countrymen and ask JFK’s ringing question: “what can I do for my country?”
In this article we’ll see that this question leads us somewhere that many of us never thought it would. For a nation which grills up burgers and franks on the 4th of July and roasts turkeys and ducks through the holiday season, it’s becoming ever more clear that one of the most powerful and beneficial things we can do for our country and for the world, while we’re at it, is to care for our hearts, eat more beans and plant-based protein sources and keep more of our water stores in the ground as security for the generations to come and this means eating less meat.
The problem is that we tend to kill this conversation in its infancy by asking only whether or not to eat meat–a foolish all or nothing depiction of the options. The reality is that most people would be willing to partially replace animal protein with plant protein if they just knew
1. how to do it in an enjoyable way and
2. why it’s so incredibly important.
This article falls in the second category–it explains three of the biggest reasons why grilling up some Beyond meat burgers or veggie burgers this 4th of July is one of the most surprisingly impactful things you could do for your country.
If instead you’re looking for info in the first category: how to eat less meat and still enjoy good taste and good nutrition, this is my personal area of expertise as a vegan bodybuilder and you will find recipes and info added to the “nutrition” section of this website frequently. You can also subscribe to my mailing list (in the field below this article where it says “get updates”) which is where I share high-protein vegan life-hacks that I’ve learned through experience. It’s free, not overwhelming with a max of two emails a month and the only motive is to be a resource and share information that can be helpful to others.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the three biggest reasons why reducing your meat consumption is among the most impactful things you can do for the present and future of the USA.
1. The Heart Tax
Cardiovascular disease and stroke (which share the same pathogenic processes) are the leading causes of disability (1) and death for both men and women and the single largest source of healthcare costs. They kill as many Americans as the 9/11 attacks every 33 hours and cost far more than all cancers combined (2). They often escape our attention because we think of them as unavoidable parts of the aging process. But in fact, they are largely preventable through simple habits of diet and exercise and are seldom seen in traditional societies.
It turns out that little else could be as impactful and patriotic–especially for middle aged and senior citizens–as taking control of heart disease risk, through more fiber and plant-based foods and less meat consumption.
The sheer economic costs of treatment and lost output because of these largely preventable diseases exceed $350 billion dollars a year. Thus, these diseases operate as a 2% overall tax on the entire economy which permeates insurance costs and increases the costs of everything in the economy. This is a negative economic drag on the scale of -2.2 times the massive 2008 economic stimulus every year (3,4) and it supresses US competition on the world scale.
But if that’s not enough, these costs are projected to nearly triple to over $900 billion by 2030 (5). Thus, within 13 years, we’ll probably be spending more on CVD and stroke than we do for national defense and the military.
This is the heart tax, it will approach a crushing $3,000 per citizen or about 5% of GDP by 2030 despite high preventability (6). The clear conclusion is that weak hearts make for a weak country and we have a patriotic duty to take personal responsibility for our heart health.
At this point, it’s important to note that meat consumption is absolutely not the sole source of heart disease, there are several factors which work in tandem, but it does appear fairly clear that a plant-based diet significantly reduces CVD risk and stroke risk in both men and women.
It’s difficult to put a firm percentage on a problem with interrelated causes, but a meta-analysis of major vegetarian studies show that those who abstain from eating meat have about 30% less heart disease even after controlling for lifestyle differences (7). This suggests that not eating meat would prevent about 750 American deaths every day, or a death toll 7 times that of the 9/11 attacks every month AND would bring an economic payoff just under the size of the 2008 economic stimulus every year, for free.
Meat is not the whole picture, but it plays a role and if we edit our habits to start replacing more of our meat consumption with vegan protein sources the benefits to our country would be enormous. Add to that regular exercise as simple as brisk walking and we could be looking at a 60 to 70% reduction in the leading killer and leading healthcare cost faced by Americans.
2. The Other Budget Crisis
Over 70% of global water demand comes from the agricultural sector (8) and half of all food production relies on groundwater. But current water use exceeds reliable supply by a reckless margin which is a terrible disservice to those younger than us and descendants still to come. We support this overuse through withdrawals of groundwater reserves throughout the world which far exceed the rate of replenishment (9).
We’re rapidly drawing down ancient and sometimes irreplaceable groundwater reserves just to cover our current water demand, most of which simply goes towards feeding humanity.
Nonetheless, agricultural water requirements are projected to double by midcentury (relative to 2007 levels), because of rising demand for meat (10). This will bring us to a 40% global water deficit as early as 2030 (11).
To be clear, this is a massive economic and global stability crisis in the making. Water is the petroleum of the 21st century; it is required in abundance for every facet of modern human civilization including industry, sanitation, energy production and food. It is the irreplaceable prerequisite for economic activity. As a result water deficits could jeopardize an estimated $68 Trillion (with a f***ing T) or 45% of global GDP by 2050 (12).
(If you don’t believe it’s possible, look at the world’s second largest economy, China where water pollution and shortages already cost an estimated 3% of annual GDP (13,14) which is as much as we aim to grow our economy in a great year.)
Meanwhile, producing one pound of beef requires nearly 2000 gallons of water, because cattle are so inefficient at converting grains to meat (15). As a result, all of the water required to produce the grains which feed the animals is enough to fill up 5 to 6 family sized hot tubs. It is the same amount of water you would use by running your bathroom faucet for 20 straight hours yet no such association exists in our minds–which we need to change.
Beef equals lots and lots of water, much of which could stay in the ground for the security of millennials as they transition into middle age and become the productive backbone of America. Even chicken, which is more efficient than beef by a long haul requires 200 more gallons per pound than most sources of plant-based protein (16) which is the equivalent of running your faucet unattended for 2.5 hours.
If that doesn’t sound like much relative to beef, I invite you to take in the full psychological effect of this by walking to your bathroom and turning on the faucet. Then, I would ask you to watch it flow for 3 whole minutes using your phone timer. When you’re done, imagine doing this for 50 times as long and you’ll see the excess water required to produce 1 pound of chicken versus common plant-based protein alternatives like lentils, black beans, tempeh and tofu. Go ahead. You may find that wasting water for those 3 minutes will save enormous amounts of water in the future, but whatever you do don’t forget the virtual water footprints of meat.
From a standpoint of water conservation it is absolutely clear that reduced meat consumption is one of the most impactful things you can do. The inefficiency of eating meat rivals big green lawns in desert states, which also means that building habits to eat less meat will have a massive positive impact.
But strained water supply is only exacerbated by the fact that:
Number 3. Temperatures are Rising
Those who’ve been distrustful of climate change science thus far should note that the US military now considers it a major national security concern. A Fox news report stated that more than a dozen senior military and defense officials endorsed a 2016 statement that Man-made Climate Change is now a significant national security threat (17). People disagree about what to do about this, but if you trust and support the military, it’s time to recognize that this is a major problem which challenges the very existence of the American Southwest and the scores of millions living on our coastlines.
The first 15 years of this century have seen 14 of the hottest years on record, while nearly every month in 2016 set a new temperature record (18,19). During the same years we’ve seen headlines of 1,000-year-droughts in Australia. California and North Korea, where ordinarily submerged rice fields dried up (20-23).
The heat has lengthened forest fire seasons, increased hurricane intensity (24) and further restricted water availability throughout the world. Meanwhile, it is estimated that animal agriculture accounts for greater human green house gas emissions than the global transport sector, with beef taking a disproportionate toll (25). Let me repeat that: eating meat accounts for more green house gas emissions than all cars, buses, planes, trains and boats on the planet. If you’ve ever tried to save gas by grouping your errands, it just doesn’t compare with eating less meat.
Overall these 3 problems: heart disease, water scarcity and climate change will account for a great deal of human suffering in the coming decades, and all are linked with high meat consumption to a non-trivial extent. The solution, I believe, is to back off the hardline stance that cutting back on meat consumption has to be an all or nothing proposition, and instead finding palatable ways for everyone to eat less meat.
Now it’s just a question of increasing social recognition of the benefits and disseminating recipes and information to help us move in that direction. Little else could be as patriotic.
If you want recipes, you can get a few ideas from my vegan bodybuilding meal plan at the link below. I’d also be honored if you’d sign up for my email list below and I’ll thank you with a list of 50 high-protein vegan meal ideas.
If you want to think about simple ways you can reduce your meat consumption without necessarily going vegan, then I would check out this article on non-vegan, low-meat diets.
Thank you sincerely for reading this article and don’t forget to share it with a few friends who hate millennials. Come on, that was clever. Help me out here.
[Jaras Watts is a vegan bodybuilder and writer living in Southern China. He is fluent and literate in Mandarin and Spanish, enjoys playing ping pong and suspects he could qualify for a Guinness world record for most tofu eaten in a 1 year period. He advocates for reduced meat consumption with a focus on China and the US which are the number 1 and 2 consumers of meat on earth. He is an aspiring writer and really appreciates when people sign up for his email list and share his work.]