Vegan! Really?! Why?

Ever since I became a Vegan, I get these remarks all the time. I am starting to realize that being a Vegan is like being an outcast in North America. So why did I become a Vegan? There are three simple reasons, eating animal foods is:

1. Inhumane
2. Unsustainable
3. Unhealthy

Why is it inhumane to eat animal foods? Humans sit on top of the food chain so aren’t we meant to eat animals lower on the food chain? Isn’t that how nature intended it? What makes it so inhumane?

Well, if you’re a hungry cheetah on the African savanna then killing a gazelle for survival isn’t so cruel. That is definitely how nature intended it, survival of the fittest. But even a carnivore like the cheetah will not hunt on a full stomach. I am not aware of any other species on this planet that hunts other living beings on a full stomach or for entertainment, except for humans.

But this is not it, we are factory farming animals now. We make the choice to eat more and more animals each year. In the United States alone, the annual red meat and poultry consumption per capita in 2015 was 211.1 pounds. I am glad to see that the per capita meat consumption in the United States has been on a decline over the last 15 years. But overall, the per capita meat consumption in the United States is up 27% from 165.9 pounds in 1960[1]. Factory farming is essential to meet this enormous demand of meat by the consumers. But nevertheless, factory farming is a cruel and inhumane way of raising and killing animals for food.

Let us take chickens for example. Chickens are intelligent social animals. They form social hierarchies and form friendships. They love and care for their young and enjoy dust-bathing, making nests and roosting in trees. Chickens raised for meat and eggs are unable to engage in any of these activities. They are fed hormones, drugs and antibiotics to grow as large as possible as quick as possible. As a result many develop skeletal problems and can’t even walk because their legs can’t support their weight. Many chickens suffer from broken bones because of the way they are handled during the ‘catching phase’. Once at the slaughterhouse, the birds are dumped from their crates and hung upside down in shackles, further injuring their legs, which are already tender and often broken. Their throats are cut open by machines, and they are immersed in scalding-hot water for feather removal. They are often conscious throughout the entire process[2]. Also, don’t be fooled by ‘Free-Range’ labels. There is no regulation on the ‘Free-Range’ label in Canada or the United States. The USDA requires that “Free-Range” animals have access to outdoor areas, but there is no provision for how much time they must be allowed to spend outside or how much room they must be provided with to do so[3]. In Canada, labels such as free-range, free-run, cage-free, grass-fed etc. are not regulated and unverified[4]. Not inhumane enough? Alright, let us look at cows then.

The statements below are quoted from Chapter 11 of Richard Oppenlander’s book, Comfortably Unaware: What We Choose to Eat Is Killing Us and Our Planet. “Cows are inquisitive, clever, and peaceful animals. They show emotion and prefer to spend time together or with another peaceful animal or human friend, with whom they form a strong bond. Like all animals, cows form very strong maternal bonds with their children and therefore, on dairy farms and cattle ranches, mother cows can be heard crying out for their calves for days after they are separated. The Journal of Animal Science reports that 38% of all cows that arrive for slaughter show signs of lameness and crippling. None of the cows want to leave the truck, so they are struck with electric prods or dragged off with chains and forklifts. A former USDA inspector relates that uncooperative animals are beaten and have prods poked in their faces and up their rectums. They are then forced down a chute and shot in the head with a bolt gun meant to stun them, although the lines move quickly and the workers are poorly trained so many cows are still fully conscious when their throats are cut and limbs are sawed off. Ramon Moreno, who has worked in slaughterhouses for twenty years, explained to the Washington Post that his job is to cut the legs off the animals, and he frequently had to cut the legs off fully conscious cows. They blink, make noises…heads moving and eyes wide open and looking around, but the line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said that ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’. It is time we look at ourselves in the mirror and decide who we want to be.

Why is eating animal foods unsustainable?

In 2014 we collectively raised about 5 billion animals for food worldwide, not including fish[5]. While raising these animals, we need to feed them and provide them with drinking water so that we can eventually kill them for food. This is a highly inefficient way to utilize food, land, and water resources that can be used for human consumption. For example, each cow requires 2-5 acres of land to graze and once ready for slaughter produces about 250 kg of beef [page 12 of 6][7][8]. Now compare that to 7,637 kg of cereal grain produced per hectare (one hectare is 2.5 acres) of land in the United States[9]. 43,000 liters of water is required to produce 1 kg of beef compared to 1000 liters of water required to produce 1 kg of cereal grain[10]. Also think about how much grain a cow needs to be fed compared to a human. I guess one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to solve world huger issues, each and every individual can help by just eating less meat.

Based on a 2006 UN report, animal agriculture around the globe contributes 18% to climate change in CO2 equivalent[page 271 of 11]. A more recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that 24% of the global GHG emissions are from the agriculture, forestry and other land use i.e. from cultivation of crops and livestock and deforestation[12]. If you look further at the break down of the GHG emission by commodity within the agriculture industry, it is interesting to note that producing meat and milk accounts for about 90% of the total GHG emissions from the agriculture industry as compared to producing crops. This is shown in Figure 1 below which has been taken from page 68 of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report from March 2014, titled Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use Emissions by Sources and Removals by Sinks.

GHG trends
Figure 1: Historical trends in GHG emission intensity, by commodity

Now compare this to the transportation sector that makes up 14% of the total GHG emissions worldwide, mainly from burning fossil fuels for road, rail, air, and marine transport[13]. Switching to electric cars is great, but they are not even making a dent in the total GHG emissions.

Animal agriculture is also responsible for rainforest destruction which therefore, leads to loss of biodiversity. Rainforests are the lungs of the planet replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen. They are being lost at an enormous rate in order to produce more grazing land for raising livestock.

What about all the waste these 5 billion animals produce? Where does that go? What about the ocean dead zones created as a result of animal agriculture? And the starving children in developing countries where grain is exported to feed livestock in the western countries? The list goes on and on. There are volumes published on this subject. The environmental impact of animal agriculture is overwhelming and so far we have turned a blind eye to it.

Why is eating animal foods unhealthy?

If I start discussing the impact of animal foods on human health in totality, I wouldn’t know where to start and where to end. So for the purpose of this article I have picked a couple leading chronic diseases in the United States – heart disease and cancer. The research mentioned below is a summary of information presented in books such as The China Study by Dr. T. Colin. Campbell and Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis.

There is a staggering amount of evidence that saturated fat in diet causes heart disease. Several studies have shown that if you switch saturated fat to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, your heart disease risk will decrease significantly[14,15,16]. This fact can’t be denied any longer. And it is also evident that the majority of saturated fats are found in animal products, especially dairy and meat[17]. High levels of LDL cholesterol has also been documented to be a risk factor for heart disease and animal products are the only source of dietary cholesterol[18]. Are you wondering how the meat eaters compare with vegans for heart disease? Me too! Here is the evidence. People consuming plant-based diets have 30% lower risk of developing heart disease and stroke as compared to non-vegetarians[19,20].

Now let us look at some data correlating animal products to cancer. Cooking meat at high temperatures is known to produce Heterocyclic Amines (HCA’s), a carcinogen[21]. HCA’s are associated with risk for colon cancer[22]. HCA from cooked meat is also positively linked to increased risk of prostate cancer[23]. HCA’s are linked to increased breast cancer risk in women[24,25]. Animal foods contain heme iron which is linked to various cancers[26]. Another smoking gun is Insulin Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), a human growth hormone which is naturally produced in our bodies and essential to grow new tissues and DNA. But too much IGF-1 is not healthy, people with high levels of IGF-1 are at higher risk of developing various cancers[27,28,29]. Prostate cancer has a very strong correlation with high IGF-1 levels[30]. Studies have shown that high IGF-1 levels are a result of animal protein in the diet[31]. Research shows that vegans have significantly lower levels of IGF-1 and significantly higher levels of a protein that binds to IGF-1 and takes it out of active circulation[32]. Even the World Cancer Research Fund, the supreme authority in the area of diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer, recommends limiting intake of red meat and avoiding processed meat. The World Cancer Research Fund has stated their public health goal as “Population average consumption of red meat to be no more than 300 g (11 oz) a week, very little if any of which to be processed”[33]. If I were to trust an authority in the field of Cancer, I would trust the World Cancer Research Fund since they are publicly funded and are conflict free, without any government or industry ties.

Here is an interesting observation suggesting correlation between cancer incidence and meat consumption. In Figure 1 below is a chart from the 2014 World Cancer Report showing the cancer incidence rate in men in selected countries around the world. So I plotted another chart shown in Figure 3 below to compare the total consumption of meat, milk, eggs and fish per capita in these countries based on data from the FAO. Since there are factors other than diet responsible for causing cancer, I didn’t expect to see a very strong correlation. But I was surprised. Such strong correlation might suggest that diet may be a major factor in causing cancer.

Age-standardized cancer incidence rates per 100,000 by year in selected populations, for all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) in men
Figure 2: Age-standardized cancer incidence rates per 100,000 by year in selected populations, for all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) in men
Figure 3: Meat, milk, eggs and fish consumption in kg/capita by year in selected populations

Do vegans actually develop less cancers as compared to non-vegetarians? Yes, they do. Overall cancer incidence in vegans is 18% lower than non-vegetarians[34]

Another myth that I would like to bust is about how milk is the only product that can provide calcium for bone health and help prevent osteoporosis and that vegans are deficient is essential vitamins and minerals. I talk about veganism and osteoporosis in another post: Vegans have brittle bones. True or False?. The only vitamin supplementation vegans require is vitamin B12.

In conclusion, this is all the evidence I could gather about animal foods and it is too compelling to ignore which is why I choose to be a vegan. Even if all three of these reasons don’t resonate with you personally, I think you would be hard pressed to find an individual for whom at least one of these reasons are not compelling enough.


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