In today’s world, we face high levels of animal abuse, rapidly evolving human diseases, and increasing natural disasters due to climate change. Veganism can offer some relief from these problems, and clues about how to create a brighter future.
What Is Veganism?
Many people believe that veganism is just a diet and are surprised to find out that it’s a lot more. Veganism is an ethical commitment to impose the least possible harm on the nonhuman animals that we share Earth with. People who live vegan follow a fully plant-based diet, omitting animal flesh and secretions such as milk, honey, or eggs from their plates. Many vegans don’t wear leather, fur, or anything else that came from an animal. They also reject animal use in other forms such as the circus, rodeos, animal testing for cosmetics, or horse-drawn carriages. Veganism is a philosophy and moral stance that supports living in harmony with nonhuman animals and leaving them out of our food, clothing, entertainment, products, and labor. Veganism is about harm reduction.
Why Is Veganism Important?
Veganism encourages humans to be less destructive to animals, wildlife, and the world around them. This is important in itself, but there are also a host of specific reasons that veganism matters to individuals and to our collective future.
Ethical Reasons to Go Vegan
There are a number of ethical reasons to go vegan. Let’s begin by discussing animal pain and suffering, move on to human health, and finally learn more about the science behind veganism.
Pain and Suffering
Even though nonhuman animals’ reactions to pain are sometimes different to humans’, they still feel it. As The Conversation summarizes: “How pain is sensed and the physical processes behind this are remarkably similar and well conserved across mammals and humans. There are also many similarities in pain behaviours across the species, for example they may stop socialising with people and/or other animals, they may eat less, they may vocalise more and their heart rate may rise.”
Consciousness and Personhood
Many people argue that nonhuman animals experience consciousness and deserve personhood. Carl Safina says: “If you’re having a mental experience, you are conscious. The question really is, do other species have mental experiences or do they sense things without having any sensation of what they are experiencing? Like a motion sensor senses motion but it probably doesn’t experience that it senses motion. Animals do—they react to movement: fight or flight or curiosity.” Granting nonhuman animals personhood based on this recognition would offer them greater legal protection from various forms of cruelty.
Animal agriculture has a horrific impact on the planet. A study published in the journal Science in 2018 found that the most sustainable animal-based products are still much worse for the environment than the least sustainable plant-based foods. The researchers concluded that “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet.”
Animal agriculture causes high levels of suffering to humans as well as animals. People who work on animal farms and in slaughterhouses suffer higher levels of PTSD than other industries. Slaughterhouses and factory farms are also hotspots for viruses and bacteria, other illnesses, and injury. Slaughterhouses and factory farms deliberately recruit and employ undocumented workers to fill low-paying jobs, knowing that they will most likely not be able to speak out against unfair hours, low wages, and dangerous conditions.
Some people avoid eating certain animals at specific times in accordance with the religion that they follow.
Environmental Reasons to Go Vegan
Animal agriculture causes air and water pollution, encourages deforestation, and contributes significantly to climate change.
According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, air pollution from factory farms kills more than 17,000 people across the United States annually. Researchers say that animal agriculture is the worst emitter, responsible for 80 percent of deaths from pollution-related to food production.
Agricultural production is estimated to be responsible for 80 percent of global deforestation. Animal agriculture fuels deforestation because land is cleared to grow soy or other crops to feed to farmed animals, or as pastureland for animals farmed by the meat and dairy industry.
Animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to global warming and is estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to be responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
Farmed animals produce manure and urine that frequently leaks into streams, rivers, and oceans. Because of the farming fertilizers that carry nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus into water systems, algal blooms end up killing fish and aquatic life through the depletion of oxygen in the water. High levels of nitrates can also cause methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome” which can be fatal.
It has been estimated that the 8 billion animals being raised for their flesh and secretions in the United States use half of the water consumed in the country.
Wildlife and Biodiversity
Due to the large amount of land that is cleared for farmed animals, “livestock” production is now the greatest driver of habitat loss globally, in addition to being the leading cause of species extinction.
Reasons to Go Vegan for the Animals
If you ask people why they decided to live vegan, many will reply that it was “for the animals.” As the cruel practices of animal agriculture are being reported on more frequently, the world is waking up to its unnecessary horrors.
A 2017 report by the United Egg Producers estimated that 85 percent of commercial egg production in the U.S. used battery cages, compared with 90 percent globally. Battery cages are usually a few feet wide and 15 inches high, leaving no room for chickens to spread out or stretch their wings. Multiple birds are stuffed into these small spaces and are unable to carry out natural behaviors such as perching, dust-bathing, foraging, and roosting. These small and confined spaces are extremely harmful to chickens both physically and psychologically.
After farmed animals are confined in damaging conditions, they are transported to the slaughterhouse in the same fashion. It is estimated that 4 million chickens, 726,000 pigs, and 29,000 cattle die in transport each year in the U.S. alone. Animals are often held in trucks for long periods of time, with little room and no food or water, and easily overheat and suffer from dehydration in these conditions.
Some might find it surprising that the dairy industry is often said to be crueler than the meat industry. Females in the dairy industry are forced to become pregnant, year after year, so that they lactate, producing milk that humans take and sell. After giving birth, 97 percent of newborn dairy calves will be forcibly removed from their mothers within their first 24 hours of life. Most female calves will face the same fate as their mothers before them, while most males will be sold off for veal or cheap beef. Even small, “family” and “local” dairy farms have cruel practices such as separating mothers and babies, slaughtering female cows when they can no longer produce enough milk, and fueling the beef and veal industries.
In the U.S. egg industry, hens are forced to molt in order to replenish their reproductive systems and increase profits, a practice banned in the EU. The natural molting process of hens is exploited and the entire flock is forced to grow new feathers. The hens are starved so that they unnaturally enter the molting process that would normally occur each winter, and the result is better egg production, at the expense of the overall health of the hens.
Many farmed mother pigs are held in gestation crates—a metal cage so tight that pigs cannot turn around—their whole lives. The meat industry treats them like machines, artificially inseminating them again and again so that their babies can be taken at a few weeks old and used for food.
Mutilations at Factory Farms
Because animals trapped in factory farms are packed into cramped and crowded conditions, their bodies are often mutilated without painkillers to avoid the disease and injury these conditions create. It is standard practice to cut off the horns of cattle, the beaks of chickens, and the tails of sheep, pigs, and animals used by the dairy industry.
Selective breeding has created misery for farmed animals across the world. A dairy cow today is selectively bred to produce an unnatural amount of milk, leading to distended and swollen udders as well as painful conditions like mastitis. A typical chicken or turkey that is raised for meat will not be able to bear the weight of their own body due to selective breeding. Their rapid growth leads to fatal conditions like heart failure and broken legs.
Tail docking supposedly makes it easier to milk cows, reduces mastitis, and prevents injury. The tails of farmed animals are “docked,” or cut off, using docking irons, elastrator bands, emasculators, or by surgical excision. These practices are incredibly stressful and painful for animals.
Scientific Reasons to Go Vegan
Some people sympathize with animals through learning about animal cruelty, and this is enough to push them to change their lives, while others need the hard facts and science. Let’s hear what science has to say about the health benefits of living vegan.
When you consume meat, eggs, and dairy products, you could be consuming known carcinogens, bacteria, and other harmful contaminants that accumulate in the body and have the ability to remain there for years. Eating a plant-based vegan diet can help to avoid some of these dangerous toxins.
Boost Your Mood
Eating a plant-based vegan diet can boost your mood. Plant foods are high in antioxidants that help to prevent damage to cells and decrease inflammation. Plant foods can also help restore balance to certain neurotransmitters involved in depression. Plants are so powerful that in a study published in Nutrition Journal, vegetarians and vegans reported more positive moods than meat-eaters.
Eliminate Bad Cholesterol
Fight World Hunger
It can be hard to see the link between animal agriculture and world hunger at first, but it is there. Farming animals is a wasteful and inefficient way to produce food when compared with growing plants to feed humans directly. Farmed animals take a higher level of food from the global supply chain than they provide. We grow more crops than it would take to feed all humans globally, just to feed farmed animals. A Well-Fed World notes that in 2019 we fed and slaughtered some 75 billion land animals, although there were only around 7.5 billion humans on Earth.
Give Your Skin What It Needs to Glow
Consuming cows’ milk has been correlated with acne and breakouts. Higher levels of IGF-1 impact the sebaceous glands and can lead to the stimulation of oil sebum production. In addition, dermatologist Dr. Niyati Sharma warns about the consumption of choline, contained in red meat, fish, eggs, and poultry. Gut bacteria that eat choline produce trimethylamine, converted into Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) by the liver. TMAO leads to inflammation, which is linked to acne, as are psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. Cutting meat and dairy out of your diet and consuming healthy, minimally processed plant-based foods may be a good way to give your skin what it needs to glow.
Eating a plant-based diet can be the best choice when it comes to your hormones. Cows’ milk contains estrogen, cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and other hormones. These can throw the hormones of humans off balance and may create problems such as insulin issues, mood swings, and even cancer growth.
Improve Your Concentration
Many of the foods that have been linked to better concentration are plant-based. Seeds, green vegetables such as broccoli, and dark leafy greens are just a few that make the list.
Improve Your Fitness
There are many ways that consuming a plant-based vegan diet may improve athletic performance, as well as reducing inflammation, speeding up recovery, and decreasing the risk of chronic disease. Switch4Good, a plant-based nonprofit, boasts a large number of Olympic athletes that thrive on plant-based vegan diets.
A 2014 research paper noted that “osteoporosis appears to be more prevalent in the developed countries where dairy products are abundant and well utilized by the population,” and concluded that vegan diets allowed for adequate bone nutrition.”
Reduce Potential for Food Poisoning
Researchers from the University of Mauritius revealed findings in 2018 that suggest that people who do not consume animal flesh are less likely to get food poisoning than those who do.
Save Lots of Money
Eating a plant-based diet can be cheaper than eating one full of animal flesh and secretions. A study conducted by Kantar concluded that vegans spend, on average, 40 percent less on food than omnivores. Mock meats and specialty vegan items can be more expensive than their animal-based counterparts, but eating whole foods and cooking at home can help to keep your meals as healthy and as low-cost as possible.
Reasons Not to Go Vegan
While there are numerous reasons to go vegan, the same cannot be said for reasons not to go vegan. Living vegan has serious positive impacts on human health, the lives of animals, and the planet that we all share. Yet while people all over the world are learning what “veganism” means, not everyone has access to healthy plant-based foods or the time to learn about how to make the switch to a plant-based diet.
How to Become a Vegan
Everyone’s vegan journey looks different. After learning about the cruelty that is inflicted on nonhuman animals by our food system, many people are ready to give up eating animal bodies and secretions overnight. They purge their fridges, rid their closets of animal skin or fur, and ditch cosmetics that were made through testing on animals. Others need more time to continue learning and navigating a plant-based diet. No matter how one decides to become vegan, there are a few things that can make your transition smoother.
Join a Vegan Community
Joining a vegan community can make all the difference. While some folks are okay with going against the grain of society by themselves, others need the emotional and mental support that a vegan community can offer. Start by considering people that you know in person. Do you know any vegans or already have vegan friends? They can be great resources for answering your questions about animal agriculture, learning where the best vegan food spots are, figuring out which clothing items or beauty products are cruelty-free, and learning how to consume a plant-based diet.
Consider asking your local vegetarian or vegan cafes, restaurants, or health food stores if they know of any vegan groups or events. Attending animal rights protests or vigils is also another great way to meet other vegans and build up your community. While it may be ideal to know a vegan community in person, not everyone lives near other vegans or can easily find a vegan support group around them. That’s when many new vegans turn to the internet. Facebook has multiple vegan groups for different states, countries, and cities. Meetup also has a whole section of its website dedicated to vegan meet-ups across the world.
Make Adjustments To Your Life at Your Own Pace
It is important to make adjustments to your life at your own pace. Each step that you take towards veganism is a step in the right direction. Each person lives out their veganism differently so find what works for you. Although veganism is often seen as just a fad, many vegans are in it for the long haul—for health benefits, animal protection, and conservation.
Study and Learn
Becoming vegan can seem overwhelming at first. There is so much information to learn about how animals are impacted by animal agriculture, how workers in these industries are treated, the effects of animal products on our bodies, and the destruction that animal agriculture imposes on the planet. Take your time and learn as much as you can so that you can stand deeply rooted in your beliefs, as many people try to discredit and debunk veganism. Due to a lack of understanding of our food system, the climate crisis, and animal agriculture’s impact on the planet and our health, people usually have a lot of questions for vegans.
There are many great free resources online where you can learn about veganism, such as Free From Harm or A Well-Fed World, and many documentaries and books that you can incorporate into your vegan journey.
Veganism Doesn’t Mean Deprivation
Veganism is not about depriving ourselves of the foods we love, it’s about changing how we look at animals. Once we see animals as independent living beings, and not food, we create space to discover new plant-based foods and explore delicious options. People sometimes think that they will miss a lot of foods if they start living vegan, but there are so many plant-based alternatives to all of our favorite foods from different cultures across the world. Once you dive into the world of plant-based eating, the food opportunities are endless.
If you strongly care for animals, human health, and the planet, don’t just stop at being vegan. Stand up for animals and the planet by joining in on protests, doing humane education, or participating in vegan outreach. Start a vegan meet-up or club in your local community if it is needed. Get educated about the views that your local government and politicians hold when it comes to animal exploitation. Although nonhuman animals occasionally rebel against the system that oppresses them, they are not able to stand up for themselves in the same way that humans often are. A little bit of advocacy can go a long way.
Calen is an activist, blogger, and freelance writer who focuses on unlearning the harmful ideas that society has taught us while creating direct change.