Back in the good old days, about eight Star Wars movies ago, life was simple. People ate meat and dairy products, they got heart disease and cancer, and they died. No one really understood all the intricacies of high-density lipoproteins and Omega-3 fatty acids in this process, but that didn't matter. Hey, life was simple and life was good. Life was short.
Today things are much more complicated. Today we spend half of our gross national product on exotic, biological research in level-5 isolation laboratories. We have genetically-engineered vegetables, new patented plants and animals, and we know all there is to know about the 3 natural and 52,126 artificial substances in our favorite foods.
The other half of our gross national product goes to studying everything we do and reporting on it with endless quantities of data. That data is fed into high-end scaleable vector processing system supercomputers, and what they spit back out is immediately routed by satellite and fiber optics to the four corners of our oval earth. A scientist in Tanzania can assess epidemiological data on the impact of corned beef consumption by left-handed people on Wednesdays in Ohio even before the sandwich wrappers hit the trashcans.
With all of these modern innovations, we now have all the knowledge we need to develop the perfect diets for our own health and the health of our loved ones. We pump out boxed dinners by the billion with promising names like "Healthy-Choice" and "Heart-Smart." Even our pets can eat "Science Diet."
So is life even better? Nah. People still eat meat and dairy products, get heart disease and cancer, and die. Life is still short.
One thing has changed, though. It's not just heart disease and cancer anymore, Toto. Our research and information skills have given us a much better idea of all the creative little ways that meat injures and kills us every day. What fun! Here are just a few of the things we've learned.
- Exotic Diseases— People have known that infected meat is dangerous ever since the 14th century, when Tatar armies invented the first biological weapon by catapulting comrades who died of bubonic plague into the city of Kaffa. But now we have the specifics. Now we can chronicle with deadly accuracy each outbreak of Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes, not to mention our favorite little germ with the catchy name: Escherichia coli O157:H7. Of course, all of those seem mild compared to the brain-destroying prion protein that causes the spongioform encephalopathies "mad cow disease" in bovines and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in the humans who eat them. Meat is now routinely sold with warning labels, and the government recently recommended warnings on chickens' eggs as well. Heck somebody even came up with a warning label for bear meat which, like "pork," presents a danger of trichinosis if the meat is cooked rare.
- Exotic Toxins— Since toxins tend to accumulate in meat, these crises seem to flare up from time to time. For years the European Union and the US have argued over the EU's ban on the import and sale of meat products treated with growth hormones. Just recently another worldwide political crisis broke out when it was discovered that farm animals in Belgium had been given feed contaminated with highly toxic dioxin. (Even if these substances never kill anyone directly, the arguing over them may lead to World War III!) In another recent incident 480,000 pounds of chicken nuggets were recalled by an Indiana company because people were having violent allergic reactions after eating them. The offensive ingredient? Dairy products!
- Exotic Jobs— The meat industry is a dangerous place. In 1996, 154 Americans were killed working in livestock production, 73 in commercial hunting, fishing and trapping, and 29 in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. That same year 122,100 Americans were injured or became ill working at these same jobs.
- The Truly Exotic— You want even more examples of the dangers of meat? We've got 'em! How about the 13 people who have been gored to death since Pamplona's "running of the bulls" became an international spectacle in 1926? How about the urban equivalent when, in just the past few months cows have rampaged in downtown Darwin, Australia and Atlanta, Georgia? ("traffic couldn't moove") Then there's the infamous story of the shoot-out that ensued when residents of Beaver, Oklahoma argued over ownership of "cow chips." (Apparently they were valuable as fuel.) Finally, there is the recent recommendation by a microbiologist at Kansas State University that electric bug-zappers and food should be kept apart because while they are killing insects, the zappers can spread bacteria or viruses up to six feet away.
Okay, you say, bug zappers may be dangerous, but this isn't meat-eating, per se.
Well, maybe not, but bug zapping is certainly in the same spirit. (Anyway, nobody's going to serve a vegan meal within six feet of one of those things.) I still say it's safer to be vegetarian—just like it's always been.