By Heinrich Boell Foundation, Friends of the Earth Europe - Meat Atlas (CC-BY-SA Heinrich Boell Foundation, Friends of the Earth Europe), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30724797
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. —Romans 12:1
In June1 this space examined the question of our responsibilities to steward the resources God has bountifully provided. With the knowledge that America ranks second in per capita meat consumption, that meat production takes a heavy toll on the planet through greenhouse gas emissions as well as land, water and air pollution and, that a meat centered diet is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, what should be our response to this information? If we were to reduce our meat consumption, would there be benefits to our bodies as well as the planet? Are decisions about our diet an act of stewardship to God’s Creation?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 50% of the deaths in our country are aggregately due to heart disease, cancer and diabetes.2
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. —Hippocrates
Diabetes is a growing issue in our nation: a physical, fiscal and financial problem. Diabetes is a chronic disease that impacts how the body turns food into energy and over time the effects damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Roughly 17% of our federal budget is allocated to Medicare expenditures with an additional 8% funding Medicaid, the Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act.3 At 25%, health insurance is the biggest line item in the federal budget, even more than defense, education or agricultural subsidies.
Twenty percent of healthcare dollars spent in America are used to treat patients diagnosed with diabetes.4 We are in a diabetes epidemic. In the next three decades it is predicted that 1 in every 3 Americans will have Type 2 diabetes.5 90-95% of patients diagnosed with diabetes in this country are Type 2.6 Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and results in the attack and destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas resulting in the body producing inadequate levels of insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is the result of lifestyle factors and genetic predisposition and results in the body not being able to properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin regulates the level of glucose in the blood. Basic cell function, the foundation of good health, depends on glucose getting from the blood into the cells. Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance prevents muscle, liver and fat cells from using insulin well and the body requires more insulin to stabilize the glucose level in the cells.
Our personal genetic profile is dealt to us at birth and cannot be ameliorated by lifestyle choices. African Americans, Alaskan Natives, American Indians, Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are born with a higher risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes than the rest of the population.
By contrast, anyone, regardless of genetic profile, who is physically inactive and overweight or obese is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Living with type 2 diabetes can shorten a life by a decade or more.7 Carrying extra weight can cause insulin resistance.
Maintaining healthy body weight is accomplished through diet and exercise. Diabetes is caused by the buildup of fat in blood which in turn impedes the passage of natural sugar (glucose) into the cells which causes a buildup of glucose in the blood. A meat centered diet causes accumulation of fat in the bloodstream. A diet high in animal fat is strongly correlated with the contraction of Type 2 diabetes.8
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. —1 Corinthians 6: 19-20
In addition, the type of meats we are eating is of consequence to our health. In October 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared processed meats a Group 1 carcinogen,9 putting them in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. Processed meats include things like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham, pepperoni, cold cuts, deli slices, etc… Consumption of these types of meats is linked to an increase in cancer. These foods are readily available for sale in stores and school lunchrooms.
A meat based diet is linked to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease which comprise about 50% of the causes of death in our country. Additionally, research is now finding links between diet and Alzheimer’s Disease.10 Given these facts, is it good policy and fiscal management for ourgovernment to subsidize the industrial meat production system in our country when over consumption is detrimental to our health and productivity as well as disastrous to our healthcare budget and our planet?
Other aggravating factors include the stimulation of monoculture farming (corn and soybeans), the escalation of antibiotic resistance due to heavy use in meat production settings to stimulate growth rates and address the stress factors of animal overcrowding, the specter of highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak and transmission to the human population due to industrial chicken farming practices, and the toll of air, water and land pollution from the fossil fuel intensive meat production industry.
As Christians, as Moravians, as Americans, as parents, as caregivers, and for those few with influence, as policy makers, what should be our response to this information and how it informs our walk here on Earth? Bringing about meaningful changes to our entrenched governmental policy and cultural norms seems daunting. We do however have control over our personal choices in the areas of diet and exercise. The only thing we can truly control is our response to the situations we face. Quoting Michael Pollan, Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. Current research indicates that a plant based diet coupled with adequate exercise will permit the best outcomes for long term health of our bodies and the planet.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. —Jeremiah 29:11
Submitted by Helen Bushnell Beets for the Earth Stewards Team
Edited by Don Frey, Elizabeth Harris and Rick Sides