Earlier this month I was less than amused when the headlines reported data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implicating leafy greens, potatoes, tomatoes, sprouts, and berries as sources of E. Coli. It’s bad enough that most Americans don’t eat their veggies, but now they are being told that it’s best not to because of E. Coli contamination.

HOLD EVERYTHING. Last I checked, spinach doesn’t poop. Neither do berries, potatoes, tomatoes, or cherries. E. Coli is produced in the intestines of animals as they’re processing food and creating waste, which is not something that any plants have the capacity to do. I wrote to the editors of several publications about this lack of thorough reporting. Some papers were responsible enough to point out that the true culprit was animal waste runoff from factory farming that contaminated the fruit and vegetables, while others left readers believing that spinach is bad for you. In fact, even the editor of one of the sources I reached out to was confused on this matter. That is how confusing food and environmental concerns have become. This lack of understanding by society as a whole has me at my desk today writing on this critical issue.

My friends, eating animal products has a high toll. The incredible usage of natural resources, compounded with greenhouse gas emissions and animal waste, make me wonder why we have come to love our cancer-causing and artery-clogging animal products in the first place. And animal products are the main source of parasites and microbes that can harm us.

Did you know that it takes between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Conversely, it takes 23 gallons of water to produce one pound of tomatoes.  That same pound of beef is responsible for an estimated 24 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a pound of vegetables and rice. But to return to the subject at hand, animal waste is an appalling cause of soil contamination, land degradation, and illness. A single cow produces 14.6 tons of manure annually. A single hog produces 16.7 tons of manure annually. Now multiply those tons of manure by the millions of livestock alive at any given point and you come up with a staggering figure. USA livestock produces close to 900 million tons of manure annually. This manure doesn’t serve to healthfully fertilize our soil as very small amounts might. This much manure is toxic and deadly.

This manure is where the E. Coli can live outside of the animal intestines and contaminate crops nearby through runoff. So when your fruits and veggies are contaminated, the real factors to consider are manure used as fertilizer, exposure to dirty floodwater, poor agricultural water quality, presence of animals in fields or packing areas, and the health and hygiene of workers handling produce during production, packing, distribution or preparation of produce.

So how can you be sure you don’t get sick from veggies and fruits that might be contaminated? You can soak your produce in a little bit of vinegar or salt water and then wash thoroughly. On a bigger scale, you can consider if is it worth the cost to all of us to eat animal products. We use up most of our natural resources, and produce most of our greenhouse gases, in order to raise these animals. And when we eat them, they are the main source of biologically concentrated bacteria, viruses, prions, heavy metals, growth hormones and stimulants, antibiotics, pesticides, and let’s not forget saturated fat and cholesterol, in our diet. Makes you wonder.