What Is A Vegan?

Although it hasn’t been as popular as it is today, veganism has been around for quite awhile. Leonardo da Vinci became a vegetarian–and there is good evidence to suggest he didn’t consume dairy either–when he was a little boy because he didn’t want to eat anything from an animal. The term “vegan” actually was coined by Donald Watson. He was concerned about vegetarians who still consumed dairy products, and coined it because it was “the beginning and end of vegetarian“. Pretty interesting.

So, what is a vegan? A vegan is basically a vegetarian, but vegans don’t eat any dairy products or eggs (some don’t even eat honey!). Some vegans, depending on their reasons for not eating animal products, also choose not to buy clothing made from animals, such as leather or wool. Others still buy other products, like shampoo, make-up, or home cleaning supplies, that are eco-friendly and what’s known as “cruetly-free” (which means it contains no animal bi products and was not tested on animals).

Now a lot of people probably think that some of these people are cuckoo!! Why go through such trouble to avoid cruetly free products? Why be so picky? Why are more and more people becoming vegan?

Well, there are many reasons to be vegan and each person has their own reasons. Here are my two biggest reasons for being vegan:

1) Animals. Animals on factory farms are not treated well. Undercover footage has revealed the utter lack of empathy workers have towards animals, doing things to animals that most people would never willingly do, such as dehorning and castrating cows without anaesthetics; the slitting of throats of fully conscious pigs and cows; the bathing of live chickens in electrified and scalding waters; the sheds full of tens of thousands of chickens who continually breathe in ammonia from their waste and whose bones break under the weight of their growth-hormone-enlarged breasts…The lists goes on, unfortunately, and the same treatment–sometimes worse–extends to the usage of animals for clothes and entertainment. The footage caught are not exceptional cases of animal cruelty–they are standard practices. The meat and dairy industries do not have time to ensure that animals feel no pain, otherwise, they would not be efficient enough to feed the still-growing demand for animal products by over 300 million people. People would be horrified to see these things done to companion animals, so I think people really need to begin to connect the dots between the animals that we choose to love and care for and the animals that we choose to eat.

2) Environment. Factory farming emissions contribute more to pollution and the global carbon footprint than the entirety of the global transportation industry and has other terrible effects on ecosystems in the environment. The ammonia, the ground degradation, the run-off of animal waste into major bodies of water, algal blooms and dead zones….and much more, occur largely because of current agricultural practices (also in crop farming too, not just animal farms). Factory farming also uses a colossal amount of water in maintaining its almost 10 billion annually-slaughtered animals. From a humanitarian perspective, factory farming also contributes to the growing food crisis. A huge amount of all grain produced globally goes to feeding livestock–grain which could have gone to feed more than enough food to every hungry person in the developing world. (Not that that whole world needs to immediately become vegetarian, but it seriously needs to change the way it eats meat, that’s for sure.)

There is also the health aspect, which is another big reason that people are becoming vegan. Plants contain all the micronutrients our bodies need in order to function optimally. Many studies are confirming the negative effects that large amounts of animal products have on the human body. These include susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, and increased chance of heart attacks. The Standard American Diet, the diet most popular in America, is heavy in animal products such as meats and cheeses, and processed foods like white breads, sugar, and oil; and plants foods are not eaten in large enough quantities. With this in mind, it’s obvious why we have a growing obesity problem that some are calling an epidemic and higher-than-ever cases of heart disease. And unfortunately, more countries are beginning to adopt Western diets as they become more industrialized. Of course, it is obviously not bad for you to eat meat and dairy in small quantities–humans have been doing it for thousands of years. But it is no longer necessary. All the nutrients found in animal products–even vitamin B12–can be found in an abundance of plant and fortified vegan foods.

Case in point, it’s all about supply and demand. I, and many other people, choose to be vegan because we do not wish to support what happens to animals in factory farms or contribute to the damage factory farming causes to the environment because we want to stop these things from happening and contribute to more sustainable causes. And to be healthier.

There are a million other points to make about animal welfare, environment, and health when it comes to what we eat. If you are curious to learn more about this, check these out:

For info on all these issues, plus info on organics, raising children vegan, and localvores, check out a great book called The Ethics of What We Eat by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer. Or just watch his lecture of the same title: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHzwqf_JkrA

For info on health: http://www.forksoverknives.com/

http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/

For info on the environment: http://woods.stanford.edu/environmental-venture-projects/consequences-increased-global-meat-consumption-global-environment

http://www.alternet.org/story/137737/13_breathtaking_effects_of_cutting_back_on_meat

http://content.markbittman.com/video/what%E2%80%99s-wrong-with-what-we-eat

And if you are interested in seeing some of the footage that has been taken of what goes on in factory farms and in other animal-using industries, check out www.earthlings.com and watch the documentary. But be warned, this video contains very disturbing images.