In the last few months I’ve had quite a few non-vegan friends and family start to follow my blog who might be interested in veganism but may not necessarily know the reasons behind why people make the switch, or even where to start. This blog is for you. Here, I’m going to look at the reasons behind why I, and other vegans, made the choice to cut out all animal products from our lives, and hopefully help you make the connection between what you eat, wear, buy and the animals behind them.
Why go vegan?
For the animals
This is the main reason people go vegan – for the animals. As children, we grow up loving all animals – dogs, sheep, rabbits, pigs, horses – yet we are also told we need to eat some of them to survive. We’re led to believe we need milk for strong bones, and that animal meat is the only way to get protein. We compartmentalise the animals we love, and the animals we eat, and yet, they are no different. And we are killing them by the BILLIONS and TRILLIONS every year simply because we like the taste of their flesh.
You might say, I get it, eating animals is wrong so I’ll go vegetarian. Unfortunately vegetarians still contribute to animal suffering. Look at the dairy industry. Cows have to give birth in order to produce milk, but that baby calf can’t drink its mother’s milk otherwise there’d be none left for us. Because of this, the baby calf is stolen from its mother within a day or two, causing real distress to its mother. If it is a male, the calf is usually killed straight away or put in a crate to make “veal” and if it’s a female, she is put into a small pen until she’s old enough to face the same fate as her mother – to be forcibly impregnated, have her babies stolen, and then, eventually, killed in the same slaughter house as her babies for low-grade meat, once her body can no longer produce milk.
What about eggs? Chickens lay eggs naturally right? That’s true, but look at any industrial egg farm and you will see the horrendous conditions these chickens live in – never seeing the light of day (even so-called “free range” eggs). In the egg industry, male chicks are considered a “by-product” and are killed as soon as they are hatched. The two most common ways they are killed is being ground up alive, or stuffed in bin bags and suffocated. Let’s not forget about the hens that lay eggs either – they often have their beaks painfully cut off without anaesthesia so they don’t peck each other from living in such confined quarters.
Finally, let’s look at truly free-range, grass fed animals – surely that’s ok you might ask? The reality is that these animals go to the exact same slaughter house as the unhappy animals. And the fact is, there is simply no humane way to kill an animal that wants to live. Animals go into a slaughter house alive (and terrified), and come out in neatly packaged containers for our supermarket shelves, and we think that something humane happens in-between?
For the planet
It is no secret that humans are destroying the planet, and that we are in a dire state. Things need to change, and fast. Most of us do what we can – we recycle, try to reduce our water use, ride our bikes instead of drive, buy eco-friendly products, etc. What most people don’t realise though is that the meat, dairy and egg industries are some of the worst contributors to environmental damage. For example, animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than the entire travel industry combined – that includes all trains, planes and cars. These industries are also incredibly thirsty. One pound of beef takes approximately 2,500 gallons of water to produce, while one gallon of milk requires 1,000 gallons of water. Then there are the rainforests being destroyed to make way for animal grazing, and ocean “dead zones” that are the direct result of animal waste runoff. Meanwhile, the rivers and lakes in America are being polluted at an alarming rate from animal poop. I could go on.
People arguing against veganism often like to point out that rainforests are being destroyed to plant soy, and also that soy and corn are common GMO foods. This is true. What is also true is that the majority of these crops are actually used for feeding animals. If you look at soy products made for consumers, you will see that they are almost always organic and GMO-free.
For our health
Every day there are new studies that come out showing just how bad animal products are for our health. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has said processed meats are linked to cancer and should not be consumed. Milk is another product that we were all led to believe (by the milk lobby) is “good for the body.” Turns out that could not be further from the truth. Consumption of milk, eggs and meat has been linked to a myriad of diseases including breast cancer (whereas studies show soy is beneficial to fighting cancer, contrary to what you may have been told). What about calcium in dairy, you might ask? Milk actually makes our blood acidic, and calcium is leached out from our bones to neutralize the acid. So you are actually losing calcium.
Heart disease is a huge killer in the US, and is largely preventable, being caused by our lifestyle choices. There have been studies showing the link between a high animal-protein diet, and heart disease.
Of course, it’s important to realise that just because someone is vegan, it doesn’t mean they are healthy. For example, you could quite easily live off of Oreos (accidentally vegan), fries and vegan cheese pizza and be a vegan. But you wouldn’t necessarily be the healthiest person. If you are interested in the health aspect of veganism, I suggest looking at incorporating a “whole food, plant based diet” rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Tips for going vegan
Ok, so now you know the reasons behind why people go vegan, and maybe you’re thinking of giving it a go but don’t know where to start. Here are some of my tips for getting started:
- Make the connection: it’s important that you do the research about the animal industries for yourself, so that you really make the connection. It will help you not only answer the inevitable questions people will have for you, but it will strengthen your resolve. Even though it is difficult, watch movies like Earthlings or the Land of Hope and Glory so you really see what goes on behind slaughterhouse doors. It will make you realise that veganism is not a diet, it is a way of living the most peaceful existence you can. See my list of resources below for more info.
- Get some cookbooks: if you’ve eaten meat all your life, suddenly cutting it out can be really daunting. I suggest getting a few vegan cookbooks – there are loads on Amazon. If you’re not much of a cook, the good news is there are a ton of great vegan, ready-made meals available at all major shops now. You can buy mock meats, cheese and milk anywhere. There is even a burger that “bleeds” now available in the US! Don’t look at veganism as a restrictive lifestyle – once you start experimenting you’ll realise it’s actually a diet of abundance. You’ll discover exotic sounding things like aquafaba, seitan, tempeh… And you’ll wonder how you lived without some of these things! (Be sure to check out my recipes too! 🙂
- Make small changes: if going cold turkey (excuse the pun) terrifies you, start by making small changes. The easiest one is to switch from cow’s milk to a plant based milk. There are so many out there – hemp, almond, coconut, rice, soy, cashew, and my favourite, oat milk. Some other switches could be using a mock meat in lieu of the real thing. For example, soy mince is just like the real thing once you’ve added it to a sauce with pasta.
- Don’t worry about being perfect: we all slip up, trust me. I’ve been vegan 3 years, and I still make mistakes and unwittingly consume animal products. Don’t let that get you down, just make sure you continue doing what you can.
- Join the community: I can count on one hand all the vegans I know in real life, but online I am connected to thousands of other vegans, and they are all incredibly supportive. Get active by finding like-minded people on twitter, following vegan blogs, joining vegan FB groups or even starting your own.
For the animals
- Earthlings (documentary)
- Land of Hope and Glory (documentary)
- Blackfish (documentary)
- Speciesism (documentary)
- The Ghosts in our Machines (documentary)
- Vegucated (documentary)
- Peaceable Kingdom (documentary)
- Carnage (BBC move)
- Okja (Netflix movie)
- The Best Speech Ever (speech)
For the planet
- Cowspiracy (documentary)
For our health
- Forks over Knives (documentary)
- What the Health (documentary)
- Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (documentary)
- The China Study (book)
- How Not To Die (book)
- How to prevent and reverse heart disease (book)
- Thoughts from a vegan doctor (interview)
Don’t forget to search around the internet for more resources – there are so many great blogs and websites that offer a wealth of information, including Challenge 22 which is a free service that pairs you up with a vegan mentor. There is also Veganuary – where people make a pledge to go vegan for one full month. The website is a great resource for recipes, advice and just general knowledge. And of course, I’m always here to help so please get in touch via email or leave your comments below!