You’ve probably noticed the trend lately, of meatless bleeding burgers, vegan cheese and Instagram athletes fueled solely by plant protein. For those not in the know, vegans choose not to consume dairy, eggs or any other products of animal origin. They do this in addition to not eating meat like their vegetarian counterparts. The vegan lifestyle, once adorned only by carefree hippies, and wishy-washy celebrities, seems to have exploded overnight, and infected the lifestyles of an ever-increasing number of the general population. It’s safe to say that the status of veganism as a fad is now over — it’s definitely here to stay. Major brands such as Guinness* have adapted their processes, in a commitment to ensuring their product is 100% vegan. Many supermarkets now boast an extensive range of vegan products, and some restaurants even have an entire additional vegan menu.
*FYI, fish bladders used to be an essential part of the Guinness filtration process.😬
For many years though, veganism had a bad rep. It seemed to only belong to weirdos and nonconformists, who used every opportunity to shove their moral superiority down your throat. I have to admit, the thought of being associated with this culture put me off of ever trying it for a long time. I thought it was embarrassing to be associated with them. The extreme activism and attacking style of the culture didn’t do much to make me listen either. Maybe I have a problem with self-appointed authority, or just don’t like being told that I’m wrong by people who looked to me like they had their head in the clouds. Besides, it was much easier to be on the side of the majority, and brush off their claims.
This is by no means an anti-vegan article, just an analysis of the strange culture surrounding it. In fact, full disclosure, I have been eating a vegan diet for the past six months, though I don’t consider myself a ‘full vegan’. The reason is that, while I try not to buy or consume anything that explicitly contains animal products, it’s nigh on impossible to do so if you’re strict about it. For example, shellac nails are not vegan, as shellac is made from the secretions of the lac beetle. Plastic bags, fabric softeners, toothpastes, shampoos, candles and crayons are all made with the animal fat of cows, pigs, sheep and horses. The ‘pearl essence’ in nail polish comes from fish bones. Even most brands of paint and tyres contain some kind of animal products. I could go on, but you get my drift.
Despite the growing acceptance and popularity of the culture in recent times, I still often feel like I want to crawl into a hole when somebody brings up my vegan diet, as the legacy of the crazy vegan still lingers. Often, people look at you like you’re a Flat-Earther, or a Scientologist; an odd-ball, or a fanatic. I’m not saying it’s unjustified, I’ve seen vegans do some pretty cringey things. Some obnoxiously shout with megaphones into the ears of meat-eating people in restaurants. Others strip off in public, caressing themselves in fake blood to protest.
Some have even gone beyond just the cringe-factor, and as far as to threaten the lives of other people, for not conforming to their beliefs and lifestyle. Butchers around the globe, from France to Australia, have had to request police protection from extremist vegans who threatened their lives, and their families. Hardly the ‘Kum Ba Yah’ existence they’re try to espouse, and something I explicitly reject.
For these reasons, I can understand why many people are still skeptical or turn a deaf ear to the cries of the vegan community. The fact of the matter is though, once you look past the outrageous acts of the extremist few, there are solid foundations to the veganism argument. More and more people are realising this too, and the movement is gaining incredible traction. In the US alone, it’s reported that there has been a 600% increase from 2014 to 2017 in the number of people identifying as vegan. The trend for consumption of plant-based diets is on the rise in Europe, Middle East and Asia. China have even brought in new dietary guidelines that encourage their 1.3 billion people to reduce meat consumption by 50%. In Australia, between 2014 and 2016, the number of new food products launched that are labelled as vegan rose by 92%.
Personally, I think that this trend is due to heavily influential people like Leonardo DiCaprio putting his money where his mouth is regarding the unnecessary abuse, and horrific environmental impact of our current lifestyle. He co-produced the 2014 vegan documentary ‘Cowspiracy‘, and has been a huge investor in exciting vegan food companies such as the snack producers ‘Hippeas‘, the plant-based ‘Beyond Meat‘, and milk-alternative producers ‘Califia Farms‘.
For the longest time, I found it hard to find convincing arguments about the vegan lifestyle. I think it’s because I was looking for logic, not emotion. If you scream at me, I’m probably going to resist whatever you’re saying, just out of principle. That’s what I told myself anyway. But admittedly, I was defensive. I didn’t go searching for information, because I didn’t necessarily want to know. I had enough shit to worry about.
Then, on November 16th 2017, my entire world turned upside down. It was the fateful day that my boyfriend became a vegetarian. I remember the date exactly because it was only a few days before his birthday, and I had already booked a table at an exclusive steakhouse restaurant to celebrate. I had been there before, but he hadn’t, and I was so excited for him to try the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meat delights that they had to offer. Despite my numerous attempts in the following days to convince him to sample the succulent steak, he resisted. We still went to the steakhouse, but he committed to the only vegetarian thing on the menu — a gruelish risotto.
I was intrigued by his foolhardiness. Why did he refuse to give in? To me, eating that steak would have been no problem. Besides, it was a special occasion. We debated back and forth, his main argument one of morality: that if we can survive without causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering to other living beings, then we should. I didn’t want to hear it.
Vegetarian, Then Vegan
A few months later, he left to travel and work in Thailand for a few months. I couldn’t get such a long period of time off of work, and didn’t have the option to work remotely either. So, I arranged to meet him 5 weeks later, during the last leg of his trip. It was sad to be apart of course, but finally I had the TV and our tiny studio apartment all to myself. After saturating my brain with all seasons of Brooklyn Nine Nine, and the I.T. Crowd during the first two weeks, my mind was ready for some intellectual stimulation. I went in search of documentaries, and stumbled across a mini-doc on YouTube called ‘Meat the End’. It outlined the environmental impact of the meat industry: how it’s the leading cause of global warming, water depletion, deforestation, and species extinction. I was gobsmacked. How could I not know this? I desperately needed more information.
Quickly, I was hooked, watching ‘Earthlings‘, ‘Food Inc.‘, and ‘Cowspiracy‘ in one day. That day, my heart just broke, because the way we treat animals is barbaric. When male chicks are born, they are useless for egg production, so it’s not economical to keep them alive. They live for a mere few hours, before being shoved on a conveyor belt, where they end up in a grinder — alive. Females are painfully de-beaked so that they will not cause harm to each other when they inevitably turn cannibalistic in extreme captivity. Sorry, what the effing eff? Why did nobody tell me this stuff? Had someone tried to tell me, and I just didn’t want to hear it? I was repulsed, and from that moment on, I did not eat meat or eggs. I couldn’t. I did continue to eat dairy for a while, however. The transition was just too much at once.
Six months later, in summer, I watched ‘H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters‘. This is probably my favourite documentary on the topic of a plant-based diet, because it had lots of credible experts, logic, facts, and didn’t go all in on the shock factor. In this production, what impacted me the most was the way they looked at the impact of dairy farming on cows.
In a naive way, I had always assumed that cows just keep on producing milk, and that their udders would practically explode or something if we didn’t kindly help them out. Of course, they produce milk for the same reason humans do: to feed their young. Just like humans, in order for a cow to keep producing milk, they need to be pregnant. So we relentlessly keep female cows pregnant for almost all of their lives, until they can’t produce anymore, and end up in the abattoir.
Cows have the same gestation period as us too, meaning after 9 months a cow will deliver a calf with whom she has a deep bond. Tragically, the calf is immediately taken away from her. No time together, just grief. They never nurse their young, or ever see them again. Mother cows spend days searching and calling for their calves, only to be forcibly impregnated again, and for the cycle to start over. All for the sake of milk. Learning of this practice made it easy for me to finally reject the dairy industry too.
I began to understand some of the intense, overwhelming emotion displayed by protesting vegans. I just wanted to shake the world and say, “What are we doing????”
Top 3 Things That Made Me Consider The Vegan Lifestyle
I’m not going to preach to you about the necessity of following a vegan lifestyle, or judge you for your choices. I think that many of us do not consciously make a choice to bring suffering upon other beings. Often, we do not even know there is a choice, because we don’t experience their pain first hand, and are misinformed or uneducated about the reality of where our food comes from. There are huge industries at stake here too, who have a vested interest in covering up ugly truths, and spreading disinformation.
Most of us grew up eating meat, and consuming animal products is still very much a societal norm. It’s difficult too, to see the knock-on effects that our food system has on the environment, as it will be future generations that feel the force of the impact, not us. The only thing I will assume, however, is that if you’ve continued to read this far, you must at least be curious. So, I’ll give you the facts that tipped the scale for me, and let you make up your own mind.
1. All are not equal
Though many of us consider ourselves as avid animal-lovers, we have developed a strange relationship with them. We rank some animals above others due to random cultural norms and cuteness factor. For example, why do we love dogs, but eat pigs? When you think about it, it’s totally messed up. In fact, when you look at the scientific literature, you will see that pigs are extremely cognitively complex creatures, that share many traits with other animals we consider as highly intelligent.
Pigs have personalities, are highly social, and emotionally perceptive. They like to play, can learn complex tasks and have amazing long-term memories. Pigs have been scientifically classed as comparable to dogs and chimpanzees in terms of mental and social skills. They have hierarchies, unspoken cues, feel the emotions of others (emotion contagion), and can recognise different people as individuals. Piggies are clever, and even capable of social manipulation, and tactical deception in order to get something.
Yet, most people have fundamentally flawed thinking when it comes to eating them, blinded by the hypnotic allure of bacon. Let’s use the same logic and apply it to their intellectual equivalent, dogs. Why then is there such an outcry against Asian countries who eat dogs? Knowing what we know, how is it OK to sign an online petition to end ‘Dog Meat Eating’ festivals in China, while we chomp down on some ham?
2. A life worth living
Some argue that if we stopped keeping animals the way we do, then millions of future animals would never get the chance to be born, and experience life. That is true, but is it a life worth living? Besides, pumping out animals only for them to suffer and be killed prematurely, is hardly an ethically sound standpoint. Let’s look at the kind of lives they truly live.
Chickens and turkeys are force fed at breakneck speed, becoming so fat so quick, that many can’t even walk as their little legs can’t keep up with their unnatural growth. They end up dying from starvation or dehydration, right next to thousands of other living animals producing eggs for human consumption.
Pigs are grown in cages so small that they never get to stand up properly their entire lives. Sometimes, they accidentally suffocate their own young piglets by rolling over onto them, but don’t have enough space to get off of them again. These piglets die a slow death, trapped beneath their squealing mother. It doesn’t end there. The testicles of male pigs are ripped out, and their sensitive tails chopped off without anesthetic.
Calves are forced to wear heavy chains to avoid them from being too overactive in their tiny stalls. They are kept in total darkness, suffering from forced anemia, just so their flesh can stay pale and attractive to consumers. Even animals raised for dairy and egg production still end up in the abattoir in the end. While many facilities make some effort to stun the animals before killing them (to minimise pain), production lines can be so fast that workers inevitably miss some. Unlucky animals end up boiled, gassed or slain alive.
Choosing free-range or organic options might not be helping as much as you think either. Just because a label says ‘Free Range’, it does not mean that the animals were able to roam freely outdoors. It actually only means that they were ‘not inside at all times’, which is a pretty vague statement. Sadly too, on-farm inspections are not required in many cases to earn the right to advertise as ‘free-range’.
Lastly, all methods of farming still mean a considerably shorter life for the animal. For example, the natural life expectancy of a cow is twenty years, yet most of them in the farming industry don’t live beyond two. You can check out this infographic for the life-span versus slaughter age of other animals. Looking at the ages of slaughtered animals, most are actually killed as babies or juveniles, after living only a tiny portion of their natural life span. Imagine if you were to prematurely kill your dog, and justify it by saying “At least they had a great life”? People would think you’re a maniac! Why is this any different?
3. Environmental Concerns
According to the Economist, by 2050 the world’s population could approach 10 billion. By this time, 60% more food will be required to be produced to feed everyone. The environmental impact of our food system is already pretty abysmal, so if things go this way, the future will be bleak AF. As it currently stands, food production is responsible for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, while using 40% of the Earth’s land surface, and 70% of all freshwater resources. Food generated emissions, based on our current diets, would double in the next 25 years, bringing harmful emissions to critical levels — levels that we likely cannot come back from. The Economist states that if everybody went vegan by 2050 however, instead we could reduce food-related greenhouse emissions by 75%.
Despite what you may think, cows are actually the greatest cause of climate change, as they release the toxic greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere (*interesting side note: they do this through burps, not farts 👀). Methane is a powerful gas too, much more damaging than carbon dioxide (CO2). In fact, every molecule of methane is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2, and unlike carbon dioxide, almost all methane in the atmosphere is derived from livestock.
Producing meat is seriously resource intensive too. Beef requires 50 times as much land resources as growing rice, potatoes, or wheat, and meat production is also the largest cause of tropical deforestation. Every year, 1 to 2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest in South America is destroyed, leading to the extinction of many rare plants and animals. More than 70% of this deforestation takes place in order to make room for factory farming. The rest is for cultivating soy crop. Now, I know what you’re thinking; those pesky vegans that are destroying the planet with their soy obsession. However, the vast majority of soy is actually grown as an ingredient for animal feed, not for human consumption. In South America alone, 90% of soy crop is grown solely for the purpose of animal feed. It is such an inefficient use of resources, requiring five times as much soy to create a beef burger, than it does to create a soy burger.
There are a million more reasons I could list here in support of a vegan diet, but I’m trying to keep the word count to an acceptable level. A key question to ask yourself I think, is if you had to kill it yourself, would you do it? Only in an extreme survival situation where I would otherwise definitely die, would I consider it. In any other situation, where there is another option, there’s no way I could end a life unnecessarily. For certain, after all the research I’ve done, I cannot support the blatant disregard for animals lives that exists in the modern farming industry.
Beyond the moral dilemma, there are so many practical repercussions for us too. Factory farms are so over-crowded and stressful to animals, that they are a cesspool of bacteria, and make it easy for disease to spread. Not only does this result in many animals dying slow and painful deaths, it poses a very serious health risk to humans. This is because, to combat the spread of bacteria, many factory farms routinely give low levels of antibiotics to animals, even if they aren’t sick. In turn, this creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, that reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics for human patients, and leave us vulnerable to new, resistant strains.
Also, there has never been an easier time to try a vegan diet. We have supplements for key vitamins and minerals such as B12 and iron, and millions of delicious, nutritious vegan recipes. There is an abundance of vegan options out there as retailers happily stock a variety of plant-based meat alternatives, and more and more restaurants are adding vegan items to their menus. The ‘Beyond Meat’ burger mentioned earlier (backed by Leo) boasts an impressive nutritional value list. It has more iron, more protein, and less saturated fat than a beef burger. Not to mention they’re also hormone and antibiotic-free. The future of food will be so amazing too, with the promise of lab grown meat meaning that we can grow identical meat from animal cells. Literally it is meat as you know and love it, but with one giant difference. No blood on the floor.
At the end of the day, it’s your life, and your choice. Just remember, you are choosing. It’s not easy to go all-in on being vegan from day one, but the vegan way of life is certainly something to consider. At the very least, there are huge personal and global benefits to decreasing your meat consumption even a little. Every meal adds up.
Veganism doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It should be about consistently trying to have a smaller impact on the lives of animals, our planet, and our own future generations. We must do everything we can not to steal from the futures of our children. Let’s make better choices.
Something I didn’t get to cover in this article was health or aesthetics on a vegan diet. For fitness-related advice, I highly recommend the book ‘Meat Is for Pussies: A How-To Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass, and Take Names‘ by John Joseph. It’s not just for dudes, either. For me, it answered all of the questions I had about health, aesthetics and endurance on a vegan diet 💪
This article originally appeared at DiscoverImprove.com
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