Intro to Veganism


Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals… 

The Vegan Society

Veganism is not a diet. It extends beyond food choices to affect other choices you make in your life to reduce animal suffering and exploitation. Furthermore, promoting veganism as a diet (whether as a way to lose weight or as a way to overcome a disease) can lead to recidivism when those results are not achieved. 

It is important to keep in mind that even in cases where entirely avoiding animal food products is not possible, you can still live out the morals of a vegan philosophy in other parts of your life by engaging in activism, boycotting nonfood animal products, etc.

What about humane/local meat, eggs, and dairy?

Terms like “humane” and “natural” are not regulated by any governmental agency in the U.S.1 Products are frequently deceptively labeled as humane when they are actually coming from factory farms.There are some third parties that certify products as humane. However, these certifications require very little in terms of meaningful animal welfare. For example, chicken farms that house millions of chickens in crowded sheds can be “certified humane” by the leading farmed animal welfare charity Humane Farm Animal Care.2 Arguably, these labels do more to ease consumers’ guilty consciences than they do to prevent animal cruelty.

What about vegetarianism?

Vegetarian diets exclude animal-based meat but do not necessarily exclude animal-based dairy or eggs. However, the problems with raising livestock for meat also affect raising livestock for dairy and eggs. All dairy production including on small family farms involves repeatedly artificially impregnating cows and then separating them from their babies shortly after birth.3 Backyard chickens typically come from large hatcheries that are cruel like factory farms.4 Wild chickens lay less than 20 eggs a year.5 Modern chickens bred for eggs lay close to 300 eggs a year.6 Laying this many eggs is unnatural and extremely taxing on chickens’ bodies and health. Animal-based dairy and eggs are also much more environmentally damaging than plant-based dairy and eggs. 

Can I be healthy as a vegan?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.7 While there are many potential health benefits to vegan eating, including reduced risk of cardiovascular events,8 and certain types of cancer, veganism is not a replacement for medical care and treatment and will not necessarily cure or reverse diseases.

Do I need to be a raw or whole foods plant-based vegan?

Raw and whole foods plant-based diets are very specific ways of eating. It is not necessary to follow them to enjoy the potential health benefits of veganism. In fact, adhering to such restrictive diets can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health and may increase your chances of developing an eating disorder or forming disordered eating habits.

Do I need to supplement as a vegan?

The main nutrient that vegans (and often nonvegans) need to supplement is B12. This is a vitamin that some animals can bacterially synthesize by consuming cobalt-rich soil while grazing.9 While humans cannot synthesize B12 themselves, that doesn’t mean they need to eat animals to meet their nutritional needs.10 A B12 supplement can help. In our current food system where grazing is not usually possible, the feed of farmed animals is often supplemented with B12. 

Other potential nutrients that a vegan may need to supplement include vitamin D, calcium, iron, and omega-3s. Iodine may need to be supplemented if you don’t eat iodized salt. For more detailed nutritional information, see our anti-diet vegan nutrition leaflet. 

The need to supplement is not unique to veganism. An article from the Harvard Medical School states that “[t]he average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our plates lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D.”11

What about protein?

It is not difficult to obtain an optimal amount of protein if you focus on consuming at least 3 servings of legumes a day. Legumes include peanuts, beans, soy (including tofu), chickpeas, and lentils. Just two tablespoons of peanut butter is already one serving of legumes.12 

When taking this nutrition advice into account, remember that these are targets that need to be hit a majority of the time, but missing them every now and then is normal and not a reason for concern. 

Is vegan food expensive?

Plant-based staples like grains and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are among the cheapest foods and much cheaper than animal products. Plant-based meats and cheeses can be expensive, but there are also great recipes for homemade plant-based meats and cheeses. 

What is environmental veganism?

Some vegans oppose animal agriculture because of its negative impact on the environment. Emissions from livestock are a major contributor to the climate crisis.13 Animal agriculture is also estimated to be the number one cause of habitat destruction, species extinction, and worldwide water pollution.14, 15 Animal-based meat, dairy, and eggs produced using environmental best practices have a larger ecological footprint than plant-based products [4]. According to the lead researcher of a 2018 study out of Oxford University, eating a plant-based diet “is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth” [5]. **Citations pending**

What is ethical veganism?

99% of animal products in the U.S. come from factory farms.18 In the factory farming system, extreme confinement prevents animals from engaging in natural behaviors, harsh physical conditions lead to crippling injuries, and standard practice mutilations are performed without any pain relief.18 Public awareness of the cruelty of factory farming has led to the vegan movement that advocates for animal-free alternatives and the so-called “humane meat” movement. The vegan movement has proven to be far more effective. Today, delicious plant-based foods are available at most grocery stores and fast food chains across the U.S. Meat from small farms, on the other hand, remains an expensive luxury. The truth is that animal agriculture places vulnerable and sensitive creatures at the mercy of humans that have a financial incentive to abuse them. Like other systems with extreme power imbalances, this is a system that is better abolished than reformed.

What is consistent anti-oppression veganism?

Citations
  1. https://www.aspca.org/shopwithyourheart/consumer-resources/meat-eggs-and-dairy-label-guide
  2. “​​Humane Farm Animal Care Animal Care Standards: Chickens.” Humane Farm Animal Care. 2014 https://certifiedhumane.org/our-standards/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/29/science/dairy-farming-cows-milk.html
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmcwilliams/2013/11/21/five-reasons-why-owning-backyard-chickens-is-for-the-birds/?sh=9e5cd887f445
  5. “Analysis of genetic relationships between various populations of domestic and jungle fowl using microsatellite markers.” Poultry Science. 2001
  6. https://unitedegg.com/facts-stats/
  7. https://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/vegetarian-diet.ashx
  8. https://veganhealth.org/research/clinical-trials-using-a-vegan-diet/
  9. https://veganhealth.org/vitamin-b12-and-nonhuman-animals/
  10. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780
  11. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/dietary-supplements-do-they-help-or-hurt
  12. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780
  13. “Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2019
  14. “Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption.” Science of the Total Environment. 2015
  15. “Livestock and Environment.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2018. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/en/Environment.html
  16. “US Factory Farming Estimates.” Sentience Institute. 2019. https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/us-factory-farming-estimates
  17. “CAFOs: Farm animals and industrialized livestock production.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia. 2018