Here is the full transcript of Dr. Joanne Kong’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Plant-Based Eating at TEDxUniversityOfRichmond conference. This event took place on October 19, 2016.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The Power of Plant-Based Eating by Dr. Joanne Kong at TEDxUniversityOfRichmond
Dr. Joanne Kong: Good evening. What if I told you that we can change the world through our food choices?
I challenge you in the next 12 minutes to open your minds and your hearts to the power of plant-based eating, and the fact that animal agriculture, the raising of animals for food, has grown to become one of the most damaging industries on our planet.
But I want to make clear that my intent is not to be judgmental, but instead, to increase your awareness and give you important information which you may not know. Going greener with your diet could be one of the most powerful and transformative decisions you’ll ever make in your life, for three significant reasons: It has tremendous benefits for your health. It’s critical to the sustainability of our planet. And it will widen your circle of compassion.
We’ve all heard the saying: “You are what you eat.” The number one cause of death in our country, you guessed it, it’s our diet. Our standard American diet, also known as “SAD,” has put our country at the top of the list in the world for obesity, which increases the risk for serious health problems.
Overwhelming scientific evidence links the consumption of meat and meat products to numerous diseases. Health costs related to meat consumption in our country have skyrocketed to a staggering 50 billion dollars every single year, and the World Health Organization now places red and processed meat at the same danger level as cigarettes and asbestos.
Meat is the new tobacco. This was last November’s issue of Time Magazine. More and more studies over just the past few years are contributing to the public’s growing awareness that we need to become more critically aware of how meat can be harmful to our health.
So you may ask: why are plant-based vegetarian and vegan diets the healthier choice? There are so many reasons: a wide range of nutrients, beneficial fiber found only in plant foods, antioxidants, and hundreds of thousands of phytochemicals that protect the body and support good health.
Overall, vegetarians have a longer life expectancy and substantially lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s – and the list goes on.
But don’t just take my word for it. Support for vegetarian diets comes from numerous organizations including the American Cancer Society, American College of Cardiology, the Mayo Clinic, Harvard School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Health, which says, “Vegetarians may be missing out on grilled hamburgers at picnics, but they also tend to miss out on the major health problems that plague many Americans.”
Just take a look at the difference in heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, between those who eat meat and those who are vegetarian and vegan. The progression of many diseases not only can be halted but reversed, sometimes in as little as just two to three weeks by switching to a plant-based diet. Reducing and eliminating the consumption of meat and meat products with a greener diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will lead to a healthier world.
The Earth. It’s not only the health of our bodies that’s at stake, it’s the health of our planet. This is what we’re facing now at critical levels: climate change and global warming, deforestation, depletion of our resources, soil erosion, species and habitat loss, ocean dead zones, water and air pollution, and world hunger. These are not things we can put off dealing with. We must now urgently reverse imminent catastrophic environmental damage.
Certainly, environmentalists and legislators are rightly focusing on reducing carbon emissions, and they’re investing in alternative and renewable energy sources. But all of this would take decades to implement, be enormously expensive, in the tens of trillions of dollars, and there’s the complexity of social, economic and political issues which must be dealt with at a global scale.
Because of this, you need to know there is one thing that is a major cause of all of these global problems, and that is animal agriculture. Here are just a few facts. Animal agriculture accounts for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also the number one cause of species and habitat loss due to deforestation for grazing and growing of feed crops. In our country, it’s the main cause of water pollution; it uses half of our water; 70% of our grain; and 80% of our agricultural land is used to feed the 10 billion land animals that are killed every year for food.
By contrast, you can cut your carbon footprint in half by going vegetarian. The Stanford Environmental Law Journal states that our reliance on animal products is a leading cause of everything, the one industry that is destroying our planet. The United Nations Environment Program strongly states that a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.
While policy leaders and even environmentalists are largely overlooking this issue, there is something you can do right now. The single most powerful action you can take to help save our environment and resources is to shift to a plant-based diet.
Compassion. I’m going to tell you the story of an animal in a factory farm. Worldwide every year, 56 billion land animals and 90 billion marine animals are killed for food.
But I’m not going to show you any graphic images or videos, you can easily find these on the internet. Instead, I want you to imagine and visualize in your mind what I have to say. This is the story of a sow.
“My entire life, I’m kept in a meadow gestation crate, in half darkness, on a graded concrete floor. I can’t even turn around. Confined and unable to engage in any of my natural behaviors, I suffer depression, frustration, and neurotic behaviors, sometimes screaming, and biting at the bars that surround me. My limbs are swollen, I have open wounds, and I’m lying on my own excrement.
After giving birth from being forcibly impregnated, my babies are taken away from me, and I’m slaughtered at the age of only three to five years old. We pigs, like the other animals in factory farms, are supposed to be stunned into unconsciousness before being killed. But many of us are still alive as we are hoisted upside down, our throat slit, and we are lowered into boiling water to remove our hair.
But did you know? I have a sense of self, just like you I’m more intelligent than a dog or a cat, and even a three-year-old child. I’m a highly social creature, intuitive and emotional, just like you I have memories, and I can recognize myself in a mirror, just like you. And I love to play, even computer games, just like you.
I care for my young with a bond that’s as strong as any human mother, even singing to my babies during nursing I am not something. I am someone I am not pork I am not bacon. I am a living feeling being, just like you.”
So, how many of you have pets? There must be a lot of you that have pets. And how many of you love your pets as family members? I know I do. We all have an innate compassion for animals. I challenge you to realize and put at the front of your awareness that every animal in a factory farm, like the pig I just described, is just as individual a living being as any of your pets.
All animals have the will to live, the capacity to suffer, and are equally capable of receiving our love. We may therefore ask ourselves the question: why love one, but eat the other? Our choices regarding animals and diet are shaped by perception, the fact that we see different animals in different ways. And there are a number of reasons for this, habit and culture, for one Initially, most of us didn’t make the choice to eat meat. It was given, right? We continued the habit almost mindlessly, accepting it as normal.
I ate meat for half of my life, and when I was growing up, I never even gave it a thought, I never questioned it. It wasn’t until I was well into my college years that I decided to become vegetarian.
Another reason has to do with a coping process that psychologists call “psychic numbing,” pertaining, in this case, to loss of life on a massive scale. Even though at some level we are aware that animals are being slaughtered for food, we avoid the emotional pain of empathizing with them as individuals. It’s really like a kind of denial, where we disconnect ourselves from the experience.
This is what a slaughterhouse worker says, “I don’t think of farmed animals as individuals. I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I got that personal with them.” We simply don’t see the face on the plate. Instead, it’s generic food or meat, and marketing. Look at these products from the grocery store shelf.
How do these images of happy animals and pleasant surroundings distance us from the animals suffering? We also accept the eating of meat because what goes on behind the scenes of meat production is largely invisible. It’s difficult for the public to find the locations and addresses of factory farms even though – does anyone want to venture a guess how many farms there are in this country? There are 20,000 of them, 20,000. In our country, 317 animals are killed every single second. But for these factory farms, their only goals are efficiency and profit. The animals are seen only as units of production.
So I ask, the next time you’re in the dining hall, dare to be aware of the animal that was killed to become someone’s meal. Going green with your diet, it’s not about giving anything up. It’s not about becoming a different person. It is about embracing something that’s already inside of you, your innate sense of empathy, kindness, and compassion. And you won’t be alone: plant-based eating has been identified as one of the top global trends of 2016.
The power of plant-based eating is the far-reaching and deep impact it can have upon the direction of the world. It’s up to you, and you can make a difference. Thank you.
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