A few visuals may come to mind when imagining a vegan: long peasant skirts, unruly dreads, bony arms, jaundiced skin, a relentless amount of patchouli. Like any stereotype, there is a sliver of truth; but like all stereotypes, they are grossly exaggerated. I’ve certainly experienced the effect of these stereotypes, and it is very disheartening. I rarely tell people I’m vegan — they often find out when I don’t take the sloppy joes at a potluck. This all started when I was a child and I couldn’t walk down the meat aisle without feeling really uncomfortable; sometimes I would even cry. Seeing a label with lamb on it was too much for me to handle, but (like most) I ate it anyway. The second the food was put in front of me I was able to forget about where it came from — I separated the meat named “lamb” from the living animal. In other words, I remained blissfully ignorant.
It only worked for so long. One day I realized I could not keep living a lie. I could not pretend that what I was consuming was not an animal. I began to do some research, though I knew in my heart that I would stop consuming meat. Eventually I stopped consuming animal dairy because, like many vegans, I felt it was hypocritical to refuse to eat meat from factory farms while simultaneously consuming the milk from those very cows.
Factory farming accounts for 99 percent of all farm animals raised and slaughtered in the U.S. The conditions in these so-called farms are atrocious. Animals in these conditions will never see the sun or step outside other than to go to slaughter. They are kept artificially alive through excessive antibiotics and grow fatter more quickly than their bodies can physically handle. Because of this, they are frequently immobilized. Chickens are grown in battery cages; these are approximately the size of a file cabinet drawer and fit six chickens per cage. Their beaks are snapped off so they do not peck each other; eventually, their feet get warped around the wire of the cage so they cannot stay upright. They end up growing in their own filth.
This is only a miniscule picture of what livestock live through, and factory farms affect more than the animals — they affect our entire planet. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions at 18 percent CO2. By comparison, all transportation accounts for 13.5 percent. In addition, one calorie from animal protein requires 11 times more fossil fuel than the same amount of plant protein. And raising animals for food uses 30 percent of the world’s land. Based on this information, one can reasonably conclude that using that land to primarily grow plants for human consumption would be far more efficient.
And being a vegan is definitely sustainable. It’s incredibly possible to be healthy and vegan, even in college. The only nutrient that can’t be found naturally in a vegan diet is vitamin B12, because it is bacteria found in soil. Fortunately, most non-dairy milks, meat alternatives, and cereals are supplemented with B12; for extra peace of mind, it is always possible to take a vitamin. A vegan diet contains no cholesterol because we do not consume any animal products; this leads to a far less likelihood of type-2 diabetes and many cardiovascular health issues.
Though these reasons are by no means an exhaustive list for going vegan, I hope it is a starting point. There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about vegans that inhibit people from really taking the time to learn about the issues. Many people understand these issues and decide to adopt a vegetarian diet, which is completely reasonable. But most vegans believe it is hypocritical to refuse meat from factory farms while simultaneously purchasing the milk from those very cows. Talking about these problems is incredibly important, and I certainly do not have all the answers. But I found what works for me.
BY APRILL EMIG firstname.lastname@example.org