The Protein Myth and How it Adds to GDP

Yesterday, I was on a very interesting and sensible TV show. Anchored by a well-known social activist, Swami Agnivesh, this show on Lok Sabha TV is called Vichar Manthan. This particular segment touched on consumerism, the growing meat consumption, impact on health and environment, and the role beef and meat production plays in global warming. I must say it was conducted so well that it made me sit back and think.

With me on the panel was Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati, who originally hails from the United States, but now lives in Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh. She is a disciple of Swami Chidanand Saraswati. I must admit that her answer to a question from the studio audience about how much protein a body needs, and how much of it would come from meat consumption, actually cleared a lot of misunderstanding. I too had till then not realised that we actually do not require so much of proteins that the industry is telling us. I couldn’t wait to go through a book entitled Vegetarianism: For Your Body, Your Mind, Your Soul and Your Planet, written by Swami Chidanand Saraswati, a copy of which she gave me.

The Protein Myth

Protein is used to build muscle and bones. Our building and growing needs are naturally greatest when we are very young. New babies are at their greatest need of protein. Yet, what is the perfect food for newborn babies? Mother’s milk. Mother’s milk is only 5 per cent protein ! Yet, the meat and dairy council would like us to to believe that as fully grown we need between 30 – 40 per cent of our daily intake from protein. This is absurd. It is nothing less than a marketing strategy.

In fact, if you look at the advice given by unbiased, scientific organisations, you will see that their recommended percentage of proteins is significantly, markedly less than that suggested by the meat and dairy industry sponsored ‘research’. For example, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends 2.5 per cent daily intake of protein. The World Health Organisation recommends 4.5 per cent. The Food and Nutrition Board (after factoring in safety margins) recommends 6 per cent.

Second, plant food — vegetables, grains and legumes — all have sufficient protein for our daily requirements. If we eat a balanced diet, we are sure to get enough protein. Good sources of proteins are lentils, tofu, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, tempeh, and peas. many grains such as wholegrain bread, pasta, and corn also add protein to our diet. For example, lentils are 29 per cent protein, split peas are 28 per cent, spinach is 49 per cent, cauliflower is 40 per cent, lettuce is 34 per cent, and even tomatoes are 18 per cent. Nuts range from 12-18 per cent.

The book then goes on to tell about some of the commonly asked questions as to where from can we get our daily fill of protein, what about iron, calcium and Vit B 12, and a lot more.

We also discussed the ecological impact of beef production and the growing craze for meat consumption. I mentioned that on an average an American consumes 125 kg of meat, a Chinese intake is 70 kg whereas that of an average India is only 3.5 kg. Add up all this, and you find that some 55,000 million animals are slaughtered every year worldwide for meat purposes. For beef production, you require normally 16 kg of foodgrains to be fed to produce one kilo of meat. Each kilo of beef requires 70,000 litres of water in the entire production process till it reaches your plate. Newsweek once reported that “the amount of water that goes into a 1000 pound steer (male cow who will become beef) could float a Naval destroyer ship!”

For each hamburger you eat, 75 kg of carbon dioxide (one of main greenhouse gases) are released into the atmosphere. If you drove your car all day long, it would release only 3 kgs. Somehow, we have never been told about the damage and destruction industrially-farmed food is doing to our body and to our environment. We have somehow been made to believe that everything is fine with the food we eat. Food processing companies are taking proper care of us, and in any case we have enough regulatory systems that will ensure that good food reaches our table.

Adding to GDP

This is all bunkum. Agribusiness industry, food industry, pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies are all hand in glove. They thrive on each other. The more the corporatisation of agriculutre, the more will be industrially produced food in the market; the more the junk food you consume, the more are the chances that you will fall sick, and it is where the pharmaceutical companies gain; the more the chances that you will fall sick, the more is the need for expensive medical care and that requires health insurance.

This is how the vicious cycle operates. And this is what actually adds to economic growth. In laymen terms, GDP is the amount of money that exchanges hands. So the more you get trapped in this industry-driven cycle, the more is the money that you are made to shell out, and this translates into a higher GDP. What a remarkable growth model we have, isn’t it? And you thought we were actually becoming prosperous?

I admire the mainline economists who are asking us repeatedly to cosume more, and that in turn will generate demand, which will kickstart the economy. Even after the great economic collapse of 2008, we haven’t learnt any lessons. Governments are infusing massive stimulus packages to keep the industry alive, the same industry (and banking system) that is doing the damage to human health, environment and adding on to global warming.

Hats off to the economists and policy makers for their ability to befool all the people for all the times. Who said you can’t make fool of all the people all the times?

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