What is a Vegan?
A vegan consumes and purchases products which do not come from animals.Vegans avoid dairy products, eggs, and flesh; as well as leather, wool,honey and all products which contain slaughterhouse ingredients (many soapsand shampoos). Most vegans also avoid animal-tested products (cosmetics,herbicides, household cleaners). Although it may be impossible to eliminateall such products from one's life, vegans will usually do their best tofind cruelty-free alternatives.The term vegan was coined in London in 1944 by seven vegetarians who metto form the Vegan Society, which still thrives in England. Like vegans today,theywere concerned with the ethical and health consequences of eating animalproducts, as well as with animal agriculture's destructive effects on theplanet.
Benefit to AnimalsWhile some people might be conscious of what transpires in today's slaughterhouses,few are aware of the inherently cruel and exploitative nature of the dairyand egg industries:Battery hens used for egg production are possibly the most ill-treated ofall farm animals. Their entire lives are spent in cages so small that theycannot concurrently spread their wings. The cages, stacked three to fourlevels high, have wire mesh floors which are slanted to allow the eggs toroll onto a belt. Lacking solid ground to wear down their claws, thehens'feet often become permanently attached to the floors. Amputation of thelast digit of the hens' toes solves this problem. Egg producers have learnedthat along with minimizing the light available to layers, searing or clippingoff a large portion of the hens' upper mandible will reduce the damage doneby frustrated birds suffering from stress-induced violence. These practicesare performed without anesthesia, resulting in the premature death of manyhens. Even those who survive these procedures can expect to live only ayear and a half, far less than the fifteen to twenty years of which theyare capable. Egg-farmers regularly lace the birds' food with antibioticsto lessen outbreaks of disease. Nevertheless, salmonellosis and leukosisare extremely common in flocks.Dairy cows have also fallen victim to animal agriculture's demand to cutproduction costs. Thanks to the pharmeceutical industry, dairy farmers nowhave the option of utilizing a wide array of growth hormones and drugs,including the genetically engineered rBGH, which has been linked to a varietyof health problems. A steadily increasing number of dairy cows are beingkept in confinement for their entire, abbreviated lives. Those who do nothave to exist in concrete stalls must still endure almost constant pregnancy(to ensure continual lactation) and immediate separation from their calvesconceived through artificial insemination. Calves, especially if male, aregenerally sold to the veal industry and will suffer through sixteen weeksof severe confinement before slaughter. After six to seven years (less thanone-third of their possible life expectancy) in the dairy industry mostcows are spent and will be sold for low-grade beef.
Environmental BenefitsIn the US and other nations, the impact animal agriculture has had on theenvironment has been devastating. Raising animals for food is a wastefuland inefficient process. Becoming a vegan translates into a drastic alleviationof the stress we place on our environment, as a plant-based diet requiresfar less water, energy, raw materials, and land to produce.Feedlots and slaughterhouses in the US are the largest single pollutersof rivers and streams. Furthermore, crops destined for animal feed are notrequired to meet the same standards as those grown for human consumption,resulting in chemical pesticides and herbicides being applied more liberally.These chemicals are passed on to consumers in their milk, eggs and meat.Animal Damage Control, a government agency, annually kills millions of indigenousanimals, from coyotes to crows, all at the behest of cattle and sheep ranchers,who also vehemently oppose the reintroduction of native species such asthe wolf.From the overuse of water to soil erosion and deforestation, it is difficultto overstate the case for re-examining what we eat.
Health BenefitsConsidering the horrors of the animal agriculture industry, it is comfortingto know that a diet free from animal exploitation offers so many healthbenefits. An increasing number of studies are showing that human nutritionalneeds are best met with a vegan diet.Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a Cornell University nutritional biochemist, supervisedthe largest, most in-depth nutritional epidemiological study of its kindever undertaken. The close observation of the eating habits of 6,500 Chineseparticipants over a seven year period brought him to conclude that, "We'rebasically a vegetarian species and should be eating a wide variety of plantfoods and minimizing our intake of animal foods." He further stated,"In the next ten years, one of the things you're bound to hear is thatanimal protein...is one of the most toxic nutrients of all that can be considered."Indeed, a direct link was found in this study between the consumption ofanimal products and life threatening illnesses such as heart disease andcancers of the breast and colon.Not only do animal products pose health risks forhuman consumers, they offer us nothing nutritive that cannot be morereadily obtained from plant sources. Protein, iron, calcium and all vitaminrequirements are easily met througheating only grains, beans, vegetables,nuts and fruits, with the possible exception of Vitamin B-12, which, ifneeded, is available in fortified foods and supplements.While the question many people ask when comparing the vegan diet to a standarddiet is "Will I get enough?", it is much more important to ask"Have I been getting too much?". While the fat content of a vegandiet is substantially lower than an omnivorous one, what might be equallybeneficial is the lower protein intake. Excess animal protein has been linkedto osteoporosis, kidney disease, and even cancer. Americans, it has beenshown, typically have three to four times as much protein in their dietas is necessary.
Putting it Into PracticeBecoming vegan is easy. Many traditional American dishes, such as hot dogsand ice cream now have their vegan equivalents. You may also want to lookinto the cuisines of other cultures such as Thai, Ethiopian, or Persian.If you live in a city there will probably be a wide selection of ethnicmarkets and restaurants to choose from which offer vegan foods (ask aboutcooking oil or broths which might be of animal origin). Non-leather shoes,belts and other accessories are easy to find. Many department stores sellcanvas, rubber or vinyl shoes and belts. Health food stores carry a widevariety of vegan products such as soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, while manymainstream companies are catching on to this demand, resulting in the wideravailability of vegan items in supermarkets and drugstores. Try cleaningyour house with a simple cleaner like Murphy'sOil Soap or Bon Ami insteadof big-name, toxic cleaners or find a book on making your own with simplehousehold items such as vinegar and baking soda.Your everyday actions effect all of the Earth's inhabitants. By learningto consume only what you need, you can, as the saying goes: "Live simplyso that others may simply live." While making these changes can bedifficult at first, you will eventually find that they become second nature.If you believe in making a positive statement through your lifestyle we'resure you'll choose veganism!