Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes the participation of animal cruelty, usually in the form of a plant-based diet that avoids the consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. There is instead an emphasis on raw or whole foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. There has been a significant spike in the rise of veganism over the last three years, with 6% of consumers in the U.S. identifying as vegan, according to a report released in June of 2017. Many people choose to switch to veganism for ethical reasons, but there are plenty of benefits that involve the well-being not just individuals, but the world.

1. Better for the Environment

Livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the leading causes of climate change. As more land is needed to grow feed for livestock, and space is needed to house those animals, deforestation becomes necessary, which increases levels of carbon dioxide and decreases biodiversity. Biodiversity is vital to the health of the planet. Humans rely on organisms such as bacteria and plants to grow crops, make clothing material, and make medicine. A balance in the ecosystem allows for fertile soil, clean water, and moderate weather. Meat production also puts a strain on freshwater resources, contributing to the global water crisis. By cutting down on red meat, you’re able to reduce your personal ecological footprint, which refers to the measure of human demand on nature, based on the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat.

2. Stop Participating in Animal Cruelty

Egg-laying hens spend their lives in battery cages, confined to such tight spaces that they experience feather loss and bruising. Dairy cows spend their lives indoors, with females milked continuously and often developing infections. Calves are taken away from their mothers within hours of birth and are usually slaughtered within seven years, despite their natural lifespan being twenty-five years. Animals are also used in the testing of cosmetic products and medications or subjected to the brutality of the leather industry.

3. Avoid Contamination

Meat is more likely to be contaminated with carcinogens, hormones, antibiotics and other toxins, and has a higher concentration of pesticides than plant food. Pesticides have been linked to health issues, including birth defects and cancer. There is a high risk of exposure to dangerous bacteria such as E. coli. Additionally, The USDA reported that 70 percent of food poisoning is caused by the contaminated animal flesh.

4. Healthier Diet

Regularly consuming meat raises the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than carnivorous diets and allow a higher intake of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and important nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Vegetable protein can be found in beans, peas, rice, quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds and grains. Studies have found those who follow plant-based diets are more able to maintain a healthy body weight and have longer life expectancy.

5. Save Money

Veganism is often thought to be an expensive luxury, associated with the health-conscious west-coast hipsters, processed-food-fearing moms and Lululemon-wearing yoga/pilates teachers that populate Trader Joe’s. However, going plant-based can be accessible and affordable. Mock-meat and faux-cheese products are not vital, and veggie patties, seitan chik’n or soy-based cheese can be highly processed, essentially amounting to junk food. Staples such as vegetables, oats, tofu or beans, tend to be cheaper than animal proteins; for example, a cut of beef averages about $4 per pound, while a pound of lentils is less than $1. Vegetables can also be preserved longer through canning or freezing, and plant-based proteins are often non-perishable, as opposed to meat or dairy, which usually must be eaten within a certain time frame before spoiling.

6. Vegan Junk Food

On the other hand, if you aren’t afraid to splurge, alternative vegan junk food does exist. Companies such as Amy’s and Daiya offer vegan mac and cheese or pizzas. If you’re a Philadelphia native (excuse this shameless plug), Dottie’s Donuts is a vegan bakery that offers food-porn-worthy treats, with deluxe doughnut flavors such as pumpkin spice glazed, peanut-butter oreo or matcha pistachio, to name a few. As for vegan ice cream, Little Baby’s offers a plethora of options and has locations in West Philly and Fishtown.

7. Live Conscientiously

In this technology-centered age, it’s easy to be disconnected—from other people, from yourself, from the world. We are faced with constant distractions, brainwashed by a barrage of media influences. We follow mundane routines, fall into negative habits, mindlessly going through the motions in a depersonalized state. It’s easy to just absorb information without questioning it, let someone else make choices for you, to obsess over trivial or materialistic matters. Modern society is fast-paced, we are pushed forward by the bulleting rush of time. To live conscientiously simply means to be purposeful and mindful of your actions, to recognize the intentions behind every decision you make and the consequences of your choices. It means raising your self-awareness and acknowledging the world around you. Going vegan, for me, was about taking control of an aspect of my life that I had been struggling with for a long time. The things that you put into your body has a direct correlation to the way you feel, your overall mood and mental health. My transition into veganism happened over the course of several years, and it helped me perceive my body in a more positive way. I was teaching myself to be kinder to myself, and less judgemental. At a time when I felt lost and overwhelmed, it made me feel more in touch with not only myself, but with the world.