Naturally, I get asked this question so often that you’d think I’d have a word for word answer memorized and ready to go. However, I’ve found I never have a very articulate answer to give. Usually I say its for a lot of reasons- which it is- but what exactly are those reasons? I think it is very important to know why we do things, and I’ve had lots of time to reflect on this question, so here are the reasons explained – to the best of my ability. Please keep in mind that these are my feelings now, with the information that I have acquired so far, and that I am always as open as possible to other ideas and opinions. Please do your own research and soul searching in order make your own informed choices- everybody and every body is different.
- Humans have evolved past the point of needing animal products
Initially, I went vegetarian (almost two years ago now) for one week to try it out with a friend. I made sure to do my research first about how to get all of my essential nutrients, and started supplementing with B12, flax oil (omegas), probiotics and a multi vitamin. I also made sure to incorporate the right foods into my diet- lots of dark leafy greens, legumes, fruits, veggies, etc. (there is all the information you could ever want online- I definitely recommend doing your own research). After that week, I realized just how easy it was to cut out meat entirely. I didn’t even miss it- and I was a “eat-a-12-ounce-stea-and-still-be-hungry” kind of girl (seriously- I was that person that made fun of vegetarians as I chowed down on my burger- gross, right?). I felt lighter and healthier, and it felt like my digestive system didn’t have to work nearly as hard to break down the foods I was eating. I was replacing meat with good carbs like rice, fruits and vegetables. New to the diet as I was- and as a previous paleo enthusiast- a warning from a family friend about the dangers to my health about cutting out meat entirely had me eating it again. Another couple of weeks went by and I realized: this is silly, I don’t WANT animals to live horrific lives and be slaughtered just for my taste buds. (Yes there are more humane ways of farming, but they are rare, expensive and still end in the death of an animal). I knew if I was smart about it I could easily get everything my body needed by eating a plant based diet- and I could avoid all the negatives that come with eating animals. It suddenly seemed very selfish to kill another living thing for the purpose of pleasure- which brings me to my first reason. As a species, we have evolved past the point of needing animals for survival- we can obtain the nutrition we need through plant based foods. In other words- it isn’t necessary to kill and consume animals, so why do it? How have we rationalized taste and conveineince for the death of another living thing? Once I made that connection, it was impossible to see animal agriculture in the same way again.Over the next several months, I slowly transitioned into a vegan diet. Again I was astonished at how easily I was able to stop eating the foods I never thought I could live without- cheese being up there on the list. I was opened up to a whole new world of cooking, and instead of feeling limited, I felt like I had opened the door to a whole new world of food- one of abundance and health. (If your body does not allow you to be vegan, or you have to eat certain animal products in order to be healthy yourself, I encourage everyone to source as ethically as possible and bring awareness of where your food is coming from into your life.)
- It is an extension of my spirituality
I think the most profound connection I have made since going vegan is to the life force that exists in everything in the universe. I would have thought that sounded pretty “my-name-is-rainbow-and-I-hoolahoop-next-to-my-hippie-van” a year ago, but I really have developed a deeper connection to the natural world around me that extends to all living things. It is a connection of oneness; and with that I feel love and appreciation for other living creatures, and have no desire to inflict pain and suffering onto them. This connection wasn’t made until I allowed it to be. Through yoga, meditation, spiritual readings (Ekhart Tolle changed my life and will change yours too), being open, and allowing my own ideas to form apart from mainstream media and the “norm”- I now feel connected to people and animals in a different, more equal way. The conditions that these earthly creatures undergo in factory farming is terrifying. Animals are subjected to overcrowding, conditions that severely restrict movement, body alteration without pain relief (aka chopping off baby chicks beaks and throwing their live bodies through grinders), lack of feed, rape to inseminate and emotional harm. I have no need or want to make animals suffer like this. It is unnecessary and I believe we can live in harmony with other animals.
- Animal agriculture has devastating effects on the planet
The realization of the effects of the animal industry on our environment completely solidified the vegan movement for me, and kept me motivated to live this lifestyle. Here are some facts about the environmental impact of animal agriculture:
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction (caused by clearing forests, converting land for feed crops/grazing and by targeting animal predators). The use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers interferes with animal reproduction and poisons waterways.
- Animals agriculture is responsible for 91% of amazon destruction, with 1-2 acres of rainforest cleared every second.
- Animal agriculture accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions- more than ALL of the exhaust from transportation (this means all road, air, rail and marine transportation).
- Livestock and their byproducts produce at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, thats 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions (the raising, processing and transportation of livestock contributes most of these emissions).
- Methane (which cows release into the atmosphere) is 25-100 times more destructive than carbon dioxide to the environment, and has a global warming potential of 86 times carbon dioxide over a 20 year time frame. Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
- Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2E limit by 2030 with merely animal agriculture.
- 25,000 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 POUND of beef, 477 gallons for 1 pound of eggs, almost 900 gallons for 1 pound of cheese, and 1,000 gallons for 1 gallon of milk. Does that sound sustainable to you?
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 20-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world.
- Livestock land or livestock feed land uses 1/3 of the world’s ice free land, with livestock covering 45% of the Earth’s total land. This use of land has created over 500 nitrogen flooded ocean dead zones.
- 130 times more animal waste is produced than human waste in the US. 7 million pounds of excrement are produced every minute by animals raised for food, while 116,000 pounds of total waste are produced every single second. This is only in the US.
- 3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted, and we could see fish-less oceans by 2048. 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year- 1 in 5 of these are caught unintentionally and discarded as by-kill. 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed each year.
- We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people. 82% of children live in countries where the food is fed to animals that are later eaten by Western countries.
- Vegans use 50% less CO2, 1/13th water and 1/18th land compared to a meat eater. Vegans save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 lbs of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 lbs of CO2, and an animal’s life EVERY SINGLE DAY. Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
- Vegan: 1/6 acre
- Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan
- Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan
These facts screamed at me- how do we live in a world where this is not only allowed but not widely known? Why is all we talk about CO2 from our vehicles and not taking long showers when the effects of the animals industry are incomparable? I couldn’t consciously have this kind of negative impact on the environment anymore. I’m not saying that if everyone went vegan the world would suddenly be perfect. There are immense economical and political problems that need to be dealt with that I can not even begin to comprehend. However, these steps will never be taken if there is not a serious change in consumer demand, and being part of that voice for change seems like a good start to me.
Initially when I went vegan, I wasn’t very aware of the health effects associated with animal product consumption. As I did more research, meat and dairy became more and more unappealing- and actually quite terrifying. I am NOT an expert and don’t claim to be, but I have done lots of research and can speak from personal experience. Almost all animal products come from industrial food animal production (IFAP), where thousands to tens of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens are confined within a single facility. The feed given to these animals is formulated to maximize production at the lowest cost possible. This means that the feed may contain antibiotics, arsenical drugs, animal carcasses and other ingredients that introduce harmful contaminants into our “food”. Micro-organisms that cause diseases such as antibiotic resistant pathogens can enter the food supply. The use of antibiotics in the feed lowers the effectiveness of antibiotics by developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Workers in these facilities face toxic gases, unsanitary conditions and disease- all in the places that produce the meat we eat. The excess waste produced by these animals contaminates drinking water with nitrates, disease causing contaminants and heavy metals, and leads to concerns over toxic human exposure. The air can also be contaminated and is linked with high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. These public health harms more often fall upon low-income communities and those of colour, who are already affected by poor health status and limited medical care. Excess meat consumption has also been strongly linked with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and early death. Studies suggest the high saturated fat and cholesterol content, high energy density, carcinogenic compounds, and L-carnitine that may lead to plaque build-up in arteries all contribute to the health risks associated with meat consumption. Meanwhile, diets with high vegetable, fruit, whole grain and bean content can protect you against these diseases- not to mention promote health in countless ways.
Now lets talk about dairy. First lets get this “strong bones need milk” bullshit out of the way (sorry but seriously). Calcium is vital to the remodelling process of our bones, but only up until a certain point. After someone has consumed about 600 milligrams in a day- easily reached without dairy products- calcium has no effect on bone integrity. Recent studies have shown that dairy products have no benefit on bones and their fracture risk. Plant based sources of calcium include kale, broccoli, dark leafy veggies, beans and fortified products (like almond milk- which provides about the same amount of calcium as milk). Some people drink milk to obtain vitamin D (needed for the proper absorption of calcium), but no dairy products naturally have this vitamin. You can obtain enough vitamin D from the sun, or find it in fortified foods and supplements. Dairy has been strongly linked to cancer of the reproductive system, breast and prostate. Cow’s milk contains IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor (cow’s milk contains growth hormones just like human milk that aid in the rapid growth of the calf) and estrogen metabolites (can cause human cells to grow rapidly)- both increasing the risk of cancer. Cows make milk to feed to their baby calfs- not humans. Dairy cows are constantly impregnated (they only produce milk when pregnant) and have their babies taken from them shortly after birth, so that they don’t drink the milk for us humans. We are the only species that drinks milk after we are babies, and drinks the milk of another species. If thats not the most backwards system ever, I don’t know what is.
I have found that with a whole foods vegan diet I can eat whatever I want and as much as I want and feel energized to live my life, fuel my workouts and just feel good. I think it is important to mention that going vegan won’t magically turn you into a size 0 instagram model, and that should never be the reason you decide to go vegan (or be a goal in the first place). If you are motivated to make the world a better place, starting with yourself, then sticking to a vegan diet will just feel natural.
I strongly recommend watching:
- Forks Over Knives
- Food Matters
- Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead
(All on Netflix!)
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you learned something about veganism and feel inspired to discover it for yourself. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you have any questions or want support starting your journey with this lifestyle. You can find me on instagram at @lightlovelifeblog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.