I only have one vegan joke:
I’m a vegan, not because I love animals but because I hate vegetables!
Not the greatest joke but it helps break the ice when someone asks me why I don’t eat meat. But first a few terms for the uninitiated.
Vegan: Vegans don’t consume any animal products (no meat, eggs, diary). And some go further to not use any animal products (no leather shoes, no rawhide chews for the dog). On the extreme end, they don’t use products tested on animals (e.g makeup) or consider consider animal products to include honey (bees are animals too!)
Plant-based eater or plant-based diet. Same as vegan but perhaps more about the nutrition and less about the animal rights. They tend to not include the extreme folks who won’t wear leather or spray paint women wearing fur coats. Nice vegans, I guess.
Vegetarian: They don’t consume meat but eat animal products where the animal is not killed (milk, cheese, eggs). You may see the terms ovo vegetarian (eggs) or ovo-lacto vegetarian (eggs and milk).
So if you are reading this wondering about the (mostly) vegan, that’s not really the point of this article. I’m mostly vegan because I’m not super diligent about it. I don’t have any cheese, dairy or eggs in the house (cheese was by far the hardest thing to not bring home — See the Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy). But if folks are having a cheese pizza, I’ll have some cheese pizza. No big deal.
So why have I chosen the (mostly) plant-based diet? A number of reasons:
The Science. I’m trained as a scientists so data usually persuades me, especially compelling data. I read the China Study and realized there was a proven link between what you eat and your health, or lack thereof. The documentary Forks Over Knives was a softer but equally compelling version of the same argument. Then Dr. Michael Gregor (NutritionFacts.org) came out with video after video showing how the nutritional science research continues to back up this thesis. He piled all that information into How Not to Die, a tome that takes on each chronic health condition (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, etc) and shows how diet is linked to the disease.
The Environment. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has put out a report linking greenhouse gas emissions from animals as a major contributor to overall emissions. Here are some of their findings:
- The livestock sector plays an important role in climate change. It is estimated to emit 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per annum, representing 14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions.
- Beef and cattle milk production account for the majority of emissions, respectively contributing 41 and 19 percent of the sector’s emissions. While pig meat and poultry meat and eggs contribute respectively 9 percent and 8 percent to the sector’s emissions.
- The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 percent of the total — with 9 percent attributable to the expansion of pasture and feed crops into forests), enteric fermentation from ruminants (39 percent), and manure decomposition (10 percent). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products.
On top of this, animal agriculture has resulted in significant deforestation in Central and South America:
The land is being converted to grazing for cattle or crop production for cattle feed. The final blow on this front is the incredible inefficiency in producing meat for a planet whose resources are finite. The numbers vary depending on how you count what a cow eats but it takes somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat (There are those who argue pasture-fed cattle are better but grazing leads to significant erosion and topsoil depletion).
The Animals. I’ve never been a huge animal rights person but the longer I don’t eat meat, the more I see meat as a dead animal. I think there is an assumption in our society that we have dominion over the earth and that includes animals. This may be a way for justifying our cruelty to animals. A book which frames this societal paradox is Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.
So there you have it. Three solid reasons for giving up meat.