What is it?
The word vegan refers to anything that’s free of animal products: no meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather, and so forth. Your sandwich, your shampoo, and your car seats are examples of items that could be vegan.
Veganism carries at least three potential advantages:
- avoidance of animal mistreatment and slaughter
- elimination of certain health risks
- reduction of environmental footprint
Can you become a vegan through diet alone? Absolutely, since, vegan was originally defined purely in dietary terms.
A handful of vegans (usually abrasively) insist that veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet. In other words, you don’t get to join the vegan club until you go beyond food to purge your life of leather, wool, and animal-derived cosmetics. Oftentimes, these vegans are doing the animals a grave disservice by defining the vegan concept in the most rigid and exclusionary way possible. These are people would love to revoke your vegan card if they find out you haven’t yet taken your 10-year-old leather snow-boots to the thrift store.
The entire question of who gets to call themselves a vegan is annoying and not worth much attention. Rather than think of veganism as an identity, it’s wisest to use it as a concept that can inspire you to remove animal products from your life, wherever you can easily do it. And it’s almost always easy. Oftentimes, you won’t know whether a given food or cosmetics ingredient comes from animals, so you can use different apps or research on the internet after lists over animal products. Moreover, I use the app “vegsafe” which gives you an overview over food colouring, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavour enhancers and other substances you should renounce.
Why do it?
A vegan diet offers an incredibly effective way to protect animals, the environment, and your health.
If you don’t want your food dollar to support animal slaughter, a vegan diet is really the only way to go. That’s because there are no retirement homes for dairy cows and egg-laying hens. They all go to slaughter, typically before they’ve reached even half their natural life expectancy.
Apart from animal slaughter, there are intractable ethical problems associated with dairy products and eggs. One of the key objections to the dairy industry is that, in order to maximize milk yields, dairy cows are typically kept pregnant nine months out of every year. And as a result, the dairy industry is awash with unwanted calves. And since male dairy calves are obviously unable to produce milk, and aren’t the correct breed to be raised as beef, they are generally raised for veal or slaughtered at birth. The male counterparts of egg-laying hens don’t fare any better; most of these animals are eithersmothered or ground up alive immediately after hatching. In the United States alone, about 200 million male chicks are discarded in this manner each year.
Leaving aside the fact that nearly all dairy cows and layer hens go to slaughter, these animals are often subjected to even greater cruelties than those who are bred for meat. You can become acquainted with the ethical problems of the dairy and egg industries by watching the short video Farm to Fridge or by reading books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals or Mark Hawthorne’s Bleating Hearts.
From an environmental point of view, a vegan diet likewise makes enormous sense. There’s no doubt that raising crops directly for food requires fewer resources, and generates less waste, than feeding crops to animals. What’s more, scientists are unanimous that the methane production associated with livestock is one of the key factors in global warming—quite possibly exceeding the impact of all greenhouse gases generated by cars, airplanes, trains, and ships.
The health advantages of a vegan diet aren’t as pronounced as many animal advocates contend, and it’s certainly possible to eat an extremely healthful diet that contains some animal products. That said, a vegan diet will automatically eliminate many of the the most unhealthful foods that people regularly eat: hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, fried chicken, ice cream, and so forth. When you replace these foods with more healthful vegan choices, it’s likely that you’ll feel better while simultaneously reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
How to go Vegan?
Moving towards a vegan diet is easy, especially if you bear a few things in mind when starting out. So let’s start by looking at your overall approach. The most obvious way to become vegan is to focus on eliminating animal products from your diet. Surprisingly, however, this method of transitioning is needlessly difficult, and the people who choose this route are probably least likely to stay vegan over the long-term.
There is a much better way. Instead of trying to cut animal products out of your diet, crowd them out. Put the emphasis on constantly seeking out delicious new vegan foods. Every time you find a new vegan food that you adore, it’ll push the animal-based foods you are still eating further to the fringes. The more vegan foods you try, the more foods you’ll like, and the easier it will become to choose vegan most of the time.
Cultivate the habit of trying new foods at every opportunity. The payoff is huge. If you set a goal of sampling at least five new vegan foods each week, you’ll doubtless discover a steady stream of new foods you love. And these items will begin crowding out the animal products that are currently in your diet. Before long, anytime you get hungry the first food that comes to mind will be vegan.
Once you recognize that that going vegan is really just learning a new skill—and a fairly simple one at that—much of your trepidation surrounding a change of diet will disappear. Plus, you certainly don’t need to go vegan all at once. Some people do it overnight, while others ease into it over months or even years. The important thing isn’t how fast you go, but rather that you do it in a way that feels easy and comfortable. Use whatever steppingstones work for you. The goal, after all, is not just to go vegan but to stay vegan long-term. And your ability to stick with your diet will be impeded if you’re not happy, healthy, and delighted by the foods you eat every day.
And never forget: it just keeps getting easier. The more vegan foods you try the easier it will be to stick with it. So if going vegan seems hard right now, know that it’ll seem easier in a few weeks and mucheasier in a few months. Nearly every long-term vegan you’ll meet will tell you that the transition turned out to be far easier than they ever expected.
Helpful and informal documentaries:
Forks over knives