This is a long overdue post, but I still consider myself a “newbie” in my journey as a vegan. As I write this, I’ve got one more winter coat that needs to get replaced and then I can confidently say I’m FULLY living the vegan lifestyle, because although diet is a big part of it, you’ve got to consider all the clothes you wear and products you use (cosmetics, household products) as well.
Here are the top five reasons I live a vegan lifestyle, in the chronological order of how they inspired my journey.
1. Cruelty to animals
I always tell people about how the catalyst for my journey was the documentary Earthlings. Although the most powerful aspect of the film was animals being killed for food, the film also covers how animals are used for clothing, entertainment, science, and as pets.
Shortly after seeing the documentary and telling my family I wanted to stop eating meat, I remember my sister’s business partner at the time say, “but leather is a by-product of meat.” I wasn’t smart enough to tell her that animals are still skinned or plucked for their skin, fur, or feathers, even if they aren’t slaughtered for meat. Pet owner or not, you know that sh*t HURTS.
Science and business industries alike still test heavily on animals; testing is mandatory for personal products in certain countries such as China. What most girls and women don’t know is that if a company sells products in these countries, they are guaranteeing animal testing. However, China’s state council recently updated their regulations and starting in January 2021, animal testing will no longer be mandatory for general cosmetics and will be replaced by safety assessments, including imports. Colombia has committed to banning testing for cosmetics by 2024. Not soon enough, IMO.
The Animal People is a great documentary on how big the animal-testing pharmaceutical giants are.
I believe the tide is changing regarding animals being used for entertainment, though it will still be awhile before zoos and aquariums close, and in Western society the pet industry is still booming. I’m personally not against having animals as pets, so long as they’re rescued, or you can trace the origin of the birth of those animals.
If the human population wasn’t as high as it is and we weren’t raising and killing animals at the rate that we are, I might feel differently about this aspect, but we’re at a point where it’s pretty much out of control, unless the demand for meat drastically reduces (and I am hopeful about this, if more people saw what I have seen).
Think milking cows for dairy, or consuming seafood, chicken periods (eggs) or insects doesn’t have much of an effect? Check out my previous blogs on why we don’t consume dairy, honey, or crickets. Also:
- Male chicks are often ground alive to make way for female chickens.
- Our oceans are now so over-fished and polluted that by 2050 we’ll have more plastic than marine life. Fish, shrimp, and plankton are eating microplastic and all the other contaminants we put into oceans, so if that’s the buffet you prefer, enjoy. (I recently watched A Plastic Ocean from 2016, if you want to see that documented proof—and I’m sure it’s worse by now.)
Oh yeah, there are also zoonotic diseases that spread because of what we’re doing to (what should be) wild animals and their habitats. This recent news video by Vox taught me about how factory farmed animals aren’t necessarily bred domestically—they’re traded internationally just like any other good, which creates mutations of viruses the animals may be carrying. (Added December 15, 2020): In the documentary VEGAN 2020, Earthling Ed Winters (“Earthling Ed”) says: “If we look at the wildfires in January in Australia, it’s quite abstract for people to understand how that’s related to eating meat, dairy and eggs. But meat, dairy, and eggs are the leading cause of species extinction and habitat destruction and are also one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, which of course, heats up our planet and increases the likelihood and risk of wildfires.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed the effects of COVID-19, ’cause this is just a training period for what’s to come if nothing changes.
Thoughts on Indigenous hunting practices
Vegans have criticized and made Indigenous Peoples a target for their traditional practices. While I don’t outwardly condone hunting, I think targeting Indigenous Peoples is the LAST thing we should do with our time and efforts. As you’ll read on further, there are many other initiatives vegans should do to make the world a more equitable and cruelty-free place, and condemning those who have been stewards of our lands for millennia—and practice a more respectful way of killing animals for food—isn’t something I encourage.
You can still eat meat without the cruelty
As I write this, at least two companies are working on lab-grown meat, or what will eventually be called “clean meat.” That means companies are taking the cells of animal muscles, growing them in a facility, and then selling them just like you’d see at the grocery store. Since plant-based “meat” has existed for a long time (soon there will be alternatives to fish), I’m not jumping on the bandwagon for clean meat, BUT, I say if you MUST or WANT to continue eating meat, it may as well be without the cruelty. Below is the trailer for Meat the Future. It documents the early journey of Memphis Meats, which I know is going to revolutionize the entire industry.
2. Health and fitness
Within the first few years of cutting meat out of my diet, I owned the books The Kind Diet (Alicia Silverstone) and Quantum Wellness (Kathy Freston) which educated me about the health benefits of not eating meat. The most impactful resource, however, was Campbell and Campbell’s The China Study which documented a long-term study of rural Chinese populations and their diets and health.
The China Study taught me about how people always think about cancer as the unexpected killer of adults, but heart disease trumps that, especially in women. Men are known to have heart attacks as they get older, but the media doesn’t nearly show women suffering from it, which is why the science is so much more important than the marketing of disease and health. The original book was published in 2006, but there is an updated edition published a decade later. I haven’t read it, but I bet the stats are even worse.
Dr. Will Bulciewicz, also known as Dr. B or The Gut Health MD, attributes most colon cancer cases to consumption of red meat, and encourages plant-based diets for fibre intake, which is crucial for gut health. In 2015, the WHO published findings on the links between red meat consumption and diseases, which made no dent in the media at the time. There is a lot of crap online about how plant-based diets are bad for the brain, but this myth is being busted—vegans can easily take supplements to account for nutrients that may not be as abundant as in poultry or seafood (I take iron, B12, and omega-3 daily, plus a cognitive supplement on weekdays for alertness).
More and more medical associations like Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, The Plantrician Project, T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, Doctors for Nutrition, and Plant-Based Health Professionals UK are emerging to condone plant-based diets for overall health.
Every country deals with meat production differently (the best meat I’ve ever tasted was pork in a $6 bowl of ramen in Tokyo). In the United States, they pump hormones and antibiotics in many animals, and that makes its way to you. That’s on top of the glyphosates in most non-organic produce. Most people today are also developing a sensitivity or allergy to dairy, and there’s an entire campaign to get people to switch to non-dairy products.
I didn’t notice a vast change in my health when I eliminated meat because I think I’ve had a pretty healthy lifestyle in my young adulthood, but the one big thing I noticed within a year was that I dropped 10 pounds. I’ve since gained all of that back, but documentaries like The Game Changers and vegan athletes are changing the stigma that you can’t be strong and healthy without meat. And although going vegan doesn’t guarantee you’ll be healthy (you have to eat more whole foods vs. processed/fast food options), I can attest that I have finally been able to overcome a decade of hypochlorhydria on a mostly pescatarian diet (by increasing my zinc intake, avoiding food sensitivities in addition to meat, and wearing bras less—thank you, pandemic).
Also, two years after eating a 100% vegan diet, I’ve noticed that I can sustain the same running pace at the end of my 15-minute runs as when I start. My husband runs just behind me now, while I previously used to run a block behind him. I think it’s to do with improving my recovery time (watch The Game Changers for all that!).
The centenarians who live in the world’s Blue Zones predominantly eat a plant-based diet, so if you want to live longer and reap the rewards of your retirement savings, eating vegan is a good thing.
The documentary What the Health is a recap of The China Study and is more digestible. Joaquin Phoenix and his partner Rooney Mara are producing a new documentary (on what sounds like zoonotic diseases) called The End of Medicine and I’m looking forward to it.
I also recommend learning about and listening to Rich Roll and his podcast. He’s a great example of the 360 change that a vegan diet—coupled with fitness—can have. (Photo: RichRoll.com)
I learned a bit about the environmental effects of animal agriculture from the books mentioned above, but it didn’t slap me in the face until I saw Cowspiracy, the first film by the same creators of What the Health. The one staggering animation I can remember was the one that showed just how much land (i.e. potential food) and water was going to feeding livestock.
You can click here for their helpful infographic, but to summarize, half of all habitable land is used for agriculture, and 77% of that is used to grow crops for animal feed. Remember that big fire in the Amazon last year? Most of the deforestation was to clear land for livestock farming. Another piece of Mother Earth’s lungs, gone almost instantly just so people can eat animals.
In viewing the trailer (below) again after some time, the important point that the film addresses is that most environmental organizations aren’t recognizing the impact of animal agriculture nor fighting against it. That’s why you may hear the quote “you can’t call yourself an environmentalist if you still eat meat.”
My cousin planted trees one summer for work, and the labour sounded excruciating. Most of her co-workers quit within the first week, so “we can just plant trees” honestly isn’t as easy or pleasant of a solution as you may think. But it is important.
Let’s talk about emissions. Most people think the biggest cause of global warming is transportation. Not true! In 2013, the UN reported that livestock and their byproducts released 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2e annually (14.5% of all GHG emissions). (*Update Dec 2020:) A more recent report using data in 2019 says animal agriculture is responsible for 87% of GHG emissions!
Agriculture, deforestation and other land use like harvesting peat and managing grasslands and wetlands generate a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, including over 40% of methane. We’re literally funding farts to take over our breathable air.
Long story short, eating animals isn’t great for our planet because it destroys our land, wastes water, and is slowly warming our world to death.
This aspect didn’t fall far from #3. It’s just common sense: what if we shifted all of that land and clean water from animals to the 800+ million people each year who suffer from starvation?
Yes, I know it wouldn’t be easy and would require a global economic upheaval. Most people in poverty don’t even have access to clean water or land that can grow produce that we easily buy at a grocery store. Large sums of money would need to move away from animal ag and toward the building of wells, vegetable farming, and/or transportation of food.
But so long as most of the global population eats meat, we will never achieve human equality.
I have little else to say about this other than that if you’re religious and you believe that we should all treat each other how we want to be treated and feed the poor, you probably shouldn’t be supporting the industries responsible for hording the world’s resources for profit instead of alleviating poverty. If you can give up meat on Fridays during Lent, you can probably do it year-round.
Here’s the trailer for Just Eat It, a great locally produced documentary on what happened when a couple decided to eat food that would have otherwise been wasted for an entire year. Highly recommend it, and I think you can watch it free on The Knowledge Network if you sign up for an account.
5. Social Justice
This reason for going vegan hammered the nail in for me (as if I would reverse all of the habits I’ve worked for these last 12 years!) when I learned from a New York Times article by Jonathan Safran Foer that most workers at animal plants—which have been some of the most susceptible to contracting COVID-19—are the poorest populations, and predominantly people of colour. It reminded me of a similar story I learned about in February of this year: in 2013, an Asian-Canadian employee of Hallmark Farms (whose slaughterhouse is at Franklin and Commercial Drive) passed away from heart failure after a 13-hour shift.
By supporting the meat industry, we are keeping people—mostly of colour—trapped in cycles of poverty and giving them a front-row ticket to contracting zoonotic diseases (btw, COVID-19 won’t be the last of these, so long as this industry is still thriving globally).
I learned while researching for my blog on Black vegans to follow that during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Black Americans ate plant-based to protest White supremacy (meat was a luxury food during the era of slavery).
This isn’t limited to North America either; an article recently pointed out how shifting to a plant-based industry in Latin America could bring 19 million more jobs—and safer ones, at that.
Vegan John Lewis, along with the filmmakers behind Cowspiracy and What the Health, have been working on a new documentary called They’re Trying to Kill Us that talks about how the marketing of unhealthy products to Black people is a part of the system to marginalize them. I can’t wait to see it.
I didn’t post this blog to convince you about anything.
This will continue to document for me why I want to always be vegan. If you want to take a similar journey I did, IT IS POSSIBLE, especially if you live in a city like Vancouver that offers so many options in terms of dining out AND more than enough at the grocery store to cook vegan meals. Just start somewhere, and be patient with yourself.
Do you have more reasons why you’re on the journey to becoming vegan? Let me know in the comments.