About once a week I take my kids to eat at the Swarthmore College cafeteria. I’d say that after playing video games, this is their favorite thing to do. The boys marvel at the range of kid-friendly food choices. I marvel at the panoply of dietary trends the school caters to.
Once there was a woman there doing a study about becoming vegan. She had a meat-is-bad spiel and showed people a picture of playful pigs in a field of sunflowers. The boys know pigs don’t like to eat sunflowers and there’s no way a farmer had them grazing in a field with food they don’t like; the pigs would have destroyed the field digging for something better to eat.
The boys equated being vegan with being stupid. I argued a little, because open minds can see two sides of anything, but it’s hard to defend pigs in sunflowers. I told the kids that Israel has the highest percentage of vegans because then you don’t have to think about rules of eating kosher. That was more convincing and the boys tried eating vegan for a day but quit in favor of a post-dinner pizza.
Then I was watching a YouTube channel called Joel and Lia. I found it because I’m fascinated by British accents. They do accents, but not that well. They do a great job of picking topics Americans are interested in hearing British people talk about. I clicked on What British People Love about America (open floor plans, for one) and then Questions for Americans from British people.
The questions Joel and Lia asked are really good:
Why do you still use credit cards? We don’t here, and we’re using the technology you invented. The slowest lines in London are the ones where an American is trying to use a credit card.
Why don’t you outlaw guns? We understand you have rights, or whatever, but surely there’s a way to decrease the gun violence. We can’t believe you can carry a gun everywhere.
Why is there a big gap in public toilets? You can see a person in the gap between the door and the wall of the toilet. Why is that? There is no gap in the UK toilets.
Why do you eat so much meat? Vegetarianism and veganism are very big in the UK, especially in London. Everyone has seen movies from Netflix like What the Health and C0wspiracy. Haven’t you seen those movies in the US?
There were a few more things on the list, but Joel and Lia did a good job of listing things that were obviously absurd about the US. So the vegan thing caught my eye. I never thought of it as surprising that we are not vegan, but I’ve also not heard of those Netflix movies.
So I watched them. And seriously, my mind was blown.
What the Health refers to a famous document from the tobacco industry that people refer to now as Doubt is Our Product. Here the tobacco industry takes the position that they can’t directly counter the research that says tobacco is bad for people, because there is no research that says tobacco is good for people. But people want to smoke, so what the tobacco industry can do is make people doubt the data that says smoking is bad. If people do not have to face the truth about the research, if they can doubt it and look the other way, then they’ll keep smoking.
What the Health shows the same thing is going on now with meat and dairy. We have lots of research that says meat causes cancer. The meat industry deals with this problem by providing all the funding for the American Heart Association. So the Heart Association engages in promoting meat as a viable food and creating doubt in the minds of people who hear that eating meat causes heart attacks.
The American Diabetes Association has an official policy of not talking about preventing diabetes, but only talking about living with it. This is because the meat industry funds this organization.
The Susan G. Komen foundation raises money to cure breast cancer. The foundation never talks about preventing breast cancer because the dairy industry funds the organization.
Among all these organizations, the silence on food choices to prevent illness makes people doubt their ability to control their medical destiny—the same thing the tobacco industry was trying to do. Also, just like the tobacco industry, the meat and dairy industries fund tons of research that encourages us to doubt the research from unbiased third-parties. If you have any doubts about the research behind the movie, here is all their data on one page. And here is Time magazine fact-checking the movie.
The other movie, Cowspiracy, shows how our government takes a similar approach to protecting our environment. For example, we talk about saving water hundreds of different ways, but nothing compares to the amount of water it takes to get a hamburger. The government would never tell us that, though, because the meat industry is too influential in our government.
I remember when I read research about education. I was shocked that everyone has already concluded that taking kids out of school is better for their education. I was shocked that I didn’t already know that. And I was hesitant to even write about the data because it was so easily available, I thought maybe I was just the last to know.
That’s how I feel about eating meat.
Also, I didn’t want to homeschool. It looked like it would be a pain and expensive, and I didn’t want to have to tell everyone that I’m only doing it because it’s so delusional not to do it. Because then I’d be implying that they were delusional. And people would be annoyed with me.
I have the same feeling here. I don’t want to be vegan. It’s a pain and it’s no fun and ruins all the ideas I had about what is a nice way to feed a family. But the research is all there. It would be ridiculous for me to know the truth and not act on it.
I remember when I called the school to say we are not coming back. I didn’t really believe it. That’s what I feel like now, telling you we are going to be vegan. It seems too hard and I hate that I found the truth. I have to admit that on some level it’s enjoyable to be sold doubt as a product.
Now that I see these two moments in my life, I can see that every time I have put off making a big decision, it’s been because I have a hunch that something is true, but there is a little lingering doubt. If I can pinpoint what my doubt is, then I can probably look more closely at that doubt in order to make a decision much faster. I don’t think I realized how much doubt overpowers my ability to change until I saw it in this context.