If I told you could save 1,300 gallons of water by either not flushing your toilet for six months, not taking a shower for three months, or simply not eating one burger today, which would you choose? And what if I told you that in a day, you could save 45 pounds of grain, 30 square of forest land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life by simply going vegan? What is vegan, anyways? Veganism is a philosophy, lifestyle and diet that abstains from the use of animal products, avoiding the exploitation and mistreatment of animals. This is very different from vegetarian, which is followed by people who do not eat meat, but eat dairy products.
From April 2015-2016, “vegan” was the number one word googled in Australia, according to GoogleTrends. Does this mean that veganism is the next big trend? There are quite a few reasons that someone might adopt a vegan lifestyle, whether it be for their health, the environment or the animals. “I have definitely seen and felt a rise in the knowledge of, accessibility to, and popularity of veganism,” said Zef Vesel, a vegan and Executive Chef of Park + Vine, an all-vegan eatery and market located in downtown Cincinnati. “I certainly do believe that people are waking up to our need to transform our attitudes and practices towards animals. Some people will turn towards veganism for health, some for the environment, but more and more people are realizing that our treatment of animals is an inexcusable form of oppression equally ugly as was slavery, the holocaust, and the like.”
When someone makes a leap to adopt the vegan lifestyle, many things begin to change. “Once I actually began feeding myself well [smoothies, greens, juices, lots of fresh foods], I felt like I was becoming a superhuman. My energy levels were through the roof, recoveries after workouts were almost immediate; gains in muscle were evident daily. Additionally, my sense of connection with myself, other creatures, the earth and spirit were all enhanced by becoming vegan. Whereas before I could disconnect my decisions from those experiencing suffering, I no longer felt that separation, thus creating a more unified, empathetic, caring and understanding experience within my life. Moreover, I knew I wasn’t adding to the most horrific crises on the planet spiritually, ethically and environmentally.”
Many people do not realize that sicknesses that are directly related to our poor eating habits and non-active lifestyles such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are not usually naturally occurring illnesses and are mostly preventable. The China Study, a book written by T. Colin Campbell, a biochemist; Jacob Gould Schurman, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University; and Thomas M. Campbell II, a physician, examines the correlation between the consumption of an animal product-based diet and a variety of different cancers. The study found that in the United States, males have a whopping 47 percent chance of getting cancer during their lifetime, and for females it isn’t much better at 38 percent. From 1990 to 1998, the percentage of diabetes incidences increased in people ages 30-39 by 70 percent, clearly pointing to America’s lack of health and exercise. The no. 1 killer, however, is heart disease; one in three Americans will feel its wrath.
A vegan diet has been known to prevent, and sometimes even cure, auto-immune diseases, cancers, etc. “I had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease [morphea] about four years ago and have been on a chemotherapeutic drug since the beginning, said Steven Steinway, a 25-year-old production designer from Greenhills, Ohio who is new to the vegan diet. “After doing a lot of research, it seems that a lot of the things that aggravate the disease are actually meat based proteins, as well as dairy. I had already been a vegetarian and was on the brink of being taken off my medicine when I began to realize the correlation between all the things I was eating and how my body felt and how my disease would progress. Now being off my medicine completely, I have been a vegan for about four months,” said Steinway.
Like Steinway, most vegans were meat eaters that had their blindfold removed. There is a large disconnection between the animals that we eat and how they end up on our plates. Since meat usually comes packaged in a neat little box, and meat eaters don’t have to do the dirty work themselves, they forget where meat comes from and how it gets there. Meat eaters will argue that farm animals such as pigs, cows and chickens are not sentient beings, simply mindless creatures that were created for our taste buds. However, according to the Humane Society of the United States, it has been proven that pigs have the same cognitive capacity of a 3-year-old child, or that of a dog. So why is it that people are shocked and horrified by the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, an annual celebration in China in which thousands upon thousands of dogs are slaughtered—many which are pets stolen from homes— and eaten? What is the difference between eating our beloved Fido at home and eating any farm animal in the United States? Our social perception. For us Westerners, we see our household pets as family. But in other cultures such as China, a dog is the same as any other animal we eat.
Another issue tends to be ignored is the massive impact that animal agriculture has on the environment. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation combined. For example, cows produce—that is, fart— 150 billion gallons of methane a day, and the average amount of water used to produce 1 pound of beef is 2,500 gallons. Animal agriculture is also contributing to a mass extinction of countless species—the largest in 65 million years— as well as destroying oceans and rainforests, according to The China Study. This is all due to the destruction of the habitats of species in order to create more space for livestock to graze as well as grow feed.
It may seem like a daunting or overwhelming task at first, but adopting a vegan lifestyle isn’t very hard at all. In today’s day and age, it is easier than ever to do so. There are countless, cruelty-free alternatives to every meat and cheese in the book. As long as we are getting the right amount of nutrients like protein, calcium, zinc, etc. —and yes, you can get them from plants only— then there is nothing stopping us from excelling above and beyond in terms of health. Adopting a plant-based diet has a world of benefits; you are saving your health, the environment, and animals’ lives.