• What are animal rights?
• What rights should animals have?
• Animals are different from people. Why should we treat them as equals to humans?
• But animals don’t reason, don’t understand rights, and don’t always respect our rights, so why should we apply our definition and ideas of morality to them?
• It’s fine for you to believe in animal rights, but why are you telling other people what to do or think?
• Animals aren’t as advanced or intelligent as humans, so why should they have rights?
• Some animals kill other animals; why shouldn’t we?
• Aren’t most animals used for food, fashion, or experiments bred for that purpose?
• What about all the customs, traditions, and jobs that depend on using animals?
• Why do some animal rights activists protest by breaking laws, and committing violence?
• Why don’t you spend your time helping people instead?
• How can animal rights be applied in the real world?
• Why should I be an advocate for animals?
• Do I have to be vegan to advocate for animal rights?
• What does it mean to be a vegan?
• Why should I be vegan?
• If you don’t want to eat meat or dairy, that’s your choice. Why don’t you respect my choice to eat meat?
• Don’t vegetables feel pain?
• Can’t I just be vegetarian? Being vegan just seems too hard.
• What’s wrong with milk? Don’t the cows have to be milked?
• What about humane meat, eggs and diary?
• I thought humans couldn’t survive or be healthy without eating meat/dairy?
• But aren’t humans naturally omnivores?
• Isn’t vegan food weird and unnatural?
• What if my doctor says I can’t be vegan because of (x)?
• Is veganism safe for pregnancies, infants, and children?
• If veganism is so great, why are there so many ex-vegans?
• Won’t I need more protein?
• I heard that vegans need more B 12. Is that true?
• How could I possibly give up cheese?
• Isn’t veganism just a fad diet?
• Isn’t veganism like a religious cult?
• Isn’t veganism extreme?
• What if you were stranded on a desert island and all you had was an animal to eat?
• What’s wrong with leather? Doesn’t it come from the cows that are being used for meat anyway?
• What’s wrong with wool?
• If an animal’s already dead, why can’t we use them then?
• Aren’t animals necessary to find medical cures?
• What about all the animals that are killed in the harvesting of crops for your vegan diet?
• Do vegans not want anyone to have pets?
• Don’t you just want the whole world to be vegan?
• If everyone went vegan, what’s going to happen to all those animals?
Animal rights has been called the final frontier of social justice movements. Animal rights calls for the recognition of all animals as the individuals that they are. Animal rights contend that since animals are sentient beings capable of pain, forming relationships, and having bonds with their offspring, then they have inherent rights to live in a way that nature intended them to do.
Even in this day and age, animals are merely thought of as property or commodities. Their present status ignores their inherent sentience; animals have an interest in continuing their lives, in living free of containment or enslavement, and in not being used and abused at the hands of humans. Animals used for food, fashion, entertainment, and research do not wish to be enslaved and to have their lives cut short. Animal rights contends that animals do not exist for the purpose of humans, any more than blacks exist for whites, or women for men.
Rights (either moral or legal) serve to protect basic interests from being traded away and to not be sacrificed merely because it would be in the interests of others to ignore or violate it. The right to liberty, for instance, means the interest in freedom will be protected even if it would be in the interest of others to keep people enslaved. Animals don’t always have the same rights as humans, as animals’ interests aren’t always the same as ours and some rights of humans are irrelevant to animals’ lives’. For example, an animal doesn’t have an interest in voting, and therefore the right to vote would be meaningless to an animal. However, animals do have the right to equal consideration of their interests. An animal has an interest in living a life without being confined and treated as property or a commodity, without having pain inflicted upon him or her, and not being killed. It is up to all of us to ensure, protect, and enforce their inherent rights.
Just because another human or animal seems different does not mean we shouldn’t recognize their interest in continuing their life. The difference between animals and humans in many respects does not negate our similarities; we are all living beings that wish to continue to live; we all feel pain, and try move away from dangerous situations that put our lives at risk or cause pain. Animals have complex social relationships and have bonds with their friends, parents, sons and daughters, and they have an interest in not losing those bonds, therefore we should have consideration by not interfering with their relationships.
Although humans and animals have different strengths and different characteristics, being different does not mean one is superior to the other. The belief in the inherent supremacy of humans is called “speciesism,” similar to the belief in the supremacy of one race over another or one sex over another. Like racism and sexism, animal rights seeks to eliminate speciesism.
Animals’ inability to comprehend and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a child or person with a mental handicap’s inability to do so. Because they cannot speak up and defend their status as individuals means that we have a greater responsibility to ensure their rights are protected.
Society is based on rules governing people’s behavior. The nature of all reform movements is to advocate against harmful behavior, such as using humans as slaves, denying women equal status, etc. All social movements initially encounter resistance from people who wish to continue the behavior being criticized.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but freedom of thought does not imply freedom of action. You are free to think whatever you like as long as you don’t hurt others. You may believe that black people should be enslaved, and that women should be denied the ability to vote, but that doesn’t give you the right to put your beliefs into practice. Our society presently encourages the killing of animals for meat, and using animals for our purposes, but history shows that society also encouraged slavery, child labor, wife-beating, and many other practices now objectively recognized as morally wrong.
There are animals who are more intelligent, creative, aware, and communicative than some humans. Chimpanzees are more intelligent and advanced than human infants or people with severe mental handicaps. If intelligence is the determining factor, then should the more intelligent animals have rights and the less intelligent ones be denied rights? The use of intelligence to assess worth is a dangerous argument because the line between who is considered intelligent or not can be drawn by those in a position of power to exercise domination over the ones they considered unintelligent and sub-human.
If possession of superior intelligence does not entitle a human to use and abuse another human, why should it entitle humans to use and abuse non-humans? Intelligence is an irrelevant point when considering that every living being has a desire to live, and a desire to live in a habitat that fulfills his or her interests.
Judging the worth of animals based on a human measure like intelligence is itself an act of speciesism. It would be equally logical for a cheetah to consider a human inferior because we can’t run as fast, or an ant because we can’t carry three times our body weight.
Most animals that kill for food could not survive if they didn’t. That is not the case for humans. Anthropology and science has determined that we can be perfectly healthy not eating animals or animal products. We have the luxury of choice–carnivorous animals don’t.
Additionally, it is ironic that those who argue the supremacy of humans over animals put humans back down to the level of animals in this instance. Animals behave in many ways that we do not think is appropriate or moral for humans to, such as eating their young. If we truly believe that we are more advanced than animals, then shouldn’t we also not keep captive and kill animals as a result of our sophistication?
Being bred for a specific human purpose does not change an animal’s biological capacity to feel pain and fear. Even though the animal doesn’t know why he or she was born, that doesn’t diminish his or her sensitivity. It’s irrelevant. In addition to the injustice of being genetically manipulated in order to serve our own interests over the interests of the animals, they undergo an additional injustice of living a life of confinement and misery.
The automobile replaced the horse-and-buggy industry, tractors made obsolete the manufacture of plows to be pulled by oxen, and there is no more need for the Pony Express. Job retraining and restructuring is an ingredient in social progress, not a reason to deter progress. Traditions and customs do not have any inherent moral relevance; throughout human history, many traditions and customs depended on the exploitation of others. There are constant adjustments of traditions and customs throughout human history, so we can create new ones that respect compassion towards all living beings.
Breaking laws to correct injustices, usually called civil disobedience or dissent, has a long history not only in this country, but in other places where resistance was necessary against those who were responsible for oppression and exploitation. In this case, because laws are written to protect the economic interests of those who abuse and exploit animals, rather than to protect the animals themselves, some animal rights activists feel morally compelled to work outside the law to correct the injustices being committed. Some, dissatisfied with the pace of legislative change or moved by witnessing the extent of animal abuse, endeavor to take direct action to free animals from exploitation in research labs, fur farms, or factory farms. Yet as a matter of ethical principle, no animal rights group has ever taken the life of a living being, human or nonhuman.
In this society, institutionalized animal abuse is legal. But legality does not always mean morality. Knowing that certain immoral acts are legal and certain moral acts are illegal, we should align ourselves with morality. When injustice becomes law, then resistance becomes duty. People who act in the service of justice and compassion deserve our support. Animals who are being exploited want nothing more than to be rescued from their situation. Animal rescuers are heroes, not criminals.
Today, constitutionally protected free speech and legal, above-ground protest has been identified as violence and terrorism ever since the post-9/11 passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which tags animal and environmental activists as “terrorists” if their actions inflict economic damage. However, calling nonviolent activism “terrorism” is an insult to those who have been the victims of legitimate terrorism.
It is also ethically inconsistent to call property damage “violence.” Acts of great cruelty are committed against animals every minute of every day, yet because animals are considered property, the government does not consider it violence. It cannot then be accurate to call physical damage to a business location violence.
Respecting the rights of animals does not mean you can’t care for humans as well; it’s not about choosing animals over people. Animal rights expands the circle of compassion beyond that of the human species and the animals that we allow into our lives, so that championing for the freedom of animals also extends to being an activist for the life and liberty of people.
Asking to not be active for animals and help people instead is like asking a person who works with children with autism to work instead for patients suffering from cancer. Each work for the benefit of others is important, and should not be deemed insignificant. Because there are very few laws protecting animals, who cannot defend themselves against abuses by humans, it is that much more imperative that we stand up and ensure the defense of their lives and safety for them.
Being vegan actually helps people in many ways; animal agriculture displaces native animals, trees, plants and peoples, uses more land than crops grown for humans, uses grain that could be used to feed the world’s hungry, pollutes the environment, causes obesity and diseases which taxes our health-care system, exploits the (mostly migrant) workers in slaughterhouses, and normalizes abuse and violence towards living things — behaviors which carries over towards humans.
People who advocate for animal rights are involved in multiple social justice issues, have jobs in education, public service, health-care, and other fields that directly benefit people, and have a compassionate nature generally. Animal rights advocates are also among the first to step up for issues such as disaster relief, gay marriage, civil liberties, among others. Animal rights contends that the circle of compassion and respect be extended beyond species, not at the exclusion of others. Animal rights advocates believe that just as humans shouldn’t be confined and used as slaves, animals have the same interest in not being confined and used. We must recognize that exploitation is the same no matter who the victims are, that we must stand up to all forms of oppression, and to treat every individual with respect – both human and nonhuman.
Simply stated, veganism is the living practice of animal rights. A vegan does not consume animals or animal products, or support practices that use animals. Since animals are sentient beings capable of pain, forming relationships, and having bonds with their offspring, then they have inherent rights to live in a way that nature intended them to do. By not eating or using animals and animal-based products or supporting organizations and practices that use animals, the inherent right of an animal to live free of human use is recognized. Veganism affirms the life of every being.
Animals are unique among oppressed groups in that they need us to be their advocates. Animals make up the largest group of those oppressed and exploited by humans, but are afforded the least amount of consideration and protections. Therefore we have an obligation to stand up on their behalf. Remaining silent only perpetuates the continued use of animals.
Sadly, when we speak up for animals, we are most often ridiculed. We are described as militant, preachy, pushy, self-righteous, etc. Such name-calling is an attempt to marginalize vegans and neutralize our message, because there are no moral arguments that can effectively defend the exploitation of animals. Those who exploit animals do their best to keep the ugly truth hidden so they can continue to profit off the backs of broken animals. And those who consume and wear animal products, patronize animal shows, and so on, prefer to deny, rationalize and justify the facts behind the use of animals so that they can be comfortable in continuing such behavior. When an advocate makes them question their behavior, it is often met with defensiveness as they most likely already know that there is no ethical defense for what they participate in.
Despite such attempts to minimize our message, we must remain steadfast in our advocacy for the elimination of all oppression and exploitation, no matter the species affected. With patience, clarity, and honesty we must continue to expose the hidden truths about our use of animals. The facts and ethics are on our side, therefore we must continue to speak up and take action.
If you feel moved to speak up against the abuse and use of animals, that is commendable and you should not stop voicing your concerns even if you are not vegan. But please make a pledge to yourself to do so; not being vegan while advocating against the use and abuse of animals would be similar to advocating against slavery while owning slaves. Benefiting from oppression, while at the same time advocating against it, is morally dissonant and disingenuous. One cannot expect the behaviors of others to change without addressing such changes within oneself. Veganism is the living practice informed by the principles of animal rights; the two are inseparable. Being vegan sets a clear foundation of ethics within oneself and sets an example for others.
A vegan is a person who does not consume animals or products derived from animals, such as dairy, eggs, honey, whey or casein. A vegan does so in order to recognize the inherent right of animals to not be killed or used. A vegan also extends this principle to the fashion, entertainment, and research industries–for example by not purchasing leather, fur, wool, silk, or other fabrics derived from animals, not patronizing circuses, rodeos, or marine parks, nor supporting institutions that test or conduct research on animals, nor using personal care products or cosmetics that have animal ingredients or have been tested on animals.
We don’t eat dogs or cats because we recognize their individual nature and their capacity for forming strong social bonds. Science, despite their initial assumptions, has proven that all animals have personalities, individual characteristics, and form relationships. But in the fields of food, fashion, entertainment, and medicine, animals are not thought of as individuals, but as things, commodities, and property to be owned and used.
Being vegan allows us to detach ourselves from the shackles of this moral dissonance and allow us to express the full measure of compassion that humanity is capable of. Being vegan means that you aren’t supporting the hidden cycle of violence pervasive in all industries that use animals. Any industry that uses animals puts profit before lives, and when their desire to increase the bottom line is put into action, it is the animals that ultimately suffer the consequences of “cost-cutting.”
But being vegan isn’t about achieving a maximum amount of purity, but of affording the minimum amount of justice owed to those individuals that we call animals.
Society has deemed that people are free to make choices as long as they don’t harm or violate others; society will not allow a person to make the argument that it is a choice to beat his/her dog and that his/her choice be respected. With choice comes responsibility and consequences. Simply because one feels free to eat meat or dairy does not absolve him/her of the consequences of that choice, and simply because the consequences are kept hidden does not mean that there aren’t any. There are many consequences to your health, the environment, and to the animals themselves.
That is a persistent misconception floated by a “study” conducted in the 1970s that has since been debunked and shown to be flawed in its methodology. Plants have no central nervous systems, nerve endings, or brains required for the passage of pain. It is theorized that animals developed the ability to feel pain as a form of self-protection by avoidance of dangerous situations. Since plants cannot move away, this ability would be extraneous in evolution. What most people characterize as plant “suffering” is a complex chemical response system in the cellular level that in no way attributes any level of sentience to them – a multitude of cells responds individually to environmental stimuli but there is no central area where such signals are processed and analyzed.
Such arguments are made not because of a genuine concern for plants but as a justification to continue the behaviors that cause suffering to animals. Mowing the lawn does not hold the same ethical dilemma and moral weight as slitting the throat of a pig. The argument offered of whether or not plants feel pain discounts and belittles the very real pain, misery, and death being inflicted on thousands of animals each and every second in service to humans.
If you are taking a principled position of not eating animals because you think it’s wrong to do so, then being vegetarian unfortunately solves only half the problem. The human demand for eggs and dairy leads to many other abuses of animals within those industries, and the interdependence of the dairy, veal, and beef industries makes it a morally inconsistent choice.
Many people are hesitant to adopt a vegan lifestyle because they think it’s a life of deprivation. Arguably, the opposite is true; a lifestyle that supports the confinement and killing of animals deprives animals of life and opportunities to live in the way that is most natural for them.
Most people find that once they become vegan, a new world opens up to them as they discover new vegetables, grains, fruits, and other foods they have never tried before. Many people find that they have much more varied and interesting meals than when they were omnivores. More meat-free and dairy-free alternatives are available in more places, with more choices and options than ever before. In making the choice between a product from an animal and one made without, in this day and age it seems barbaric to demand that an animal be made to suffer and die to satisfy a personal whim.
Cows give milk because they are expecting to provide nutrition for their young. In dairy industries, they are kept constantly pregnant for a few years in order to maintain a steady supply of milk until they are quickly worn out, then sold to slaughter. Female cows are artificially inseminated using a machine called a “rape rack” within the industry. Once they give birth, calves are immediately taken away from their mothers so that humans can take the milk nature intended for the calves. The mother cow grieves for days, while the female calves are shipped off to be raised in tiny stalls to become future milk factories, and the male calves are sold to the veal or pet food industry.
Many people are realizing that the most egregious forms of modern animal agriculture are not something they want to support, so they think that supporting “humane” practices is a better path to follow. Unfortunately, industry is one step ahead of consumer demand in this regard, and has diluted the nominal standards of what is considered “humane.” “Humane” and “free-range” are now marketing labels used to take advantage of the growing consumer consciousness about the animals being used for food. “Organic” is another such label being used to mislead the public into thinking the welfare of the animal is monitored; “organic” merely refers to the feed given to the animal and in no way reflects the treatment of the animal.
These labels suggest to the consumer idyllic farms populated by happy animals grazing placidly in the sun. However, in most circumstances, the only difference between standard animal agriculture and “humane” animal agriculture is that the animals aren’t kept in individual cages. The same overcrowded conditions are present, the same standard agricultural procedures like de-beaking, tail-docking, and other painful procedures are done without benefit of anesthetic. Half of all chickens bred for eggs are immediately killed; males have no economic value to hatcheries, so they are either tossed into trash bags and slowly suffocate to death, or are ground up by large chippers while still alive. Even farms that advertise that they sell “humane” eggs get their chicks from hatcheries that operate in this manner, and are part of the same cycle of cruelty. And even though hens can live up to 10 years, they are killed and thrown away after one year and replaced with younger hens as their bodies wear out and their egg production drops off.
And animals raised “humanely” for food are shipped to the same slaughterhouses as the “conventional” factory animals, where there are no protections in place. Given the speed at which slaughterhouse workers are forced to work, many animals remain partially or fully conscious while being dismembered, skinned, and gutted. Even on the very rare small family farm that isn’t contracted to big agribusiness, where the welfare of the animal can be argued is exemplary, they are still killed quite needlessly.
These so-called “humane” animal products are still the result of animal exploitation. The animals are still considered mere commodities and exist only to serve human purposes; they are bred for the sole purpose of being used and killed. This is not an ethical alternative. Killing an animal in the prime of its life makes a mockery of the definition of “humane,” and killing an animal by the same “caring” hands that fed him or her is a monumental breach of trust.
People are led to believe that the use of animals is necessary for human survival, when that is not the case. The meat and dairy industries have large advertising budgets and powerful lobbies that pressure food agencies to maintain the misconception of the necessities of their products. With the advent of the modern ethical vegan movement, there are many people who are long-term vegans, and many athletes and bodybuilders have trained and won grueling competitions while on a vegan diet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American Dietetic Association, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have endorsed a plant-based diet. It has been conclusively proven that the consumption of excessive meat and dairy leads to long-term health problems like diabetes, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, and impotence.
Human beings throughout history have adapted to various diets just for pure survival, but now we have the luxury of choice–although it can be argued that in the future we may not have a choice not to eat meat/dairy; given that the majority of crops grown throughout the world are fed to animals raised for food. Such operations require the continuation of clear-cutting valuable forest lands, and contribute to over half of the greenhouse gases emitted. Waste and runoff from animal agriculture also destroys surrounding land and water systems, causing an environmental toll that cannot be afforded due to the ever-expanding world population. According to some environmental authorities, the very survival of the human species may depend on switching to a vegan diet.
The issue is not what people tend to eat now and have eaten in the past, but what is sensible, healthy, and available now. Even though human beings are capable of ingesting a wide range of foods, including meat, modern research shows that we do best on a diet with little or no animal protein and fat. If we define our “natural” diet as that which is best for our health, there is abundant evidence that points to veganism as our natural diet. As omnivores, we have the ability to digest dirt and paper, but few would argue that physiologically it is healthy to eat those things. In fact the vast majority of the world’s human population is lactose-intolerant to varying degrees, particularly Africans, Asians, and indigenous Americans.
We lack the sharp teeth and claws of carnivores like lions and tigers. Instead we have flat molars and a long digestive tract suited to a plant-based diet. Because our digestive tract is four times longer than a carnivore’s, meat takes about four days to pass through our bodies, during which the disease-causing products of decaying meat are in constant contact with the digestive organs (plant-based food takes only about 1 1/2 days). The nutrients found in the flesh and fluids of animals comes from whatever the animal ate; meat and dairy contain no essential nutrients that cannot be obtained from plant sources.
Anthropology has discovered a significant number of societies that existed on a diet largely of plant-based food, and even today, the Brok-Pa of the Himalayas are continuing to survive (and have done so for five thousand years) in a hostile environment at an elevation of 15,000 feet without eating meat or dairy. Since we can maintain perfect health without eating any animal products, then the question remains why we should continue to confine, abuse, and kill animals just to please our taste buds.
Vegan food is normal food. If you had an apple, you had vegan food. Vegan food is not a “style” of food, or an “option” at a restaurant, like choosing between Mexican or Italian cuisine. All across the world spanning a wide variety of ethnic regions, there are multitudes of dishes that are prepared, cooked, and served that do not require the use of animal products. And vegan food is not just about salads – everything from every stage of every meal can be made without animal products. Animal products are not required to make delicious and nutritious meals; thousands of recipes are available on the web, more and more vegan cookbooks are being published every year, and more and more products are available in stores than ever before. Vegan food is perfectly normal and natural and can be enjoyed by everyone – vegan food isn’t necessarily just for vegans.
You wouldn’t take swimming lessons from an instructor who has never swum before, so why take nutritional advice regarding vegan diets from a doctor who’s not vegan? There are numerous vegan physicians and registered dieticians who understand the nutritional needs of vegans and how to address health concerns of others. Non-vegan doctors may not be up on the latest studies that show that a properly planned vegan diet can provide all nutritional needs as well as avoid many of the health problems associated with meat and dairy consumption. Vegan doctors are likely to be much more well-read on nutrition; doctors do not get adequate information on nutrition during their medical training; according to a 2010 survey of all accredited medical schools, most graduating medical students continue to rate their nutrition preparation as inadequate, with only a quarter of such schools offering a single separate nutrition course. Most students get less than 20 total hours of nutritional training during their entire medical education program. Vegan M.Ds supplement their training with dietic internships, continuing education, the latest peer-reviewed research, and studies of their own, and thus are able to help patients overcome specific medical problems and concerns without sacrificing ethical principles. They have demonstrated that solutions to medical problems can be achieved through plant-based means, even reversing serious health issues brought about by the typical Western diet. Some of those who have gained international prominence through their research and advocacy are Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. John McDougal (who maintains a free forum to ask health questions), Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Joel Furman. If you are in need of a vegan doctor, ask within your local vegan community for practitioners near you.
Some women stop being vegan when they become pregnant, because either they or their doctors think they cannot have a healthy pregnancy while being vegan. But as long as pregnant women, infants, and children ensure their proper nutritional intake, a vegan diet is perfectly healthy at any stage. It does take time and thought to ensure the proper nutrition for vegan children, but that obviously shouldn’t be different for any child.
Veganism is often portrayed as unsafe simply because many people, from doctors and health workers to social workers and other parents, are badly informed. There are plenty of health risks to children associated with eating meat and dairy which are avoided with a vegan diet. There are some excellent sources that thoroughly cover nutrition for vegan diets in the beginning stages of human life, backed up by the latest scientific studies. Veganhealth.com, the Vegetarian Resource Group, Vegfamily.com, and Keepkidshealthy.com have articles on vegan pregnancies and children, and The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book; Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet; and the Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide are comprehensive sources of nutritional and parenting information; and Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World offers parent-tested tips on handling social dilemmas. Paying attention to nutrition is essential for everyone, not just vegans, and the rising numbers of healthy vegan children is a testament to the safety of vegan diets.
People become vegan due to a variety of reasons; many do so because of health concerns, and for many of them the issues surrounding the use of animals do not figure prominently in their choices. Those who understand the ethical issues surrounding veganism and animal rights are much more likely to stay vegan than those who do not. Those who make the choice to be vegan because of ethics will be more motivated to overcome the many social dilemmas in living in a non-vegan world.
It is important to know that there are healthy and unhealthy vegans, just as there are healthy and unhealthy omnivores. Studies have shown that vegans who eat varied low-fat foods stand a much better chance of living longer, healthier lives than their meat and dairy-eating counterparts. But much like meat and dairy eaters, vegans who eat too much processed, fatty, and sugary food may find their health suffers and their energy decreases. Some people who attempt a vegan diet may have inadequate or incorrect information on what is needed nutritionally. Many myths and bad advice are being promoted, and some people seeking to address a particular health concern with a vegan diet may not be getting accurate information, and thus are all too quick in abandoning the diet when the desired outcome doesn’t occur.
However, there is no shortage of vegan health and nutrition resources available for those who are willing to seek them out. For those who have concerns about their nutritional requirements, there are vegan medical physicians and Registered Dietitians that have compiled recommendations. A few excellent sources of honest and comprehensive nutritional information for vegans are http://www.veganhealth.com, http://www.vrg.org,and http://www.veganRD.com.
People on a healthy vegan diet generally have little problem getting their protein needs met; not only is there sufficient protein in beans, nuts and soy products, there is a substantial amount of protein contained in whole grains and vegetables. All plant proteins have some of every essential amino acid. It is actually more important to pay attention to your intake of the amino acid lysine than to protein; If you meet lysine requirements on a vegan diet (found in greatest quantity in legume-based foods such as tofu, tempeh, beans, etc.) you will most likely meet protein requirements. If as a vegan you eat a lot of junk food, or fall short of the calories your body needs, you are more likely not going to have your protein needs met.
Many people who eat meat and dairy actually get too much protein; in the US most people get about seven times as much protein as they need. The long-term result of too much protein leads to health problems like kidney failure and osteoporosis (excess protein creates an acidic environment and the body leaches calcium from the bones to neutralize it).
Vitamin B-12 is needed for cell division and blood formation. Neither plants nor animals manufacture vitamin B12 — it is actually produced by bacteria. Animals get their vitamin B-12 from eating foods contaminated with it and thus the animal becomes a source of B-12. Luckily, since B-12 is made by bacterial fermentation, it does not need to be obtained from animal sources. But plant foods do not contain B-12 except when they are contaminated by the microorganisms that produce it or have vitamin B-12 added to them. Contrary to many rumors, unfortified plant foods is not a reliable source of B-12 (tempeh, seaweed, and organic produce are usually touted as having enough B12, but those sources are not reliable). Thus, vegans need to turn to fortified foods (such as commercial non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast, and vegan processed food) or supplements to get vitamin B-12 in their diet.
Although recommendations for vitamin B-12 are very small, B-12 deficiency can take several forms, from minor fatigue to dementia, anemia, and irreversible nerve damage. Many meat-eaters also suffer from B-12 deficiency; because vitamin B-12 can only be absorbed in the small intestine, and due to common intestinal ailments, even many meat eaters who consume high levels of B-12 are unable to absorb it. B-12 is stored in the liver, and many sources wrongly suggest that vegans can simply live off their stored reserves of B-12 from their previous diet of meat and dairy. Because the body loses its store of B-12 as it ages, it is now believed that many diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly patients can actually be attributed to dementia from B-12 deficiency. Despite the fortification of processed foods, just to be prudent, supplements are generally recommended, especially if one is avoiding commercially processed foods in favor of whole foods. In fact, it is recommended that all people over 50, not just vegans, should take B-12 supplements.
Just as it important to know the source and type of any other nutrient used as supplements, it pays to know what kind of B-12 to take. The synthetic form of B-12 common in many commercial multi-vitamins and as a food additive is cyanocobalamin, which is a low-grade, low-quality form that’s actually bound to a cyanide molecule. A far better source is methylcobalamin or methyl B-12, found in nature, which can be produced commercially via microbial fermentation. It is a source that is much more readily available for absorption — and liquid injections, sublingual tablets, and skin patches provide better absorption as B-12 found in oral tablets generally passes through the digestive system.
Vegan diets have many health benefits that far outweigh the easily remedied lack of B-12, and concern over a single vitamin shouldn’t be the stumbling block to undertaking it. Since most omnivores also have nutritional deficiencies, many medical foundations and organizations recommend nutritional and vitamin supplements for everyone, regardless of their diet.
Cheese and other dairy products contain casein, a milk protein that acts in much the same way as morphine. The addictive, calming effect of casein ensures newborn beings continue to desire their mothers’ milk until the time comes for them to be weaned; it helps ensure the baby to gain weight and solidify the emotional bond between mother and baby. This physical effect is so great humans are the only animals that continue to consume dairy into adulthood, and only humans regularly consume milk from other species – milk that that wasn’t intended or designed for them. We have allowed ourselves to remain addicted to dairy despite the health problems it creates.
But you still can wean yourself off of dairy, including cheese. Think of cheese as it really is, a congealed bovine discharge. Think of the mother cow who bellows for days when her newborn is taken away so that the milk meant for her calf can be taken to make the cheese, the butter, the ice-cream, etc.You may experience cravings for a few weeks, but like trying to beat any other addictive substance, it takes persistence and avoiding situations of temptation. There are many alternatives to dairy products that are delicious and do not require the exploitation of animals.
Although veganism is often portrayed in the media as a diet, a vegan lifestyle is not just about health, diet, or weight loss. It’s about living a life in accordance with the moral principle of not treating animals as property or commodities, and not using or supporting the use of animals in any way. A vegan will actively choose ethical alternatives to the use of animals in clothing, entertainment, and research, as well as food.
Religion is based on faith, a belief in something that is not recognized by empirical science. The arguments for veganism are based on real-world evidence. A cult is usually considered a small group, headed by a charismatic leader, outside of the mainstream. People from all walks of life, of all religious persuasions, of all ages, all across the world, have recognized veganism as a positive life-affirming lifestyle. In the future, there will be a time when people who use, kill, and eat animals will be considered as uncommon as those who kill animals for religious sacrifices.
It is only in a world where unspeakable abuse and institutionalized violence is considered normal can a person who advocates for the end of violence and oppression be called “extreme” or “radical.” Abolitionists were called “extreme.” War protesters are called “radical.” And so are we who advocate against the exploitation of animals. Without the so-called “extremists” who uphold moral conscience, we are condemned to a world of brutality.
If veganism is extreme, then by contrast one would have to say that the act of eating meat and dairy is insignificant and ordinary. But the world-wide human demand for meat and dairy requires the confinement and killing of over 53 billion land animals each and every year (not including the untold billions of sea animals). To vegans, killing dozens of billions of animals every year is extreme.
To non-vegans, veganism may sound unattractively austere. However the increasing amount of companies catering to vegan lifestyles makes it possible to live a comfortable and principled life that actively withdraws its support of practices that causes torture and killing and emphasizes compassion for all living beings.
Because humans can act in a particular way in exceptional circumstances, it does not follow that we are justified or excused in typical circumstances. Someone on a lifeboat with no hope of rescue who eats a fellow castaway who has died probably will be excused; someone who kills and eats their next-door neighbor because “they were hungry” would not be. Extreme hypothetical situations have no bearing on everyday situations, and dreaming up unlikely scenarios discounts the very real pain and suffering that animals undergo here in reality.
Leather is not a by-product of the cattle industry; it is a co-product – almost half of profits made by cattle slaughterhouses come from the sale of skin. Because of the relatively slim margin on animal flesh, industries are dependent on the sale of hides to remain in business. Leather comes not only from cows raised for meat, but also from dairy cows whose production has dropped off and are no longer seen as profitable. Additionally, calfskin comes from the calves confined in tiny cages or boxes raised for veal. Leather may also come from goats, sheep, horses, pigs, and even cats and dogs from Asia; there is generally no requirement to state the source of the skin.
A growing market for leather comes from China, where there is no enforcement of welfare standards, and India, where cows raised in Hindu states are marched for hundreds of grueling insufferable miles into other countries or non-Hindu Indian states where cow slaughter is permitted.
There are many synthetic alternatives to virtually every single leather product on the market.
Wool, as with other products of industries relying on the use of animals, is a multi-billion-dollar industry. As in all industries that use animals, sheep are regarded as mere commodities to be used for the value of the money they bring to the enterprise. Improving their welfare cuts into the bottom line, so as a natural course for all sheep, their tails are cut down, their ears punched with holes for ID tags, and males are castrated, all without the benefit of anesthesia.
Many sheep shearers get paid by volume, so they work quickly, some shearing as many as 350 sheep a day, leading to untreated nicks, cuts, gouges, and infections. They are shorn in the spring, often while it is still too cold, and each year an estimated one million sheep die of exposure because of premature shearing.
Raising sheep for wool also supports the meat industry. Even though sheep can live for 15-20 years, after their wool production drops off after the age of 3 or 4, they get shipped off to slaughter. Much of the world’s wool production comes from Australia, and once the sheep’s wool production declines, they get shipped off in a month-long voyage packed into dirty, disease-ridden ships to places like the Middle East and North Africa, where there is a market for inexpensive mutton. About two million die each year in transport.
As with leather, there are many synthetic alternatives that are just as warm, if not warmer, than wool. We do have the luxury of choice, so it makes no sense that an animal has to die for our comfort.
Veganism is not just mere harm avoidance or the alleviation of suffering, but a principle of giving the respect due for other beings as individuals. In so doing, we should give respect for their dead bodies as much as we accord respect for the dead bodies of our fellow humans. We would never dream of making belts out of human skin even if the person died of natural causes, although in so doing we are not attributing any active harm to the person. The ways in which we do use human bodies (organ donation or medical science, for example) is done with consent — either by tacit approval or by a general societal understanding that infers consent – of which animals cannot give. Such use of animals also increases demand – for instance, a person wearing feathers scavenged from the woods influences people who may not have access to the woods to get feathers from those who raise and kill birds for such demands. We continue to objectify animals when we use their dead bodies even if they did not suffer at our hands. Using flesh and skins from roadkill and turning animals into displays through taxidermy, for example, converts the sanctity of the life the animal had into mere objects for our edification that does nothing to advance society’s ideals of respect. That instrumental and profane reasoning that abandons respect, which instantly transforms those who have just died into objects for use, does not encourage compassion – such social practices and values are subtly corrosive and unhealthy. It may not be animals who suffer, but society ultimately does.
While the public supports the idea of animal testing because they believe it necessary to find cures for human diseases, about two thirds or higher of all animal research has little or nothing to do with curing human diseases or advancing human medicine. The majority of animal testing is done on cosmetics and household cleaners for the purpose of protecting corporations from liability.
Even research that purports to advance human treatment of diseases has been shown to be irrelevant to human health. Animals behave differently than humans, so much of the results end up being inaccurate, inconclusive, or unreliable. The Food & Drug Administration recently reported that of all the drugs that tested safe and effective in animal testing, 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans.
Researchers get more money in grants by conducting animal testing, so there is little incentive for successful results or solid scientific design. Much of the research continues to be funded despite being redundant or inconclusive. And the animals suffer through torturous procedures, poor conditions, and poor treatment, with many animals dying as a result.
Even within the scientific community, there is growing concern about the use of animal testing. Many modern, progressive and relevant alternatives to outdated animal-based research is available, such as in-vitro cell and tissue cultures, micro-fluidic circuits, computer modeling, micro-dosing, and epidemiological studies. Three U.S. agencies aim to end animal testing, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health, realizing it is ineffective and wasteful. Non-animal-based research also is more ethical, as it doesn’t have the moral dissonance of taking one life in order to save another.
There are many charities and research organizations committed to human health and ethical science. You can find them on http://www.humaneseal.org. You can also find companies that do not test on animals at http://www.caringconsumers.com.
Being vegan is not about a quest for personal purity, which is an unachievable goal. It is about doing what we can to help reduce and elminate animal suffering and afford animals the respect they deserve. It is an unfortunate fact that there are animals who do end up being killed during the production of food crops; we are well aware that field mice, rabbits, moles, badgers, insects and others unknowingly get in the way of combines and other farm machinery. But these are accidents, just as it is an accident if you were to run over a squirrel with your car. If you can’t help that an animal got killed while driving, that doesn’t mean you should give up trying to avoid them, just as it means that you shouldn’t go back to eating animals because a few field mammals were unfortunately killed. The ethical stance of a vegan is to cause as little harm as humanly possible, and to not cause any intentional harm at all. And once the consideration of animals are taken seriously by a multitude of people, we can devise and implement ways in which crops can be harvested without accidentally killing animals in the field, just as we can devise ways to reduce the accidental killings of animals crossing roadways, for example.
So not only is eating meat and dairy causing intentional harm and death to the animals used for human consumption, but since 70-80% of the world’s crops are being used to feed those very animals, it means many other field animals are being accidentally killed as well. By virtue of our industrialized world that we live in, accidental killing of animals is an unfortunate reality, but we can eliminate the intentional killing of animals by switching to a vegan life-style – a vegan diet causes far less death and has less of an ecological footprint than a diet that includes meat and dairy. It’s a simple choice we face: we can either choose to intentionally cause animals pain, misery, and death or we can choose to try our very best to not cause harm.
Animals should not be bred by humans for any purpose; this includes the breeding of domestic animals as pets. But thanks to the human demand for animal companionship, backyard breeders and pet mills churn out animals for profit. Many of them are raised in poor deplorable conditions to cut costs. There may be breeders who advertise themselves as being “responsible” and properly licensed, however there is no such thing as a “responsible breeder” — it is irresponsible to breed animals for human interests, particularly since many humans are ill-equipped and ill-informed about the true amount of responsibility it takes to care for a domestic animal, and many others intentionally abuse, neglect, or give up “their” animals.
Some would argue that dogs and cats in particular have developed a symbiotic relationship to humans, but that relationship ends whenever humans deem them “useless” to their own interests; due to neglect, abuse, abandonment, and irresponsible “ownership,” millions of domestic animals currently do not have homes and languish in shelters across the nation, and are killed by the millions each and every year. An ethical solution would be to serve as guardians for existing domestic animals and not condone the breeding of others. In an effort to address domestic pet “overpopulation,” a consequence of breeding and abandonment, spaying and neutering existing domestic animals is a necessary step. It does mean interfering with animals’ reproductive freedom, but the alternative is much worse.
There is no shame in having an ideal and working towards it. Just as it’s a lofty goal to strive for a world where violence, wars, slavery, and murder of people is eliminated, it is just as a worthwhile goal to eliminate violence and killing of animals. Few people would argue that the world doesn’t need a bit more compassion and empathy. Violence and killing is never the answer, whether it is perpetrated against human or non-human animals. Veganism provides the most consistent expression of that principle.
The reality is that everyone won’t turn vegan all at once. As the demand for animal use decreases, then there won’t be as many animals bred for human purposes.
Animals raised for human use today have characteristics that are not found in the wild or in their naturally bred relatives, such as chickens who have been genetically manipulated to grow extremely fast and develop large breasts that do not permit them to have any degree of mobility. The compassionate solution is to not have them live a life of misery, and to take steps to protect the ones who are here by devising solutions for them to live out their natural lives, such as more sanctuaries and refuges.
Once human demand decreases, certain breeds will not around as they will not be brought into the world. But their extinction should not be a cause of concern; right now, many animal species in the wild are threatened by the amount of land and resources it takes to raise farmed animals. At this moment, animals in the wild are going extinct because of the human demand for “farmed” animals. By switching to a vegan diet, more land that was previously occupied by animal agriculture can be reverted back into habitats to save wild animals from going extinct.