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26th November 2015

Debunking the myths of veganism

As veganism gets more and more popular, Matthew Perry asks if there is actually any logic behind it

1) Aren’t humans meant to eat meat?

That we are meant to do so is not at all true. The human body is designed for a plant-based diet. (You know those canines of yours? Compare them to those of true omnivores). During the Neolithic period plants were what we survived off: It was only during the mini Ice Age that our species was forced to eat meat to survive – yet this was a habit we never stopped. We are omnivores, but only in a habitual sense. Humans have adapted so that we can digest cooked meats, not so that we are meant to. So the question is—should we?

2) What is actually wrong with farming animals?

Veganism is about compassion to all living creatures. It entails are perspective where animals are no longer seen as products, but as living beings with their own self interest, much like us. Thus, the moral argument is that we should not be using animals for meat, eggs and dairy products because it is simply not necessary to do so; our bodies do not need these things for any reason but satisfaction of the palate. Arguably then, the disgusting treatment towards animals farmed for food—pumped full with growth hormones and placed in torturous conditions, from the moment of their birth to the moment they are prepared for the dinner plate—is entirely unjustifiable.

3) But what about health? Is it true that vegans are nutritionally deficient?

That is entirely false; in truth vegans are often so much healthier, due to removing cholesterol entirely from their diet and eating a more balanced and varied range of foods. Every nutrient can be sourced in plants. Even vitamin B12 can be found in bacteria existing in the soil.

4) Where do vegans get their protein then?

Protein is often cited as a necessary reason for humans to consume meat. However, it’s surprising how abundant the nutrient is—from brown bread and broccoli to beans and legumes, most people end up getting too much, without even trying. Many of the world’s top athletes and body builders are vegan. Billy Simmonds, who won Mr Natural Universe in 2009 is a vegan body builder and the cyclist David Smith who is a Paralympic and World Championship Gold medallist, thrives off of an entirely vegan diet.

5) But surely we can still eat meat if it can be done more humanely?

Undeniably it is better to treat an animal well prior to killing them, but that doesn’t make the act of killing moral. The same goes for any circumstance: Treating someone to a candlelit dinner before murdering them does not make the murder a moral act, and never could absolve the horror of the crime. For whoever is experiencing it, death will not be a pleasant or most likely desired experience, which means one thing: It can never be humane.

6) So what about plants which are living organisms too?

Plants are living, yes, but they are not sentient. If I chop a carrot at the dinner table, no one will think anything of it; if I slit a chicken’s throat people will be enraged: Plants do not have the same neurological structures as animals and they therefore feel no pain or even awareness of their existence. In contrast, all animals, including us, share one crucial thing: our capacity to feel pleasure and our capacity to suffer.

7) However, we bring these animals into existence. Without us they would have no life anyway!

This is certainly a truth; yet by bringing a being into existence we do not have rights over their life to treat them as we wish and use them in whatever manner we desire. In fact, the opposite is arguably true, if we have brought someone into existence, we have an obligation to provide an adequate life for them. We would not, for instance, have a baby without considering the baby’s future, nor would we have the right to force that person to live their life for the purposes we wish in future. Is it even morally right for us to forcefully bring these animals into existence in the first place?

8) But what about the animals already alive? If everyone became vegan, what would happen to them, and the economy as a whole?

Realistically, everyone will not turn vegan overnight. The process would occur gradually. Over 56 billion animals are bred and slaughtered for meat, eggs and diary annually, an abominably large figure.  As consumption reduces, so too will production; hence, as economic trade in these areas reduces, trade in crop production and in the production of meat substitutes will increase, complementing the shift. Because of this, there is no evidence to suggest that a global shift to veganism would be at all damaging for the economy.

The more people that gradually stop eating meat, the fewer animals will be brought into an existence of suffering, which will be good for the environment and humanity as a whole.

9) The environment? Humanity? How does veganism help these exactly?

Food aid programs like World Food Programme and Action Against Hunger deliver largely vegetarian and vegan food to those whom they support because it is the most efficient and sustainable thing to produce and procure. Instead of farming crops to then feed animals which we farm to eat, we can simply farm crops and eat them straight away, using much less land and much less energy.

In 2010 the UN Environment Programme released a report stating: “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”

Why? Because the meat industry is the second largest cause of climate change globally, preceding even transport and infrastructure! The emissions produced through the production of meat are just so vast. Vegans make a break in the cycle, helping to alleviate famine as well as the impacts of climate change. Plus cows produce a lot of methane through… well, you know.

10) That might be convincing, but don’t vegans make a lot of sacrifices (cake, chocolate etc.) that limit their diets? Plus, meat is just so delicious!

Know that for any meal that you can think of, there is a vegan version, from cake (hundreds of them! And plenty of chocolates are definitely vegan!), to a korma or a burger (try V Revolution in the Northern Quarter!). And the ingredients used are not as peculiar as you might think, too. They’re just not what we might all be used to; vegan cooking is perhaps some of the most diverse, delicious and interesting cooking that exists!

11) How much difference can the actions of one person really make though?

PETA ran a study in which they concluded that every vegan saves the lives of approximately 100 living beings annually—that means 100 creatures that don’t have to endure the torture of being used for meat, eggs and dairy products. The actions of one person matter more than you might think!

12) Why not just be vegetarian?

Vegetarianism is a massively positive change in a person’s lifestyle, which can be fantastic as a transition from a meat-based to a plant-based diet. Unfortunately though, by consuming diary or eggs we still participate in the suffering of animals and contribute to the industry’s effect on the environment and impacts on world hunger.

On top of this, despite the fact that the cow from which milk comes may not be killed, her calves that are born every few months to cause her to lactate, will be for veal. Of course, she will also be killed for beef after a few years, when she is too weary from producing milk like a machine. Furthermore, for every chicken laying eggs for us now, there was a male chick’s life that was thrown away because he was perceived to be unnecessary and uneconomic to keep alive when he cannot produce eggs for the industry himself, which will be his sister’s only purpose of existence. It is hard to know which is worse actually, living out two or three meagre years to manufacture eggs at an unnatural rate for someone else to eat, or being disposed of before you are even a week old.

13) Isn’t it difficult to eat in restaurants as a vegan though? Especially while abroad?

Though it may not be a case of going into any restaurant and ordering food, you can travel anywhere in the world and continue to thrive on a vegan diet. Awareness globally is increasing, more options are becoming available in restaurants everywhere and staff are willing to change what’s on the menu slightly to suit your needs too. Chefs will often even enjoy the challenge of whipping up something a bit different for you also. All it takes is the confidence to ask.

14) Not everyone can become a vegan though, can they?

Making the change to an entirely plant based diet is a big decision, but one which is suitable for anyone, whatever your dietary requirements. Remember that this can be done gradually too; even one less meal a week with meat in it is a positive change. And a switch to vegetarianism can make a great transition period; but remember that for every day you continue to consume these products, more animals are suffering.

The Vegan Society’s 30-day vegan pledge is a great way to get started or find out more with tips, recipes and advice.

If you have any further questions regarding veganism, contact me on [email protected].

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