Veganism: The Answer to All of Our Problems?
As you all probably know from my previous foodie blog posts, I’m vegan. Before making the change from vegetarian to vegan last October, I chose to do a bit of research about it. The timing of my research coincided with writing one of my essays for my National 5 English portfolio, so I decided to combine the two and write an essay to persuade me to become vegan (and convince my family to let me do so!). The essay worked so well that my dad turned vegan with me too! I’m not going to lie: it wasn’t an easy transition at the start. But we’ve now got into a routine and we’re both loving it - we don’t miss meat or dairy at all!
Anyway, I thought I’d share my essay with you in a hope to explain my reasons for being vegan a little better, as it’s something I’ve been asked about quite a lot. I hope you find it interesting and I’m happy to answer any questions you have about it - just comment at the bottom this post or message me on social media!
* Just to be clear, I promise I have no issue whatsoever with people who eat meat or dairy (my dad is the only other vegan in my family) - I’m a strong believer that we should all have the freedom to make our own choices. I am in no way intending to inflict my opinions on you by sharing this essay, I am only wishing to explain my choices.
It is interesting to note that, in the last 10 years, Britain’s vegan population has risen by 360% with nearly half of these vegans aged 15-34. Publicised through social media, the vegan diets of celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Stevie Wonder and Liam Hemsworth may be a key factor in persuading younger generations to adopt this diet, in addition to the ever-increasing availability of tempting vegan products in supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. One of the key beliefs of vegans is that all sentient beings - humans and animals - are equals. For this reason, vegans buy no products of animal origin, including meat, dairy, eggs and even honey, as well as leather, suede, and fur. There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan diet which can be grouped under three primary headings: health benefits, animal cruelty and environmental concerns.
Adoption of a vegan diet has been proven to have numerous health benefits. Most vegans consume seven or more fruits and vegetables daily (considerably more than the British recommended five-a-day), a diet which is thought to reduce the risk of an early death by 33%. A study conducted by Oxford University suggested that extensive adoption of vegan diets by 2050 could prevent over eight million untimely deaths every year.
Lower mortality rates have also been linked to a plant-based diet, with overall lower calorie meals reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease - the developed world’s biggest killer. Medical research has also proven that the risk of developing cancer is approximately three times higher in those who consume meat, dairy and eggs on a regular basis, likely due to consumption of larger quantities of saturated fats.
Vegan diets can lack important vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12 but this issue can be solved by taking supplements or eating specific types of fruits and vegetables.
The premature slaughtering of farmed animals - including cows, sheep and pigs - is a key reason why many people choose to remove meat from their diets, but in many cases the dairy industry goes unnoticed - an industry which mistreats these harmless animals at least as much, if not more.
Dairy cows are artificially impregnated and are separated from their newborn calves within 12 hours of giving birth. These cows have also been genetically modified to produce 12 times more milk following birth in order to maximise profit for farmers. They are butchered as soon as they have fulfilled their purpose.
The egg industry is no better. Male chicks are considered useless, cruelly killed shortly after birth. Females are crammed into battery cages with no room for movement, resulting in weak bones and multiple fractures. Here, they are forced to lay eggs until they no longer can, at which point they are terminated.
In the marine industry, only one sixth of the animals caught are sold as edible fish, the rest (including dolphins, turtles and sharks) are discarded and left to die.
Many argue that these animals are bred to feed the human population and don't have feelings of any importance, therefore, we shouldn’t feel guilt when murdering them to satisfy our cravings. An article written by American author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson clearly suggested the opposite - that farmed animals, if given the opportunity, could be at least as endearing as the domesticated pets society has grown to love, stating that “a pig could be as devoted, as affectionate, as good a companion, as a dog, given half a chance.” In a modern society so passionate about fighting for gender equality, why aren’t we fighting for animal equality?
Scientific analysis of energy consumption has demonstrated that it is most efficient to consume food directly from its source, instead of indirectly through animal-based products. In a world currently struggling to feed its population, it has been calculated that we could comfortably feed 10 billion on plant-based diets.
70% of the grains and cereals grown in the United States of America are fed to farmed animals and, on a global scale, an estimated 3.5 billion people could survive on the food fed to livestock. Why are we wasting valuable resources on meat production when, worldwide, one in nine people are starving? Should there be a goal of sustainable agriculture?
A study in Britain showed that a widespread diet containing a balance of meat, dairy and eggs would take a total of eleven million hectares of land. A vegan diet would be much more efficient, using only three million hectares of land, allowing the remaining land to be left for environmental preservation. Elimination of livestock farming would also aid the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (one of the three key gases responsible for global warming).
Nearly three-quarters of the global supply of freshwater is used in agriculture, and a diet containing meat has been proven to use three times as much water as that used for a vegan diet. Meanwhile, 20% of the human population lacks sufficient freshwater. Malnutrition and dehydration could be addressed by abolishing the meat and dairy industries - all we need to do is be more considerate and reduce our intake of animal products.
So, What Does This Mean?
As simple a thing as changing your diet could solve so many global issues. We are the people who can make this difference - we can be the ones to fight for equality amongst all species, to save millions of lives each year, to reduce our carbon footprint and feed the world. Suddenly converting to full-time veganism is probably the most effective way of doing this, yet I appreciate that it’s a drastic and non-sustainable change for many.
But veganism isn’t the only answer - there are many smaller ways to change your diet and still make a difference. Simply reducing your meat consumption each week until you’re no longer as dependent on it, or converting from regular milk to soy or almond milk, or eating fewer eggs or less cheese are all steps which reduce the impact of the human race on the world.
I personally believe that free choice is crucial and it’s up to each of us as individuals to do what we can to make the world a better place. For me, joining the half million vegans in Britain was as a good place to start as any. I understand that this is an option that will not appeal to many, but I encourage you to consider making a change, no matter how small. If we all make a little change to our diet occasionally, it will add up to make a big difference.
And just to prove you can still have fun eating food as a vegan, here’s a silly photo of me eating cakes at Holy Cow, an all-vegan café in Edinburgh!
‘Why go vegan?,’ The Vegan Society
‘Compassion for animals,’ The Vegan Society
Monbiot, G. ‘I’ve converted to veganism to reduce my impact on the living world,’ The Guardian
Marsh, S. ‘What’s the attitude to vegan food where you live?,’ The Guardian
Keegan, K. ’10 Arguments Against A Vegan Lifestyle,’ Care2
‘The Ultimate Arguments Against Veganism,’ Shell Ethics
Shulman, B. ‘BEING VEGAN: A personal essay about veganism,’ The Mindful Word
Robbins, J. ‘How To Win An Argument With A Meat-Eater,’ VegSource.com
Capps, A. ’10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,’ Free From Harm
Embar, W. ’Eggs,’ Vegan Peace
Valentine, J. ‘Infographic: Veganism and the Environment,’ One Green Planet
Clark, A. ’16 Facts That Show How Going Vegan Helps Stop Climate Change,’ PETA UK
Quinn, S. ‘Number of vegans in Britain rises by 360% in 10 years,’ The Telegraph
‘Why 5 A DAY?’ NHS Choices