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Being Vegan: What's This All About For You, Anyway?

Being Vegan: What's This All About For You, Anyway?

In a previous post, I mentioned how I'd started my vegan journey.

Recently on Facebook I shared a video provided by a group called Mercy for Animals. My girlfriend had reacted to it, and I thought it was such a powerful video I decided to share it.

Then after being largely ignored by everyone else, I received this message from my good friend:

It hurt. Not because it was true, but because there was this presumption that all of this was just me being "vocal" and just doing a lot of self-righteous pontificating, while pretending it was for reasons other than what it really was, which he'd cunningly deduced. This was all because of my girlfriend.

But rather than fight with a good friend about it on Facebook, I deleted the post.

I'm going to respond to it, point for point, right here.

I get it. You fell in love with a vegan which "opened your eyes" to the cruelties our food source goes through on mass production.

Well, yeah. It wasn't something I thought about. Being vegan was something I was already sympathetic to, I just didn't think I could do it. And I, like most people, minimized in my mind the actual environmental, health, and cruelty aspects of animal agriculture.

But I thought it would be respectful to her, if I wanted to have a relationship with her, to at least try to understand this thing that meant so much to her, and attempt to eat vegan--if not every meal, at least most of them.

But on the side, I also started doing research on my own, trying to figure out how much of what she believed was legitimate, and how much of it was overblown hysteria. I'd certainly heard enough from friends of mine to suggest that it was hysteria, and that things were not quite so bad as vegans often claimed. I was warned to watch out for "vegan propaganda".

So not only did I research the arguments against eating animal products, I also tried to find their counter, the arguments for it.

In the process, I found far more to support her position than I expected.

You followed this up by how organic and grass-fed isn't as good as people give it credit for.

Yeah, I did. In particular, I was pointing out that converting all of our factory-farmed cows to grass-fed beef wasn't a solution, and that we did not have the land available to do that.

This is the very definition of unsustainability.

There is a dark side even to grassfed beef. It takes a lot of grassland to raise a grassfed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grassfed beef can begin to feed the current meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger. Grassfed meat production might be viable in a country like New Zealand with its geographic isolation, unique climate and topography, and exceedingly small human population. But in a world of 7 billion people, I am afraid that grassfed beef is a food that only the wealthy elites will be able to consume in any significant quantities. Source

But you're going extremist to offset your drastic change from pure carnivore who didn't care where his pounds of flesh came from to an animal-loving vegan.

Once you're on the other side of the mirror, it doesn't feel so extreme anymore. From a vegan perspective, eating corpses, chicken periods, and cow secretions is pretty grim, and pretty extreme (not to mention pretty disgusting) in its own right. I tried to understand this position. I didn't necessarily try to adopt it, I just wanted to be able to relate to it.

I realize that this probably came off as hypocritical, considering that for 38 years I ate primarily meat, eggs, and cheese. I never cared much for vegetables (although I've always loved fruit). I enjoyed meat, the way it tasted. I figured there was no meal that couldn't be improved by the taste of bacon.

But since I've only been an acting vegan for four months, I've never tried to lecture people that much about it. I just tried to bring up things I'd learned--things I'd done my best not to learn, to ignore, to rationalize, while I was still eating meat. Who really wants to watch slaughterhouse videos? Who really wants to know how their meat is produced?

But I figured if I wanted to be educated on the topic, if I wanted to cut through the "vegan propaganda" I'd been warned about, I should probably see these things for myself.

I also realize that posting this probably came off as confrontational, but I figure knowledge is power, and once I understood what an environmental atrocity animal agriculture really is, how it's contributing to global warming more than the entire transportation industry, how it's polluting our water and seas, how it is affecting our health, I felt like maybe people—some people, anyway—might like to be made aware of these things that people like me had never thought about before.

Watching these videos, reading about these practices, it was not me "faking" it—I was genuinely appalled. No one who watches what goes on in a slaughterhouse could be anything but.

Hell, people who work in slaughterhouses are routinely diagnosed with PTSD.

I mean, what about human life?

What about it? Considering all of our major killers in this country are a direct result of meat, dairy, and egg consumption, this is about humanity, too. This includes our #1 killer: heart disease. No one gets heart disease from eating too much broccoli. The World Health Organization has labeled processed meat (ham, bologna, hot dogs, bacon, etc) as a carcinogen. Yes, even organic/grass-fed meat.

There are even strong links to meat consumption and Type II diabetes. People have reversed their diabetes by moving to a plant-based diet. People have reversed heart disease and cancer the same way. That's pretty compelling shit.

You say that eating a pound of beef has a dramatic effect on water consumption, but how much gas does your SUV consume?

Yes, beef is incredibly wasteful, from a water standpoint. Here's a few quotes to put that in perspective.

The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gallons of water per day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.). A person on a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons a day.

—Richard H. Schwartz in Judaism and Vegetarianism

A report from the International Water Management Institute, noting that 840 million of the world’s people remain undernourished, recommends finding ways to produce more food using less water. The report notes that it takes 550 liters of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread in developing countries…but up to 7,000 liters of water to produce 100 grams of beef.

—UN Commission on Sustainable Development, “Water—More Nutrition Per Drop,” 2004

Let’s say you take a shower every day…and your showers average seven minutes…and the flow rate through your shower head is 2 gallons per minute…. You would use, at that rate, [5,110] gallons of water to shower every day for a year. When you compare that figure, [5,110] gallons of water, to the amount the Water Education Foundation calculates is used in the production of every pound of California beef (2,464 gallons),you realize something extraordinary. In California today, you may save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you would by not showering for six entire months.

—John Robbins in The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World

This makes meat seem a lot less like a necessity, and much more like a luxury enjoyed by the richest (including water-rich) nations in the world.

Hell, even animal feed itself requires more water than anything else we could be growing.

As for the gas my car consumes? Well, I get 30mpg on the highway, but considering that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the exhaust produced by every form of transportation (including airplanes), my not eating meat, dairy, or eggs, lowers my carbon footprint more than if I never drove a car or flew on a plane ever again.

My point, if it's truly about animal cruelty, then put in a little effort to source local, grass-fed, and organic meat from your in-state farmers.

Or I could just do what I'm currently doing, and not eat meat.

You're also ignoring one very obvious point here, and I'm going to illustrate it right now, with a story.

Imagine you are Homer, the happy beef cow. You were born on Farmer Tate's Happy Cow farm. You are less than 3% of the US cow population, living away from a CAFO farm, ranging across pastures, eating grass, socializing with your fellow cows, and basically having a wonderful life. The humans who watch over you give you belly rubs and kisses every day. The daughters and sons of the farmer treat you like an extended member of the family, and you live among a family of cattle that are truly rare, and blessed on this earth.

However, Farmer Tate isn't allowed to slaughter you himself if he wants to sell your meat to others, because of health regulations. When your time has come, when your number is up, you will be sent to a slaughterhouse.

Once you are put on the truck destined for the slaughterhouse, it's out of Farmer Tate's hands.

At that point, you'll start to get a sense of what the rest of your kind's lives are really like.

This is what's in store for you.

After they are unloaded, cows are forced through a chute and shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun meant to stun them. But because the lines move so quickly and many workers are poorly trained, the technique often fails to render the animals insensible to pain. Ramon Moreno, a longtime slaughterhouse worker, told The Washington Post that he frequently has to cut the legs off completely conscious cows. “They blink. They make noises,” he says. “The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. … They die piece by piece.”

But wait! You'll say. That's just an example out of context. What about the slaughterhouses that are actually humane? What about the slaughterhouses that are, say, endorsed by the American Humane Association?

Well, I'll let Bob Barker explain that. This is with regards to chickens. If you can stomach watching it.

That's where your cage-free, free-range, organic chickens are destined to go. (More on chickens later.) So yeah. It's pretty fucked up. If these were dogs, cats, or people being treated like this, we'd call this practice monstrous.

After watching about twenty or thirty of these videos, or videos like this, I have no trouble empathizing with the animals, or understanding and paying deference to vegans who are opposed to eating meat for moral reasons.

My point is, even if the animals live their entire (abbreviated) lives as happy as can be, their last moments are filled with terror, pain, and suffering.

Even if they are 'humanely slaughtered' (or murdered, as some vegans would prefer to say), they are still slaughtered, before reaching their natural lifespan. They still travel in trucks to their deaths, crammed in with other animals, smelling the fear, and blood, and death of their kind.

Most “humanely” sourced animal products are slaughtered and processed in the same industrial slaughterhouses that provide animal products to fast-food joints. Farms that employ mobile slaughterhouse units—USDA-approved trucks that drive to the local farm and kill on site—are equally implicated. As one mobile slaughter worker noted, “It functions the same as any livestock facility, except it is much more condensed and put on wheels.”

Animal products these days are sold with a story: the animal was humanely raised, it was cage-free, it was free-ranged, it was pasture-fed, it’s hormone-free. Whatever. Excluded from these stories is the fact that an animal was killed. He or she was a sentient being who didn’t want to die. And the person who killed it—the person we almost never consider—has had to declare “I can’t care” to cope with the trauma of his job. This story, needless to say, won’t make it onto the label that’s designed to make us pay more and feel better about the animals we eat. Source

And my example was just about a beef cow, which actually have it better than dairy cows. If you're a cow, you'd rather be a beef cow (although not a veal cow) than a dairy cow.

A little-known fact I discovered, for instance? Dairy cows are all killed for meat eventually, once their milk production slows. Most of the ground beef people eat is downed dairy cows.

But I think you know this isn't solely about animal cruelty, but more an over the top vocal stance because your new love is vegan.

And this is the part where I got pissed off.

Do not presume to tell me what this is about. Do not assume that if we were to break up tomorrow, I'd suddenly be okay with all of this and be back on hamburgers and chicken nuggets within a week.

Or to put it a bit more crassly, do not assume this is about pussy.

Really, after all my research, I just know too much now. Yes, it's not solely about animal cruelty, and in fact if you click the first link and read my original justifications for it, I only pay a passing mention to the ethical reasons for being vegan. For me it was about more than that.

But come the fuck on. Neither is it just me trying to impress my girlfriend, or being brainwashed or "pussy-whipped" somehow. Give me some credit.

Okay, so what about all the humanely-raised meat you're talking about? Cage free, free range, organic, certified humane?

Let me break it down for you, what these things actually mean for chickens. I already can tell you've never researched it. Not that I blame you. Before I started eating as a vegan, I just went with what I assumed they meant. It wasn't something I cared to research.

Cage Free

“Cage-free” means that, while the hens are not squeezed into small wire cages, they never go outside. “Cage-free” hens are typically confined in dark, crowded buildings filled with toxic gases and disease microbes the same as their battery-caged sisters. And like their battery-caged sisters, they are painfully debeaked at the hatchery. While chickens are designed to dig in the ground for food with their beaks and claws, when deprived of outlets suited to their energies and interests, they can be driven to peck at each other, having nothing to do with their time once they’ve laid their egg for the day in a barren building. Chickens love sunlight - they sunbathe daily outdoors - but “cage-free” hens are denied even this simple pleasure.

I told myself that cage-free chickens meant they were happy. It doesn't. Here's a picture of what qualifies as "cage-free" under FDA regulations:

That looks comfortable. Chickens crammed together in tight spaces, walking in their own feces, never seeing the sun. But hey, no cages, right? Slightly better than being crammed into a battery cage, but hardly an exalted existence.

Free Range

Birds raised for meat may be sold as “free-range” if they have government certified access to the outdoors. The door may be open for only five minutes and the farm still qualifies as “free-range.” Apart from the “open door,” no other criteria such as environmental quality, number of birds, or space per bird, are included in the term “free-range.” A government official said: “Places I’ve visited may have just a gravel yard with no alfalfa or other vegetation.”

Organic & Certified Humane Eggs

“Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs” in New Hampshire exemplifies the misleading muddle of “organic,” “humane,” “free-range,” and “cage-free” advertising. Despite the “Certified Humane” logo, visitors were shocked to find 100,000 debeaked hens crowded into five 400 ft long sheds, each holding “a sea of 20,000 brown hens,” so densely crowded the floor was invisible. Though it was a mild September day in a lush green valley, the visitors said they “couldn’t see any hens enjoying the grass, just several large sheds that took up most of the farm.” The “range,” even if the hens had been outside, was just “a bare patch of dirt between the sheds.”

And of course, they end up all being slaughtered the same way.

Though chickens can live active lives for 7 to 15 years, “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” hens are grabbed upside down by their legs, thrown into transport trucks like garbage, and hauled to slaughter the same as battery-caged hens at extremely young ages. Many of these gentle hens are sold to live poultry markets where they sit for days in filthy cages listening to the screams of their cagemates being butchered in the back room.

And of course, all the male chicks are ground up, suffocated, or otherwise discarded within hours of birth, as they are useless to the egg industry, and even as chickens raised for meat, the males don't grow fast enough to be economically viable. If you're eating chicken, you're eating a hen. Period.

Getting to the Point

You presumed to tell me what this was all about, so let me tell you what it's actually about. Let me get down to something you do know about me, and explain how all of this fits into a consistent philosophy I've held for as long as I remember. Maybe you'll understand why I chose the opening image for this post.

I'm a big hippie, and a pacifist. I'm against unnecessary suffering. I'm the guy who encouraged us all to go to Washington D.C. back in 2003, and protest the onset of the Iraq War. I'm the one who became interested in politics after discovering we'd mistakenly bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan, who constantly rails against us bombing brown people in third-world countries, with no consideration for the innocents (such as children) who are killed in our bombing runs, in an attempt to kill terrorists. I'm the guy who abhors our current culture of police brutality, and posts about it at least once a week, and frequently more often than that. I confront people in the same way with these issues. I'm also an environmentalist. I'm against polluting the environment. I want to prevent, or at least mitigate climate change.

What I had never done, and what I think you haven't done, is consider that if you're against suffering and the unnecessary death of innocents, including animals, and if you consider yourself an environmentalist, and you eat meat, you are a hypocrite.

For me, this doesn't occur as an extreme anymore. It occurs as something consistent with what I had always believed. I had a blind spot...one I willingly maintained, because I did not want to give up meat. Could not even imagine my life without meat, cheese, or eggs in it.

But once I tried it, I found out it wasn't that hard. I don't sit around all day yearning for bacon.

Because the truth is, my friend, eating meat, dairy, and eggs are not necessary. You can survive without them, just fine--and happily so, at that.

These things are luxuries, not necessities.

And so, if it's not necessary that animals die so I can enjoy something tasty, then I am choosing that they die so I can nosh on their bodies.

And if I do that, I'm part of that system. I'm part of the animal cruelty. I'm part of the slaughter of billions (literally billions) of animals every year. I'm part of rainforest deforestation. I'm part of dead zones in the Gulf and other areas of the ocean caused by runoff of the waste from farms.

I'm part of the problem of world hunger. 90% of our soybeans are fed to animals, for instance. Similar numbers for oats and corn. If we were to feed the crops we feed to animals to people instead, we could support 10 billion people on this planet, without any additional land use.

This is not a "weird" or "extreme" thing, unless you consider a commitment to peace, environmental sustainability, and the happiness of the human race (not to mention the animals we, let's face it, exploit) to be extreme things.

That's what is so exciting about it. This is an active statement I can make, a contribution to true world peace. As an individual, this is something I can do to make a difference, just by choosing what goes on my plate.

And that's pretty awesome.

That my girlfriend supports all of this just suggests she's pretty awesome, too.

P.S. I had 3 slices of organic grass-fed bacon, 3 organic cage-free eggs, and two english muffins for breakfast this morning.

I had whole-wheat/flax blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. I didn't really feel like I was suffering.

You had 15% of your RDA of saturated fat, 15% of your RDA of sodium, 9% of your RDA of cholesterol. Just from the bacon alone.

The three eggs gave you 24% of your RDA of saturated fat, and 186% of your RDA of cholesterol.

And whatever fiber was in your english muffins.

Meanwhile, I had 53% of my dietary fiber, 0% cholesterol, and 0% saturated fat, and negligible sodium. By breakfast. I'll spare you the suspense: I didn't consume any more saturated fat or cholesterol (these things are primarily in animal products, and cholesterol is only in animal products) for the rest of the day, either.

The only thing you really beat me on here, nutritionally, was B12 consumption, but that's why I take a multivitamin for vegans with ample B12. Though if I lived closer to nature and drank well water, I'd probably attain all the B12 I'd ever need.

P.S. Pigs don't eat grass. In case you meant "free range". It's not an idyllic existence, either. And "free range", with regards to pigs, is a meaningless marketing term. It's only a protected term for chickens, and as I demonstrated above, that doesn't mean very much, either.

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