Paul Shapiro preaches sane diets

An impassioned speech by the Humane Society’s vice president of farm animal protection spoke to the importance of eating the right way

Isabel Menzel, Reporter

On April 16, Paul Shapiro, the vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, gave a heart-warming presentation at Tempe’s Changing Hands Bookstore about the importance of choosing the right meals to prevent animal abuse, better our health and contribute to our planet’s sustainability.

Shapiro’s humorous and charismatic personality, paired with his drive for animal welfare has gained him national recognition.  He had led numerous campaigns on farm animal welfare and has worked with lawmakers and major food retailers alike to implement anti-cruelty laws, and to stop bills that would hurt farm animals from passing.

“The meat industry wants people to be kept in the dark.  Rather than trying to clean up its act by improving its track record on animal cruelty, they have been trying to pass laws that makes taping inside of farms illegal,” Shapiro said. “They want to make it a crime not to abuse an animal, not to despoil the environment, but instead to take a photo of someone abusing an animal, or spilling manure into a local waterway.”

The presentation outlined the importance of minimizing the amount of environmental damage that is caused due to agricultural practices.  The amount of land, water and energy that is used to produce meat is significantly more than the amount used to make the meatless alternatives.

“Cutting just a third of your meat intake from your diet, or one meal a day, can significantly reduce your environmental footprint,” Shapiro said.

Adopting a plant-based diet has become a global phenomenon and is on the rise.  The current population of Americans that identify themselves as vegan is currently 16 million, while approximately 106 million eat mostly a vegetarian diet.  Major food giants like Walmart and Nestle have taken wind of this and have begun to invest and promote plant-based foods.  Even tobacco companies, whose business has been on the steady decline in recent years, have begun to invest in soy-based foods.

Shapiro emphasized that the switch is easier than most people think. There are great tasting alternatives to the majority of meat-consumers favorite brands.

“Instead of buying Tyson’s chicken nuggets you can buy Trader Joe’s crispy chicken less nuggets, or instead of buying a hamburger, you can try a boca burger.  They are delicious products that taste like meat but without all the cruelty and with a much lower environmental impact,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro explained that the health benefits from reducing meat consumption are also dramatic. It can significantly reduce the risk of some of the most common causes of death in the United States, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

“Health care insurance companies like Kaiser Permanente are encouraging their clients to reduce health their care costs,” Shapiro said. “They’re saying any movement towards reducing animal products can improve your health.  While the American Institute for Cancer says that ‘research shows one thing very clearly, we all need to eat more plants and less meat.’  There’s not a debate about it.”

“We condemn other countries like Asia where they torment dogs for food and we think we’re so much better, yet we do the same thing if not worse to our own farm animals.  I thought, if these were dogs in America the perpetrators would be thrown in prison,” Shapiro continued. “It got me thinking, we don’t even treat our prisoners the way we treat farm animals.  Murderers and rapists, the most heinous criminals in our country, still get better treatment.  And yet these animals have committed no crime at all and yet they are confined in ways that prevent them from engaging in basic movement, not temporarily, but for their entire lives.  Imagine taking a prisoner and putting him in a cell where he can’t even turn around, essentially putting him in a coffin, for his entire life,”

Shapiro explained that not everyone is pure, and that adopting a plant-based diet is not an over-night lifestyle change.  Nevertheless, making small steps, like taking part in meatless Monday, a trend promoted by the government, can make a real difference.

“If you want to change your lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you need to be a vegetarian all the time,” Shapiro said. “The fact of the matter is that every single time you sit down to eat, you can make a choice.  You can make a choice to choose foods that will be better for the planet, better for you and better for animals.  We can choose foods that will harm animals, or we can choose foods that create a culture of compassion.  We can choose foods that heat up our planet, or we can choose foods that leave a lighter footprint.”