The United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord today. But we can continue to help fight climate change and protect the environment in other ways, including eating a plant-based diet. Did you know that eating beans instead of beef is beneficial for the environment? Or that it takes 660 gallons to make one single burger?
Share these five graphics to let the world know that no matter what happens with the #ParisAgreement, you are committed to fighting climate change with a plant-based diet.
— Physicians Committee (@PCRM) April 22, 2017
— Physicians Committee (@PCRM) May 24, 2017
— Neal Barnard, MD (@DrNealBarnard) April 22, 2017
— Neal Barnard, MD (@DrNealBarnard) April 21, 2017
— Neal Barnard, MD (@DrNealBarnard) April 22, 2017
“I don’t think I can deny a paying patient the right to smoke a cigarette. As a service to the patient I will have to insist we have cigarette machines in the hospital,” said a hospital administrator quoted in 1964 New York Times article.
On Jan. 11, 1964, the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was issued to controversy and acclaim—but, in many cases, not much change. Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry’s landmark report was the first federal government report linking smoking and illness, including lung cancer and heart disease. Change was a long time coming, however.
I’m sure many of you remember, as I do, the days when many doctors smoked and hospitals debated whether they should infringe on patients’ “right to smoke” in the hospital. Another hospital administrator quoted in the 1964 New York Times noted that, despite the recent Surgeon General’s report, “some of the employees here…have quit smoking, but I noticed that most of the doctors who smoked still do.”
In 1985, the Journal of the American Medical Association printed a call to action by Andrew Ho, M.D. Describing the human costs of tobacco use, Dr. Ho warned, “Meanwhile, in hospitals, heroic efforts are mounted constantly to save lives, while billions of dollars are spent and countless numbers of laboratory animals are sacrificed each year to fight diseases, a large proportion of which are related to smoking. It is paradoxical that the hospital, an institution created solely for health care, tolerates widespread smoking.”
Ho urged that hospitals take a leading role to free society from the scourge of tobacco, proposing a list of steps hospitals should take, starting with “1. Tobacco products should not be sold in the hospital.” Common sense, right?
And yet, in the article When Nurses Smoked in Hospitals, a registered nurse (and former smoker) remembers that in state psychiatric hospitals as late as the mid-80s, “the patients were allowed to smoke in the common areas—in fact, we provided ‘state tobacco’ for those that did not have money to buy their own. We even rolled cigarettes with one of those little machines for those who couldn’t roll their own.” The article notes that nonsmokers were “chastised as troublemakers,” and some nurses mocked patients who asked for a nonsmoking room, describing them as “finicky” or “difficult.” In fact, “peer pressure probably contributed to the high percentage of nurses who smoked.”
In 1991, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) announced tobacco control standards for accredited American hospitals which mandated that they go smoke-free by the end of 1993. In a study conducted the next year, more than 96 percent of surveyed hospitals were found to have complied with the smoking ban standard.
And that brought to an end the days when hospitals sold, supplied, and supported known carcinogens for patients and staff in hospitals…
…except, no it didn’t.
Since 2007, the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund have warned us that processed meats are carcinogenic. In 2015, the World Health Organization released a report based on an examination of more than 800 studies. The authors highlighted a 2011 meta-analysis that found that colorectal cancer risk increased by 17 percent for every 100 grams of red meat consumed per day and by 18 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day. The report classified consumption of red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” and consumption of processed meat—hot dogs, salami, bacon, sausage, and the like—as “carcinogenic to humans.”
And yet, many hospitals and cancer centers continue to offer processed meat on inpatient menus and in cafeterias. Some say that they don’t feel they have the right to dictate what a patient eats. Just like the hospital administrator in 1964 who couldn’t justify infringing on a patient’s “right to smoke.” Others say that especially sick patients shouldn’t be bothered with healthful nutrition.
What is the message to the patients’ family and friends, and to other hospital staff? That unhealthful foods are just part of life, that nutrition isn’t part of good health care, and that there’s no role for prevention in places dedicated to treatment and cure.
But some hospitals are getting the message, and we’re going to profile a number of them over the coming months. We need to draw attention to these hospitals and dedicated staff who are fighting to be role models.
In the Physicians Committee’s outreach to hospitals, we have successfully urged Mississippi Medical Center to remove hot dogs from its menus. And in our recent survey of states with the highest death rates from colorectal cancer, 30 of 102 hospitals don’t serve hot dogs, although many of those still serve other processed meats. There’s plenty of room for improvement.
In an ideal world, all hospitals would serve healthy, vegan menus—and we’re working on that. But as a first step, I’m asking health care professionals and family and friends of patients (past, current, and potential) to help us get carcinogenic processed meats out of hospitals.
Contact the Physicians Committee’s senior corporate liaison, Elizabeth Mader, to get more information and find out how you can improve the food at your hospital. We are also encouraging hospitals to do simple pilot studies of patient reactions to removal of processed meats from inpatient menus. Help us show hospital leaders that providing healthful food—minus the carcinogens—can win patient loyalty and public acclaim, and support progress in the way Americans view nutrition and health.
Milk can wreck your health. But the winner of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500—a 500-mile race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—will likely down a bottle of milk. It’s a dairy industry tactic meant to market milk to the event’s nearly 7 million fans.
When did things go off track? It started when Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer drank buttermilk after winning in 1936. That’s when the dairy industry raced in.
“An executive with what was then the Milk Foundation was so elated … he vowed to make sure it would be repeated in coming years,” according to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It mostly has—with a break from 1947 to 1955. But in 1956, the American Dairy Foundation offered the winner $400 for drinking a bottle of milk. Today the bonus is $10,000, according to the Daily Express.
But nobody wins when they drink milk, despite American Dairy Association Indiana’s campaign asking fans to follow this year’s winner by exclaiming “Winners Drink Milk!” as they drink their own glass of milk.
Instead, this year’s winner and fans should follow the lead of 1993 winner Emerson Fittipaldi who turned down milk and opted for orange juice. Or stick to simple hydration, because “Winners Drink Water!”
Canada doesn’t want milk from the United States. That’s good news for the health of Canadians. Dairy products are dangerous: cancer, heart disease, bone fractures, and early death. But the United States keeps bullying Canada for milk money.
Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee wrote to Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue saying that Canada has caused a “loss of sales for U.S. dairy companies and farmers.”
How? Canada used to purchase ultrafiltered milk (used to make cheese) from U.S. dairy producers, but stopped when Canada lowered its domestic prices.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the decision last month, saying that “Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult.” He also called Canadian import taxes on U.S. dairy products “very, very unfair.”
But what’s really unfair is the United States’ insistence on dumping dangerous dairy products onto other countries, which has happened across presidential administrations.
The United States has already milked Canada for millions of dollars for dairy products. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says “the U.S. has a $400 million dairy surplus with Canada.” Our neighbors to the south are even worse off. Mexico is the U.S. dairy industry’s No. 1 export market.
The United States is in dairy denial: Demand in America is plummeting, but production doesn’t reflect this reality. So instead of producing less milk, the United States tries to pour it into Canada and other countries. The Canadian dairy industry may have summed it up best:
“To use a phrase that has recently come out of the U.S., Wisconsin farmers are using alternative facts,” the Dairy Farmers of Canada told The Independent newspaper. “The Wisconsin people are trying to find an enemy—when in reality the problem they have is that they’re overproducing.”
So now what? A Wisconsin cheesemaker has agreed to purchase some of the milk that Canada isn’t buying. But that doesn’t solve the problem. It could create a new one: a surplus of cheese that could cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would purchase $20 million of surplus cheddar cheese.
It’s time for the United States to break this cycle by cutting back on milk production. Maybe dairy producers should consider a transition to the healthful plant-based milks consumers want: Sales of almond milk grew 250 percent between 2010 and 2015, while the total milk market shrank by more than $1 billion, according to Nielsen.
New York City's Elmhurst Dairy embraced this trend. After 92 years of supplying cow’s milk to 8,300 grocers and 1,400 public schools, it shut down operations. But it reopened—selling only dairy-free plant milks.
“After 92 years in business, it was time to embrace a new model and look toward the future,” 82-year-old CEO Henry Schwartz told Business Insider.
But that won’t happen without a fight. Members of Congress and the dairy industry are so worried that they’ve even introduced the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act), so that the word “milk” can only be used for products “obtained by the complete milking of one or more hooved mammals.”
It’s clear that the dairy industry is a disaster. It’s time for dairy producers and U.S. government to swallow their pride and stop bullying other countries and Americans into supporting a dying industry.
Congratulations to the Los Angeles Unified School District! Yesterday, school board members unanimously voted in favor of bringing healthful plant-based options to L.A. schools next fall in a pilot program championed by students, parents, and doctors. Lila Copeland, an inspiring 15-year-old LAUSD student, launched the campaign back in 2016. Before board members made their decision last night, I joined Lila and other LAUSD students in offering a testimony about the importance of this initiative.
Adding vegan options is a tremendous step toward keeping students healthy, but removing unhealthful foods from the menu is equally important. That’s why the Physicians Committee recently filed a lawsuit to stop LAUSD and Poway Unified School District, also in California, from serving students processed meats—including hot dogs, pepperoni, and luncheon meat—which are linked to colorectal cancer.
We’re still working on getting processed meats out of LAUSD. But in the meantime, read my testimony that helped get vegan options in:
I am Neal Barnard, M.D., Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., President of the Physicians Committee, and Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.
Thank you for considering giving students access to healthful plant-based foods. There is always controversy whenever you talk about food, of course, but this is a great idea, and you really deserve accolades for it.
This is actually important for every student—not just those who are already looking for vegan choices, but for every student. Students who have a chance to try plant-based meals gain familiarity with the most healthful foods—completely free of animal fat and cholesterol, and rich in vitamins, fiber, and protein in its most healthful form. And they set the stage for healthy habits in the future.
And those who take advantage of plant-based choices at every meal are adopting the healthiest possible eating pattern. As you know, plant-based diets have been recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for their health benefits.
Plus, plant-based meals are sometimes the cheapest, because they can be built from beans, rice, and other simple ingredients.
Some people who are not familiar with plant-based diets may ask if they provide adequate nutrition. The fact is they provide better nutrition than is typical of most American diets. Plant-based foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthful fiber, and provide more than enough protein, without the animal fat and cholesterol that children do not need. Meats do have protein and iron, but plant-based diets have more than enough of both in more healthful forms. Dairy products do have calcium, but greens and beans do, too, in a more absorbable form. Meats and dairy products have no fiber and are poor sources of many vitamins, and they tend to push healthful vegetables and fruits off the plate. That’s why plant-based diets stack up much better on structured nutrition rating systems, such as Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index.
This initiative shows you really care about your students—all your students. Studies show that children who grow up with plant-based foods have much less risk of becoming overweight as adults. And in a 2009 study, nearly 8 percent of people following typical American diets had diabetes. For people following vegan diets, that figure was just 2.9 percent, and they are also much less likely to develop heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.
If children are unfamiliar with plant-based options and never learned the taste of a meal without cheese and meat, they have one arm tied behind their backs.
Many students have learned that the United Nations and other authorities have called for reducing consumption of meat, dairy products, and animal products in general for the sake of the environment. They understand that beef and dairy cows belch methane into the atmosphere, and that raising feed for chickens, pigs, and other animals consumes an enormous amount of water and fertilizer. When schools ignore these considerations, students feel they are living among climate change deniers. Every student needs a healthy, plant-based option accessible every day.
And there is more to it. The majority of people of color have trouble digesting lactose—the milk sugar—which can then cause bloating and diarrhea. This is not a disease; it’s the biological norm. By the teen years, many children have symptoms that can get in the way of studying, athletic performance, and day-to-day activities. Dairy-free meals and beverages should be available for all children, without forcing them to get a doctor’s note for what is a perfectly normal condition.
While you do your wonderful work making sure that children are as well-equipped as possible for what life has in store for them, the greatest threats they will face come from physical problems—overweight, heart disease, diabetes, and others. So if your son or daughter were to say, “I’d like to bring more plant-based meals into my life,” or “I really want to help the environment,” or “I want to be compassionate in my eating choices with your help,” I hope your answer will be a resounding “Yes!”
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