What is Veganism?
In it’s truest sense, being vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is much more than not eating animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, honey, or their derivative by-products (gelatin, whey, lard, etc.). In addition to diet, vegans also exclude animal products and products tested on animals from their choices in clothing, toiletries, cosmetics, household products, etc.
Veganism is a complete lifestyle, a way of thinking and of interacting with the world. Being vegan means consciously and actively taking steps to live peaceably (cruelty-free) with other species, our environment, and ourselves. It is a way of living which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for the purposes of food, clothing, experimentation, entertainment, or sport.
Donald Watson coined the word vegan in England in 1944. In response to the rejection of a proposal to form a non-dairy vegetarian subgroup of the Vegetarian Society in Leicester, England, Watson and several other members of the Society decided to form their own organization. The term vegan was derived from the word “vegetarian”, using the first three letters (veg) and the last two letters (an), because, as Donald Watson explained, “veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.”
Although there are many different reasons for becoming vegan, there are three fundamental reasons:
1. Ethical/Moral Concerns
2. Health Concerns
3. Environmental Concerns
Ethical/moral concerns involve the desire to put an end to needless use and abuse of animals, whether for food consumption, clothing, research testing, product testing, or any other means by which animals are exploited or used for the purpose of benefiting mankind. The vegan perspective is that animals are here on this earth for their own purpose, not for humans to use as they see fit.
Many people choose a vegan lifestyle as a response to the abhorrent and cruel practices inherent in dairy, livestock, and poultry farming. Every day hundreds of thousands of animals are born into a life of slavery, and hundreds of thousands more are killed. They are kept in abominable conditions which deprive them of fulfilling even their most basic natural instincts such as stretching, grooming themselves, building nests, taking care of their offspring, or even turning around, in the case of veal calves and sows.
Modern factory farms mass produce animals, keeping them overcrowded, drugged, and mutilated in order to save money. Egg laying hens, known as battery hens, are often de-beaked without anesthesia to reduce the damage done from birds pecking each other as a result of stress caused by their overcrowded conditions. Veal calves are kept in wooden stalls so small they cannot even turn around and are deprived of proper nutrition to keep their skin a pale pink color in order to fetch a higher price on the market.
Factory farming strives to produce the most meat, milk, and eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible; the more animals they can fit into a space, the cheaper it is for them to operate. Animals are deprived of exercise so that all of their energy goes toward producing flesh, eggs, or milk for human consumption. They are fed growth hormones to fatten them faster and are genetically altered to grow larger or to produce more milk or eggs than nature originally intended. And this is just a small fraction of the atrocities that go on daily in the meat and dairy industry.
Many of the most debilitating and deadly conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis have all been explicitly linked to diet. Heart disease is the number one killer of men in the United States, and much on the rise for women; almost 50% of Americans will die of heart disease. Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, especially saturated fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Both meat and dairy are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Vegans, on average, live seven years longer than people do on a meat-based diet.
People who consume animal products are 40 percent more susceptible to cancer than non-meat eaters are. Excess animal protein has been linked to osteoporosis, kidney disease, and even cancer. Americans typically have three to four times as much protein in their diet as is necessary. Vegans get the perfect amount of protein. There is nothing nutritive that cannot be readily obtained from plant sources; a vegan diet provides all the protein, iron, calcium and vitamin requirements necessary to live healthily. A vegan diet can reverse heart disease, prevent cancer, osteoporosis and myriad other health ailments. Additionally, meat contains accumulations of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals up to 14 times more concentrated than those in plant foods.
Raising animals for food is a wasteful and inefficient process, requiring more than half the water and one-third of the raw materials produced in the United States and is the biggest polluter of our water and topsoil. In a recent environmental study by the Union of Concerned Scientists the meat industry was second only to automobiles in terms of environmental destruction.
A plant-based diet requires significantly less water, land, and energy to produce the same amount of food as a meat-based diet. Fifteen vegetarians can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed one person on a meat-centered diet. It is economically unsound to have an animal eat food, process it, and then have a human eat the animal to gain the nutrients the animal got from the food it ate. Vegans use 90% less water than a meat-eater in their food intake. Most of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed livestock, including 90% of oats, 85% of corn, and 80% of soybeans.
Rain forests are being destroyed to make grazing land for cattle. Topsoil, a non-renewable resource, is being eroded by cattle farms. Animal waste run-off from slaughterhouses and feedlots seeps into the ground, contaminating the soil and poisoning groundwater and rivers; they are the single largest polluters of the rivers and streams in the United States. Commercial fishermen pollute the oceans with their jettisoned cargo. They trap and kill dolphins, whales, sea turtles, birds, and many other animals they do not intend to eat in their nets.