Every day we are presented with a series of choices when it comes to food. We can start off the day with a smoothie or a bacon, egg, and cheese. We can have a healthy lunch or we can indulge in something greasy. We can spend an hour in the kitchen after work and make a wholesome meal or we can pop a frozen one into the microwave. On a larger scale, people can choose to consciously eat more plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, and seeds, or they can decide to get a good deal of their energy from meats and dairy. However you choose to fuel your days, there are certain things that are unavoidable under the umbrella of our less-than-perfect food system. We all have to deal with upticks in price because of food shortages around the world, we all are subject to companies who use sketchy additives and preservatives, and we all are at risk of “superbugs” the alarming antibiotic-resistant bacteria that stems from the livestock industry (more on that later).
Now, as we said, anyone who consumes food, AKA everyone, is at risk of ingesting or contracting antibiotic-resistant bacteria that disrupts the delicate microbiome in our bodies, largely in our gut, which protects our immunity. Despite the fact that this problem affects anyone, recently an interesting article was published on Motherboard VICE, that stated, in a manner that we can only compare to one sibling ratting out another after getting caught doing something naughty: vegans are contributing to antibiotic resistant too!
Alright. We are not here to argue that people who eat vegan aren’t contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is true. People who eat fruits and vegetables (a group that extends far beyond vegan circles BTW … or at least we would hope) are very much at risk of eating antibiotic resistant bacteria off of plants. What this article fails to address is how these superbugs even ended up on the plants. Instead, the writer decides to make it sound like spinach leaves and strawberries somehow have superbugs already ingrained in their seeds or something to that effect. This is not only blatantly false, but it’s irresponsible to be spreading this information, when in reality superbugs are very easily traceable and when one bothers to inspect further, it’s easy to see where they start: factory farms.
Let us explain. In case you haven’t heard, the animal agriculture industry loves antibiotics, so much so that around 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to livestock. Using this plethora of drugs allows them to cram thousands of animals in filthy, cramped sheds where they are literally toppling over each other and covered in feces without any of them getting too sick. Unfortunately for the animal agriculture industry, the antibiotics given to animals don’t just magically disappear once they are slaughtered. No, no, quite the contrary, they travel incredible distances in a number of ways. To begin, when animals are given antibiotics, the drugs kill off the weaker bacteria in the animal’s gut and leave behind stronger strains which become immune to the antibiotics, hence the term “superbug.” These super strong bacteria remain in the body of the animal and end up in humans when they eat meat. These bacteria are also ingested by factory farm workers from mere exposure and travel with these people back into their homes and communities. And lastly, these bacteria are in the feces of factory farm animals where they end up in waterways, in the air, and eventually in our soil in the form of manure.
Now this is where things get relevant. Manure is the reason fruits and vegetables have antibiotic resistant bacteria on them. Yes, even organic produce. As an article published in Scientific American relays, “Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.” To put it simply, as long as we keep using antibiotics in meat, we’re going to continue to see antibiotics in plants.
So, let’s see where we stand now. Do people who eat vegan contribute to antibiotic resistance bacteria? Yes, they tend to eat fruits and vegetables. Do people who eat vegan contribute to the industry that creates antibiotic resistance bacteria? No. That is the difference, friends. The only way to combat the superbug problem we are having is to create a food system that doesn’t continually breed these type of bacteria. While some companies like McDonalds, Subway, and Perdue have pledged to not use meat that has been fed antibiotics, that is hardly the large-scale solution we need. It’s unrealistic to believe that every company who produces meat will agree to this and furthermore, if everybody were to eat meat from local farmers that strictly do not use antibiotics on their animals, the demand would increase so much that these farmers would be forced to industrialize and become factory farms, as well.
The solution is to evolve beyond factory farms, to a food system that not only doesn’t create superbugs but also doesn’t abuse animals, doesn’t cause an astronomically terrible effect on the environment, and doesn’t contribute to cancer, heart disease, obesity and a slew of other diseases. That’s the kind of future of food we need, and that future is vegan.
Image source: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock