The “second-hand smoke” of our meat-laden diet

History Repeats Itself — Only It’s Far Worse This Time

by J. Morris Hicks

Back in the 40′s and 50′s, smoking was almost as common among adults as the consumption of the rich western diet is today.  It seemed that everyone was smoking back then — movie stars, doctors, soldiers, executives, teachers, etc.  Then, along came a surgeon-general’s warning on the pack about cigarette smoking being hazardous to your health.  That stopped some of the people, but millions of people kept right on puffing; claiming that if I want to smoke, I’m not hurting anyone but myself.  This is where we are right now with the rich western diet, consisting of meat and dairy three meals a day by most people in the western world.

Fast-forward another few decades and it became common knowledge that one could be injured by second-hand smoke; meaning that you might get lung cancer just by working in an office with a bunch of smokers.  This gradually led to the outlawing of cigarettes in the workplace, sections reserved for smokers on planes, trains and restaurants; then the complete elimination of ALL smoking in public places in many states.  This trend has resulted in less smoking — many people stopped smoking and far fewer people are starting in the first place.  That’s because the majority of the people now agree that smoking is a dirty, nasty, harmful and expensive habit — and that it is simply not cool anymore.

The transition away from smoking has taken 50 years; yet there are still millions who still smoke; but they’re legally forbidden to smoke around others except in their own homes.  That means that the only citizens we’ve not protected from smoking are the children of the smokers.  Sad, for sure, but this story gets much worse.

In today’s modern western world, over 95% of the population (adults and children) are eating the typical western diet — a diet that has been proven to be unhealthy, unsafe, extremely damaging, incredibly wasteful, horribly inhumane, and completely unsustainable.  In a February 1 article in the New York Times, Mark Bittman said this about our good old American diet of meat and dairy at every meal,  ”It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.”

Although our rich western diet of choice is causing far more damage throughout the world than any second-hand smoke could possibly cause, that fact simply hasn’t been shared and/or accepted by very many adults.  And, unlike smoking, the tiny children are suffering from this diet-style as they become obese at record levels and start out their lives on a highly destructive diet that will lead to record levels of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc.  But, like smoking, the adults of today, for the most part, still think that what they eat is their own business and that there choice of food will not harm anyone but themselves.  Wrong.

We all must eventually accept the fact that we are all connected in this world.  As Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son, Nelson, wrote in the foreword of our book,

Most of us live apart from Nature, within artificially constructed environments that bear little resemblance to the mountains, meadows, forests and streams experienced by our ancestors. And living apart from Nature, we too often forget that we are part of an interconnected whole. No matter how hard we try, however, we cannot escape this fact forever. We can construct our material world and engage in individualistic pursuits, but eventually must face the fact that we do not live on islands. We are connected to one another and to the larger natural world of which we are still a part.There may be no better illustration of this fact than the way we eat. The decision of what to put at the end of our fork is a private decision and one that seems to have no relevance beyond the edges of our dinner plate. But the truth is this: the effects of what we eat ripple round and round the world … and this is the story of “Healthy People — Healthy Planet” by J. Morris Hicks.

In 2006, the U.N. published a 407-page report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” that summarized the extreme damage that our raising of livestock is inflicting on our environment in four major areas:  Land & forests, Water, Climate and Biodiversity.  Here are a few factoids that might surprise a few people:

  1. Land.  There are only about 8 billion arable acres of land in the world, which works out to a little over one acre per person.  The problem is that it required over three acres to feed one person the typical western diet.  The situation worsens every year:  world population grows by almost 200,000 every day, we lose an area of arable land about the size of South Carolina every year, and more and more people in the developing world are moving toward the diet-style of the west.
  2. Water.  Many parts of the world are running out of water and the future is looking worse all the time.  Yet few realize that raising livestock is the most wasteful use of water known to man.  Consider, the water required to produce just 10 pounds of steak is enough water to supply ALL of the household needs for a family of four for a full year.  Then there’s the 1.37 billion tons of solid animal waste in just the U.S. that must be disposed — unfortunately, much of it ends up in our water supply.
  3. Climate.  While not mentioned by Al Gore in his Nobel prize-winning movie, the raising of livestock causes 30% more global warming than ALL of transportation combined.
  4. Biodiversity.  On both land and in the sea, our raising of livestock is causing more loss of species than any other thing that we do.
  5. Energy.  In the United States, 1/3 of our fossil fuels are used to grown livestock for our dinner tables.  90% of that energy could be saved if we shifted to a plant-based diet — effectively lowering out total consumption of the finite supply of fossil fuel by 90%.
  6. Animal Suffering.  Almost everyone claims to love animals, but few seem to care one whit about the 60 billion animals world-wide who live in a “hell on earth” before they are brutally slaughtered.  And, all of this suffering is unnecessary.

UNSUSTAINABLE is putting it mildly.  Our health and our environment is being sacrificed for one reason only — we like the taste of cooked animal flesh.  Sure, second-hand smoke is harmful and inexcusable; but it doesn’t hold a candle to the destruction and unsustainability of our meat-based diet.  We’re seriously talking about the survival of the planet itself.  So how did we get into this mess and what can be done about it?  First, a little history.

There are over one million named species on the planet.  Roughly 50,000 are vertebrates and about 15,000 of those are mammals.  In the millions of years of history, the human being has distinguished himself as the only species that has not lived in harmony with nature.  Many have referred to the human race as the “infestation of planet-earth” as he has selfishly ridden roughshod over the entire world, selfishly satisfying his own cravings. In a Times Magazine article in November of 2010, the late Mark Twain described mankind thusly:

Twain had arrived at the not unreasonable but never popular conclusion that mankind “was not made for any useful purpose, for the reason that he hasn’t served any; that he was most likely not even made intentionally; and that his working his way up out of the oyster bed to his present position was probably a matter of surprise and regret to the creator.”

Eventually, we must take responsibility for our actions and correct our errors of the past. The problem is that most people are simply unaware of the contents of this post.  The first step in solving our dilemma is getting the word out to as many people as possible. That’s what we have done in our book and will continue to do so in other mediums until this inevitable grassroots eventually takes hold for good.

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

Thank you for visiting my blog; enjoy the New England photo below that would have definitely been a smoke break back in 1950.

The Race Committee enjoys a serene moment at twilight while waiting for the regatta to finish -- Stonington, CT

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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