I Don’t Get It: Veganism 101

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Words || Sam van Vliet

I know what you’re thinking – “this is just another self-righteous vegan trying to force their views down my throat” – and I totally get where you’re coming from, but hear me out. I’m just your local neighbourhood v-word, here to answer some commonly-asked questions about VeganismTM

Don’t we need to eat animal products to survive?

We can get every nutrient required to be healthy and happy without eating animal products. Vegans sources of protein include beans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. For iron you can eat cereal, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, or oats – all of which have more iron than steak. For calcium eat sesame seeds, tofu, almonds, or soy milk – again, all of which have more calcium than dairy milk. You get the idea. 

Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that can’t be found in plants, and the RDI can be easily met by drinking fortified plant milks, eating nutritional yeast, or taking a daily multivitamin containing B vitamins.

The American Dietetics Association is the largest body of registered dietitians in the world, consisting of over 100 000 diet experts. The association has stated that a “well-planned vegan diet is appropriate for health and wellbeing at all stages of life, including pregnancy”.

Aren’t all vegans weak and unhealthy though?

Not only can you survive as a vegan, there is mounting medical research to indicate that it’s actually a healthier option. Red meat and processed meats have been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the WHO. Heart disease or atherosclerosis is the most common cause of death in Australia, caused by a buildup of cholesterol in the heart. A vegan diet contains absolutely no cholesterol, and is the only diet which has scientific evidence backing its potential to reverse the effects of atherosclerosis. 

There has been a growing trend recently of athletes turning to plant-based diets – from bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzeneggar to MMA fighters like Nate Diaz, even to Patrick Baboumian who is a five-time strength contest world record holder. The new Netflix documentary The Game Changers explores the high-performance capacity of a plant-based diet.

Isn’t soy farming destroying the environment?

Yes, it is. Soy farming is destroying the environment because of how much land and water it uses, which often requires a lot of deforestation and habitat destruction to access. 

However, animals eat a lot of food. 90% of the soy crops and 50% of the grain crops are produced to feed farm animals. It’s an incredibly inefficient system, and we would be able to feed 10 billion people today if we just fed the crops we would be feeding to animals, to people. 

The animal agriculture industry is by far the most destructive industry in the world. It causes more greenhouse gas emissions than every vehicle on earth combined. It causes more habitat destruction and species extinction than any other industry. The ongoing Amazon fires were started to clear land for cattle agriculture, and 80% of all Amazon deforestation is for animal farming. According to a 2018 Oxford study, the largest study ever on the environmental effects of diet, going vegan is the “single biggest way” you can reduce your impact on the environment.

Animals eat other animals, isn’t it just the circle of life? 

Yes, they do. Lions, for example, are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot survive without eating meat. Humans have the ability both to survive without killing animals, as well as the ability to make decisions based on moral reasoning rather than base instinct. 

Haven’t we done this for thousands of years?

Yes, we have. The longevity of an action or tradition has no bearing on its morality. Humans have murdered each other for thousands of years, and we still condemn it because we recognise that needless harm should be avoided. 

But aren’t we more intelligent than animals?

Yes, we are. But usually we don’t determine someone’s value of life based on how intelligent they are.

But don’t plants feel pain too?

No, they don’t. Plants contain none of the necessary physiological features which make sentience possible (nervous systems and brains complex enough to subjectively feel pain).

Let’s assume for a moment that plants do feel the same level of pain as animals. It takes up to 16kg of crops to create 1kg of meat. As a non-vegan, the number of animal deaths AND the number of plant deaths caused are much higher than as a vegan. 

Don’t vegans think animals are more important than humans?

No, they don’t. Humans are more intelligent than animals, and can form more complex social bonds, meaning in 99% of cases a vegan would choose to save a human over an animal. 

However, when we purchase animal products, we’re actually choosing between killing an animal, and not killing an animal. We don’t need to kill animals to be healthy, and so by purchasing animal products we are essentially saying that we value the life of the animal less than we value the 15 minutes of taste pleasure we get from eating them.

Isn’t being vegetarian enough?

At a glance, you’d think so. Unfortunately the standard industry practices behind eggs and dairy are in many cases more harmful than meat. In the dairy industry, cows are repeatedly confined and forcibly impregnated so they can continue making milk. When the calves are born, they are separated from their mothers within 48 hours to prevent them drinking any of the milk. Cows are strongly maternal animals, and form deep familial bonds with their young – mother cows are known to mourn for weeks for their stolen calves. Male calves are slaughtered shortly after for meat as they cannot produce milk and therefore have no monetary value for the farmer. Female calves are raised to be exploited in the same way as their mothers. A majority of dairy cows contract mastitis from the milking process, which is a painful inflammation of the udder often causing bleeding and pus to be excreted alongside the milk. This process is repeated until the cow is unable to produce milk, usually about 4-5 years while their natural lifespan is about 20 years. Since she is no longer worth anything to the industry, she too is sent to slaughter. All of these processes are standard industry practice, and occur even in local, free-range, and “high welfare” farms.

The egg industry is no different. At birth chicks are sorted by sex, with the male chicks being ground up in a macerator without anaesthetic. The female chicks are debeaked, also without anaesthetic. After about 18 months, hens are considered “spent”, and are sent to slaughter. All chickens in the egg industry are killed far before their natural lifespan, regardless of the advertised quality standards such as free range and organic. 

What about free-range, local, and humanely slaughtered animal products?

Humane means “to have compassion or benevolence”. Is there a way to compassionately kill an animal that we don’t need to kill? Even if there were a painless way to slaughter animals, and that was the way we currently slaughtered animals, we would still be unnecessarily taking the life of a sentient being who wanted to live. Animals are not killed painlessly, in fact. The documentary Dominion (YouTube) explores every animal agriculture industry in Australia, and depicts the standard, legal practices used.

The words “free-range”, “local”, and “humane” are effectively meaningless in terms of animal welfare, and are just used as a marketing strategy. As an example, Australian eggs can be advertised as free range when the hens are restricted to as little as 1 square metre per bird. Chickens naturally live in hierarchically organised groups, and with that population density (alongside other standard practices such as un-anaesthetised debeaking) they are unable to form natural pecking orders.

Eating animals is a personal choice, why are you trying to force your views on me?

Yes, in the end it is a personal choice. But so are catcalling and . Does something being a “personal choice” make it the right thing to do? When a victim is involved, personal choices need to be criticised. When we know that eating animals is not necessary to be a happy and healthy person, why would we make the personal choice to do it anyway?

They’ve already killed the animal, how much of a difference can I really make?

An average Australian causes the death of about 100 animals each year. By purchasing animal products, we are creating economic demand for them. This means the industries will breed more animals to meet that demand. The same is true in the reverse, if fewer people are paying for animal products, fewer animal products will be produced.  

We kill over 3 trillion animals every year, but it’s not all doom and gloom. You can make a difference by not paying for these animals to be killed. There are endless resources to help your transition. It’s 2019, and it’s easier than ever to become a more compassionate consumer.