Photo JoAnne McArthur, We Animals
Successful athletes understand and live by the concept of “you are what you eat.” It is why we follow meticulous meal plans and hire nutritionists; we use smart nutrition to ensure our bodies are best equipped to handle the physical demands of the most grueling workouts. In recent years, we have come to learn and accept that not only are you what you eat, but you are what your food eats, too. The rising popularity of “grass-fed” beef, “cage-free” eggs, and “no added hormones” milk is evidence that people are concerned and truly believe that what goes into their food matters. However, few come to realize that no matter what the packaging promises, meat still comes from sick animals. How? Pre-slaughter stress.
…no matter what the packaging promises, meat still comes from sick animals. How? Pre-slaughter stress.
Every animal raised for food production endures extreme levels of stress, and oftentimes torture. The atrocities that occur in animal agriculture facilities, from slaughter houses to egg and dairy farms, are unending. Day after day, these animals are faced with severe overcrowding, physical abuse, and a disgustingly toxic environment. Think of constant squealing, poor air quality derived from dust and feces, and little to no natural light. Animals also suffer severe stress during transport to their slaughtering destination. They can be packed in a truck for over eight hours at a time without respite. If you get ansy during long car trips, just imagine how horrific it would be to be confined for over eight hours in the dark without the ability to stretch, pressed up against fellow beings also in a state of high-level anxiety. Not to mention, the act of slaughter provides the ultimate terror. The kill is not necessarily quick; technology malfunctions and human error can result in severe injury to the animal, but not enough to instantly kill. Many animals die by bleeding out, a slow process given the pain associated with this gory demise. The life of an animal raised for food is a hard one, and this stress is being transferred into our food.
The physical effects of prolonged, intense stress have been a topic of scientific interest for years. It is why rest is always the go-to recovery for almost every ailment, and why athletes need recovery days. In addition, stress also spikes the fight or flight hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can lead to a host of cardiovascular, gut, and immunity-related health issues. In both humans and animals, these hormones cause muscles to tense up, blood pressure to spike, and even a change in pH levels. We know we cannot perform at our highest level if our bodies are subjected to constant stress, and yet, many continue to eat stressed out, sick animals.
We know we cannot perform at our highest level if our bodies are subjected to constant stress, and yet, many continue to eat stressed out, sick animals.
This contradiction is lost on the average consumer. There is a disconnect between meat and an actual animal. Busy shoppers do not stop to realize that their chicken nuggets were once a living, breathing, feather-coated chicken. Meat is packaged in such a sterile, inoffensive way that make it unrecognizable to the animal it came from. It rarely occurs to the consumer that their bacon is a butchered portion of pig belly, carved from a highly stressed pig, and they are ingesting that stress.
Eating another’s stress might sound a bit “woo-woo,” but because stress triggers a physical response, it can be observed and documented through a scientific approach. Even the animal agriculture industry agrees that stress can manifest itself in meat. In pigs, the industry refers to the effects of extreme stress as PSE (pale, soft, exudative), and in cows, the effects are known as DFD (dark, firm, and dry). This terminology describes the quality of the meat. When the PSE or DFD reaches a certain level, the meat actually has to be tossed out, unfit for human consumption. Of course, the system is not one hundred percent accurate, which means some of this meat may be on your supermarket shelves.
Plants have the power to fuel us and help us achieve athletic prowess. Unlike meat, they won’t spike your hormone levels or leave you feeling less than your best.
Life is stressful enough. As athletes, we push ourselves to the limit, often multiple times a day. We do not need any additional stress on our bodies, and by choosing a plant-based diet, we can avoid taking on unnecessary stress by not eating animals. Plants have the power to fuel us and help us achieve athletic prowess. Unlike meat, they won’t spike your hormone levels or leave you feeling less than your best. By choosing to eat compassionately, we can enhance our own health and save the lives of others. So don’t stress; be a champion in sport and a champion for the animals by going plant-based.
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