When I was eleven years old my dad asked me if I wanted to shoot a feral hog with him in Texas. I was repulsed at the idea of shooting the pig. My dad pointed out that I ate pigs, and when I realized I didn't have the guts or the heart to kill the animal myself, I decided to give up eating land-animals (although I still ate seafood).
Despite not eating land meat, when I heard people mention the word “vegan” I scoffed. To clarify, vegans are people who do not use any animal products. They do not eat meat, dairy, or eggs and do not purchase leather, wool or any other animal products. In my head vegans were: 1) pretentious, wealthy Beverley Hills residents who ate a stick of celery a day 2) fit middle aged yoga moms who wore visors, and were always on a low-carb diet 3) people who would only eat organic, fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, no grain, no spice, no blah blah blah 5) people who just wanted attention by turning their noses up and saying “I don’t eat that” and 6) people who only ate the below product (which STILL makes my inner Ron Swanson combust).
But then, one of my friends at school went vegan. I thought, “she’s crazy” and, “this won’t last!” I was (and AM) a food-lover. I loved pizza and ice cream and all things cheesy. But, her veganism prompted me to do some gradual research over the course of a year. Slowly, and surely, becoming vegan seemed less like an outlandish idea and more like the most practical way of living my life. Here are some of the top things I learned.
Cost and Food Inequality
I want to begin by acknowledging that in the United States there is drastic inequality in the food different socioeconomic classes are able to eat. It is a privilege in itself to choose to be vegan. Food inequality is an issue that warrants a separate article. To be succinct, eating a plant-based diet requires people to eat a greater volume of plant based food because plants are not as calorically dense as meat. According to NewsMax, " A one-earner couple working for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 60 hours a week, well over the standard 9-5 workday to which most Americans are accustomed." So, if someone is living around the poverty line and working 12 hours a day, buying a McDonalds Big Mac is an efficient and cheap way to consume roughly 500 calories versus having to eat more plant based food to get to 500 calories. There are numerous issues surrounding this inequality in itself that I will hopefully write about in the near future.
However, for people who do not live around the poverty line, the price of a vegan diet does not have to be expensive (plants are not that expensive and eating vegan does not have to be full of the "Veganic Sprouted Brown Rice Crisps"). Click here for a guide to eating vegan on a budget. Click here for some fast food vegan options.
18% of all green house gases are emitted from animal agriculture. An additional 18% of all green house gases are emitted from deforestation which largely happens to create pastures for animals that will be slaughtered. So really between 18% and 36% of all green house gases emitted from humans are because of animal agriculture.
One 1/3 pound hamburger takes 660 total gallons to produce, and according to One Green Planet and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "The production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein." So, cutting out--or drastically limiting--meat consumption is much, much more impactful than taking shorter showers (although, that's great too).
Especially now, when we are entering an era where those in charge do not believe in climate change, changing your diet will make a huge impact.
Click here for more information on animal agriculture and the environment
Click here to compare water usage for the production of different foods.
I know this is obvious to many, but for the longest time I did not connect the dots that cows have to be pregnant to produce milk. On most farms female cows are inseminated, have a baby, and the baby is taken from the mother almost immediately. If the calf is a female it becomes a dairy cow, and if the cow is a male it becomes meat (so drinking milk contributes to the meat-producing cycle). According to Free From Harm, 21,000,000 calves are killed as a product of the dairy industry. Female dairy cows are inseminated and then give birth over and over again up until they are too old to go farther (usually until they are about six years old). Then, they are slaughtered as meat. This shortens their natural life span by about 14 years.
There are a slew of problems with the chicken-egg producing industry. Here they are:
Because only hens are needed to lay eggs, when male chicks are born they are usually immediately ground up and killed. They become waste or fertilizer. 200 million male chicks die this way each year. Even though cage free hens may have a better life, many times they get their hens from sources that practice chicken culling.
Caged and cage free birds have part of their beak burned off without any kind of anesthesia. Beaks share the same level of feeling of the red part of human nails. De-beaking is common practice because when chickens are crowded and stressed, they begin pecking themselves and other chickens. This practice is supposed to stop chickens from pecking their fellow chickens/themselves, but it is painful for them.
The word “cage free” often doesn’t fit the image we have in our minds about what that means. Often it means that chickens are squashed, but they aren’t confined by bars. Caged eggs have an average of 67 square inches of space to live their entire life (Less than the size of a standard sheet of paper).
This is an image of a cage free chicken environment
Many studies indicate that if we keep fishing at the current rate, the ocean will be at 10% of its highest capacity by 2048.
There are so many ways that meat, dairy, and other animal products are advertised to make human beings feel less guilty about killing and abusing animals. One of those tactics is pushing the fact that animals are "grass fed" before they are slaughtered. There are several issues with the "grass fed" label. The first issue is that "grass fed" is often associated with the idea of "humane slaughter." "Humane slaughter" does not exist--those words directly contradict one another. Yes, maybe the roaming cow had a better life than the one in a factory farm, but would we feel better slaughtering a healthy dog that lived a life of luxury versus a stray? Slaughtering something that has a will to live is never humane.
The second issue with the "grass fed" label is that letting all cattle roam and eat grass is not environmentally sustainable. 78% of beef cows are in factory farms, but if 100% of cows were grass fed, half of the land in the US would have to be used just for raising cattle. This excludes all other livestock animals.
Have you noticed how many fast-food meat advertisements use cheerful caricatures of the animal they are serving to advertise? This SNL skit sums it up:
The more I think about the human relationship with dogs, the more perplexed I am by eating meat. As humans, we love dogs because they are the most domesticated and they love us back. If dogs did not wait anxiously at home for us to return from work, or fall on their backs with an open belly when rubbed, we would be eating them. We love dogs because they love us. As humans, we dominate the earth without eating animals (through paving roads through animal habitats, through cutting down trees, and building civilizations, etc.). Even if it is subconscious, humans believe that they are the superior species. Because the other animals do not express obvious affection for us, we do not care that they are slaughtered. Animals are animals. Dogs are the same as cows, chickens, pigs, goats, etc.
People can go to jail for animal cruelty for harming their dog, but their are no federal laws protecting farmed animals. Slaughtering livestock is unrecognized animal abuse.
TO FINISH THIS RAMBLE....
I could write way more about the health benefits of being vegan, and even more about the environmental and ethical reasoning behind it. However, I am going to wrap it up. Just one year ago I was a vegan skeptic. I thought it was crazy and unsustainable. But, becoming vegan has made me more aware that violence is completely normalized in our culture, and peace is deemed insane. War is normal, and the idea of slaughtering or abusing animals is normalized, but just eating plant-based foods (which are NOT sentient, despite some people’s best arguments against veganism) is deemed crazy. Additionally, although I had to adjust initially, I do not feel like I am missing out on foods I used to enjoy because there are alternatives. We are in our sixth mass extinction right now. For people who have the financial means, it's time to use your influence in supply and demand and make personal adjustments to help the environment and the animals. Just because something is normal in a culture does not mean it is ethical.