The Vegan Debate: Should We Go Vegan?
A Vegan Treat
The Rise Of Veganism
Over the last few decades something quite remarkable has happened, something that has shaken the food industry to its core, and shows no signs of stopping; the rise of veganism. This relatively new way of eating and regulating our diet is not the result of one single catalyst, but more the consequence of a number of factors that has shaken the farming industry to its core. In just the last few years, nearly a third of British people have significantly cut down their consumption of meat based products; largely as a result of a World Health Organisation report published in 2015 that confirmed the links between eating processed meat and the onset of various types of cancer.
Another big driver behind the rise in veganism is the increased amount of information, and thereby public awareness, that has come to light in recent times in the form of documentaries and undercover reports that have laid bare the often harsh reality that is meat and dairy farming. Combine this with the power of social media, celebrity ambassadors and global vegan drives, and an incredibly persuasive argument in favour of veganism develops...or does it?
There are, after all, two sides of any debate and veganism is no exception. Many meat eaters have argued eloquently and constructively in favour of their choice of diet, and it is also worth pointing out that we humans are natural omnivores, thereby making meat a natural part of our diet.
Veganism And Protein Combined
Top 10 Reasons To Go Vegan
Before I go on, you may still be unsure about why veganism has caused such a fuss in so many quarters. So, I shall go ahead and list the top 10 reasons why Veganism may be the way to go:
1. Rearing livestock for consumption requires far more land, water and energy than is required to produce the equivalent amount of plant based foods, such as grains and vegetables.
2. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the total amount of emissions from other factors, including factories and transport.
3. The meat and fishing industries contribute significantly to water pollution and to the appearance of dead zones in the world’s oceans.
4. Deforestation is often necessary to make room for both meat and dairy livestock. Its a process that began 10,000 years ago at least and continues unabated today. This widespread practice is responsible for the extinction of entire species and entire ecosystems.
5. Commercial fishing is directly responsible for the destruction of millions of miles of coral, sea sponges and other unique habitats on the seafloor; as a result the former inhabitants of these zones have nowhere to call home, and subsequently perish.
6. Trawler fishing and other large scale fishing operations produce catastrophic levels of bycatch (non-target species that get hauled up and killed in the process). Some estimate that global bycatch accounts for over 40 per cent of fish caught.
7. Half of every butchered cow ends up becoming by-product material or useless waste, so for the equivalent of one livestock cow in beef, another doesn’t even get that far.
8. A varied vegan diet requires about one-third of the land that’s needed for the average Western meat-eater’s diet.
9. Roughly 80 per cent of antibiotics sold in the US are fed to livestock so that they can survive their often cramped and dirty conditions, leading to antibiotic resistance. This mass of antibiotics passes on to the person who eats the livestock and into the animals’ faeces, eventually ending up in waterways, soil and the air, meaning we are becoming resistant too.
10. Adopting a plant-based diet can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease. Type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity, plus it can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Veganism In Numbers
- $5.2 billion: Expected value of global meat-alternative market by 2020.
- $11 billion: The expected value of global non-dairy milk market by 2019.
- 198: Number of animals eaten per year by the average meat eating adult according to PETA.
- 3.5 billion: People could live the food we currently feed to livestock.
- 40 per cent: The number of consumers that try to include vegan aspects in every meal.
- 168,500: The number of people that took part in Veganuary this January, with 62 per cent staying vegan afterwards.
- 130: The number of chickens that are saved from consumption by going vegan for five years.
- 987 per cent: The increase in demand for vegetarian and vegan options on Just Eat's website in 2017.
Children both past and present are spoon-fed a myth that often presents farming in a romantic light. We’ve all read books and watched films that depict farms as rather quaint places inhabited by a rosy cheeked farmer, his wife and a menagerie of animals, each with cute names and cute personalities. But the reality is sadly very different; we live in a world of factory farming, where millions of animals are reared for meat in cramped, dark, dirty and miserable conditions. In the UK alone, there are 800 so called mega farms, churning out millions of animals for the meat industry each year. Yes, there are a great many farmers who do what they can to ensure their animals have a good quality of life in open fields; but sadly a huge percentage of meat and dairy animals don’t ever get to see the light of day.
Intensive Pig Farming
While a dippy egg and soldiers might seem appealing, the things that happen in order for it to end up on your plate aren’t so palatable. To keep up with the demand for eggs, hatcheries have to produce millions of purposely skinny hens. If a hen gives birth to a female, this chick will become another egg-layer. If a hen gives birth to a male, he is deemed useless- too skinny for meat production and unable to lay eggs. As such, all male chicks of this kind (including organic and free range) are gassed in chambers, suffocated or minced alive in a macerator.
Thankfully, this cruel practice may soon come to an end. United Egg Producers, an agricultural cooperation that represents virtually all egg producers in the US, has announced plans to stop culling male chicks by 2020. The alternative solution that it has proposed lies in using modern technology to determine the sex of an egg before it hatches, thereby preventing males from being born. While the ethics of such a process remain highly questionable, it is at least a step towards a less ruthless method of production.
As for dairy calves, they are taken from their mothers in the first two days after being born. They are fed a milk substitute while we humans take the Mom’s milk for our own consumption. Dairy cows are then artificially inseminated two to three months after giving birth to begin the whole process again, and this cycle continues until they are worn out and replaced by a younger female.
The argument for removing calves from their mothers is that as young calves are highly susceptible to disease, it is safer for both parent and offspring to be separated. Farmers have also argued that the logistical problems presented by keeping calves and mothers together would be so insurmountable, that the death of the dairy industry would likely soon follow, and thus the livelihoods of millions around the world would be ruined forever.
Animals Often Suffer Before They Are Killed
According to VIVA (Vegetarians’ International Voice for Animals) there are nearly 300 licensed slaughterhouses in the UK. The majority of farm animals in them are killed by slitting the main arteries in their neck. However, practices vary in each slaughterhouse. Some ensure their staff take time to check the animals are unconscious before killing them so as to decrease their suffering. Others pay staff by the numbers of animals they kill. Rushed staff may not check so thoroughly, meaning some animals may not be unconscious when their throats are slit, and as such they have to endure the pain.
Stunning is common in the UK as a way to make cows, sheep and pigs unconscious before slaughter, and it comes in many forms- all of which can cause pain and suffering. It can be done by administering a bolt to the skull to cause brain damage or a concussive blow, by gassing them, or by electrocuting them into a cardiac arrest (either using tongs to the head, prods, or by submerging them into an electrified water bath). It’s not always successful though, meaning that animals might be fully conscious during the ordeal or that they may still be able to feel while they are knifed, hanging upside down during blood draining or being skinned. No current method is fully effective in preventing this.
Chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and other birds farmed for their meat are also stunned, either by being shackled and having their heads submerged in electrified water baths or through electric shocks. If they raise their heads, they may not receive a proper stun, in which case they are meant to be decapitated by hand, but some are missed and face the neck-cutter fully conscious. Once their necks are cut, they are drained and submerged in a scalding bath, a tub of hot water that quickly scalds the birds, so that they are easier to pluck.
The Realities of Factory Farming
Can You Be A Meat Eating Animal Lover?
We put animals through all the pain, suffering and distress for the sake of our own tastes, treating them as a commodity and only really thinking about what we fancy off a menu, rather than what the intelligent creature that’s now an ingredient had to go through. Even the nicest, kindest farmers have to wave their animals off to slaughter.
The truth of what has to happen to keep up with our demand for meat and dairy is unpalatable, and as more people find out about it, the number of vegetarians and vegans increases. However, this isn’t to say that all people who eat meat are thereby indifferent to the needs and feelings of animals.
The United Nations says that raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems”. No matter how many low-energy light bulbs we install in our homes, the amount of meat, eggs and dairy that we consume is holding us back from our eco goals. All along the processes that lead to meat or dairy end products there are detrimental effects on the planet.
To have somewhere to keep animals and grow the huge amounts of grain needed to keep them fed, vast areas of land have to be cleared. It happens all around the world, from the northern and eastern parts of the US, to the Amazon. Rainforest Concern estimate that for each pound of beef produced, 200 square feet (18.6 square metres) of rainforest land is destroyed. Clearing trees is a two-fold problem; trees are good at absorbing greenhouse gases, but by cutting them down we lose this helping hand in our fight for a better climate.
It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not just the animals that need making room for. While we are used to thinking of soya as something that humans eat (such as soya milk, soya beans and tofu), most of the soya grown globally is used to feed animals. Growing soya requires vast amounts of land, but as space is limited people are destroying some of our most precious ecosystems to make way. This mass deforestation destroys the habitats of many species, impacting on their ecosystem. One prime example of this is the Cerrado in Brazil, which is the most biodiverse savannah regions anywhere on Earth. It’s a wonderful haven of wildlife, home to around 60 vulnerable endangered and critically endangered species. Sadly, it is shrinking faster than the Amazon because of the demand for land used in beef production, soya and other crops. As this precious land continues to disappear, then so do the animals that call it home.
The Carbon Hoofprint
Once animals move onto the cleared land, they need vast amounts of water and food every day, all of which has to be gathered and transported to them. The animals eat then excrete, releasing copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere. On average, 11 times more fossil fuels are released in the production of a calorie of animal protein than in one calorie of plant protein.
Animal farming is the worst culprit for methane emissions and the cause of 65 per cent of global human released nitrous-oxide emissions, both of which can be even more environmentally damaging than carbon dioxide. A study by Oxford University found that meat eaters are twice as bad as vegetarians when it comes to their dietary greenhouse gas emissions per day and two and a half times worse than vegans. One study found that adopting veganism is more effective than switching from a normal car to a hybrid in terms of tackling your carbon footprint.
However, a study by Robin White of Virginia Tech and Mary Beth Hall of the US Department of Agriculture has predicted that were the whole of the US to go vegan, the resulting 28 per cent decline in the nation’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions would only translate to a 2.6 per cent drop in its overall carbon output. While tracking the damaging effects farming has on the climate is imperative, it will not solve all of our problems.
What About Us?
One of the main arguments made against going vegan is a rather simple point that I made earlier in this article- to reiterate it’s simply this: Over thousands, if not millions of years, humans have evolved an omnivorous diet, making meat a natural part of our diet. It cannot be denied that eating animals is good for us, providing us with essential nourishment that can’t be found in a plant based diet. Meat and dairy are good sources of calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are harder for vegans to obtain from their diet. On top of this, there is also the argument that many people on low incomes would find it incredibly difficult to source their required nutrients from a vegan diet.
However, with careful planning and strategic, balanced eating you can be a healthy vegan without it taking a hit on your wallet, but it carefully requires more effort and thought to get things like protein and calcium into your diet. Studies have revealed proven links between meat and dairy consumption and a much increased likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. On a health level, its a case of whether the effort of going vegan is worth it for the reduced risk.
Earning A New Living
Some anti-vegan campaigners say that if farming were to stop there would be a lot less animals around. This is true in places where animal agriculture is visible, such as on hillsides in the country and in city farms. With this, there is the very real threat of mass unemployment that the cessation of farming would present.
With around 570 million farmers globally, the loss of such a vast industry would need to be replaced with expensive and time consuming retraining programmes if mass unemployment, starvation and unrest were to be averted. That said, this is by no means impossible.
Many vegans argue that farmers would need to learn new skills over time, picking up horticultural that were once more common. Fortunately vegetables, cereals and fruits could be grown on land that’s currently used for meat production, so we have the space. As people alter their eating habits, farmers could adapt their practices.
Is It All Or Nothing?
It’s more common now to hear of people moderating their meat and dairy intake but not completely scrapping it. The idea of eating meat from a factory farmed pig is much harder to swallow than the thought of eating one that’s at least had a life in the open air.
Small scale organic farming can be good for the environment. It keeps soils fertilised, and often the presence of herds and roaming animals deters pests and predators. Due to the more controllable size of the group of animals, they can be fed off food waste rather than feed made from problematic crops, or in the case of cows and goats, provide a free lawn cutting service.
This style of smaller scale organic, non factory farms seems like one of the few ways in which the industry can be more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, this method wouldn’t keep pace with our soaring demand for meat and dairy given that it requires much more space and a much slower turnover of product.
Find Out More
- The Vegan Society
Founded in 1944, The Vegan Society is a registered educational charity that provides information and guidance on various aspects of veganism.
Every Little Helps
Avoiding animal products is one of the most obvious ways you can take a stand against cruelty and exploitation. You don’t have to go the whole hog though. Whether you opt for meat free meals once a week or try to go vegan on weekdays, your swaps can have a huge impact on the number of animals you consume over the month. If we all adopt new habits we might be able to save many species and their habitats combined.
Bake Your Own: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 320g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 225g Vitalite, pure or other dairy free margarine
- 225g brown sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 100g vegan chocolate, chopped into chips
- A splash of plant milk (soya, oat or almond)
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan).
- Combine the margarine and sugar in a large bowl.
- Add the flour, baking powder and salt, then stir until well combined.
- Add the vanilla extract and chocolate chips, then use your hands to work the mix into a dough ball, if it's a bit dry, then add a splash of vegan milk.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface until its about 1 cm thick.
- Cut out whatever shape of cookie you want, then transfer it to a baking tray lined with baking powder, leaving 1 cm between them.
- Once you have used all of the dough, bake the cookies in the oven until they turn firm and start to go brown. This should take approximately 12 minutes, but the longer you leave them in, the crunchier they'll be and vice versa.
- Remove, and allow to cool on a wire rack, and then enjoy.
Making Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
What Do You Think?
Should We Go Vegan?
Would You Go Vegan?
© 2018 James Kenny