Stuart Waldner Author of the Book, Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet! Brings Issues to Light
The meat industry and factory farms are impacting our lives in more ways than one. With powerful people in high places and money that goes into lobbying, advertising, and perpetuating the machine, people need to know what’s happening. Like in the “Matrix” movies, Stuart Waldner asks people to take the red pill and discover how they can “Escape the Meatrix”.
The book “Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet!”, which is Stuart Waldner’s first book, serves as a means to connect the scientific dots between the food on people’s plates, people’s health as well as the health of the planet we all live upon.
In the book, Stuart Waldner shares anecdotes from his own life. We talk to him about his journey and about his book in this question-and-answer interview.
What should people know about adapting a plant-based diet? (You call it a lifestyle rather than diet, explain that, too)
If you’ve ever tried to give up smoking or caffeine you may have experienced the lousy feeling of withdrawal as your body learns to function without these artificial stimulants. The same might be true for giving up meat.
Based on our anatomy, we are herbivores, so our bodies had to go against its physical nature to learn to digest meat. Doing so made big changes to our gut bacteria and when we change what we eat our bodies and microbiome need some time to adapt and I mention some strategies for making the transition easy in my book.
What’s more, because eating meat has been so normalized in our society our perceived need for it borders on addiction.
We plan every meal is around the meat, being “macho” is related to meat-eating, even holiday meals are based on certain meats like lamb or ham at Easter and turkey at Thanksgiving. If we don’t have our meat then we feel deprived and are lost as to what to cook, we don’t feel manly, and we’re not following society’s accepted norms.
Just like with giving up smoking or caffeine, the transition can often be made easier when done gradually, and you can certainly do that when adopting a wholefoods plant-based lifestyle.
I call what I do a plant-based lifestyle, because diets have a negative connotation in our society and are most often associated with deprivation and people strongly dislike being deprived of anything.
A plant-based lifestyle isn’t a diet because you don’t need to deprive yourself of anything, count calories, or macronutrients, or anything else. The one goal is to eat a wide variety of whole, unrefined plant foods. Because whole plant foods are low in calories yet high in nutrients many people can eat unrestricted amounts without worrying about weight gain.
How does eating less meat and using fewer animal products help to save the planet?
My book discusses many reasons in detail, but I think the number one reason is that the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock account for 51-percent of all greenhouse gas emissions!
One reason for this is ruminant animals (cows, sheep, lamb, and goats) emit methane as part of their digestion process. Over a one-hundred-year period, methane is 25 times more potent at trapping heat into our atmosphere than carbon dioxide (which comes from burning fossil fuels). As we decrease our meat consumption, farmers will decrease the number of animals they breed, which will lead to reduced emissions.
Additionally, 70 percent of all crops grown in the U.S. are fed to livestock. If we instead grew plants to feed to humans, we could feed our entire population plus another billion people. If this same model was adopted globally, we could feed an additional four billion people.
Of course, we don’t need to feed that many people so we could give a lot of land back to nature which is a great way to restore biodiversity and store carbon.
What health conditions should people who eat a lot of meat be aware of?
My book discusses many health problems that a meat-centered diet helps fuel. For example, heart disease, which is the number one killer of Americans and has been scientifically linked to the consumption of meat and animal-based foods.
The World Health Organization labels processed meats (bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, jerky, hotdogs, bologna, etc.) as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that there’s definitive scientific evidence that these foods cause cancer in humans.
The saturated fats in animal-based foods clog all arteries in our bodies indiscriminately, meaning the same plaque that leads to heart disease can also lead to strokes, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s—and even erectile disfunction!
When our bodies metabolize animal protein our liver creates trimethylamine-oxide (TMAO). Harvard Medical School says that TMAO is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of death from any cause.
Are there links between cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and meat consumption?
Definitely. Americans eat three times more meat per capita than the rest of the world and we’re becoming less and less healthy. Our number one killer, heart disease, has been scientifically linked to the saturated fats found in animal-based foods.
The great news is that a plant-based lifestyle is the only dietary pattern clinically proven to reverse heart disease, with results in a little as three weeks!
As far as cancer goes, the World Health Organization designated processed meats, such as sausage, bacon, and ham as Group 1 carcinogens because of the overwhelming scientific evidence that these foods cause cancer in humans. Additionally, Oxford University says that 8.1 million lives could be save annually by the year 2050 if there was wide-spread adoption of plant-based eating. And finally, Alzheimer’s is on the rise innthe U.S. and other parts of the world, yet more than 90% of Alzheimer’s Disease is not genetic. This means most of us can avoid Alzheimer’s disease by managing our risk factors, one of which is the saturated fats found in animal-based foods.
So, yes, these and other diseases are directly connected to the consumption of animal-based foods.
In your opinion should people rely on the government to make the best choices about the meat industry?
Yes and no. The National Institute of Health and the U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are less biased than, say, the USDA, which represents America’s ranchers, dairy, and chicken farmers.
When looking for good, objective science, look for organizations without economic ties to the food industry.
What kind of meat lobbying is happening in Washington DC?
Between 2000 and 2019, the US meat industry spent $200 lobbying congress against enacting climate change legislation. Lobbyists from special interest groups like the Beef Industry Council, the National Pork Producer’s Council, the National Chicken Council, and the American Chicken Council exert great pressure on elected officials to protect their interests.
Just one example happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 12, 2022, Bloomberg News reported the findings of a House panel studying the nation’s response to the pandemic. It revealed “a coordinated campaign by major meatpacking companies and their Washington lobbyists to enlist senior officials of then-President Donald Trump’s administration in an effort to circumvent state and local health departments’ attempts to control the spread of the virus in meatpacking facilities.”
Obviously, their coordinated effort was successful and then-President Trump issued an executive order compelling meat-processing plants to reopen. Sadly, because of being compelled to work in conditions even the business owners said were unsafe, forty-nine meat-processing workers died of COVID-19 within the first few months of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, outbreaks and deaths weren’t confined to the factory. Workers took the virus out of the crowded meatpacking facilities and into their communities. “Researchers found that by July 2020, areas nearby meat-packing plants had far more COVID cases and deaths than expected: about 5,000 additional COVID deaths and about a quarter-million additional cases.”
In all, 6 to 8 percent of all early cases of COVID-19 and 3 to 4 percent of all early COVID-19 deaths in the US were connected to meat-packing plants.
What evidence is there of the meat industry affecting the climate?
It’s a well-known fact in the scientific community that animal agriculture contributes greatly to climate change.
I think some people may have read reports of a study done by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) saying that animal agriculture accounted for more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector (planes, trains, and automobiles) at 14.5 percent. Few people realize the original 2006 study, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” estimated that number to be 18 percent.
Even though the media frequently cites the 14.5 percent figure, not all scientists agree the number is that low.
For example, in April 2019, Steven Chu, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, former Energy Secretary, and Nobel Prize recipient, reported the amount of greenhouse gases generated by the Meatrix was much higher. “If cattle and dairy cows were a country, they would have more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire E.U. 28,” said Chu.
He also reported that the previously mentioned FAO report omits two major contributors while underestimating another. When we account for everything, Chu says the total greenhouse gases generated by animal agriculture is an incredible 51 percent, exceeding the greenhouse gases from power generation. And it’s not just Steven Chu.
In fact, ten years earlier, in their 2009 paper, Robert Goodland, a former lead environmental advisor at the World Bank Group, and Jeff Anhang, a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, reported that “livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”
What can people do if they feel they are too small to make any real impact?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the current state of our world. It can often feel like no one person can make a difference, but one of the best things each one of us can do to combat climate change, environmental degradation, mass extinction rates, emerging infectious diseases, and save human and farmed animal lives is to become plant based.
In fact, a plant-based person saves 1,100 gallons of water, forty-five pounds of grain, thirty-five feet of forest, twenty pounds of carbon-dioxide equivalent, and the life of one animal every day!
As if that’s not enough, a five-year study by Oxford University of more than 38,000 farms in 119 countries determined that an American could lower their personal carbon footprint by a whopping 73% simply be becoming plant based! The study’s lead author said the impact is “far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
What kind of research went into your book ESCAPE THE MEATRIX?
I read countless articles and papers from well-respected sources such as the National Institute of Health, Harvard Medical School, Oxford University, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, and more on a diverse range of topics including climate change, animal agriculture, health, nutrition, infectious diseases, and animal welfare.
What amazed me was that animal agriculture was a common thread to all these issues.
What will people find when they visit your website?
They’ll find the Meatrix quiz, which is a fun and non-threatening way to test your knowledge about the Meatrix. They’ll also find information on me and my book, as well as some book reviews for “Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet!”
Stuart Waldner is both an activist and an author. “Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet!” is Waldner’s debut nonfiction book. It was written after he transitioned to a plant-based diet in 2008. His health improved, he felt better, and the more he learned about the statistical connections between our dietary choices and the worldwide climate crises we face, the more he felt an urgency to wake people up—for our health and for the planet. To learn more about “Escape the Meatrix: Eat Plants, Feel Great, and Save the Planet!”, visit Stuart Waldner’s website.