I’ve chosen to consume a plant-based diet for a multitude of reasons. The questions and critique I get concerning this never ceases, and it’s getting rather tiring to always have to explain the same things. Therefore, I’m going to write out my story and the reasons that stand behind my decision, in the hope that I’ll get a conversation started that doesn’t include “but how do you get your protein?”, or “but why don’t you eat organic meat?”, or “but I bike/take the train!! You fly all the time!”. After all, this is obviously so important to me that it affects my life through the decisions I make on a daily basis, but still, I’m sick of talking about veganism because those discussions tend to revolve around questions similar to the ones I just mentioned. I’m not writing this without feeling some resistance, because I don’t have many people in my life that are vegan, and yet I love them. But what I’m about to write will be harsh towards anyone who consumes animal products. I don’t usually go this far in conversations, partly to avoid friction, and partly because it’s such custom for people to consume these products high and low that I’m desensitized to it; but this is what I think about the matter, and I only wish for others to take a moment to think about actions and consequences.
The Ethical Part.
It started some three years ago, when I realized that I thought it was extremely strange that I’d weaned of my mother, but continued to drink the secretions from the mammary glands of another species, which I by the way didn’t find to be a very charming animal in the first place. I tried out milk alternatives, and found that I even liked them better. I was still consuming meat, and all other dairy products. Then, a few months into working at a cafe/bar/restaurant, I couldn’t help but take into consideration the serious amounts of milk, yoghurt, cheese, and meat (mainly chicken) that we used on a daily basis. I think it was during an afternoon when I was chopping up the usual two big trash bag-sized bags of mutilated chicken breasts from Thailand that I was truly repulsed by the thought that at this place, one of many in this one relatively small city, where people usually don’t come for a main meal, just a snack, in this relatively uninhabited country, we have to chop and prepare innumerable sandwiches, coffee drinks, dairy smoothies, pastries, cookies, cup cakes, salads containing meat and/or cheese, pies — the list goes on. It hit me, that there was no way that I could even comprehend the scale of the animal product industry. An industry where animals are selectively bred and raised for the sole purpose of becoming food for a species that don’t even need those products to fulfill their nutritional needs, that say that they love animals, keep certain species as pets whom they would never hurt and not to mention put in a stew or on the barbecue, and most of whom would never want to do what is necessary to generate that steak, or even that cappuccino. I’d even go as far as to say that most of the people that consume animal products are unaware of what the process entails.
I watched a bull being slaughtered when I was younger. His name was Linus, and he was by no means afraid of the farmer who owned him – at least not judging by the way he walked next to him on the other side of the pasture fence, or how he would willingly be led to one place or the other. But the one day when I was sitting on the patch of grass overlooking the barnyard where Linus was being held and approached by the very same farmer now holding a small captive bolt pistol (and mind you, that bull hadn’t had any exposure to slaughter which would cause him to recognize the situation) that would soon put a bullet into his brain, he was anything but calm and at peace. He was thrashing around in the temporary confinement. In the end, the bullet did find it’s way into his cranial cavity, and I’ve never seen so much blood in my life before. It came gushing out in a seemingly endless stream, like dark red water out of a garden hose. Linus stumbled around for a bit, and finally sank to the ground. He was then hoisted up by meat hooks in his hind legs, and hung to bleed in the barn. I swear you could have filled a kiddy pool with blood, still, from what was now dripping out of his slit throat.
And if that alone hadn’t deterred me from doing the job myself, the butchering part definitely would have. Cows, pigs, moose, whatever, they’re big animals and you’re not going to get nice cuts before the flesh goes bad using a little kitchen knife. Nature constructed animals to be sturdy. I would never go through that gory mess just to have a burger that will raise my LDL cholesterol and harm the environment through methane gas and increased energy use for the purpose of keeping the product refrigerated until consumption, the act of which, I consider to be bad simply by virtue of that it inherently includes one allowing the body parts of a murdered being to become part of oneself. The spiritual side of me thinks that’s a form of soul suicide. And the case of Linus wasn’t as bad as it usually is – he lived a happy life on a farm with other cows, got to frolic around in a huge pasture, eat grass and not pellets made of corn and soy to make him grow fat in a matter of months. Most animals raised for human consumptions are housed in horrible conditions, packed so tight they almost can’t move, and certainly aren’t fed what their anatomy is made to process (and neither are we).
It’s not that I have a fanatic love for animals. I really don’t. I’m scared shitless of cows and moose and I only recently got my fear of dogs down to a reasonable level. I think chickens are pretty nasty, unless they’re chicks, and I find pigs to be rather icky. But that makes me want to eat them, put them into my body, let them become what fuels my cells, even less. Furthermore, I’ve seen enough to understand that they wouldn’t want to be raised in horrendous environments, and those who live a “natural” life still don’t want to be murdered. It’s just not nice, and I don’t think it’s nice to oneself to choose to take innocent lives for no reason. I find it to be even worse to pay someone else to do it. And it’s not like all the people in the industry gladly chose their jobs — some people can’t pick and choose, and simply need to put food on the table at home. To get more insight into the people that works in the industry, for both good and bad, I recommend reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Still, just because I have no desire to snuggle with most of the animal species that people tend to consume (in this part of the world, I do like to hang out with cats, dogs, horses, bunnies, yayaya), it doesn’t imply that I don’t respect them and think that they have a right to life. I have a deep respect for them, first of all because we cannot even fathom what it’s like to be them. They live through their senses to a much greater extent than us, because they listen to their bodies, not their egos. It makes the act of allowing violence towards them even more horrendous. Even if I had less respectful thoughts about them, I don’t think I could ever downgrade them to the point where I value a few minutes of gustatory pleasure over their life, over having someone else work 9-5 slitting the throats of animals and throwing male chicks in a grinder because they will not lay eggs – it’s a question of respect for other humans as well. If there were no alternatives to these flavors, I could almost understand how some people could ignore the terror that goes hand in hand with it, but there are alternatives. You can get these flavors these days from plant based foods. News flash: we have progressed into the future. The other day I had pizza, and my omnivore friend couldn’t tell the difference from regular cheese.
Then there’s the scientific part. Animals feel pain, they can make decisions, they can learn, remember, and express emotions. It’s not fair to not fully trust that simply because they can’t say that straight up to us in a human language. Even we don’t always use words to communicate. Now the ethical reasons expand further still; the way we consume these beings affects less fortunate people as well. Because we use so much land in raising livestock, for both the animals themselves but foremost for growing the crops that they’re fed in order to grow faster, we use water and land that could have been used to feed all the starving people of the world. All. of. them. I get many comments about the environmental issue and I suppose it’s a satisfying aspect to focus on, because I travel a lot by air; so let’s enter the environmental issues.
The Environmental Part.
Yes, air travel is bad for the environment. No, it does not contribute to global warming as much as animal agriculture does. In fact, it’s the top contributor. Nobody is perfect, and I admit that it would be better if I didn’t travel by air at all. But just because we can’t all be perfect, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we can. I can thrive off a plant based diet, but I can’t swim to the United States. If I had the time, I would get on whatever ship, and I’ve looked into it, but I don’t even know if it’s possible. Means of travel, flying included, has the possibility of being improved so that it doesn’t affect the environment as much. Raising and slaughtering animals is not the same. You can’t have meat without violating animal rights (if the meat is grown in a petri dish, it’s another question, but the starting point most likely included a real animal, so it’s still not cool and it’s also gross), and you can not raise this number of animals without harming the environment. If we cut back on the animal agri-business, we would have a lot of surface area to grow not only food, but also to plant trees and other plants that would act as buffers, and lower the impact of, for instance, flying. Furthermore, the way we feed the animals make their excretions different. Whereas a natural diet would create manure that could be used to fertilize the ground so that their natural food would grow back quicker (nature’s pretty smart), what is generated now is toxic for the ground and is put into huge holes called lagoons, which in many cases are not secure, causing elements to seep into the ground, into waterways, causing eutrophication and death to fish and other fauna. There are also recorded cases of farmers dying from falling into these shit-lakes, because you can’t swim out of them. Again, it’s not only an animal rights issue, it’s also a human issue. We need clean water and we don’t need to drown in shit.
The Personal Health Part.
I think the most common objections towards a vegan diet is the misconception that one cannot obtain all essential nutrients from plants. This is a straight out lie, and if one believes in it, then one is sticking one’s head in the sand. Ignorance is bliss. No matter how active one is, all needs can be met through plants. It doesn’t even take that much planning; it just takes common sense. You can’t live off chips and soda and expect to be good, just as you can’t live off ice cream and hot dogs and expect to be good.
Yet, I have the feeling that if I had to budge on any point here, I think you’d be most successful in arguing this section with me. Because people have bodies made up of different proteins, that have been coded by varying DNA. This means that we have different functional abilities to digest, absorb, and use food to sustain our lives and stay in good health. It’s called nutrigenetics, for short. Due to this, I believe that some people may not feel optimal when on a plant-based diet. We can only find out for ourselves; and if it so happens to be that someone just feels like they’re going to die, I seriously mean feeling really bad, if they don’t eat animal-derived product X or Y, then by all means, get it sometimes, but get it organic, get it from a farmer, get it local. Owing to these individual variations, I find it difficult to talk about specific health concerns or benefits of any kind of diet. Cholesterol, for example – sure, you don’t want too much LDL in you, it is bad. But where should the line be drawn? Some can handle it, some can’t. I like to make things simple – plant based foods don’t contain cholesterol (maybe with the exception of coconut).
As for me, I think that the two earlier points amplify the well-being that I feel from adhering to a plant-based diet. I feel healthy, but then when I perceive that I’m doing good also environmentally and morally, I feel like I have a cleaner conscience, too. I rarely feel sluggish, and if I do it’s when I’ve had a heavy meal, and I usually don’t. Choosing to exclude certain products has led me to discover new ones that I may have never found otherwise, and I think I consume a greater variety of food now than I did before.