I often get asked, “Why are you a vegan?”
First, this is not why, but when: I gave up every kind of meat, except chicken and fish, in 1985/7. At the time, perhaps my junior high school year, I did it for ethical and religious reasons. I stopped consuming all meat in January of 1991, my first year at the University of Arizona. At that time, no longer religious or spiritual, I stopped mostly because I just finished reading the books Diet for a New America and Diet for a Small Planet. I’m guessing that today other books and films have inspired others similarly (e.g. Cowspiracy, Proteinaholic, Speciesism). On my 15th year anniversary as a vegetarian, January 2006, I gave up eggs, milk, and cheese completely, beginning my life as a vegan to “first, do no harm.”
I usually don’t like to talk about why I’m vegan because if the inquisitor is not vegan it can sometimes become an affront as there is really nowhere to go except to point out subtly, or directly, that veganism is an ethical and environmental stance “better than” a diet that includes meat and/or dairy. That said, below is a list of reasons why I am vegan, not necessarily in order of importance. A small portion of these may be indeed be “confirmation bias,” but it’s not as if any reader shouldn’t consider that as a possibility from any and all angles, for any and all ideas. As Arthur Stanley Eddington noted: “For the truth of the conclusions of science, observation is the supreme court of appeal.” With the exception of the ethical reasons for being vegan, the rest has some basis in “science.” The combined ideas below, for me, are appealing reasons for being vegan:
- Is consistency a basis for ethics? How fine is the line between killing and murdering? Between eating a cow, chicken, deer, or fish etc. vs. eating a dog, cat, or human?
- Animals are often intelligent, but is it ethical to use intelligence as a factor for determining if a species should live or die?
- Is veganism a means to nurture an entire “system” or mindset where “do no harm” is the praxis, and the world is “better” for it?
- Liking the “taste” of meat or dairy is not sufficient to convince me that essentialism and speciesism are morally justified. A nutritional desire, is not a nutritional need.
- Because it is possible to live off plants alone, a diet with meat could be considered a diet of luxury or excess.
- Why treat some, and not all, living beings like “someone” rather than “some thing”? Is the “moral community” only a human community, or does it extend beyond humans?
- Animals are sentient (have a nervous system– feel pain and fright). Is it ethical to use pain perception as a factor for determining if a species should live or die? How should killing and using resources for food be approached: empathy vs. compassion, or indifference? (perhaps excluding clams and some insects)
- “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men. This is the gist of Ms. Spiegel’s cogent, humane and astute argument, and it is sound.” Alice Walker’s preface to Marjorie Spiegel’s 1988 book, “The Dreaded Comparison”
- Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the extra burden on moral leaders
- Did “we evolve to” eat meat or “evolve while” eating meat… ? Big difference, as the “to” is used as a lever to justify a “need” that does not exist. Will evolution stop if we stop eating meat? Carbohydrates may have been more important for the evolution of our brains than meat. Regardless, arguments citing “evolution” and history/culture are poor arguments for trying to justify an anachronistic and wasteful lifestyle with unnecessary negative externalities: waste in the form of input/output inefficiency, pollution, large(r) carbon and water footprints, and unnecessary harm and death (sometimes through (callous) indifference). These are not necessary. We can walk away from that past and keep evolving. Science and hundreds of thousands of vegans can attest to this, and a life where we have evolved beyond the barbarity of the past to stand more upright, more modern, than we ever have been on our journey forward.
- Although it’s hard to exist without consuming products or services that have no negative externalities associated with them, that does not mean we should give up altogether in doing our best to “do no harm.” To eat meat is to commit to do harm (directly and indirectly).
- Factory farming is barbaric, if not criminal (especially factory chicken farming, and battery cages).
- Fish? Are Trout Too Smart To Eat?, Fish Are Smart (And Of Course They Feel Pain!)
- Shellfish pain
- Farm to Fridge video – The Truth Behind Meat Production
- Essentialism, Intersectionality, and Veganism as a Moral Baseline
- Dairy cows give birth once a year as a result of artificial insemination, and sometimes they are forced to conceive via “rape racks,” or pens and ropes so they can’t escape unwanted advances.
- Two to three months after calving, a cow is impregnated again to continue the milk stream, and what amounts to the theft of milk intended for a Bos taurus calf, not homo sapiens.
- “Calves born to dairy cows, whose primary purpose in being born is to induce lactation, are taken away either immediately after birth or within a [few] day[s] or so. This separation causes great distress to the mother, who would normally feed the calf more than a dozen times a day and, like other mammals, forms a strong bond with her young soon after birth.
- Male calves are typically killed or sent off to be raised for veal or beef.
- Female calves become dairy cows like their mothers; frequent replacement of herd members is necessary because the death rate of dairy cows is very high. Cows’ natural life expectancy is 20 years or more, but the average dairy cow lives just 3 to 4 years, exhausted by constant lactation…”
- The ecological footprint of a vegan is much smaller. (PDF of the info graphic below: ecological-footprint-of-protein).
- Each trophic level transfers ~10% of the energy to the next trophic level. Eating meat is inefficient, if not an anachronism, as it’s a roundabout/wasteful means to obtain protein compared to primary consumption.
- A vegan diet will help end hunger because it is more efficient means to protein as the infographic below depicts.
- Meat and the environment: Scientific American, Time, Guardian, NPR, PETA
- What is Meat? Changing the Answer Might Change the Planet.
- Meat, and the market’s demand for cheap meat, is the primary reason the rain forests are being felled.
- 10 scary facts about meat and the environment
- The use of Krill for livestock feed and human consumption compounded by an increase in oceanic CO2 threaten krill, and the balance of life in the ocean, and on land. see: Do krill need to be protected from human over-hunting? More on ocean acidification: here.
- The number one thing each of us can do to protect biodiversity
- Meat production uses resources that could be used for other purposes, or not used at all:
- land, up to 1/3 of earth’s ice-free land
- petrochemicals, used in processing, shipping, storing, and bringing the final product home (1/3 of the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the US)
- electricity, to process, and refrigerate and/or freeze (not to mention advertise)
- water, up to 1/3 of all of earth’s fresh water
- Depending on the weather, one cow drinks ~30-45 gallons/day! This does not include the water used at slaughter or to clean-up after them. This does not include the water used to raise and harvest any feed they may consume either.
- A single hamburger = enough gas to drive a small car ~20 miles
- Waste from livestock in the U.S. is ~130 times that produced by people. In central California, 1,600 dairies produce the feces and urine of a city of 21 million people.
- Grazing has decimated millions of acres of land, with desertification, erosion, manure, and non-native invasive plants and grasses that have destroyed native ecosystems. Eating meat is tied to felling trees, decimating landscapes, and polluting water.
- Over-fishing has decimated our oceans and some species have been pushed to the brink of extinction.
- I’d rather see people hunt than partake in the factory farm terror-dome, but earth could only support about 135 million hunter-gathers, or paleo-like diets. (Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked)
- It is possible to live a nutrient rich healthy life without consuming animal products, i.e. products that result in the direct harm, torture, captivity, and death of another sentient species (perhaps excluding clams and some insects).
- 70 % of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are for meat production– promoting the selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a ticking time-bomb that may give us another swine flu epidemic or fuel the avian (bird) flu.
- Since homo sapiens left the hunter-gather stage and began agriculture and animal husbandry on a large scale (about ~10,000 years ago) our relationship with animals changed, including our diseases…since about ~10,000 years ago, due to our new close relationship with animals, humans have suffered many diseases, illnesses, and epidemics that have an animal origin (see 3, 4 below).
- What are the most common food borne diseases? They don’t come from plants, they come from animal husbandry.
- Non-human animal diseases are many, and can be transferred to humans, even from pets: Zoonoses
- Meat can be bad for the circulatory system, and too much protein is bad for our bodies.
- Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports
- Processed meats do cause cancer – WHO
- What is processed meat?
- When the industry does accomplish more efficiency, improvements usually come at the expense of the animals, via genetics and growth-enhancing drugs.
- Milk does not ‘do the body good.’ The calcium in milk is only ~30% bio-available, compared to ~40% from dark greens like kale. Furthermore, calcium is leached from the bones into the blood stream to digest the animal proteins in milk, primarily methionine (which is lower in plant foods). (milk info: 1, 2 )
- Though usually small, milk and milk products obtained from milking machines typically contain “udder pus,” not just milk.
- POSSIBLE HEALTH ISSUES:
- You’re a Vegetarian. Have You Lost Your Mind? Vegetarian diets are correlated with an increase in mental health problems
- a rebuttal of sorts: The Scary Mental Health Risks of Reading Stupid Magazine Articles About Going Meatless
- Marion Nestle, Nutritionist and Public Health Advocate, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, NYU: How Healthy Is Vegetarianism…Really?
As far as missing meat, the taste etcetera, it took just a little bit of time to get over it. The thought or act of someone else preparing or eating flesh does not sicken me, and I don’t hate meat-eaters, although if they know the 25 or so things above I have to ask why they can’t, or shouldn’t, become vegans? I’m repulsed at the the thought or act of putting flesh into my own body considering I take the reasons listed above to heart. The hardest thing about veganism is that it is sometimes inconvenient. There aren’t vegan restaurants on every other corner, and reading the ingredients on nearly every item I consume takes patience. I can live with a little inconvenience, I cannot live participating in the wasteful destruction of the environment, nor the subjugation, imprisonment, murder, and torture of other species to fuel my existence. bon appetit
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
- 101 reasons: www.garynull.com/documents/VivaVine/101ReasonsVegetarian.htm
- 10 reasons: www.yale.edu/ycvs/10reasons.html
- Vegan Outreach
- meet your meat: www.meat.org/ | www.petatv.com/tvpopup/prefs.asp?video=meet_your_meat
Being that I am a vegan I also get asked what my stance is on animal testing.
Animal testing is an entirely different issue than eating animals, but for the most part I don’t think experimentation is justified. I would have to examine the testing in a case-by-case fashion. Experiments on primates are particularly hard for me to accept as necessary or justifiable, despite the fact that they give more “reliable” data than mice. I am certainly against any experiment that could be construed as anything close to torture…which happens to be a large portion of animal testing.
All that said, the quotes below are not meant as an appeal to authority or popularity, but…
Albert Einstein was vegetarian for the last year or so of his life, better late than never, though his writing has him thinking about a meat-free life much earlier:
“I have always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience.”
– Einstein Archive 60-058
“Although I have been prevented by outward circumstances from observing a strictly vegetarian diet, I have long been an adherent to the cause in principle. Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” Translation of letter to Hermann Huth, December 27, 1930. Einstein Archive 46-756
“What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature?… The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.” – Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. – Einstein, New York Post, 28 November 1972
Leonardo da Vinci was also a vegetarian:
Animals will be seen on earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malice; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the tress of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and fears and flight to every living thing; and from their immediate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the excessive weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth, or the waters, which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed to another. And their bodies will become the tomb and means of transit of all the living beings they have killed. O Earth, why dost thou not open up and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven so cruel and horrible a monster?”
(Leonardo, in the profetie, as translated by A. Richard Turner)
“On the general principles the raising of cattle as a means of providing food is objectionable, because, in the sense interpreted above, it must undoubtedly tend to the addition of mass of a “smaller velocity.” It is certainly preferable to raise vegetables, and I think, therefore, that vegetarianism is a commendable departure from the established barbarous habit. That we can subsist on plant food and perform our work even to advantage is not a theory, but a well-demonstrated fact.” The Problem of Increasing Human Energy; Kindle Location 151
“There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance. Such food, moreover, taxes our digestive organs decidedly less, and, in making us more contented and sociable, produces an amount of good difficult to estimate. In view of these facts every effort should be made to stop the wanton and cruel slaughter of animals, which must be destructive to our morals. To free ourselves from animal instincts and appetites, which keep us down, we should begin at the very root from which we spring: we should effect a radical reform in the character of the food.” The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, The Century Magazine, June, 1900, Page numbers: 175-211
Jane Goodall: Animal Agriculture, Climate Change, & Why She’s a Vegetarian