This is in no way an elegantly written or coherently thought out argument on the pros and cons of a vegan diet. It's more of an outline of places you can find information and make a decision for yourself, as well as reasons why I feel it's unrealistic to think Americans and more increasingly the world can eat the way they are today.
This issue is of course controversial, and within the animal rights movement there are really two distinct groups, the New Welfarists (people that want to see treatment of animals significantly improved while they're being used for human consumption Example: PETA, Humane Society) and the Abolitionists (people that want to completely phase out using animals in any way for human gains, they are usually more adamant proponents of veganism Example: Gary Francione, Bob Torres) There is a lot of argument that people like PETA inevitably want to phase out animals, but that they don't voice their agenda to the masses. It's had to nail down one complete argument in favor of veganism when people within the movement are there for different reasons, and it seems like they don't agree totally on many things. In the end, it's a personal choice, and people come to it for reasons other than animal rights, such as health and the environment. Either way, they both support veganism, and animal rights is one aspect of the argument; one that I'm not even going to get into for the purposes of this discussion, but if you're interested in that side of the argument I strongly suggest you watch Earthlings.)
Factory farming aside, what drew me in initially was the environment (which we can all see has major ramifications in the mainstream right now politically).
According to Mark Bittman, a writer for the New York Times and NOT a vegetarian (see an awesome video of him speaking here [link]
states in his article "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler" [link]
"The world's total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a "relentless growth in livestock production."
It is not sustainable for the world to keep consuming animals as it is today. Already in the United States 70% of the grain that we grow goes to feeding livestock (animals that are not biologically made to digest grain, see Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma), because it causes them to grow larger a lot faster, thus cutting down the time it takes to get the meat from the pasture to your plate. That grain could be used to feed the population of the world that is without food. There is so much land being used right now in the form or ranches and high density feed lots. This land is being depleted of its nutrient count and can eventually become barren. This is land that we could be using to grow enough plants to feed the world.
Just the amount of animals killed every year is staggering. Bittman states, "At about 5 percent of the world's population, we "process" (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world's total." The methane from those cows alone is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Those animals are being kept in conditions that breed sickness, so they're constantly kept on drug cocktails to keep them alive, as well as growth hormones to make them produce faster than biologically normal. It's naïve to think these chemicals aren't transmitted through that animal flesh to the eater. The antibiotics the animals are kept on are what's fueling drug resistant viruses, creating things like Avian Flu and Mad Cow Disease that threaten to wipe us out completely.
We're all concerned with driving vehicles with better gas mileage, walking more, buying hybrid cars or mopeds, or using our legs as much as we can, but we overlook a major contribution to the problem when we don't take animal farming into consideration. "30 percent of the earth's ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases more than transportation." (Bittman). It has been said on many reputable news outlets that even switching to a vegetarian (not necessarily vegan) for a few meals a week could significantly cut your "carbon footprint" down.
I won't quote the whole article, because I'd like you guys to read it and draw conclusions on your own, but this is just one in many articles I've found just in the past few months on the benefits or reducing meat consumption.
My next biggest concern was health, because I have always been interested in eating healthy and have been unhappy with the way my body felt and reacted to food. I heard quite often that a vegetarian diet can significantly cut risk for certain cancers and heart disease in half. There are many other health issues said to be positively effected by a vegan diet, including strokes, impotence (your penis needs a steady blood flow to pump it up, and if you have blockages to your heart from all the bacon burgers, it's going to inhibit you business), obesity, Alzheimer's and general brain health, and diabetes. Being in a family where colon cancer, Alzheimer's, high blood pressure and diabetes are all very real threats, I started to look into it more.
To get a general view, I first went to [link]
for some information on health benefits, but I believe that you can't get your facts about something from somewhere that's trying to make you lean a certain way, so I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on pertaining to the matter.
This is a little bit harder though, because our government has told us all of our lives that you need meat, dairy, and eggs to be healthy, and if too much is said about the benefits of a plant based diet, many companies will lose money. I don't kid myself into thinking the government acts independent of large companies, and the meat and dairy industries are some of the largest.
I did find a wonderful article on Nursing Degree Online [link]
of the 57 health reasons to go vegan. Most of the points have links to more information and sources on each point. Once again, I won't post them all, but these were some that were most important to me:
Reduced saturated fats. Dairy products and meats contain a large amount of saturated fats. By reducing the amount of saturated fats from your diet, you'll improve your health tremendously, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Fiber. A diet high in fiber (as vegan eating usually is) leads to healthier bowel movements. High fiber diets help fight against colon cancer.
Protein. That protein is good for your body is no surprise. It may be a surprise to learn that most Americans eat too much protein and in forms such as red meat that are not healthy ways of getting protein. Beans, nuts, peas, lentils, and soy products are all great ways to get the right amount of protein in a vegan diet.
Cardiovascular disease. Eating nuts and whole grains, while eliminating dairy products and meat, will improve your cardiovascular health. A British study indicates that a vegan diet reduces the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets go far in preventing heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol. Eliminating any food that comes from an animal and you will eliminate all dietary cholesterol from your diet. Your heart will thank you for that.
Blood pressure. A diet rich in whole grains is beneficial to your health in many ways, including lowering high blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes. Not only is a vegan diet a weapon against Type 2 diabetes, it is also "easier to follow than the standard diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association." Read more about it here.
Basically, when you push the meat, eggs and dairy out, you fill that void with a lot of food that is really good for you. The articles goes on to break down the reasons why parts of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) could be harmful for your health:
35. Animal proteins. The average American eats twice as much protein as necessary for a healthy diet and much of that is from red meat. Getting protein from beans and grains is much healthier and reduces the risk for osteoporosis (see above).
36. Cow's milk dairy. The human body is not designed to digest cow milk and cow milk dairy products, yet the idea of milk being healthy is pushed through advertising. As many as 75% of people in the world may be lactose intolerant and many people suffer from undiagnosed milk allergies or sensitivities. By eliminating cow's milk from your diet, you are improving your overall health.
37. Eggs. Many nutritionists believe that the number of eggs in the American diet is too high. While sometimes disputed, it has been shown that eggs can raise cholesterol levels.
38. Mercury. Most of the fish and shellfish consumed has mercury in it. While some fish have less than others, it is almost impossible not to be putting mercury in your body when you eat fish.
39. Sugar. Most people have heard that Americans consume way too much sugar. Relying on other sweeteners that are not synthetic, processed, or derived from animal products is a healthier way to eat. Many vegans do not eat processed sugar due to the fact that most of the cane sugar is refined through activated charcoal, most of which comes from animal bones.
Now, a lot of this you will have to take with a grain of salt, but the truth of the matter is, I've never felt better since becoming a vegetarian. Now, this is all if you're eating a HEALTHY WHOLE FOOD plant based diet, not vegan junk food. It is very important to make sure you get enough iron, b12, calcium (which most plants are VERY rich in, especially dark leafy greens) and many other nutrients. That's why it's so important to read as much as you can before making a decision that can change your health for the rest of your life. I started with [link]
and have since bought Becoming Vegan, which is an amazing book.
I tried vegetarianism out for a 30 day thing back in the spring, thinking I'd clean out my system and feel better, never thinking I'd consider veganism. However, I know now that this is a life change and something that I can't avert my eyes from. I found it very difficult to eat eggs or milk or cheese when I know that the practices that go into producing those things are just as horrific and environmentally unsustainable as the meat itself. I also know my body has been thriving on a plant based diet, and that's proof enough for me that this is something forth looking into.
There's no such thing as a perfect vegan, and it's impossible to rid yourself completely of all animal products (they're in just about everything, from tires to film for your camera) but it is possible to work to lessen your impact on the environment and the suffering of animals, as well as think about what you eat and how it affects your health.
For me, there was a disconnect between the things I wanted to see change in the world and the way I live my life. I saw the environment going down the shitter, yet still continued in practices I KNEW were hurting it. I knew that meat and cheese would slow my digestive system down, and that I needed to eat more fiber, but I continued eating whatever I wanted. As a result of this, I've been overweight my entire life, having crazy urges for food and being unable to satisfy them. I think that had a lot to do with all the salt and saturated fat in meat. Now that my taste buds are clean of these things, I taste the foods I eat now way more intensely. I'm not perfect, and I won't claim or strive to be, and I do this diet for myself, but I do feel clearer about my choices in life. I don't think ill thoughts of meat eaters, that's their decision. I drink, and I'm sure there are lots of people who think that's morally reprehensive. It's my decision. All I want to do is let people know that there's information our there that I believe is interesting, and by delving into it I found things I simply couldn't look away from.