Veganism: What the Hell?

Photography by Nithil Harris Manimaran and Grace Bukowski; Photographs taken at Mockingbird Farm Animal Sanctuary in Byron, NY. Mockingbird aims to rescue and provide a safe haven to factory farmed, neglected or abused animals

There is a stigma around the concept of a vegan lifestyle, most being misconceptions learned from others in order to continue to support the animal farming industry.

If we were to attempt to look past these misconceptions, we could see an endless amount of positive correlations between being vegan and our health, environment and the lives of animals.

Save the Planet

Interestingly enough, both the largest proponent of climate change and the least spoken about is animal agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), animal agriculture contributes to 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. This total is more than all modes of transportation combined.

Animal agriculture is also responsible for 80-90 percent of U.S. water consumption. A prime example of this is the fact that just one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce, while one gallon of milk requires 1,000 gallons of water.

Along with emissions and water consumption, animal agriculture takes up 59 percent of the Earth’s ice-free land and is the leading cause of global deforestation and habitat destruction. The overwhelming land use is due to both grazing (26 percent) and crops grown to feed livestock (33 percent). One of the most controversial crops aforementioned is soya, which most of the deforested Amazon Rainforest land goes to.

A common misconception is that plant-based individuals consume the majority of soya being produced; however, 77 percent of all soya production is used for livestock feed, whereas a measly 7 percent is used solely for human consumption.

This overbearing land use causes huge impacts on the Earth’s biodiversity. At this point, 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second and about 137 plant and animal species are lost every day due to this destruction.

Claire Hamlett, a Freelance Writer and Staff Writer for Surge, spoke about some other effects on biodiversity.

“Predators are persecuted because they might prey on livestock,” she stated. “Wolves and coyotes and all sorts [of animals] are routinely killed.”

However, most of the biodiversity loss is directly related to habitat loss or the degradation of soil due to depletion. Some sources even say that we are currently in one of the largest mass extinctions in human history.

Studies have also shown that we may very well see fishless oceans by the year 2048. This is due to overfishing, the bycatching associated with it, as well as the pollution of our oceans due primarily to detritus from the fishing industry.

All of these processes contribute an unfathomable amount of waste as well. Morgan Apperson, a graduate student in Environmental Science at RIT, spoke on some of these statistics.

"It's estimated that an average of 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for food each year," Apperson stated. "From that, in just the U.S., it is estimated that 1.2 to 1.3 trillion tons of waste are excreted annually."

This waste pollutes our fresh water sources, nearby communities and produces up to 20 times more waste than humans. This does not even begin to span the waste created from the fishing industry as well. Studies have shown that for every one pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended species are caught as bykill. Forty-six percent of the Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised solely of fishing nets and enough fishing line is thrown every day to wrap around the world 500 times — to give you an idea.

Save the Animals

We cannot discuss veganism without also discussing the argument that brings this issue to the forefront of the media: the cruelty associated with animal and factory farming.

Imani Stone, a fourth year Biomedical Sciences major at RIT, discussed the prospect of cruelty.

“I don’t think animal suffering is necessary for me to have a meal at dinner,” she said. “A lot of the suffering is very needless.”

The biggest proprietor of this cruelty is the factory farming industry, which constitutes most, if not all, of the animal products sold in commercial grocery stores.

In these farms, animals are given very little space. Sows who are birthing are confined to cages the size of their own bodies; when they give birth they are unable to turn around to greet their babies, which are taken from them within weeks.

"It's estimated that an average of 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for food each year."

Dairy cows are artificially inseminated on a rolling basis. Just like humans, in order to produce milk, the cow must be pregnant. Yes — this means that as soon as a cow is able, it is rendered continuously pregnant until it can no longer bear, at which point it is slaughtered for meat. When a female cow then gives birth, her calf is taken from her immediately and she is ‘plugged in’ to a machine that continuously pulls from her utters.

“Is an animal’s entire life of suffering in these awful conditions, worth a snack?” she questioned.

The conditions these animals are forced to live in for their entire lives is unspeakable; however, it’s not just factory farming at fault here.

“We tend to think of [factory farming] as being the worst case for animal abuse in animal agriculture, but it’s not exclusive,” Hamlett stated.

An example of this was when an organic dairy farm in the U.K. was exposed by the Animal Justice Project through hours of footage. In the footage, you can see workers beating calves with alkaline pipes, slapping and punching as well as insulting them. The calves were also held in small pens which were removed during public open houses to keep up appearances.

“As soon as people leave, they put the pens back in place, and the calves are individually separated from each other and their mothers,” Hamlett said.

These examples are just a small fragment of the insane happenings within the animal agriculture industry. For example, in most cases, animals are only stunned before being hung upside down by their legs in slaughterhouses, where their throats are cut. "Earthlings," a documentary detailing the heavy role animals play in our lives, shows footage of cows and other livestock fully alive and sentient for minutes after their throats are cut, left to bleed out fully awake.

Farm animals are also branded, tagged while birds are debeaked. During backups in slaughterhouses, pigs and other animals are shot by the farmer for ‘taking up needed space.’

“It seems like an endless list of abuses,” Hamlett said. “Docking their tails, dehorning cows, castration, all of those sorts of things.”

Save Yourself

We talked about the environment, we talked about the animals ... but what about you?

There is a ton of benefits from switching to a whole food plant-based diet, with a plethora of studies that compare this diet to one including meat and dairy. Some of these studies have shown that persons who have switched to a plant-based diet decrease their possibility of hypertension by 63 percent and hyperthyroidism by 10 percent. Studies have also shown a decrease in LDL cholesterol, total body mass index, decrease in heart disease and the possibility of death due to heart disease.

Dr. Emily Riddle, assistant professor at SUNY Oneonta and a registered dietician, spoke about some of these improvements seen in her own clients.

“Those health benefits are very real, so I would say most people would benefit in reality from moving more plant-based whole foods,” Riddle said.

There have even been correlations between a decrease in cancer rates for those who follow a vegan diet. In fact, a whole food vegan diet has shown positive correlations in reducing the risk of all cancers by about 15 percent.

Other diseases can be linked back to deforestation and our increased proximity to animals, tending to put ourselves in high risk situations constantly.

"With increased deforestation, it leads to wild animals and humans interacting, which can lead to disease transmission," Stone said.

Not to mention, almost all of the documented pandemics have been zoonotic in nature, or relating to diseases passed between animals and humans. It makes you wonder where we would be now without this easily removable roadblock.

A common misconception is the idea that vegans are fragile, weak and lack protein. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vegans and vegetarians usually exceed recommended protein intakes, when their caloric intake is adequate. There are also numerous amounts of professional vegan athletes who disprove the 'weak' claims, with documentaries detailing the surprising differences between vegan athletes and those who consume animal products.

 “I think we underestimate how much power our dollar has … our purchases [as consumers] dictate the type of future we are going to have.”

It is also important to note that while some meat and dairy products may supply some nutritional benefits, there are very few in respect to the nutritional drawbacks of these products. Whereas plant-based diets have been proven to be healthy and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life.

Save this Information

This information covers only a portion of the benefits of switching to a vegan lifestyle. This way of eating and choice of living is constantly misrepresented and under-researched by those who turn the thought of it away.

The important takeaway is that switching to a plant-based diet is the single most important step you could take to individually improve the environment, the lives of animals as well as your own health.

“I think we underestimate how much power our dollar has ... our purchases [as consumers] dictate the type of future we are going to have,” Apperson stated.

This being said, it does not have to be a dichotomy. Taking small steps every day is better than doing nothing, and in fact, will lead you to make sustainable changes that could last a lifetime. In order to take a step towards improvement, start with cutting back but not cutting out. It will make the process much more enjoyable.

“You really need to find ways to make sustainable changes, even if they’re small,” Riddle said.