Let me start by saying this, going vegan is not a change that anyone expects you to make overnight. It's a choice that takes some time and effort, so it's okay to have some fallbacks on your way through the transition process. The important thing to keep in mind is that going vegan is a great opportunity and can be extremely rewarding, from improving your overall health to reducing your carbon footprint, or simply speaking up for animals. It doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying your normal life or completely change your social plans, it just means you're making a decision to help animals, the environment, and yourself.
You'd be amazed at how many food alternatives there are for vegans. From plant-based meat to dairy-free milk, there are easy ways to keep the same food routine while still going vegan. Grocery stores like Walmart or Stop & Shop carry plenty of vegan food brands such as Gardein, Boca, Sweet Earth, Amy's, or MorningStar. They also sell dairy-free options such as Silk, So Delicious, and FairLife. My sister went vegan long before I did and before I made the change, I'd often steal some of her MorningStar black bean burgers just because I thought they tasted delicious, regardless of the fact that they were vegan. Vegan foods sometimes get a bad rep of being 'fake foods' that taste disgusting but I promise you if you give vegan foods a try, you'll be surprised at how tasty they actually are.
When transitioning into a vegan lifestyle, it's okay to retreat to old food habits while transitioning. No one expects you to completely change your dietary lifestyle overnight, especially when you've been living that lifestyle for years or even decades. It's all about the effort and progress you make. If you get home late on a Friday night after going out with friends and eat a few slices of pizza, that's okay. I can honestly say that I've been there and other vegans can probably relate. The important thing to keep in mind is the positive impact you're creating by making one single change. PETA even provides a vegan mentor program to help you transition your food groups and dietary habits. You're not going through it alone but you are going through it for a better cause.
As you consider going vegan, there's some information you should keep in mind about the treatment of animals. Animals, even fish, are complex creatures that experience joy and love but, unfortunately, they also experience pain and suffering. There's a good chance you've already become aware of the horrific conditions that factory farmed or free-range animals suffer from, including cramped, unsanitary living space, lack of sunlight, and persistent disease. To see into the horrific conditions, go to PETA's Instagram page, but please keep in mind that the images may be too gruesome for some to handle. Cows, chickens, pigs, and other 'livestock' are all highly intelligent, social animals that deserve a long and happy life. Forcing them into unbearable, painful conditions that ultimately lead to an even more painful and excruciating death isn't giving them any chance at life. These animals understand what's happening to them and the animals around them, feeling and enduring every agonizing moment.
For hens, the females are forced to lay 30 times more eggs than they naturally would and live out their lives in cramped cages, are debeaked, and suffer from broken bones, hemorrhaging, and dehydration. Every year, 200,000,000 male chicks are killed by the egg production industry, often by suffocation or ground up alive in industrial machines. For cows, most newborn calves are forcibly removed from their mothers within 12 hours of birth so that milking can begin. The separation is extremely disheartening and unbearable for the mother and calf, as they call out to each other for days. Then the calf is placed alone in a small pen for 2-3 months and fed a milk replacer, devised to fatten them up for production as quick as possible. Once they're old enough to lactate, they begin a cycle of forced impregnation that takes a heavy toll on their bodies, especially emotionally. By age four or five, a quarter of the cow's lifespan, their production declines, and the cow is then brought to the slaughterhouse and sold for meat.
Wildlife isn't out of harm's way either, since animals that are deemed a threat to livestock are killed by Wildlife Services in an effort to eradicate a potential attack. These wildlife animals are then killed in painful, drawn-out ways, contributing to over 3 million animals killed by Wildlife Services every year, including domesticated dogs and cats.
Recognizing the conditions these animals endure informs you about what they went through so people could eat meat, eggs, or dairy. Contrary to popular belief, these animals don't get to live out their lives and then come to a painless death. These animals fear death just as much as we do and no matter how well they're treated when alive, they all experience the same fear when it comes to slaughter. By going vegan, you're standing up for these innocent animals. Every time we go to the grocery store or a restaurant, we can choose to help animals. Every time we switch from an animal product to a vegan one, we're standing up for farm animals everywhere. With enough people making the change to go vegan, there's hope that the world will make a change too, to stop the horrific conditions and painful deaths of the farm animals.
Going vegan can also help the environment by reducing your carbon footprint and helping feed world hunger. 70% of the grain grown in the United States helps feed livestock and globally, 83% of farmland is set aside to raise animals. An estimated 700 million tons of food that could be consumed by humans goes to livestock each year. The forced consumption of grain used to feed livestock and fatten them up to be sold for meat could instead be used to combat world hunger and feed starving people. Since the world population is expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, there's not enough land on the planet to raise enough meat to feed everyone the average American diet.
Livestock animals drink more freshwater than anything else and are the biggest polluters to freshwater. It takes 100 to 200 times more water to raise a pound of beef than it does to raise a pound of plant foods. Cutting down on just one kilo of beef saves 150,000 liters of water and replacing a roast chicken with a veggie chili or bean stew saved 4,325 liters of water. Along with polluting the freshwater, livestock animals also erode and weaken soil. Raising livestock leads to deforestation to make room for the livestock to roam. Contributing to deforestation also accelerates climate change.
Raising livestock costs a lot of energy since it takes a long time to raise the animals, their food was cultivated on land that could've been put to other use, meat products need to be shipped and refrigerated, and the process of meat from the slaughterhouse to the table uses transportation methods that emit carbon dioxide into the air. While raising and transporting meat of livestock takes up energy, plant-based proteins can be raised with 8 times fewer energy costs and the plants emit oxygen into the atmosphere, cleaning the air.
Going vegan can also help promote better health since your body isn't relying on meat and animal products. Instead of meat-based foods, a vegan diet relies on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. Several studies show that vegan diets provide more fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds. They also appear to be richer in potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E. Further studies show that it can also help people lose excess weight. Vegan diets have a natural tendency to reduce calorie intake without the need to actively focus on cutting calories.
Additional health benefits are that vegan diets lower blood sugar levels and improve kidney function. Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity, and up to a 50-78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A vegan diet also helps protect against certain cancers. About one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors including dietary control. Eating legumes regularly may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 9-18% and eating at least seven portions of fresh fruits and vegetables each day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15%. Avoiding certain animal products may also help reduce the risk of prostate, breast, and colon cancers.
Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fiber is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, all of which are generally eaten in large amounts during a vegan diet. In a recent study comparing vegans to vegetarians, vegans reported benefitting from up to a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure. Reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels may reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 46%. Studies also show that a vegan diet has positive effects on decreasing symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
If it's possible to live a life filled with delicious food and drink that delivers better health, leaves a smaller carbon footprint, and avoids killing other creatures, then why don't we? By changing to a vegan diet, you can help the farm animals, reduce the heightened climate changes, and benefit your overall health. If it's for moral, environmental, or health reasons, going vegan is always a great opportunity to make a positive change. For more information or help in transitioning to a vegan diet, go to PETA's Making the Vegan Transition page. It's time to make the change and go vegan!