To identify as vegan, one must not consume or use any animal products. Seems simple enough, but every vegan is unique and lives out their chosen lifestyle in different ways and for various reasons. Some follow strict diets that are entirely raw, local, and/or organic, while other vegans eat fast food. Most people who go vegan do it for one of three reasons (or a combination of them): ethics, environmental impact, and personal health.
Many vegans choose not to eat or use animal products in order to take a stand against animal cruelty. They may feel connected or attached to animals, and believe that all sentient creatures should have the right to life and freedom. Many vegans choose not to consume animal products such as eggs or dairy, because they believe that creating more supply and demand for these products promotes the meat industry, and thus the exploitation and mistreatment of animals.
For example, when egg-laying hens get too old to be productive, they are often sold as meat, and male dairy calves are usually killed at birth because they have no use in the industry. Consuming eggs and milk can perpetuate the slaughtering of animals, and it is concerning for animal lovers that factory farming now accounts for more than 99 percent of all animals raised and slaughtered in the U.S. The conditions present in these farms usually do not provide the animals with even their most basic needs, such as clean air and sunlight.
The lower on the food chain a person eats, the less stress they put on our planet’s resources. If someone eats a piece of steak, for example, they are, in part, responsible for the use of the water and food that cow required to grow and mature -- but also for the water and resources required to grow the food the cow eats -- in addition to the greenhouse gas output that that cow produces during its lifetime.
When eating only plant-based foods, many resources are saved, which puts less stress on our environment and allows for more food for other human beings on our planet. Factory farming is also responsible for the pollution of streams, rivers, and oceans with animal waste, and contributes to the destruction of many natural habitats such as rainforests, which are converted to grazing land.
Properly-followed vegan diets have been shown to reduce the risk of certain serious conditions like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, hypertension, stroke, and obesity. A diet without animal products reduces cholesterol intake, which can in turn reduce risk of stroke. Many vegans swear by their diet as a method of making skin look younger and healthier, clearing up acne, easing allergies, losing weight, and curing insomnia, amongst many other benefits. More generally, veganism has an energizing and mood-boosting effect on many who adopt it as a conscious and healthy lifestyle.
No matter how or why someone lives out a vegan lifestyle, health is paramount, and cutting out an entire section of the food pyramid demands knowledge and awareness in order to stay healthy.
In order to receive adequate nutrition, the typical vegan must consume more food than the average meat-eater. That means vegans need to increase their intake of plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, nuts, and leafy greens. It’s also necessary to eat plenty of foods containing omega-3s, like walnuts, cranberries, and avocados, as well as foods fortified with vitamin b-12, which is the only essential vitamin that does not exist in plant-based foods. One of the most important elements of a vegan diet is variety, as it should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
There’s never been a better time to be a vegan, as alternative options have never been so plentiful, and information so widely accessible.
On average, a single vegan is said to save over 100 animals per year. With conditions our planet changing, and global health and food crises rising to alarming rates, a simple change in diet can truly help to change our collective situation. They say, that in order to think globally, we must act locally, and how much more local can you get than your own stomach? By taking responsibility for what you consume and contribute to, you can be a part of a global shift of consciousness and compassion.
Alyson Zetta Williams