Reasons for switching to a plant based diet are many, varied and personal. Most who have made the switch to a vegan diet have done so for one of three reasons; personal health, animal welfare or environmental sustainability. My personal motivation started with animal welfare and became more about environmental sustainability and more recently, optimal nutrition.
Allow me to muse on each of these points in greater depth.
My motivation to eat a vegetarian diet (back in the 80s) and to strive for veganism nearly 3 years ago was not for my health. I suspect consuming meat may affect the health of the animal being consumed a whole lot more than it will effect me, for better or for worse. But I shall discuss health anyway as it is of significance to some. (Since writing this my own nutrition has become very important to my lifestyle and I have read up on plant based nutrition)
It is scientifically proven that vegans are thinner and have lower cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
(For those whole like me, when I went vegan, turned despite their health not because of it, I noted the following, by means of reassurance)
Please don't query where I get my protein from. People concerned about protein are basing their beliefs on outdated science. Vegetarians and vegans who eat a varied diet including grains and pulses will get a more than adequate supply of protein. Anaemia (caused by lack of iron) is no more common in vegans than in vegetarians or meat eaters. Fortified soy milk and juices have been proven to be as efficient as diary products for providing the body with calcium. A diet that includes legumes, flaxseeds/linseed, nuts, soybeans and dark green leafy vegetables should provide the a sufficient source of zinc and omega3.
Vitamin D deficiency can become an issue for vegans and non vegans in certain geographical locations (ie in Scandinavia in winter where daylight hours are limited). Everyone in these environments may need to take a dietary supplement.
Vitamin B12 is hardest to access from a vegan diet as almost all sources are meat and diary. An easy vegan cheat is Marmite (and now the low salt vegemite that has B12 added). Kiwi and Aussie kids have grown up with the stuff and generally enjoy this pungent flavour. If you can't stomach it, access other foods fortified with B12 (non-diary milks, breakfast cereals etc) or simply take a supplement.
Does a vegan have to be a little bit careful about what they eat? I guess so! Personally I don't worry too much but admittedly have a varied and healthy diet so it's a non issue. Lets not forget that meat eaters have to be a little bit careful too. Has that fish been out of the freezer too long? Can I eat leftovers from two days ago? Will I get food poisoning from this restaurant? (Vegans rarely get food poisoning - just saying). Beyond the poisoning risk of animal products there is the undeniable fact that eating a 'normal' diet high in animal products leads to early death from 'normal' diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowl cancer - all which are reduced and even reversed on a carefully planned plant based diet.
I became vegetarian as a teenager. I was grossed out by eating meat and my mother agreed to stop putting it on my plate. This was about as far as I went as far as adapting my diet went. My meat and three veg became three veg! Not exciting, but since then things have become a lot more adventurous. Three years ago, mostly as a result of education campaigning by Animals Australia I gravitated towards a vegan diet. I had previously believed that chickens lay eggs and cows make mike so no big deal to consume it. I have since learnt about how these industries include practices no ethical vegetarian would be comfortable with. Namely the treating of so called 'Bobby cows' and new born chicks as nothing but agricultural waste products. This is all I will say about this but all info available on the Animals Australia website.
Intensive factory farming has become a necessity to feed the meat-eating masses. We grew up with quaint storybooks about loving farmers who keep a few chickens, sheep and a cow. This is not the reality of farming today. We want cheap food and this means cutting costs and this means cramming hundreds of animals into small spaces and often drugging them up with antibiotics etc to prevent disease at such close quarters. Grazing animals in Australia and New Zealand get a better deal, usually, but pigs and chickens are generally raised 'intensively'.
My feelings about practices in farming are not because I am 'an animal lover'. Baby animals are cute as hell, no denying it and I wouldn't mind a cat - I quite like the independent arrogance of cats. Other than that I have no big interest in keeping or owning animals. But this does not diminish my respect for animals. All life on earth has evolved over millions of years and all living beings have as much right to life as I do. As a thinking being I choose to eat a plant based diet because I can. A shark can not choose and a lion can not choose but I can. At this point the population of humans on Earth and the ability to feed them comes in to it - so time for the next topic!
When meat eaters ask me 'Why vegan?' there are some usual response I can expect from them." We are meat eaters, we have always eaten meat, we used to be hunter gatherers" etc etc. All this is true. We did evolve eating meat. (In my opinion we are incredibly resourceful and historically were omnivores through hunting, gathering and undoubtably scavenging.) That is how we survived. But we not longer need to eat meat and so I choose not to.
When I was a kid there were around three billion people on earth. Now, 30 years later there are over seven billion. Think about that. The first three billion took 200,000 years to populate the earth and that doubled in the next thirty. If all six billion of us lead an affluent style meat based diet we would need 67 per cent more agricultural land than we currently have.* Sorry people but you cant sign a petition to save the rain forests whist eating a steak. Growing crops to feed animals which are then slaughtered to feed us is logically not good use of our limited agricultural land. If in fact the human race went vegan (hypothetically, this is unlikely for some time, anyway) we would actually need less than the existing land to feed us all, allowing more land to be returned to 'wild animals' hence adding to their quality of life and reducing extinction. Other benefits reducing water usage, less pollution (in the form of nitrous oxide), less methane emissions, decreased degradation of land. I'm not making this shit up, the scientific evidence is there. I'm currently reading The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason - a highly readable and engaging book that discusses all this and more backed up with scientific research and references.
In conclusion the decision to 'go vegan' is considered a personal one - yet in many ways it is globally motivated. A vegan lifestyle reduces animal suffering, frees up land for wilderness, ensures that our planet can sustain the current human population and has many other environmental benefits. It could in fact be argued that the decision to go vegan is not a personal choice so much as a moral obligation.
The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason (In depth analysis of what and how we eat and the consequences on animal welfare, the environment and society.
In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan (not vegan philosophy but good sensible discussion about food)
The China Study by Dr T. Collin Campbell - a lifetime of research into the harm all animal products do to the human body and the benefits of a whole food plant based diet.
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