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Chris Hedges: Eating Our Way To Disease

Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn—whose documentary “Cowspiracy,” about the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry, led me to become a vegan—recently released a new film, “What the Health,” which looks at how highly processed animal products are largely responsible for the increase of chronic and lethal diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the United States and many other countries. Both films are available on Netflix.

The companion book, also titled “What the Health,” written by my wife, Truthdig Book Editor Eunice Wong, lays out in even greater detail how the animal agriculture industry intimately joins with the pharmaceutical industry, the medical industry, health organizations and government agencies to mask and perpetuate the disastrous effects of animal products on our health. The animal agriculture industry, like the fossil fuel industry or any other branch of the corporate state, profits at the expense of our health and even our lives. Many corporations and our government have a lot invested in keeping us sick.


Corporations invest heavily to promote the nation’s unhealthful diet. “The meat, egg, and dairy industries,” economist David Robinson Simon says in an interview in the book, “spent, in one year, at least $138 million lobbying Congress alone.”

“It’s money well spent for these industries,” Wong writes. “A $1 industry contribution usually results in a $2,000 return as federal subsidy payments.”


Andersen discovers that processed meat has been classified by the cancer agency of the WHO as a Group 1 carcinogen, along with tobacco, asbestos and plutonium.

In fact, Wong writes in the book, “… every 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily [on an ongoing basis] raises your risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Fifty grams is less than two pieces of bacon, or two slices of ham. … [E]ating meat only 4 times a week [on an ongoing basis] increases your cancer risk by 42 percent, according to an Oxford study.”

“No more than 10-20 percent of risk for the primary causes of death come from our genes,” Wong writes. “Only about 5-10 percent of cancer cases are attributable to genetic defects, with the other 90-95 percent rooted in lifestyle and environment. Colon cancer, the second most lethal cancer in the country, is the cancer most directly affected by what you eat. According to WHO, 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.” (The book’s extensive footnotes facilitate research by readers on the scientific and medical studies cited.)

“The reason we know cancers like colon cancer are so preventable is because rates differ dramatically around the globe,” Dr. Michael Greger says in the film. “There can be a 10-, 50-, 100-fold difference in colon cancer rates, from some of the highest measured in Connecticut, down to the lowest rates in Kampala, Uganda, for example. There are places where colon cancer, our No. 2 cancer killer, is practically nonexistent. It’s not some genetic predisposition that makes people in Connecticut die from colon cancer while people from Uganda don’t. When you move to a high-risk country, you adopt the risk of the country. It’s not our genes; it’s our environment.”


The idea that chicken is a healthful alternative to red meat is fictitious. A skinless chicken thigh, the book points out, contains more fat—including saturated fat, the most dangerous kind—than over two dozen different cuts of lean beef. Chicken is potentially the most fattening meat. Carcinogens form in chicken and other meats as they are cooked. Chicken is the top source of sodium for American adults because the chicken industry injects poultry carcasses with salt water to increase market weight and therefore prices, while still being able to label its product “100% natural.” Chicken contains more cholesterol than a pork chop. And cholesterol is found primarily in lean parts of meat.

“The birds come through on hooks,” Dr. Lester Friedlander says in the book in explaining the processing of chicken carcasses, “and then a mechanical arm goes up the cloaca [the opening through which the bird releases urine and feces] and pulls out everything inside the cavity. Unfortunately, when the mechanical arm pulls the intestines out, they often burst. Then all the fecal contamination is inside the bird. At the end of the poultry slaughter line there’s a big chill tank to cool the birds down quick so they can get packaged and shipped out. If you have just one of those chickens with broken intestines and fecal contamination, the whole chill tank is contaminated. They call the water in the tank, ‘fecal soup.’ All the chickens throughout the day, if they don’t change the water, are contaminated with feces. Hundreds of thousands of chickens go through that water. And while they’re in the tank the chicken flesh soaks up that fecal soup. That’s what they call ‘retained water’ on the chicken label.”

“About 90 percent of the nation’s retail chicken is contaminated with fecal matter,” the book states. “Yes, that includes the kind you buy at your clean, local supermarket. This is according to a 2011 FDA report, which monitored bacteria such as E. faecalis and E. faecium, on meat, concluding that 90 percent of chicken parts, 91 percent of ground turkey, 88 percent of ground beef, and 80 percent of pork chops have fecal contamination.”

We need to stop believing the lie that we require animal products in our diet for protein, calcium, iron, omega-3s or any other nutrient. Every nutrient from meat, dairy, and eggs can be found, in a form that is as healthy or healthier, in plants.

Copyright 2017 Chris Hedges. These passage are quoted from an essay published in TruthDig. To read the complete essay, click here.

Ed. note: The only essential nutrient which cannot be found in plants is vitamin B12 which is made by bacteria and sometimes found in meat. Supplements containing B12 are inexpensive and widely available.


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