The Definition of Veganism
Veganism can be broadly defined as a lifestyle in which you do not consume or wear animal products. It is a way of existence that takes our false dependency away from factory animal farming. From what we wear to what we eat, veganism calls for refraining the utilization of any part of an animal to the best of our ability. To truly explain this way of living, we must explore the lifestyle, the reason for this choice, and the external factors involved such as pollution and the environmental consequences. What I want to do with this blog post is define the concept of veganism through the framework of a state of mind.
I am always asked why I became a vegan. The allotted time when posed with this question only warrants a few sentences since I am usually at a dinner or having a brief casual conversation with an acquaintance. In truth, the reason for why I am a vegan could take an entire lecture. Since I won’t be invited to Tedx anytime soon, I have instead taken the time to create this post.
I want to explain my initial journey, how the planet is affected by industrial animal farming, and examine the treatment of the most commonly consumed animals
Additionally, I want to define the state of one who is vegan and their condition. What I mean by that is I want to give the non-vegans reading this blog a microscope to know just what a vegan gives up from a societal and social standpoint because of their decision to stop using animals for food and clothing.
As an avid meat eater who never dreamed of refraining from leather, dairy, poultry, and beef, I think my story is important enough to be told over. Keep in mind that veganism has seen a 600% increase in new plant-based eaters in the United States alone. There is something to this diet and way of living. Let’s find out what it is!
My initial journey
Like most people, my perception of vegans was negative. I viewed them as malnourished, unbathed extremists. I also assumed factory animal farming was a quick and painless process where the animals had no awareness of what was going on. I assumed animals get to sleep and eat all day and when they aren’t looking, they get a quick electroshock that puts them to death. I also believed eating meat and dairy wasn’t just normal, it was necessary for a healthy state of life. This is the position every meat eater has. We have been engrained to believe this.
My wife initially got onto social media. She never had Facebook before. She randomly saw a PETA video on her feed one day. Within a span of a few weeks after subscribing to PETA and other related pages, she saw dozens of videos showing the realities of factory animal farming. After a month, she decided to no longer consume chicken. Shortly after that she made a conscious effort to avoid all meat products and only stick with dairy and fish. Eventually she became a full fledged vegan.
For me, the ethical argument for veganism wasn’t a strong one. I simply didn’t care. I clearly avoided PETA videos to the best of my ability. That really is the only way to not be moved by the ethical vantage point for veganism – you need to blind yourself from the truth. Today, I am mostly a vegan because of ethics but back then I needed a more pragmatic and scientific approach.
I came across the documentary “What The Health” by Kip Anderson. I mention him again later in this article. This documentary changed my life. I have seen it at least 4 more times since then. The documentary discusses chronic diseases that every American faces from diabetes to heart disease. The film makes the argument that many ailments we suffer can be linked to animal products.
What I watched next was “Cowspiracy” – another documentary by Kip which I go into greater detail in the environmental section of this article. I was never an environmentalist and I could care less about climate change. But after seeing this documentary and realizing how many resources we consume as a consequence of our meat eating habits, I knew right there and then I had to become a vegan eventually.
The health and environmental arguments for veganism were extremely persuasive for me. If you are not sure yet on veganism, remember that the argument for refraining from consuming animal products has many facets to it. It’s not a one size fits all situation. Since I am more of a numbers type of guy, the pragmatic argument sufficed.
After I knew I wanted to be vegan came the actual process of becoming one after being a meat lover for over twenty-five years. My transition was a two-year process. I first started off as a vegetarian. Dairy is terribly addicting and it was the toughest category of food to quit. One day I decided to get life insurance. I was considered obese based on my height and weight. My family also had a history of diabetes. I was told by a doctor a few years back I was already approaching high blood sugar. I decided to become a full fledged vegan a month before my blood test for the insurance. I thought that if I had good blood, I would have a lower premium. Sure enough, my blood results came back and I was told the blood tests showed I was in optimal health. My charts showed I had normal blood sugar levels and low cholesterol. This was a moment that solidified the truth about veganism. It is, in my opinion, the most ideal diet one can have.
While I was a vegan for that one month, I had so much more energy. I was able to wake up easily each morning and drink far less coffee than I normally would. I eventually went back to eating dairy but I at some point quit it all again. I have now been vegan for well over two years. What has helped the most in keeping me on track was people like John Joseph and Rich Roll – two masculine fit men who make veganism look good. Videos that show the disturbing truth of what we do to animals for the sake of a cheese burger have also kept me motivated to never go back to eating meat again. But a bigger conflict I was facing was the theological side of veganism.
A Theological Path
As a somewhat religious person, what I found so odd was how food is centered around many religious ceremonies. The main food of course is always an animal product. A question I asked myself was if God is indeed good, why would He make it okay for people to consume animal products – specifically those that are a result of factory animal farming.
Since I am Jewish, the sources of information I used were related to the Torah. What I realized was Adam and Even were actually vegans. One of their first commandments was to eat plant-based food only. They were prohibited from eating animal products. The only mention of people actually being allowed to consume animal products was in the story of Noah where God allowed man to consume the flesh of an animal. But within that chapter, the seven laws of Noah were introduced. One of those laws stated that you cannot impose torture onto an animal.
To go a little deeper, I looked into more contemporary Jewish sources and a strong case was made that under no circumstances can an animal be put under unnesseccary discomfort. The entire factory animal farming process is nothing but discomfort.
What I found that would certainly be allowed is a scenario where you farm your own cow or chicken, raise them without imposing any pain or discomfort on them. And when it is time to slaughter them, it was to be done as quickly and painlessly as possible. Do we live in a world where that is the case? No. Everything is absolutely mass produced and streamlined with the animals well being as last on the list.
There are also commandments illustrating that a person cannot put themselves into danger especially from the standpoint of general health. The most obvious way to adhere to this commandment is by standing absolutely away from all of these dangerous foods. And which foods would put all of us in danger? Animal products obviously. You’ve heard of doctors tell their patience to cut down on the steak but I have yet to hear a scenario where a healthcare provider told someone to go easy on that kale.
From my research, the Torah was replete with signals that veganism was an ideal path that would compliment the life of someone who is observant.
Defining Veganism from The Standpoint of Our Environment
When defining veganism, it is difficult to avoid the topic of the environment. There has been heavy debate about climate change and whether it is man-made or simply a consequence of earth’s natural organic cycle of life. When it comes to factory animal farming, there are aspects to the industry which require no debate whatsoever. We can examine objective and quantifiable events, practices, and methods that will make anyone find the matter discomforting regardless of their stance on climate change.
I was certainly never a climate activist nor someone who thought about these things. My eyes were opened completely to the consequences and sheer numbers of water usage and waste involved with basic factory animal farming practices. When I heard about the land use needed, none of this made any sense to me. And when I understand the role that methane plays in climate change along with the quantity that is actually created because of livestock, I had made the decision to start the path of going vegan. On a global scale, the amount of resources, land, and assets we consume for steak and milk is utterly stupid and unjustifiable.
One of the best sources for understanding the impact of factory animal farming and how it impacts the world around us is the documentary titled “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. This documentary is heavily sourced. The rebuttals against this documentary from the factor animal farming industry and it’s allies hasn’t left a dent on the reputation of this film.
I urge you to visit the fact section of the official website at: https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts . Many of these facts are shocking and thought provoking. The best part – everything is linked out to a scientific and published source. From the negative effects of land to sea, this website does a masterful job presenting the issues involved with the environment and factory animal farming. Here are several key points which stood out to me after viewing this cinematic eye opener:
- If you were to take all of the greenhouse gas emissions, animal agriculture accounts for 18% of them. This amount is actually more than the total amount of emissions combined from every form in transportation when combined. Transportation emissions account for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
- In order to grow the feed that livestock is required to consume, over 50% of all of the water in the United States has to be utilized.
- In order to produce a single pound of beef, the amount of water that is required ranges between 400-8,000 gallons. In order to produce a single pound of eggs, over 400 gallons of water is needed. To produce a single pound of cheese, 900 gallons of water is needed.
- Livestock and it’s feed fields currently occupy a third of earths land (ice-free).
- Evidence has shown that habitat destruction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and species extinction is all related to animal agriculture.
- Farmers require at a minimum 2 acres of land to sustain a single cow.
- A farm that maintains 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste that a city would if it had a population of over 400,000 people.
- Almost 3 trillion animals are removed from the ocean every year.
- The agricultural industry is growing enough feed that could be eaten by 10 billion people. As of 2017, there are 7.53 billion people in the world. Almost a billion people in the world do not consume enough food.
When we look at these statistics a few things come to mind. If the resources used for animal agriculture were instead diverted to creating plant-based food only, we would be able to feed a billion people who are malnourished and give access to an improved water source for the current billion that lack it.
The amount of occupied land which becomes available is insurmountable. We cannot forget the level of deforestation that happens in order to clear out the space necessary for animal feed. It has been said many times over that our rain forests are earths lungs. Animal agriculture is a direct attack on our rain forests.
From a scientific standpoint, it is common knowledge that there are three gases which generally contribute to climate change and they are Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide. All three share a responsibility for climate change. Methane is 20x more powerful in trapping heat within the earths atmosphere. The most common producers of methane are the livestock which we consume. Nitrous Oxide, which is 300x more powerful in trapping heat compared to carbon dioxide, is the byproduct of our meat, dairy, and egg industries. In fact, 65% of the worlds nitrous oxide emissions are a direct result of these industries. The level of inefficiency and damage that is caused because of factory animal farming is hard to comprehend.
One of the biggest environmental stories that took place in 2019/2020 were the Australian Brushfire Crisis. Due to record breaking temperatures and severe drought, destructive fires broke out all throughout New South Wales and Victoria among other areas in Australia. There are scientists who say the link to the temperature and drought is an effect of climate change. I am not here to argue that. I am here to point out the hypocrisy that exists within the masses when it came the casualties within the animal kingdom.
One of the biggest headlines associated with these fires were about the animals. There was an estimated 800,000,000 animals which were burned to death because of these brushfires. Celebrities screamed, twitter roared, and the virtue signalers virtued. Here is a very inconvenient fact: If you are upset that 800,000,000 animals died because of this one event, why aren’t you upset that 800,000,000 animals are killed each day to feed us? Over 292 Billion animals are killed each year. This figure is staggering and frightening. Plant-based options are readily available and attainable with todays’ technology. The entire world can be fed with a surplus if we all unified in directionally moving towards an animal-free dietary lifestyle.
Defining Veganism From a Moral Standpoint
From the vantage point of ethics, veganism is undoubtedly the right dietary option that one should opt-in for. When people ask me why I am vegan, I tend to fire off the ethical argument first which goes something like this:
When you hit an animal, does it try to move away from you or even scream? When an animal senses danger, do they fight and/or flee? Do animals desire sex? Do they raise their offspring, feed them, and protect them? In essence, does an animal cling onto life, show signs that they want to experience this world, and display a will to live? I would say the answer is yes. This living creature which has a face, a personality, and an inherent mechanism for survival wants to be left alone. What right do I have to eat it them, enslave them, and pay someone to slaughter them? For hunger – I can eat vegetables and grains. For health – animal products are destructive to the human body. There is no justification to eating an animal
Eating an animal in itself is already bad enough. The civilized among us wouldn’t eat a child. In fact, if we see someone even hit their dog, we find that to be disturbing. I can guarantee you if we were to conduct polling and people had to answer what they find more uneasy – a man yelling at his child or a man yelling at his dog – most people will choose the latter. But because we are so far removed from the industrial process of the meat industry, we are bamboozled and played like fiddles. The amount of yelling, beating, and anger directed at pigs, cows, and chickens is not only real but horrific. Here are some common factory farming practices happening all over the world – especially in modernized democratic civil societies such as America and Canada:
- Most people consider eggs a politically correct food – no animal died to produce it and it isn’t a fully developed yet therefore there is no moral issue with eating an egg. I would have to disagree. We need to look at how the egg is produced. It is common for hen’s to have a scorching blade slice through their beaks initially. The reason for this is to ensure that they do not pluck the other hens to death around them. Because of the extremely tight quarters hens are living in, they grow a sense of anxiety and it has been shown that they pluck manically. After their beaks are cut off, they are stuffed into very tight and small cages to live out the rest of their days. If they are in a cage free environment, they get enough space equivalent to about the size of a page in your typical novel. They are fed so much feed and hormones in order to make them produce the maximum amount of eggs. Although they can live up to 10 years, they are usually sent to slaughter after two years since their bodies are worn out and unable to produce any more eggs. Male chickens have no place in the egg industry because they are unable to lay eggs. They also don’t grow big enough to be profitable. They are sent to their deaths immediately and grounded. On average, 200 million male chicks are slaughtered.
- Turkeys and chickens who are being raised for meat live in a highly crowded environment. Picture yourself in a small elevator with 50 people. This is where your chickens live for most of their lives. On top of the claustrophobic conditions that we impose on these creatures, they are pumped full of food and agents to make them have rapid growth within a short period of time. The bigger the chicken, the bigger the profit. Earlier in the century, a chicken would weigh about two pounds within a span of three months. Today, they weight in at five pounds within two months. This unnatural growth is a direct causation to the animals suffering joint point and leg disorders. If a chicken is too deformed to be sold, they are beaten to death.
- In order to produce dairy, just like with woman, a cow has to have given birth. Dairy farmers do not sit around and wait for a bull to mate with a cow. Cows are artificially inseminated with syringe like tools full of semen. Cows can typically live for twenty years. Because they are constantly impregnated and deal with lactation on dairy farms without pause, they become so worn out and unprofitable. They are usually killed within five years.
- Cows which are typically raised to be eaten go through a grueling pre-process before even sent to a slaughter line. Without any anesthetic or pain reliever, cows are branded with a hot iron. They also need to be castrated and dehorned. There is no doubt an animal feels every moment of that pain.
Needless to say, this is a brutal and violent industry. Much of the violence is hard to report on because of Ag-Gag laws (https://www.animallaw.info/article/brief-summary-ag-gag-laws ). Ag-Gag laws censor and penalize would be whistleblowers reporting on the atrocities and unethical acts committed within the factory animal farming industry. This industry portrays itself to be the good guys in their commercials. “Milk does a body good” was a famous slogan I had heard growing up. The messaging was clear – milk is actually good for you and no matter what we do to cows for the production of milk, it is justified. If an industry is so good and righteous, why do they lobby to put laws in place that send people to jail to leak videos of pigs getting beaten? Something is very wrong with this picture.
Defining Veganism From The Standpoint of Sacrifice
When going vegan, you will begin to give up on many things that the rest of the world consumes without a second though. The first obvious sacrifice is the food you eat. Not only are you letting go of poultry, dairy, beef, and seafood, you are also look for these ingredients and their derivative in packaged goods that you are used to buying. Shelves are stocked with products that contain some amount of dairy and eggs. You become a nutrition-label reading expert.
Clothing is another sacrifice. For men, many suits are made of wool and silk. Many sneakers and shoes on the market are all made of leather. The most fashionable parkas and winter outerwear have animal torture on display somewhere either in the form of fur or the goose feather filling.
From a societal standpoint, you will be sacrificing shared talking points with people. No longer can you contribute to conversations discussion the wagu beef at a certain Japanese restaurant that everyone is going mad over. No longer can you speak on the quality of a designer leather bag that has been trending during the current season. You will feel like an outcast in this world of consumption.
But here is the truth – who cares. Your circle of friends are boring and sad if all they can talk about is what they ate. The world is filled with politics, economics, history, novels, and films. If the people you know only take about the thing which they consumed that eventually gets shitted out, perhaps its time to make new friends.
As far as fashion goes, the year is 2020. What a time we live in. Cruelty-free fashion is surging. Brands like Save The Duck are paving the way for high-end vegan fashion. It is a glorious feeling to wear something that did not impose death and destruction onto a living breathing being.
The personal sacrifices you will make by going vegan won’t make you an outcast – it will make you an inspiration. You will deal with some push back, boring and common counter arguments for going vegan, as well as dim-witted social media response to you like “but what about my bacon”, and all of that is fine. As a vegan, you will be saving well over a hundred lives each year by living a cruelty-free life.
Defining veganism is clearly not so simple. It is a lifestyle that hits on many points not only in your life but the life around you. The hand of the factory animal farming industry taints our oceans, our land, and our environment. The amount of wasted resources when quantified is difficult to comprehend. The sadistic nature that animals are living under is a violation against morality and human nature. To be a vegan means to be against the harsh realities that we are imposing onto this planet.
From a theological and ethical standpoint, veganism makes the most sense. It is a passive approach to ensuring you are causing the least amount of destruction, pain, and death to this world by simply eating vegetables over animal products. This cruelty-free lifestyle where you no longer consume animal products is on the rise. You can start making a real dent by doing as little as avoiding any animal products for one meal a day. Small changes make exponential differences.