The latest news buzz surrounds the flu epidemic that is sweeping the U.S. Currently, 47 states have wide-spread flu activity, with increasing cases and death tolls climbing. The most affected population is infants, the elderly, and those with already compromised immune systems. However, we ALL (as in the the entire world) should be concerned with this recent outbreak because according to the World Health Organization, “We know another [influenza] pandemic is inevitable…It is coming. And when this happens, we also know that we are unlikely to have enough drugs, vaccines, health-care workers and hospital capacity to cope in an ideal way.”

The tv show, The Doctors, did a special episode yesterday regarding the outbreak, reporting that hospitals are over-flowing with patients, people are becoming “sicker” than usual and more deaths are occurring. The show’s host Dr. Travis Stork and his guest doctors all pushed prevention by way of getting the flu vaccine, with only one doctor recommending healthy habits all year by advising individuals to eat right, exercise, properly manage stress and to get plenty of sleep.

As I watched the show, I just kept thinking about that lone doctor that mentioned healthy habits year-round to combat illness and I recalled a chapter from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, “Eating Animals,” in where he discusses influenza and worldwide pandemics. Health authorities have come to a consensus that an influenza pandemic is inevitable and that it will stem from new viruses that move between farmed animals and humans, zoonotic diseases.

And when you stop and think about it, the notion of an influenza pandemic being borne from the world’s farmed animals is not hard to imagine. The world’s birds (domestic and wild) harbor the full spectrum of flu strains and when you look at the current ways of raising these animals for food – genetically manipulated, deformed, drugged, over crowded, and stressed living in waste-coated cages/rooms with no access to fresh air, sunlight, or natural food sources – these practices are anything BUT healthy.

Studies show that chickens and turkeys consumers are purchasing at grocery stores are contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter (a deadly pathogen), among other nasty things like feces, chlorine and antibiotics. Overwhelmingly, food borne illnesses come from animal products, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting poultry as the largest culprit. Studies show that even organic and antibiotic-free chicken have pathogens present at the time of consumer purchase. The CDC reports, 76 million cases of food borne illnesses in the U.S. every year.

On the other side of the coin, we are feeding livestock 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics every year for nontherapeutic reasons, and most of those are illegal in the European Union. America’s food system is the perfect breeding ground for creating drug resistant pathogens or “superbugs.” Not to mention, we are a sicker nation more prone to illness with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity at all time highs (all of which have been linked to diets consisting heavily of animal products). The country’s increase in demand for animal protein has come at the ultimate price – our health. Jonathan Safran Foer sums it up best, “When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”

Fortunately, the good news is there’s a cure! Adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet improves human health, eliminates animal suffering and improves the health of the planet. Reducing your intake of saturated fat, animal hormones (and antibiotics), and cholesterol found in animal products and increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals found in plant foods, you fuel your body for optimal health so it can effectively fight off disease. Coupling a vegan diet with regular exercise, proper stress management and plenty of sleep is what the doctor ordered in preventing the flu and other illnesses. Live well this cold and flu season and all year. For more information on adopting a vegan diet and taking back your health, please visit LiveVegan.org.

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Safran Foer, Jonathan. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2009. Print.

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