I became vegetarian in April 1989 whilst on a trip to Koblenz in Germany. My coach party had no clue what meat we were eating one evening in the hotel restaurant and a rumour passed around the tables that it was possibly “horse”. I was sickened and later gave my reaction great thought. I wondered why I would be so grossed out at the thought of horse, but not cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. Surely all animal life is equally sacred? I stopped consuming flesh overnight and never once hankered after it.
My journey into veganism took a lot longer and I had a stop-start approach over many years as I was hooked on the taste and convenience of dairy. I always purchased plant milk instead of cow’s milk with the weekly shopping yet I would consume any type of cheese, free range eggs and products containing them. As someone looking to develop spiritually, my conscience was growing evermore uncomfortable until I finally cut all animal produce from my diet, phased out my leather shoe collection and began to source the most ethical cosmetics.
The Meat Industry
Why has society taught us to cherish some animals and abuse others? How is it that we may sit at a dining table patting our dog’s head with one hand whilst placing cow parts into our mouths with the other? Choosing neatly cellophane packaged animal anatomy from supermarkets disassociates us from the violence involved in its production yet I believe the majority of the human race would go meat free it they had to personally kill and prepare animals for the dining table.
Watching films such as “Earthlings”, “Forks over Knives”, “Cowspiracy” and “Food Choices” educates us and may move us in to act in compassionate ways we have never previously considered. Even if sentient beings were all killed humanely for food this does not make the action acceptable when we have such an abundance of tasty and nutritious alternatives easily available. Slaughter house film footage explicitly shows us that animals do not wish to die, whatever the method. Whilst I love to see cattle peacefully grazing in fields, pet them and enjoy cow licks when the opportunity arises, I would prefer they ultimately became extinct due to a growing vegan movement rather than continue to suffer the horror of abattoirs for centuries to come.
Overconsumption of any type of meat encourages colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, gout and parasitic diseases. There are plenty of plant-based mock meats available in supermarkets and health stores which are useful transitioning foods, however I wouldn’t recommend eating them on a frequent basis since any processed food is never the optimum choice for great health.
Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are natural and inexpensive ways of obtaining protein and iron as well as fibre and other vitamins and minerals.
The Fish Industry
It has always been claimed that fish have no feelings yet studies in 2003 have shown they have nociceptors, sensory nerve receptors which activate the sensation of pain in the brain. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh injected bee venom into the lips of rainbow trout. The fish immediately responded by rubbing their mouths along the bottom of their tank whilst rocking their bodies in agitation; their breathing pattern changed and they displayed defensive behaviour.
Suffice to say when shoals of fish are netted away from their habitat for human food consumption or hooked by the mouth purely for “sport” they suffer terribly.
Crustaceans also have sophisticated nervous systems. They suffer high stress when confined in crowded tanks, when they have their claws taped shut and physically react in pain when cooked alive in boiling water. They are intelligent creatures and during experiments learnt to avoid pain causing stimuli. Many fish including shell fish are bottom feeders, feasting on all manner of pollutants, debris and sewage, in turn absorbed by those choosing to eat them.
Fish, in particular salmon, is widely promoted as being a valuable source of omega 3 fatty acid chains. This is an essential fatty acid which we must obtain from our diet to ensure optimum heart and brain health. Due to the ingestion of industrial pollution fish contain high levels of mercury, a poisonous toxin which attacks our kidneys and brain.
The alternative is to have a daily tablespoon of flaxseed or hemp seed oil which contains ALA or a small handful of walnuts plus DHA and EHA capsules which will meet our requirements. To replace fish on the plate, the high protein low fat option of tofu may be easily seasoned and cooked to individual preference.
The Dairy Industry
I have never had an urge to run across a field, position myself underneath a cow, latch on to a teat and start drinking. Maybe you feel the same? Milk is produced for calves and they would naturally suckle for up to a year. Instead, they are separated from their mothers within a couple of days of birth causing immense distress to mother and baby. Male calves are killed for veal or raised for beef and the females are weaned on milk replacement feed before maturity where they are subjected to continual bouts of artificial insemination and industrial milking.
Dairy cows are regularly injected with bovine growth hormones to produce around 10 times more milk than they would by themselves. Frequent use of milking equipment often leads to mastitis, painfully infected udders, which seep pus into the milk supply. Milk is one of the biggest allergens in the human diet and is responsible for discomfort of sinuses, digestion and skin.
Substitute milks made from soya, almond, cashew, hemp and coconut are widely available as are other substitute products such as vegan cheese (try any one by Vegusto!), cream and yoghurts. Alternative sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, rocket and cabbage, green beans, tofu, dried figs, tahini and blackstrap molasses.
The Egg Industry
New born male chicks are thrown live into a grinder or gassed since they are of no financial purpose. Millions of female chickens spend their lives confined in indoor battery farm cages with very little space to move. They are routinely de-beaked without anaesthetic to stop them pecking their neighbours out of frustration. Free-range chickens may mean they have only a little more room to move around in so the term can be misleading.
The American Egg Board no longer allows egg companies to use the words “healthy”, “safe” or “nutritious” in their advertising campaigns. Their high cholesterol content damages the artery linings and may lead to heart disease. There is also a risk of type 2 diabetes and salmonella poisoning.
An alternative is the Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg available from health stores. This product is made with algal flour and makes a delicious scrambled breakfast.
The Honey Industry
Bees collect honey for their own nutritious food yet are maintained in hives to produce it purely for human consumption. The colony are fed a fructose solution in place of their natural diet and “smoked” to keep them calm when their keepers approach to access the honey. Often the queen bee has her wings clipped with scissors to prevent swarming.
Alternatively, agave syrup, maple syrup or stevia can be used to sweeten foods plus pure fruit jams are available from supermarkets and health stores.
Vegan diets comprising mostly wholefoods and raw fruit and vegetables are the best health insurance. I noticed a huge difference in my physical and mental energy and overall wellbeing from switching to a vegan diet. My sense of smell increased plus medical results showed my cholesterol level fell and my iron level increased. I also enjoy meal planning and cooking far more than I ever did and I have a greater interest in food in general. Happily the world is now waking up to the growing vegan lifestyle with many plant based options becoming available in restaurants and cafes.
Of the 45 nutrients humans need to survive only 2 cannot be reliably sourced from the plant kingdom. The first is vitamin B12 (cobalamin) to guard against megaloblastic anaemia and nerve damage. B12 is from soil bacteria which usually gets washed off our plants. The second is vitamin D to guard against osteoporosis, unless one lives in a hot climate where sun exposure automatically produces it in the body. Deficiencies in these nutrients can occur in omnivore diets as well as vegan diets, however daily supplementation is cheap and easy.
UK Epidemiologist, Peter Scarborough of Oxford University states if we all switched to veganism our dietary carbon footprint would be halved, greatly reducing global warming. The following figures show greenhouse gas emissions per a 2,000 calorie a day diet in pounds of CO² equivalents (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide):
High meat (more than 3.5 ounces a day) – 15.9
Moderate meat (1.75 – 3.5 ounces a day) – 12.4
Low meat (less than 1.75 ounces a day) – 10.3
Pescatarian – 8.6
Vegetarian – 8.4
Vegan – 6.4
Most of the scientific health information which puts a positive health slant on meat and dairy consumption to influence the masses are studies funded by the industries themselves in order to keep their profits huge. Instead of being led by propaganda I invite everyone to self-enquire. Ask if these media messages have the best interests of animals, humans or the environment.
There has never been an easier time in history to go vegan since more and more alternative food options are being offered up in the mainstream. We can all change our diet and lifestyle so that we are not taking part in the prolific cruelty and abuse of animals, fish and insects and in time phase these practices out. We can be the healthiest we have ever been on a diet focused on colourful plant goodness.
We can refuse to buy leather and woollen goods, boycott “entertainment” establishments such as zoos and racing stadiums and actively seek out toiletry and cosmetic products which have not been tested on animals nor contain animal derived ingredients.
May we all realise our moral responsibility and consciously break our links in the chain of suffering.
General explanation of veganism
Dr Neal Banard
Dr Michael Greger
For vegan meal restaurant options and health stores near you
For cruelty-free shoes and cosmetics