COLUMN: Going veggie has plenty of benefits

Saturday Beat

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, also known as the Teflon President because nothing he did wrong ever stuck to him, can add a new title to his repertoire: Commander-in-leaf.

After decades of eating good ol’ southern grub that included steaks, burgers, French fries, and enough butter to kill a catfish, the former president isn’t just turning over a new leaf, he’s eating them.

Bill Clinton has gone vegan.

Two major heart surgeries three years apart apparently got his attention.

With a family history of heart disease and a diet built to kill, Clinton realized if he didn’t take better care of his heart his time would soon be up.

Intrigued by his daughter Chelsea’s vegan diet, and after a conversation with PETA vice-president Dan Mathews, Clinton recently converted completely, eliminating all things animal from his diet.

The result? He’s lost 24 pounds and, according to all reports, said he feels better than ever.

Bill might be on to something.

Not only is he feeling better, but there are a lot of cows, pigs and chickens breathing a sigh of relief.

Livestock bred for slaughter, you see, live miserable lives. They’re stuffed into small pens, plumped up on dubious feed and, because of disease milling about from such tight confines, pumped full of antibiotics that we all get to enjoy when we fire up the grill.

But all of those succulent cuts of meat sitting in the grocery store look too good to pass up, so we stock our freezers with ribs, steaks, bacon, pork chops and whatever else burns well on the barbecue.

Now, before you think I’m sidling up to my soapbox to encourage everyone to follow Bill’s lead consider this: I love meat. I crave it. Saturday morning rolls around and if bacon isn’t sizzling in the fry pan I start to panic. I started drooling the other day when smells from my neighbour’s barbecue wafted over. It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I’ve been told to eat.

But devouring animals and the industry it requires has an impact beyond personal health and animal welfare.

According to a report issued by United Nations, meat consumption is killing not only people and animals, but our planet. UN says that livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface, most of it permanent pasture. The result is cattle-rearing generates more greenhouse gases, measured in CO2 equivalent, than all methods of transportation combined.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” wrote senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization offical Henning Steinfeld. “Urgent action is required.”

Globally, in 2001 humans ate 229 million tonnes of meat. As wealth increases, that will increase to 465 million tonnes in 2050. The global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector.

All of those animals account for nine per cent of all human-related CO2 emissions.

In a nutshell, eating meat contributes to climate change, is responsible for the horrific treatment of animals and, for many, results in poor individual health that requires millions of tax dollars to be injected into public health systems daily.

How’s that steak looking now? Unfortunately, still tasty.

But don’t despair, you can still help not by eliminating meat cold-turkey from your diet, but simply by trimming back. Do you really need to stuff your cake hole every night with animal carcass? Probably not. Simply by going veggie twice a week (think bean quesadillas) you can do yourself, a few cows and pigs, and even the planet a huge favour.

Or you can be a real man like Bill and go whole-hog into veganism.

Just something to chew on as you contemplate your next meal.