The Case for Veganism
Factory farming is killing our planet. It’s not the only culprit, of course – the use of fossil fuels in industry, for transportation and to keep us comfortable in our homes and workplaces plays a very large part. But, in attempting to come to grips with the effects of global warming, governments have focused almost solely on attempting to persuade us – simultaneously reassuring oil companies, and manufacturers reliant on their product, that the status quo is by no means at risk – to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels in order to curb the resulting CO2 emissions, directing little or no public attention towards the warming effects of methane and nitrous oxide gases, the natural result of industrial animal farming practices. According to UN estimates, 37 percent of methane and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions, which contribute to climate change, can be attributed to livestock production.
And it’s not just our air that is being polluted by industrial farming operations. According to Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York in the UK, writing in The Guardian newspaper, vast areas of our waterways and oceans have been contaminated by the run-off of agrochemicals used in the production of corn and soybeans – the staple crops fed to farmed animals – and by the massive amounts of urine and manure produced by these animals. This contamination creates ‘dead zones’ – areas where once fish and other sea creatures proliferated, but which are now devoid of life. According to Roberts, in 2017 the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico covered some 8,700 square miles, only one of more than 550 of these zones across the world.
In order to make space to produce the amount of food required to raise animals, particularly cattle, natural grasslands have been destroyed and forests have been decimated, another factor in global warming. However, most of us have yet to feel the real effects of climate change on our daily lives, and can therefore choose to ignore the dire consequences that are already making themselves felt in some areas of our planet in the form of extreme drought, on the one hand, and unprecedented flooding on the other.
But, the effect of meat consumption on human health is more immediate and has, for many years now, been well known to contribute to illness and premature death. It’s a fact that, in order to produce meat in the quantities demanded by the meat-eating public, animals are housed in huge numbers in very small spaces and are administered drugs, both in an attempt to combat the otherwise inevitable spread of disease, and to encourage abnormal growth. According to Kath Dalmeny, co-ordinator of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, and senior project manager for the Sustainable Food Cities network, also writing in The Guardian, fully three-quarters of antibiotics are currently used in animal farming. Our consumption of meat ensures that these drugs are passed on to us with consequences, as yet not fully known, for our own health. In addition, the saturated fat in meat is cited by medical professionals as contributing to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity.
So, you would think that, given the mountain of evidence now available pointing to the overwhelming human and planetary health benefits of a meat-, dairy- and egg-free diet, the case for veganism would be an easy sell. Not so much. We, in so-called ‘developed’ societies, have thoroughly bought into the idea that, in spite of the fact that some cultures have survived healthily for thousands of years on a plant based diet, we need to consume animals to live. That, and the fact that we have developed such a taste for meat that we cannot imagine a diet without it. Anthropologists have pointed out that our very early ancestors were not meat eaters. In fact, we did not evolve, as did other species, with teeth designed to tear flesh, and it was only when we discovered it was easier to chew and digest when cooked, to say nothing of way tastier, that we made it a major part of our diet.
Vegetarianism has been traced to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean cultures dating back some 9,000 years, and references can be found to prominent figures throughout history proclaiming against the eating of meat: ancient Egypt’s, Akhenaten; Greek philosophers, Hippocrates, Plato and Socrates; Seneca of Rome; and Buddha. Hindu, Hebrew and Biblical texts all warn against the killing and eating of animals. It should be noted that objections raised were not for reasons of human health, but on ethical grounds, recognizing the cruelty inherent in the raising and killing of animals for food. Pythagoras wrote, ‘As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health and peace, for as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other….’. Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Tolstoy, are all members of a long list of historical proponents of vegetarianism. The 18th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, believed that animal suffering was as serious as human suffering and likened the idea of human superiority to racism.
The first vegetarian society in the west was established in the mid-1800s and, in 1944, an Englishman by the name of Donald Watson, along with like-minded friends, coined the word ‘vegan’ to define those who sought ‘an end to the use of animals for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man’. Veganism recognizes that it is not just the rearing of animals for meat that results in the physical and emotional pain and suffering of our fellow creatures. Consider laying hens, who spend their lives crammed together in cages with not enough space to even open their wings, producing eggs until they are totally exhausted – usually one to two years – before being killed in ways that anyone with an ounce of feeling would be repulsed by. Consider female pigs – known to be at least as intelligent as dogs and with the same ability to form strong, emotional bonds – who are kept continually pregnant, placed in crates barely larger than themselves to give birth and feed their young, and are killed when they are unable to continue the rapid breeding required by the industry. Consider dairy cows, who spend most of their lives in sheds attached to milking machines, and who are summarily slaughtered when, after four to five years, their milk production decreases. And, if you think that farmed animals have no psychological attachment to others of their species, you have only to witness the extreme emotional distress of a dairy cow when her calf is taken away from her shortly after birth – the regular practice. It is as heart rending as it is to watch a human mother lose her child.
In ancient times, farming was carried out on a far smaller scale – a few chickens, geese, pigs, cows, depending on the particular culture. And, because farmers depended on their animals to live long and healthy lives, both to feed themselves and their societies, and for purposes such as clothing and transportation, they would have looked after them with a degree of care that is unknown on our present day industrial farms. Today, animals are treated not as feeling, emotional beings, but as ‘product’ to be raised in the most constricted areas, made to endure tortures such as beak amputation in the case of chickens, teeth-clipping, tail docking and castration in the case of pigs, and branding, dehorning and castration in the case of cattle, all without anaesthetic. They are hit, kicked, thrown, prodded and beaten. They are fed diets that cause unhealthy weight gain in the shortest possible time, and are transported, terrified, to unspeakably cruel deaths in abatoirs – often in open-sided trucks in freezing or sweltering temperatures – all in the name of profit for these industrial operations.
Because we do not see this horrific cruelty unless we seek it out – easy enough, given the documenting of animal farming operations by groups who care – we can, if we choose, ignore. But, make no mistake, deliberate ignorance is no excuse. We are, as meat, egg and dairy consumers, complicit in the torture and murder, for that is what it is, of our fellow creatures, and in the degradation of our planet resulting from current farming methods. As with Big Tobacco – before being exposed as deliberately obfuscating purveyors of a killer product – Big Agriculture admits to no wrongdoing in its destruction of our environment, in its production of unhealthy hormone- and antibiotic-laced meat, or in the cruelty that makes this production possible. ‘We’re only responding to public demand’ is their mantra.
Leonardo da Vinci, living in the 1400s, said, ‘The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as now they look upon the murder of men’. Our species sadly has yet to evolve to that point, although recent studies have shown that young people today, exposed to internet videos and other information disseminated by animal rights and protection organizations showing the sickening treatment of animals being produced for food, are starting to embrace veganism in a way that no prior generations in the west have. So there’s hope. Hope that, one day in the not too distant future, humans will look back on the current treatment of our fellow creatures – as we do now on the horrors of human slavery – and say to ourselves, ‘What on earth were we thinking?’
What you can do:
1. Switch to a plant-based diet! It may take a bit of work at the beginning, but once you get the hang of it and find recipes you like, you’ll wonder why you didn’t become vegan sooner!
2. Consider visiting a farm sanctuary or attending a vigil to ‘bear witness’.
3. Watch “Forks Over Knives”, “Earthlings”, “Peaceable Kingdom” or any other documentary about animal agriculture and the food industry.
4. Don’t buy leather, fur, suede, wool or any other material derived from a non-human animal. These industries are just as cruel and environmentally problematic as the food industry.
And if you’re struggling, reach out for help. Just email us — we’ve been in your shoes and would be happy to help you on your journey to living a gentler lifestyle.