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Our Diet: Leading to a Sustainable Future or Killing the Planet - Part 8

Transcript for the following video on changing our diet to save our planet:

I’m going to move on now to cover a few myths about our diet, starting with myth number 1: “A vegetarian diet is OK for a sedentary lifestyle, but I have an active job and I need more nutrients.”

This is a common myth. In some cultures it is deeply ingrained that meat-eaters as a group are fitter and stronger than vegetarians. But we now have plenty of evidence now to dispel this myth. The American and New Zealand Dietetic Associations’ Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets contains excellent information supported by medical trials to show that a well balanced plant-based diet meets our nutritional requirements through all stages of life, from infancy to old age, including in teenagers and throughout pregnancy.

The following world class athletes would also disagree with this statement– all of whom are either vegetarian or vegan  -

Olympic athlete, Carl Lewis – who said that:

“I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”

Dr Ruth Heidrich, vegan, 6-time Ironwoman finisher and winner of more than 800 trophies and medals since the age of 47

Brendan Brazier, vegan Ironman triathlete.

Edwin Moses, Olympic Gold medallist at hurdles

Scott Jurek, consecutive seven-time champion of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and two-time Spartathlon champion.

9 time olympic winner at long distance running, Paavo Nurmi, who was called “The Flying Finn”

As well as – 4 time olympic gold medal winner for swimming, Murray Rose, and many others.

Myth number 2:

“If we didn’t kill animals for food, they would over-run the earth”.

In fact, humans are a prime example of an animal that breeds beyond the carrying capacity of its resources.

Farm animals are bred in numbers according to market demand

which currently is huge. As the demand for meat abates, the number of

animals bred and killed is reduced accordingly.

Myth number 3:

“I only eat chicken and fish – that doesn’t do much harm to


There are a few facts which we should consider before reaching this conclusion -

Firstly, we should consider the terribly destructive effects of deep-sea trawling -

Deep-sea trawling, or bottom trawling, is the most destructive method of fishing – trawlers drag a large net equipped with steel rollers weighing thousands of kgs, along the bottom of the deep sea –These trawlers are called “the bulldozers of the ocean floor,” they decimate ocean ecosystems leaving environmental destruction in their wake, pulling up anything and everything in the path of the nets -

– this could be cold-water corals that have taken thousands of years to grow,

It could be endangered deep-water fish and other sea creatures – turtles, dolphins, seals, seabirds etc etc. In fact every year over 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing nets,

When they are finally hauled out of the water after hours of being dragged along the ocean floor, the surviving fish undergo excruciating decompression. The extreme pressure change ruptures their swimbladders, pops out their eyes, and pushes their oesophagi and stomachs out through their mouths.

-       Everything is hauled to the surface, any catch that is unwanted is thrown over the side as garbage, and termed “accidental bycatch”.  Bycatch can be many times more than the intended catch -

 so for example, a 100kg shrimp catch can result in up to 1000 kg loss of marine life.

Is it worth it?

We are already creating massive areas in our oceans where marine life can no longer exist – these oceanic dead zones are vast areas of water with such a low-oxygen content that they are unable to sustain any life – literally a ‘dead’ zone. The main cause for oceanic dead zones is river run-off laden with nitrates from fertilisers, mainly from animal farming.

There are currently around 150 known dead zones around the world, with the most notorious being a dead zone measuring over 18,000 square km, in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are already destroying our rich ocean marine life and our forests under the sea through the formation of these vast dead zones. Our oceans are dying - now we have to ask ourselves -  is it logical to waste even more tonnes of marine life as ‘bycatch’ just for the sake of a mouthful of fish?

A mouthful that isn’t even as healthy as we believe it to be – how many times have we heard of fish containing traces of  mercury, arsenic, lead as well as toxic chemicals such as dioxin and DDT? Why are pregnant women advised to limit their intake of certain fish, and to avoid some fish altogether during pregnancy? This is why.

Are farmed fish any better for our health and for the environment?

No – and these are the reasons why: each aquafarm cage is stuffed with as many as 50,000 individuals who are unable to swim without bumping into other fish and the sides of the cage. Fish farms are rife with pollution and disease. They contaminate the surrounding ocean with parasites, chemical-laden food and fish excrement. Sea lice are a common parasite on salmon farms, eating at the fish and creating large sores. They can eat down to the bone on fish’s faces – fish farmers see this routinely, they even have a name for it – the death crown.

In terms of the environment, fish farming can be even worse than commercial fishing. The massive amount of concentrated waste that settles on the ocean floor pollutes the surrounding ocean and rots the ocean floor. The crowding on fish farms leads to the rapid spread of disease and sea lice which then infect wild fish. That means that not only are farmed fish sick, but they are also making wild fish sick.

In order to feed farmed fish, more fish must be caught from already exhausted fisheries. It can take almost 5kg of wild-caught fish to feed one kilo of farmed salmon. Fish feed is laced with chemicals and antibiotics, which is probably why the PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) and dioxin contamination levels in farmed fish is several times higher than the already high levels found in wild fish.

Personally, I would much rather obtain my beneficial fatty acids from plant sources, than from diseased fish crowded in polluted farms, tortured by sea lice and laden with chemicals. When it comes to omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, plant sources are better for your health, and better for the environment.

We should also remember that industrial fishing has caused a global decline in fish populations to near extinction in many parts of the ocean – and we are destroying other forms of rich marine life very rapidly through our methods of fishing and our consumption of fish -

We don’t need to eat fish in order to get our Omega-3 fatty acids. There is an abundant supply of these important fatty acids in the plant kingdom, most notably in flaxseed (or linseed) oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables and a variety of different plant foods.

When it comes to chickens,

Most of us are aware of the terribly cramped conditions that battery hens are kept in, where they cannot even stretch one wing, and the painful de-beaking practice that is inflicted on factory farmed hens -

Chickens raised for their flesh are bred to grow so fast that their legs collapse beneath them. They reach their slaughter weight in just 38 days. If human babies were forced to grow at the same rate, they would grow from around 3 kg to over 500 kg within 3 months.

This extremely rapid and abnormal growth places enormous stress on the chicken's bones, heart and lungs, leading to painful bone deformities, leg weakness and heart failure. Consequently, millions of broiler chickens die each year before they reach six weeks of age. And many of us are not aware of what happens to the little male chicks.

Every year over 100 million male chicks are disposed of, usually by grinding up alive, like this, and fed back to other farm animals, or by slicing up alive, or by tossing into bags to suffocate.

So whenever we eat chicken or eggs, this is the kind of practice that we are condoning.

Don’t be fooled by labels on supermarket eggs e.g. “farm fresh” – usually from factory farmed hens.

Remember also, that turkeys are intensively farmed – they also spend their entire lives crammed with thousands of other birds in sheds, resulting in crippling leg deformities, stress and disease.

It seems ironic that at Christmas time, when we should be most mindful of Christ’s message of compassion and mercy, that we should be causing such suffering to millions of these birds.


Dr Aryan practices as a Consultant Physician in Respiratory Medicine in the Hutt Valley, New Zealand.  Dr Aryan is also interested in the many-fold and far-reaching effects of our diets, and particularly how our diet affects the environment. She has written and spoken widely about this topic and has presented her talk, Our Diet: Leading to a Sustainable Future or Killing Our Planet? in many venues around New Zealand. She has been interviewed about the link between diet and climate change by both local and national radio and newspapers.

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