What You Can Do!
As we approach our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that survival involves more than one or two action steps. Early on, long before vaccines were available, masking and distancing were advised. Many of us predicted an imminent end to the pandemic once multiple vaccines emerged, especially since clinical trials showed more effectiveness than anticipated. Those hopes eventually faded as we experienced one wave of new variants after another. Our confidence (those of us in the medical field) remained high because death rates plummeted. Despite the new increasingly transmissible variants, hospitalizations and fatalities did not go up until lately. Now, we are at a time where most of the country and the world have had enough isolation, masking and avoiding close contact with each other. We are a gregarious society that does not like to be told what to do for too long. Unfortunately, as we morph into pre-pandemic behavior, case rates all over the globe are skyrocketing, and hospitalizations are starting to go up.
Many economically privileged countries have high numbers of vaccinated or previously infected people, and poorer countries are struggling from the impact of climate change, the Ukraine war, and other geopolitical conflicts. The priority of the less privileged countries is shifting to survival leveraged on access to food and water.
It is increasingly vital for every individual to reassess their priorities regarding health, our environment (including animals), and our food supply. All three of these areas of concern intersect with each other. All previous pandemics have a connection with man and animals. In 1918, it was hogs. In 2002, SARS emerged from wet markets with black market animals such as palm civets. Reports suggested bats infected palm civets, as an intermediate host, before getting to humans and causing the initial outbreak of SARS. More than two years ago, the infection of pangolins from bat bites may have resulted in subsequent human exposure and disease from SARS 2. Some disagree with this explanation because of experiments conducted on bats in China around the same time, but we don’t know. Either way, it involved a zoonotic-based infection implicating human behavior as the reason for the crippling of the world by tiny invisible particles that have no feelings nor a cure.
At the time of this posting, more than a few publications highlight the influence of consuming plants on the risk of severe COVID-19. The most impressive study involved over five hundred front-line health care workers in five countries, including the United States. The study was published in the British Medical Journal in June of last year and reported a 72% decreased risk of having severe COVID when eating plant-based. People who consumed fish as the only source of meat but otherwise vegetables and fruit had about 60% decreased risk. On the other hand, folks that consumed mainly meat had a four times greater chance of severe COVID-19. The research preceded vaccine administration. Although “association” is not equivalent to “causation,” studies with such a large number of people carry significant weight. See the link at the bottom if you want more details about this study.
As I mentioned, other studies have reported similar results. It makes sense because several long-term studies reflect lower rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases when eating plant-based. A global survey on diets reported that people worldwide that consume more fruit live longer and healthier lives. In 2015 National Geographic published an article on five Blue Zones from different parts of the world. People living in the Blue Zones consumed mainly plant-based meals and lived longer than most people worldwide. They were also healthier physically and mentally.
Three major risk groups have higher rates of severe illness and death from COVID-19. They are people older than 70, African-Americans, Latinos, and people with comorbidities. If we exclude age-related risk, all other high-risk factors are related to diet and lifestyle. African Americans are at high risk because they generally have more comorbidities, poor healthcare access, and poor quality of education and housing. What does all this mean?
We need to use every tool available to survive this pandemic. Vaccines, masking, social distancing, and avoiding groups of people will not be enough. I think our survival will depend on additional steps. Plant-based eating, in many ways, reduces and eliminates comorbidities such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic debilitating diseases. At the same time, we could see a reduction in animal agriculture and associated methane emissions from cattle burps and animal waste. Envision billions of animals spared from abuse and slaughter. If the demand for cattle and other animals for meat plunges, the need for growing crops to feed them drops. We could also see less deforestation and the use of other natural resources for factory farming.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recently advised vegan conversion to save the earth from further destruction related to global warming. The IPCC is an organization of governments that annually reviews thousands of scientific articles on climate change. After the review, they summarize findings, identify problems and recommend mitigation measures. When we eat more veggies, fruit, minimally processed grains, and beans and reduce or eliminate meat, egg, and dairy, factory farms will see less demand for their products. This, in turn, will decrease the need for animal breeding and water and crops to feed and maintain mega numbers of animals. As I mentioned above, cows belch out tons of methane, and greenhouse gases escalate with all the waste material they generate. Fertilizers used on 70% of crops grown to feed animals in thousands of feedlots across the nation contribute to further environmental damage because of nitrous oxide.
What can you do? Seven Action Steps to consider:
- Make sure you are up to date with vaccinations for Covid.
- Wear a high-quality mask when going to other indoor places outside your home. In some circumstances, you should wear them outdoors.
- Avoid large gatherings of people you don’t know unless well ventilated and adequate spacing assured (and wear a high-quality mask).
- Eat a plant-based to the best of your ability, and remember to take vitamin B-12 if you go all-in. If you are on prescription medications or have underlying medical problems discuss the diet change with your doctor first.
- Visit farm stands and farmer’s markets and join CSAs (Community Sponsored Agriculture)
- Consider growing some of your own food in a backyard or balcony garden and composting.
- Learn more about all this from great online resources (Climate Healers, PCRM.org, Nutrition Facts.org)