How do you know if someone’s a vegan? They’ll tell you. And they’ll also (if they even get a chance provided you don’t run away) tell you why going vegan well, kind of makes sense.
Now before you frantically click the ‘x’ in the top left (or right) corner of your screen (embracing PC-Mac viewership diversity y0), a little disclaimer – yes Matt and I are vegan, no we weren’t always vegan, no we don’t hug trees (that often), yes we’ll still love you even if you’re omni, and don’t worry about making us feel weird, society already does that for us. It should also be mentioned that I am a huge advocate of a reductionist policy for those who don’t feel like they can fully commit to a vegan lifestyle. This is because in my eyes it’s more effective than shunning people for choices beyond their control or that they don’t feel inclined to adhere to.
Here’s a little rundown as to why we are vegan and hopefully it’ll give you some insight into the logic behind our seemingly barbaric lawnmower lifestyles. And don’t worry, no gruesome images just videos which you can watch at your own discretion, because while I do believe turning a blind eye is an issue, it can also be extremely ineffective and off-putting in the context of transitioning.
Animals are sentient beings
The was the real clincher for me. As a huge animal lover, I couldn’t really justify contributing to an industry that kind of made me want to vom every time I saw a carcass in the window or nod reassuringly when people exclaimed “BUT BACON!”. And yes, I’ve heard all the “but it’s natural” and “I only buy ethical meat” arguments before. In response to the former I stress that we don’t need it and with regard to the latter ethical meat is a bit of a paradox. Even where practices are ‘more humane’ the supply and demand chain means that cheaper unethical means are inevitable.
So how is each industry inherently unethical? In order for the animal to arrive on your plate they obviously have to be killed. And despite the aforementioned ‘humane meat’ clause, killing practices are not necessarily quick, easy and calm as they’re made out to be. What’s more is the conditions in which animals are housed are usually cramped and unhygienic, and the processes of castration, branding and handling are sometimes considered worse than death itself. I encourage you to watch the video below made by PETA. Sadly PETA has a dodgy reputation, and its shocking rhetoric often makes people dubious, thus detracting from the efforts they’re trying to achieve. The footage however, cannot be faked and so it serves its intended purpose.
It’s also pretty gruesome when you think about the age at which animals are killed in comparison to their natural lifespans – a testament to the scale and pace of animal slaughter, churning out produce by the millions. It makes you question what on earth they pump into animals in order for them to reach a desirable size in such as short amount of time. As far as I’ve heard in the poultry industry, growth hormones are given to chickens who grow so quickly their legs can’t cope with the weight. Not so nice.
Okay fine, but what’s all the fuss about eggs and dairy?
In the egg industry, there’s no method of pre-determining a chick’s sex. The problem is male chicks don’t lay eggs, so they’re essentially deadweight. What happens next consists of little male chicks on a conveyor belt followed by a pretty gruesome end in a grinder. And if you’re a lucky female, the likelihood is you’ll remain confined to a battery cage, living out your days plopping out eggs like there’s no tomorrow.
As for free range, don’t necessarily go imagining free roaming happy layers. From what I’ve seen, periods of roaming can be as little as 20 minutes a day and chickens still have to live out their lives in dingy barns. One man who worked in the industry even told us that beaks had to be cut off because the chickens would peck each other to death in such cramped conditions.
In the dairy industry, mothers have to be artificially inseminated over and over again (aka rape) in order to produce a calf and thus in order to lactate. So yeah, cows don’t naturally produce milk. They’re mammals after all, and like us, only lactate after having a baby. At birth the calf is immediately taken away from the mother. If they’re a boy they’re veal, and if a girl they enter the dairy industry. The female cows are hooked up to machines for the entirety of their lives until they collapse from exhaustion. In which case they’re sent off for slaughter. And yes, I’m sure plenty of farmers will tell you this doesn’t happen all the time, but like I insinuated before when money’s involved and there’s a supply, there’s also going to be a demand for quick, cheap and thus unethical practices. The video below by Erin Janus kind of sums it up better than I ever could.
If you’re still interested in animal agricultural practices I recommend watching the documentaries ‘Earthlings‘ and ‘Vegucated‘ (the latter is available on Netflix). Also on Netflix are documentaries such as ‘The Cove‘, ‘Blackfish‘ and ‘The Ivory Game‘ which are important issues in the context of animal conservation and to some extent ethics.
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change
But how bad is it for the environment and why?
Everyone’s heard of climate change, and if you’re an appreciator of hardcore scientific evidence, you’ll know that it’s a very real issue facing our planet. So yeah, climate change is BAD. I’m not going to delve into the science behind climate change (though you can read that here) but instead briefly talk about the impact that animal agriculture has on the planet.
According to a heavily cited though questioned World Watch study, animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. Others have said this is likely to be closer to 18%. Percentages aside, it is generally recognised that the consumption of meat (particularly beef) is bad for the environment. And this is largely owed to issues concerning water usage, land use/deforestation (for the animals themselves and the food they consume), methane emissions and transportation.
As mentioned, the biggest culprit is the cattle industry which requires large areas of land and a lot of water. With regard to the latter, I’ve always heard counter-arguments concerning how the cessation of the cattle industry would result in greater deforestation for growing plant-based alternatives. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that a lot of deforested land is used to cultivate food for cattle. So in essence, from field to plate eating cows is a rather inefficient, wasteful and damaging process. Not to mention, cows are also notorious for producing methane which is more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
As for other livestock there isn’t as big of an environmental impact. However, other issues such as overfishing, species bycatch, agricultural runoff and ranch protection also have devastating effects on the environment and wildlife as a whole.
I’ve provided an infographic from the documentary ‘Cowspiracy‘ (available on netflix) which lays out the issues. I must stress that statistics are highly varied and no one source is going to provide exact measures of the magnitude of these issues. Nevertheless, conceptual summaries are always general indicators of why a plant-based lifestyle is a good idea for the environment.
Leonardo DiCaprio has also recently released a documentary called ‘Before The Flood‘ which addresses some of these issues. In terms of documentaries that address climate change in a broader sense ‘Racing Extinction‘, ‘Chasing Ice‘ and ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘ are also recommended.
Eat your greens!
I always take health arguments with a pinch of salt because admittedly, conforming to a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily dictate good health if you primarily subsist off oreos, lollipops, french fries and coca cola. That being said, statistically-speaking, you’re more likely to consume whole fruits, vegetables, legumes and all sorts of nutrient dense good stuff if you conform to a vegan diet.
However, it’s pretty recognised that red meat isn’t great for your health. Recently the World Health Organisation stated that processed meats are carcinogenic i.e. cancer-causing (think bacon, sausages etc.). Red meat is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. All in all not so good. Thus by abiding to a plant-based diet you can cut all of that nasty stuff out.
Being vegan in this day and age does require a lot of thought and planning as it’s not a universal lifestyle. The offshoot of this is that you’re more likely to be conscious of what you cook and consume. With that comes the task of cooking meals from scratch and the likelihood is you’re not going to load your food full of E numbers and preservatives. So as a result, you’re probably going to be healthier.
Now I am fully aware that a balanced diet is key to health. And if you have no idea what you’re doing, it’s super easy to miss out on essential nutrients, vitamins and protein. You can get everything you need from a vegan diet though technically excluding Vitamin B12, but as most foods are fortified these days it’s not so much of an issue. For a more detailed insight into vegan diet, click here or alternatively, read my article about vegan nutrition.
In my experiences, going vegan made me a hell of a lot healthier. I eat more consciously, have more energy and feel a lot better. Milk used to make me break out like crazy because of the hormones so I guess my skin has improved somewhat.
I recommend watching some documentaries as well just for interest’s sake, namely Forks over Knives (available on Netflix, watch with your own opinion), What the Health (coming soon from the producers of Cowspiracy) and Food Inc. (also available on Netflix).
Also for those of you interested in bodybuilding, vegan bodybuilding is pretty comprehensive.
I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of vegans in saying that becoming more conscious of your lifestyle choices results in a lot of personal development.
From my experience, getting my head out of the sand has made me more compassionate and empowered. And that’s not to say that non-vegans aren’t worthy of these qualities, because believe me I know plenty of non-vegans who I respect and admire far more than some extremely hostile vegans. However, like I insinuated, this lifestyle works for me.
Consequently I’ve become a big advocate of speaking up for those who don’t have a voice. It also feels good knowing that you’re making a difference, no matter how small.