Oh no. A blogpost on veganism. I know I know I know – you’re regretting clicking on it, and you want to stop reading right here. I understand that. But please, please, read on. The following comes from a place of love, and I promise you that you will not regret it in the end.
It’s coming up to my six month ‘Veganversary’. (Stay with me guys.) This weekend I will have been a vegan for six months. Since it’s been quite a ride, I’ve written about how my family and I have done it here, but before we get onto that – let’s talk about WHY. Because why would you, right? Surely it’s a crippling sacrifice and a daily torture – because ….. BACON! And CHEESE!! Right? Well, actually, no.
Eighteen months ago my husband and I watched a documentary which smashed my mind and heart wide open. I learned things that I had no idea about until that night. They upset and frightened me so much that I spent most of the next day trying to find evidence against what I had seen. Trying to reassure myself that it wasn’t true. There has been controversy over the film because the way that all agriculture affects the environment is complex, but it was just the start of our discoveries. The tip of the enormous iceberg. And now, after a year and a half of reading everything I can find on both sides of the argument, I have found fairly conclusive evidence to back up the following (and many more) statistics:
- Animal agriculture is responsible for more worldwide greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transportation combined.
- Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 and has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2.
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef, 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs, almost 900 gallons of water are needed for 1lb. of cheese and 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. (Fresh drinking water is not infinite, or renewable in our lifetime – read ‘Comfortably Unaware’ by Dr. R. Oppenlander.)
- Livestock (if we are happy to call things that are alive ‘stock’), take up 45% of the earth’s land (with more and more forests being destroyed every day to make room for cattle), and animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean ‘dead zones’, water pollution and habitat destruction.
- We are losing species at a catastrophic rate (the number of wild animals on earth has halved in the past 40 years), and filling our oceans with plastic as we plough through the natural world to satisfy our seemingly unsaitiable western appetites.
(Above stats are taken from the WWF Living Planet Index)
These stats lead us nicely onto the first reason for going vegan:
Reason 1: FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Obviously we need major changes in energy, transport AND food production to create affordable, climate-friendly alternatives for all. As individuals we can hold onto the hope that our political vote will make a tangible difference. We can try and eat foods that are in season. We can minimalise. We can drive and fly less. We can stop buying cheap clothing and indulging in ‘fast fashion’. But the truth is that these are very tiny drops in a deep and dying ocean. Changing our diet is by far the easiest and most effective way to make a (thrice!) daily difference as an individual. What we choose to eat massively affects the planet. For the sake of our children’s futures, we have to take responsibility – and we have to do it now.
Like global warming, the plight of our oceans is an issue that affects every country in the world. The seas can no longer absorb the damage inflicted by the 7 billion people on earth. Over many decades, the human race has overfished key species to near extinction, and polluted them with carbon dioxide emissions, toxic chemicals, and discarded plastics. Coral reefs, home to a quarter of the ocean’s fish, have declined by 40 percent worldwide. Stocks of swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other large fish that people avidly eat are down by 90 percent. Since fishing became industrialized just over a century ago, most commercial species have been reduced by more than 75%, and some by 99%. As stocks dwindle, fishing fleets are increasingly resorting to “bottom trawling,” a hugely destructive technique that involves dragging a large net up to 60 meters wide along the seabed, scooping up everything in its path. And as well as all this, our oceans contain an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic. Marine scientists say that if we do not dramatically change how we treat the oceans and their inhabitants, many marine species will become extinct — with catastrophic consequences for the food chain. The solution? What about considering sea ‘food’ as sea life, instead?
Now no one likes a preachy vegan, but a survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs found that people are not unwilling to change diets once they become aware of the problem of animal agriculture, but that many have no idea that it is harming the planet. So it would appear that education is key. Hence the necessity of spreading the word …………. And so onto reason 2:
Reason 2: BECAUSE IT’S KINDER
All animals share our human desire to live. And I feel absolutely confident that if you knew how animals are killed in order to become your food, you would re-think your diet.
Veganism is not new. For thousands of years, great minds have advocated the plant based diet. But people disagree, and probably always will, on the morality of eating animals. Some believe that God put animals on the earth as food for humans. Others say taking the life of another living thing for culinary pleasure is wrong. Some people say that to live you have to take life and that eating meat is a natural thing. Others say they could never kill an animal and so they shouldn’t eat meat. Some people have no emotions on the subject whatsoever.
Whatever you believe about the morals of eating animals, there are other ethical issues that need consideration. Take a look at the dairy industry. Apart from the dire environmental impacts of crops that are fed to dairy cows, it is hideously cruel. In any species of mammal, milk is only produced after a pregnancy. If we want cow’s milk, the cows will have to have babies in order to produce it for us. So cows are repeatedly inseminated and forced to give birth to to calves who are then torn away from them within a day of birth, so that the milk intended for their calf, can be sold for human consumption. They simply cannot allow the calf to consume his own milk because it would cost the farmer too much. Removing the calf is the only way that dairy farms can make any money. Separating mother and baby, causes huge distress to them both. Male calves are usually a waste product, (although some are reared for burger meat, the current estimates are that 100,000 to 150,000 bull calves are shot within hours of birth in the UK), and female calves (reared on commercial milk replacers), will join the diary herd in order to replace their worn out mothers. A cow’s natural lifespan is 25 years long. But a typical dairy cow only lives until the age of 5.
I feel furious with myself for not even thinking about this for the first 36 years of my life but like most people, I was conditioned not to. Completely removed from all the processes animals go through to become food on our plate, we simply just don’t think about it. But if you do stop and think about it you’ll realise that it’s a feminist issue. It’s motherhood. Eating animals is one thing but using them in this way is worse if you think about it. One is ‘just’ murder. The other is rape, kidnap and then murder. Sounds dramatic – but that’s because it is. You can’t make this pretty. I have contacted many, many dairy farms and so far only two have answered my questions. Initially defensive and scared to talk to me, they both eventually told me that yes, babies are removed from their mothers within 24 hours. They said the quicker the better, as allowing the mother and baby to bond only delays the distress.
Cows are incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive animals
Many mother cows can be heard calling for their calves for days. Their distress is so acute that they often self harm if they are physically able to. They grieve, just as we would if someone stole our brand new babies. Do we have a right to cause this suffering? Why do we love and care for dogs and cats, and eat cows and sheep and pigs and chickens? Who decided which animals were worthy of love and life, and which deserved neither? Something to ponder on as we walk our adored dogs and stroke our treasured cats. The truth is that we have been conditioned since birth to think that eating certain animals is normal, natural and necessary, when in fact it is exactly the opposite. Our brains are shut off – we do not think rationally about this. You can learn WHY your mind thinks eating animals is so normal HERE.
Another ethical consideration is the egg industry. Once hatched, female chicks are sent to farms where they are forced to grow at such a speed that their bones cannot hold their weight. Male chickens cannot grow as fast as females and are therefore a waste product. These chicks are suffocated or ground up alive in macerator blades in the hatcheries. Most chickens lead horrible lives and are treated very badly. Their beaks are cut off to prevent them pecking each other, and they live in cramped cages, squashed up together in their own excrement. I have phoned many ‘free range‘ farms over the last few months to ask them about the industry. They confessed that whilst their chickens live in better conditions, they only receive female chicks to rear. They confirmed that all I have read about the fate of all male chicks is true. So spending more on organic and free range eggs doesn’t absolve anyone – buying these eggs supports an industry that grinds up live baby chicks, simply because they are not profitable. And as for free range farming itself, it may be kinder to the animals – but it is much more damaging to the living world.
Animals are used and abused for human enjoyment every single day. Being a vegan means considering what you put on, as well as what you put in your body. The use of animals, who have no choice in the matter, is a form of exploitation. If we care, we should avoid, to all extents possible, all forms of that exploitation. Be it products tested on animals, or leathers and feathers, everything should be considered before it is purchased. Vegans aren’t always necessarily big animal lovers. They just want to do the right thing.
You may feel rather removed from these environmental and ethical issues. Everyone is different. So maybe rather than argue about the rights and wrongs of eating meat and dairy, perhaps it would be better if we asked the question of whether or not we are supposed to?
We are not carnivores. As a fellow vegan wisely asked online recently, if you put a baby rabbit and an apple in a cot with a baby – what would happen? The baby would play with the bunny and eat the apple. If you put a baby rabbit and an apple in front of a lion cub what would happen? Something very different. You do not leap on a squirrel when you see one in a fierce desire to kill and devour it. When you spot a deer you are in awe of it, not dreaming of attacking it (as a true carnivore would). We are not born with the desire to eat animals. (Obvious if you think about it.) By the time an animal has been killed, cleaned, chopped up, packaged and presented on the supermarket shelves we are so hugely removed from where it came from that we don’t even think about it. Eating meat is so ingrained in our culture that we never question it. We pass the habit, culture and tradition of eating animals onto the next generation, and so it continues. And the undeniable and very sad truth is that it is making us sick. Which brings us onto reason 3:
Reason 3: FOR YOUR HEALTH
More people than ever before have heart disease, breast cancer cases have increased 80 per cent since 1970, diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and one in four children are overweight or obese. (These are all diseases that carnivorous animals do not suffer from.) The Western diet, full of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, is killing us.
Meat: Animals are eaten out of habit, tradition and culture. We don’t need to eat flesh, and in fact it is really bad for our bodies. Like other herbivores we have long intestines which are designed to digest plants. Meat stays in our lengthy guts for a long time and causes damage. (True carnivores however have much shorter intestines and they don’t chew like we do, they swallow their food whole, relying on their extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in meat that would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison because strong acids aren’t needed to digest pre-chewed fruits and vegetables.) Apart from the fact that when you eat meat you are consuming all the antibiotics farmers use to prevent disease as well as all the adrenaline and cortisol that floods an animal’s flesh just before it dies, meat and dairy seriously harms us. We would never eat human flesh that had been dead for four weeks, yet four week old dead flesh is exactly what we are eating every time we order a burger. Animal welfare aside – meat and dairy is seriously bad news for our health.
Diary: There are 51,000 mammals on the planet and we are the ONLY mammal that drinks the secretions of another mammal. Think on that. Milk is bad for us because it is designed to grow and bulk up calves, not humans. It’s no wonder dairy makes us fat! Plus, we are not very well equipped to digest it (in fact over 70% of the worlds population cannot tolerate it at all. The majority of mammals, including humans, naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to properly metabolize the sugar in milk – after they have been weaned. Why? Because milk is an infant food!) Apart from being very unfair to the calf who the milk was intended for, it’s very weird of us to drink a cow’s breastmilk if you think about it. Some more facts for you: one 8oz glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fats as four pieces of bacon. Overwhelming evidence has shown that cheese, ice cream, yoghurt – Greek yogurt included – is full of harmful animal protein which promotes tumors and cancers, especially ovarian and prostate cancer. We have all been lied to. Far from boosting our calcium intake, this type of animal protein actually leeches calcium from our bones, and is harsh on our kidneys and livers. Dairy is responsible for many respiratory issues too, and since our skin absorbs all that we eat, it can be badly affected as well. Ditching the dairy means better breathing, clearer skin, and countless other health benefits.
What about eggs though? Essentially chicken periods, eggs contain all the necessary fats and cholesterol to grow and sustain a baby chick for 21 days with no outside energy source. Eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes a day in terms of life expectancy. (This is not new research, it has simply been kept from us by profit driven food industries. Watch ‘What The Health’ on Netflix.)
Fish: it isn’t quite as healthy as we’ve been led to believe either. Aside from the environmental concerns, the evidence on the health risks that come with eating fish is impossible to ignore. Fish contains saturated fats and cholesterol, and a large percentage contain highly toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. They provide no antioxidants, fibre or phytonutrients. All the necessary omega-3 and 6 (that you are probably at this very moment thinking about) can be found in plants such as soy, walnuts, flaxseed, seeds, beans, leafy greens, cabbage and berries, and seaweed – which is where the fish got it from in the first place.
Plants have it all. Plants contain all that we need and more, including calcium, iron, and ALL the necessary proteins. Humans have no known anatomical, physiological or genetic adaptations to meat or dairy consumption. The opposite is true – we have many adaptations to plant consumption. Take vitamin C – this is made in plants. Carnivores don’t eat plants so they are able to make vitamin C themselves. We don’t make it ourselves because we are not natural born carnivores. We need to get it from plants.
The next bit is so important that it justifies bullet points:
- Our dental arrangements are the same as herbivores like cows and horses and monkeys. Like theirs, our jaws move up and down AND side to side for chewing.
- We don’t have the specialist teeth that true carnivores have to shred meat. Because we are not true carnivores.
- We have no means of catching animals either – like all herbivores, our hands were designed to pick fruits and vegetables, not to kill.
But haven’t we always eaten meat? Well yes, cavemen did eat meat, but not domesticated vegetarian animals like cows and sheep and pigs. They would’ve eaten smaller animals (that they would kill themselves – if you’re going to eat it, shouldn’t you be the one to kill it?), and consumed all the bones and marrow and organs – and only in places where plants weren’t readily available. Recent studies have been able to analyse the actual plaque on fossilised paleo diets and have found an abundance of plant remains inside the dentistry of ancient peoples. There is a wealth of information from the experts if you want to find out more. Just Google ‘Veganism, TED talks.’
What about B12? Vegans are often advised to take a vitamin B12 supplement. We need vitamin B12 to make nerves and red blood cells. It also helps us obtain energy from our food. It’s often said that animals are the only source of B12 in food, and strictly speaking (excluding unfortified food) that’s true. But B12 is actually produced by bacteria that live in the soil, and animals get their B12 by eating food (plants) that has these bacteria on it. B12 is then taken up into their flesh (or milk). But we don’t have to eat animals to get B12; we can cut out the middle man, and get it from the same place that animals do – plants. The animals humans eat are vegetarians. Think on that a while.
But why don’t vegans eat honey? There is a common misconception that honeybees make their honey especially for us – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Honey (essentially bee vomit), is the honey bees’ single source of food, and fundamental to the hive’s wellbeing. When farmers remove honey from a hive, they replace it with a sugar substitute which is significantly worse for the bees’ health since it lacks the essential nutrients, fats and vitamins of honey. The vast majority of the honey industry is profit-driven so the welfare of the bees is always secondary to commercial gain. Buying organic may mean less harmful chemicals but it doesn’t protect the bees because organic or not, they are specifically bred to increase productivity. Already endangered, this selective breeding process narrows the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease which then spreads to the thousands of other pollinators that we and other animals rely on. As we know, without bees humans would be wiped out because agriculture as we know it would collapse. And bees are now dying at an economically unsustainable rate. But here’s the GOOD news; unlike bees, humans can thrive without honey in their diets. Luckily, there are LOADS of yummy alternatives like date syrup, maple syrup, molasses, butterscotch syrup, golden syrup, and agave nectar. All completely plant based and absolutely delicious.
We need change. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire food industry has changed beyond all recognition in the last few decades. Our population has trebled in the last century and factory farming and processed food has become the norm. These foods are often the cheapest option meaning that the health of the nation’s poorest suffers the most. Fifty years ago people got educated and learned that smoking was bad. We need to get educated now – about food.
Animal protein is THE most carcinogenic food we consume. It actually activates the cancer cells that exist in all of us. Only 5-10% of cancers are due to an inherited gene defect. In fact, “80-90% of cancers, heart disease and diabetes could be prevented by adopting a plant based diet.” Colin Campbell, MD, author of The China Study
What about the famers? Everyone needs to make a living. But it is possible to do that without causing suffering. Reduction in the sale of dairy products will mean farmers will adapt and turn towards arable farming. Soy is being farmed for human consumption on a much larger scale now, and there is money in it. Just as there is money to be made in all areas of the sustainable production of ethical food and energy. In this hugely overpopulated world of ours the biggest problems; war, famine, poverty, and the current refugee crisis are all caused primarily because of unfair distribution of resources. We have enough for everyone’s need – but not nearly enough to match our greed. The earth grows plenty of food every day which could feed all 7 billion of us, with leftovers – but we feed so much of it to animals (who we then eat), that millions die of starvation. (Look away from the screen and take five seconds to think about that. Insane, no?) Our greed is killing the world’s poorest. Poverty is man made and totally unnecessary, and we have the power to change things – because everything works on a supply and demand basis. If we demand plants and ethically produced goods instead of meat and dairy, then plants and ethical goods are what we will get. Like with all industries, the development and evolution of technology makes some jobs/sectors redundant, and so new roles emerge to replace them. It is a natural process that happens in all industries. Look at black cab drivers. Bus conductors. Supermarket cashiers. Photo developers. Typists. Blockbusters! They’re all virtually gone. It is a question of evolution and finding a product or service that is required by society. Rather than forging ahead in the face of diminishing demand. And it’s already happening. Food industries, catching onto the soaring increase in plant based diets, are producing more and more ‘vegan foods’.
But how can one person make a difference? Because – the ripple effect. Veganism is one of this country’s the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the UK. And globally, many celebrities and countless elite athletes are adopting plant based diets, from Samuel L Jackson and Ariana Grande to Serena & Venus Williams and Scott Jurek, the marathon legend. Taking action encourages others to do the same. And so it grows. The food industry is already changing to meet the demands of so many people who are turning to a plant based diet. So you see, your choices are important, and significant, and they matter. Plus it’s EASY (I promise!) and getting easier every day! It is now possible to live a life that involves delicious food and drink, delivers significantly better health, leaves a MUCH smaller carbon footprint and avoids killing innocents – so why not consider living that life? Veganism is simply the kindest, most compassionate, and healthiest way to live. Sound WAY too tricky? Read about how we did it here.
May I end this post by thanking you for taking the time to read it.
(And now have a listen to these guys:)
And now watch the following:
COWSPIRACY: THE SUSTAINABILITY SECRET
www.cowspiracy.com (Or watch on Netflix)
And while you’re on Netflix, watch these:
LIVE AND LET LIVE
FORKS OVER KNIVES
WHAT THE HEALTH
(Your life will change – beautifully.)