Let’s Take A Look…
This blog is going to be looking at the various reasons that a vegan diet is the best diet for the human species. By vegan, I mean a diet that consists only of plant-based foods and excludes ingesting any animal products. I am not going to try to convince the reader that not being vegan makes you a horrible person nor am I going to try to convince that being a vegan is the most nutritious way to eat. Those are merely perspectives that others have approached this topic with in the past. While I will explore both animal welfare and nutrition in this blog, my approach to making the case for veganism is a different one.
Alternative Perspective of DIET:
We are facing an unprecedented time in the human story where we no longer have the luxury of overlooking the impact of our actions on other species, the environment, and ourselves. Whether you are someone who believes that humans are exacerbating climate change or there is not enough evidence to support that claim, there is little debate as to the footprint that we are leaving on the planet we call our home. My approach here is to highlight the vast array of reasons as to why adopting a vegan diet can benefit you as an individual as well as may be the greatest chance we have as a species of long term survival on Earth.
Changing our dietary choices as a species has many facets involved and each is important to understand. It is amazing that talking about just one change in our diets can have such an amazing impact on so many areas of our lives. For the animal lovers, athletes, people looking to turn around their health, humanitarians, environmentalists, scientists, spiritual seekers, and people who are simply interested in learning more, it is worth learning how the answer to excellence in each of these areas is accompanied by a vegan diet.
For the skeptics that have made it this far, I honor you being here and your willingness to learn about something that is foreign to your way of life. Quite frankly, I just assume letting people live their lives the way they want to live them. Being at peace with what is has been a deep spiritual practice of mine and is something that I truly believe in. However, I believe that choice is also foundational to being human. Without free will and free choice, we lose an essential part of our humanity. A part of having choice is understanding the whole picture… so let’s dive in!
I love animals. I love them so much. My golden retriever Junior and my three cats Zen, Sage, and Merlin bring an amazing amount of love and joy into my life on a daily basis. My relationship with an animal that is labeled a ‘pet’ is obviously going to be different than a ‘wild’ animal or a ‘farm’ animal… but why? My perspective on this is that the domestication of animals changes their behavior and interaction with humans from a natural relationship that would occur in the wild. This isn’t a good or bad thing, rather something that has evolved over time.
My question that has come from this shift in the human-animal relationship is this: what was the underlying factor that humans used to create various categories for animals placing some in the ‘pet’ category while others are placed in the ‘food’ category? There are some animals that seem to be more human friendly, but given time and space to evolve, there are several examples of all sorts of animals creating powerful bonds with humans. For example, seeing videos of people having pigs, raccoons, and cows as pets or experiencing the relationship between my local birds of prey rehabilitation group and the great horned owl, peregrine falcon, and red-shouldered hawk that they have nursed back to health and now interact with on a daily basis.
Culturally, the U.S. puts cows, chickens, pigs, lambs, and a few other animals in the food category while placing dogs, cats, birds, and a few other animals in the pet category. This seems natural to many people as if that is the ways things simply are. However, if you look at the meat industry in Korea, you see dogs on the menu and if you look to India for the treatment of cows, they are not only off the menu but are considered holy to specific religious groups.
This conversation falls under what is known as cultural relativism, which pretty much means that there is no right and wrong, only what is relative to the culture, place, and time it was developed in. I don’t want to get too far into a lofty debate that can ensue from such a topic, but I do want to highlight that our perspective of what is natural to eat is much more a cultural norm than biological necessity.
Based on the final sentence of the last section, a common response I receive is: “But we are biologically evolved to eat animals, aren’t we?”
My answer is this: “yes, but…”
The reason my answer has a “but” next to it is because we can eat animals and animal products, but that doesn’t mean that we have to. There is an amazing amount of research that has gone into the ‘best’ diet for humans. In fact, I could cite several different studies (and have in other blogs) that make the case for any diet that you want to be the best. There are studies that show meat as being nutritious and a cornerstone of a well balanced diet. There are other studies that make a strong case for why meat is one of the leading causes for the health epidemic we are experiencing in the world today, led by heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and cancer. The same sentiment goes for any animal products (it is becoming harder to make the case that dairy has any benefits, most people are realizing it is not a part of a healthy diet).
I am not going to try to convince anyone that eating a plant-based diet is the absolute best and most nutritious way to eat, even though I do believe that to be true. However, after looking at the evidence, there is no denying that it can be highly nutritious if done properly. We as humans do not need to eat meat, eggs, and dairy for optimal health and wellness. Athletes all around the world are utilizing a plant-based diet and performing at peak capacity in their respective sports. Eating animal products, for the large majority of people, is a luxury not a necessity. Once we can all understand this, we can begin to transition away from supporting an industry and way of life that is detrimental to the future of humanity.
Appealing to the ethos of being vegan catches some peoples attention while focusing on nutrition hooks others, but understanding the impact that the animal agriculture industry has on the environment is no longer something we as a species can ignore.
Between the oceans, lands, forests, soil, atmosphere, and waste production, we are creating irreversible damage to our environment. While no one thing can be pointed at as the culprit (other than humans…), the animal agriculture industry plays a staggeringly impactful role in the pollution of the Earth.
The amount of resources needed to rear (breed and raise) animals for food production is astronomical.
It is estimated that the amount of water that it takes to produce:
8fl oz of milk = 28 gallons
8oz of chicken = 330 gallons
8oz steak = 1,200 gallons
It is estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the emissions from all types of transportation (air, sea, and ground).
It is estimated that livestock currently cover more than 40% of the Earth’s total land.
It is estimated, due to overgrazing of livestock, that 1/3 of the planet is desert-ified.
It is estimated that a farm with only 2,500 dairy cows will create more waste than a city of over 400,000 people.
It is estimated that we could see fishless oceans by 2048.
It is estimated that for every one pound of fish caught for food, up to five pounds of “by-kill” is discarded consisting of other marine life.
It is estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for up to 90% of the Amazon Forrest’s destruction.
These are rough estimates and are not meant to be exact figures. I put the link below each stat to connect you with the source of these numbers. You may not agree with all of the sources or think them valid enough to be citing. My reason for bringing each of these to your attention is just that, we need to become aware of the side effects of a cultural decision that we are making in regards to our food choices. The animal agriculture industry has a large footprint and we need to take a conscious look at the ramifications of such a footprint if we are going to be able to create a sustainable future for our children.
Along with leaving a better world for the next generations (or any world for that matter), finding ways to fight world hunger has been in the conversation for as long as humans have inhabited the Earth. It seems that there are always those who have gone hungry no matter how affluent the society. This begs the question, is there not enough food to go around? Do we really not have enough resources to feed everyone of the close to eight billion people in the world
While many point the finger to societal and cultural structures, there is another factor to consider in this current day in age. If we rear more than 40 billion animals to be raised for slaughter annually, not per decade but annually, how do we manage to feed all of them? The answer is we feed them the plant-based food sources that we grow like grain, grass, soy, etc. So not only are we taking land and resources to raise animals for food, we are also using up land to grow food to feed them.
Now the inevitable understanding that follows is that if we have the resources to feed over 40 billion animals yearly then we absolutely have the resources to feed every person on Earth several times over. Fighting world hunger is not just about humanitarian outreach by the few; it is a matter of diet choice by the many.
Spirituality and Compassion:
This part of the blog is near and dear to my heart because it is through my spiritual path that I first was introduced to vegetarianism and formed a strong reason for wanting to cut out meat from my diet.
A large tenant of spirituality is recognizing that we are all a part of a larger whole. Characteristics like compassion, love, sympathy, and empathy are all highly regarded in various spiritual traditions around the world. Why?
Because we create the world that we live in through our actions. Being a compassionate person is more than an ideal we conceptualize in our mind; it is a way of life that extends beyond ourselves to other humans, species, and all of life.
There was once a time in history where this meant not killing others for our own gain. Buddhism, Hinduism and other traditions espouse vegetarianism for this exact reason. There is recognition that animals are not simply here for our amusement and pleasure but are sentient, conscious beings that have their own valuable life. In these traditions animals are not measured by their ability or inability for higher reasoning; it does not matter that they do not speak the language of humans and can’t hold an intellectual discussion.
Why are several spiritual traditions vegetarian and not vegan? A simple answer to this is that times have changed. Even over just the last 50 years we have seen an immense shift in the animal agriculture industry and the treatment of animals. The practices of collecting the eggs and dairy for the vast majority of consumers are no longer humane. It is for this reason that the compassionate and empathetic spiritual perspective is beginning to shift and is beginning to include eggs and dairy and not just meat.
After reading the various aspects as to why we choose to eat a vegan diet at Consciously.org and how it can affect so many facets of our lives here on Earth, the choice is up to you. Don’t feel obligated or pressured into becoming a vegan right now. If anything, I want you to go and continue researching each category I discussed and more. Learn as much as you can and educate yourself on how you can best support the future of humankind. Along that route, ask yourself if you truly support the animal agriculture industry or not.
In my opinion, we have to redefine the meaning of diet for the welfare of the Earth and all of its inhabitants. The best diet for humans can no longer just be about the nutritional aspects, it must also include what is most beneficial to the survival of our species, our fellow species, and the Earth herself. It must be understood that we no longer have the luxury of not taking responsibility for our actions on the environment. The evidence is strong and clear, the animal agriculture industry, across the board, cannot be sustained if we are going to survive as a species.