In the past few years, more people have noticeably chosen to adopt vegan lifestyles because of health, animal rights, environmentalism, or possibly to just be trendy as vegan restaurants continue to pop up in most major cities around the world. Although veganism has become somewhat of a fad among certain circles in recent years, I believe this change is due to the increased amount of information about animal products that has become available, not merely because it is a hip thing to do. Contrary to popular belief, going vegan does not mean severely restricting your diet, spending tons of money on every meal or that you are a pretentious hipster. When practiced through well-informed decisions, veganism benefits your health, saves animals from suffering inhumane deaths and dramatically decreases one’s impact on the planet.
I have been a vegan for over four years. People often ask me why I chose to stop consuming all animal products after being a vegetarian since I was 12 years old. Basically, the answer is because I educated myself. I learned about the cruelty inflicted on animals in every animal product industry, the negative impact of animal products on human health, and how raising animals for human consumption is one of the top contributors to global warming. All of this information is readily available from research-backed sources online, so if you are interested in learning more, I highly encourage you to peruse the internet for facts. Here is a brief breakdown of the main reasons why most vegans choose the cruelty-free lifestyle.
Animal cruelty. Many people are now making an effort to purchase meat, dairy and eggs with labels like “organic,” “free range,” “natural,” “sustainable,” etc. Unfortunately, these labels can be incredibly misleading, as most of them allow for a lot of leeway. Many farms meet the bare minimum requirements they need to fulfill in order to legally use these labels. For example, “free range” egg farms are only required to allow their chickens to roam freely outside at some point during the day—there is no minimum time requirement spent outside and no minimum outdoor space requirement. So while you may picture “free range” chickens enjoying the sunshine happily all day, sadly that does not usually happen.
Dairy production is one of the most cruel practices of the animal products industries. On most dairy farms (including “organic” farms), calves are immediately taken away from their mothers so that the mother’s milk can be sold to humans instead of feeding their babies. Arguably, cow milk is not intended for humans—we are the only species on Earth that consumes another species’ milk—and, as all mothers’ milk is, it is meant to be consumed by the mothers’ children. Cows are constantly artificially inseminated so that they can stay pregnant and therefore produce milk for humans. Watching videos of the artificial insemination of cows is particularly brutal; the cow often screams in agony while someone puts their entire arm into the cow’s vagina in order to impregnate the cow. Undoubtably, this process is rape, although speciesism prevents us from seeing it that way.
Health. Because the meat and dairy industries are incredibly successful and control billions of dollars in the United States, they are able to perpetuate myths that most people hold as absolute truth. For example, contrary to popular opinion, milk is actually unhealthy and not meant for human consumption. Although we are taught as children that milk makes us “big and strong” because it has lots of calcium, drinking milk actually depletes the calcium in our bones. When we consume dairy, our bodies have to work hard to digest it, and we end up using the calcium already stored in our bodies to help neutralize our internal pH because milk is acidic. Milk and eggs also contain exorbitant amounts of cholesterol, and doctor-prescribed plant-based diets have proven to reverse high cholesterol.
The environment. Did you know that it takes 90 gallons of water to produce one Greek yogurt? Livestock and other animal product industries are some of the biggest contributors in the world to environmental destruction and global warming. In order to raise cows and other animals, we must feed them— using water and land to grow their feed and provide land for them—therefore cutting down thousands of trees and contributing to the destruction of the Amazon. Raising animals for food currently uses 30% of the Earth’s land and 70% of grains grown in the U.S. are currently used to feed livestock. By going directly to the source and eating grains and other plants instead of supporting the industries that are destroying the Earth, we can radically reduce our carbon footprints and do our part to help the planet.
Here are a few FAQs about veganism that I have been asked more times than I can remember:
Isn’t it really hard to be a vegan? Living a vegan lifestyle is generally much easier than most people think it is. It is easy to consider what you cannot eat instead of what you can eat as a vegan. A lot of people’s favorite foods are “accidentally” vegan or can easily be made vegan. It is true that vegans do not consume meat, eggs, or dairy, but we do consume all kinds of fruits and vegetables, faux meat & dairy entrees--some examples include seitan chicken, tempeh bacon, black bean veggie burgers (available at The Pub and super delicious!), mushroom-based beef, and so much more—delicious baked goods (just swap milk for non-dairy milk and eggs for bananas or applesauce!), creamy and cheesy pasta dishes; honestly, you can find a vegan alternative online for anything you are craving. As long as you have the ability to cook for yourself (which a lot of us at SLC do), being vegan is a breeze. The only part of living as a vegan that is sometimes difficult is the amount of ignorance you find yourself surrounded by, so that you constantly have to explain your dietary situation to people. Also, sometimes at family events or friends’ houses, people may not understand your situation or have options for you to eat. I have never found myself in a very dire situation, so I either talk to people beforehand to find out what options are available or bring along my own food. Soon enough, your friends and family will hopefully come to accept the fact that you are vegan, and will not expect you to partake in non-vegan food. You just have to go through an awkward period before people get over it.
Where do you get your protein? Most people believe that they need to consume much more protein than their bodies actually need, and research has shown that consuming excess animal protein is actually harmful to our bodies. Consuming the optimal amount of protein each day as a vegan is incredibly easy! I love to eat tempeh, quinoa, beans, nuts, tofu, nut butters, seeds, almond milk, dark leafy greens, whole wheat bread, hummus, avocados…and all of these delicious foods have healthy levels of plant-based protein. I also take some supplements every day (vitamin D, B12, and a multivitamin), but I believe that everyone (omnivores too) should be taking vitamins because it is difficult for anyone to get enough nutrients from our food nowadays.
Isn’t vegan food really expensive? It is easy to see prices on vegan foods at places like Whole Foods and fancy vegan restaurants and speculate that living as a vegan is a seriously pricey endeavor. However, it is actually possible to live on a strict budget and still be a healthy vegan. Shopping in bulk and going to the farmer’s market for produce are key elements to saving money. A vegan can live healthily on cheap bulk items like oats, rice, beans, peanut butter, big containers of fruits and veggies, tortillas, and many other delicious, cheap items! Check out plantbasedonabudget.com for some ideas.
Finally, some tips for those of you who are considering going vegan or just vegetarian:
1. Do research online. Learn more about meat and dairy health myths, how to be healthy as a vegan, search for easy vegan recipes, and reach out to other passionate people! Some of my favorite blogs include ohsheglows.com, theppk.com, kblog.lunchboxbunch.com, chefchloe.com, thesexyvegan.com, and choosingraw.com.
2. Watch these informative documentaries: Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., and Earthlings.
3. Take necessary supplements. My nutritionist told me to take B12, a daily multivitamin, calcium, and vitamin D every day. Just make sure that they are in vegetarian capsules and not gelatin!
4. If possible, see a nutritionist. Many doctors who are not trained in nutrition will tell you to avoid veganism because they do not understand it. I have been dissuaded from veganism by multiple Western doctors because they did not understand how I could get enough nutrition, but I also saw nutritionists who all supported my decision and helped me plan my meals so that I learned how to get enough necessary nutrients in my diet. After 7 and a half years as a vegetarian and 4 and a half years as a vegan, all of my doctors now claim that I am perfectly healthy!
by Sarah Steinhart '17