The concept of veganism has been growing exponentially over the past few years after a long, slow uphill climb. There are lots of great reasons to go vegan, and it’s easier to do so than ever before!
Many readers coming to this site may already have a clear picture of what it means to be a vegan. If this applies to you, feel free to skim or skip the following paragraph. For anyone who needs a crash course, here goes.
Vegans avoid all animal products in the diet (including eggs, dairy products, and honey) as well as in their lifestyle. For most committed vegans, ethical factors are equally as important as health and environmental issues. Concerns for animal welfare and the embracing of a more compassionate lifestyle means that full-fledged vegans won’t eat honey or wear leather and wool. In general, any products that are animal-derived or that contain animal byproducts are avoided, as well as products known to have been tested on animals.
Plant-based is how you eat; vegan is how you live. No matter where you are on the path, a bit of motivation is always helpful, so here are some of the benefits of the vegan life:
Health: Research has shown that populations with primarily plant-based diets suffer from a fraction of the ailments of meat eaters. These include heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes. When it comes to cancer, studies of vegetarians and vegans have shown lower cancer rates compared to the general population. Here are a few more benefits:
- Fiber-rich plant-based diets may reduce the risk of cancers of the digestive organs, and may protect against heart disease. Health experts agree that eating foods high in fiber and complex carbohydrates can help reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, plant-based proteins rare more likely to reduce cholesterol levels, while animal protein raises them.
- Vegans, tend to have lower overall rates of obesity, not a small point to make at a time when 60% of American adults overweight, with some 300,000 yearly deaths from obesity-related diseases, which include not only those listed above, but also hypertension, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis. A well-planned diet that centers on whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits provide a feeling of fullness that keeps the body fueled and satisfied for hours.
- Practitioners of plant-based diets are less likely to contract virulent food-borne illnesses caused by e coli, salmonella, and listera. Children are especially vulnerable where food-borne illness is concerned, as their immune systems may not be developed enough to withstand the dangers of contaminated meat products.
- If you’re intrigued by the promise of longevity, studies conducted on Seventh-Day Adventists (who advocate a completely or mostly plant-based diet) have shown that they typically live an average of 7 to 15 years longer than meat-eaters.
- And finally, farmed animals are fed a steady diet of antibiotics and often hormones that have no place in their system, let alone yours. There have been many well-researched articles on how this practice can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, and it is rather alarming.
World Vegan Day is celebrated November 1st of each year,
but make every day a vegan day!
Ethics: For ethical vegans, the driving motivation is about compassion toward all sentient beings. Those who have chosen to go vegan appreciate knowing that their food choices can be not only tasty and healthy, but compassionate and humane as well.
Animal agriculture is unimaginably cruel. Each year, tens of millions of animals are confined, overcrowded, and disfigured. Their cruel demise in the slaughterhouse (which, by the way is no picnic for its human workers — slaughterhouse jobs are among the most hazardous) is almost a mercy compared to the way in which they are compelled to live their short lives.
Consider — humans are the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and the only species that drinks milk after being weaned. Okay, I promised I wouldn’t beat you over the head with this kind of information, but any discussion of a plant-based life needs to at least broach the subject. If you do want to learn more, films like Peaceable Kingdom, Earthlings, and Vegucated are eye-openers, and sometimes life-changers.
Environment: Getting most or all of your nutrition needs from plant-based foods means that you’re “eating low on the food chain.” This practice is not only good for your health, but by voting with your fork, you’re potentially reducing the demand for animal products, which will in turn reduce pesticides used to grow animal feed as well as antibiotic residues. Consider:
- The raising of livestock depletes enormous land and water resources and contributes to the loss of millions of tons of irreplaceable topsoil each year. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, as compared to 390 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
- And I don’t want to be gross here, because we haven’t eaten yet, so I’ll say this as simply as possible: Animal waste is a major pollutant for soil, water, and air.
- From the practical standpoint of food security, animal agribusiness cements a system that feeds those who already have enough to eat. Vast land resources are given over to grow grain (most of it not organic, so there’s the pesticide and GMO issue as well) used to feed animals — land that could be used to grow food for direct human consumption.
- Finally, a crucially important piece of information is that animal agriculture is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. According to a now-famous 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector emits 18% of global, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and according to the report, “mapping has shown a strong relationship between excessive nitrogen in the atmosphere and the location of intensive farm animal production areas.” This concise, one-page report based on the FAO’s finding can change your world view.
- Further, deforestation, especially in the rainforest, for livestock grazing production has devastating repercussions for the environment as well. Read this brief report by World Wildlife Fund.
The rescued hens at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, NY
It’s easy it is to put a delicious, healthy plant-based lifestyle into practice. And while you’re eating yummy meals, you can also feel good knowing that your food choices are compassionate toward animals, good for your health, and are a big way that each individual can help mitigate the climate crisis.
(— Adapted from Plant Power by Nava Atlas)
Nava Atlas is the author of many vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. My books went vegan at the same time I did — the early 2000s. My most recent titles are 5-Ingredient Vegan, Plant Power, Wild About Greens, Vegan Holiday Kitchen, and Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for all Seasons. See more about Nava on our About page.