I'm bipolar. I blog about it. I also blog about sex, theology and atheology, funny shit and sad shit, books, music, feminism, and love. Mostly love.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Plant-Based Diet: Why and How for Naysayers

A conversation with Mom I had only a few minutes ago prompted this post. For the noobs, I had been a pescetarian (which is a word Mr. Spellcheck!) for about five and a half years. A camp friend of mine inspired the idea. We were 14 at the time. She told me she saw pigs in a trailer on the highway, thought about where they were going, and gave up land animals altogether. Honestly, I was trying to assert myself as a liberal in a very conservative small town. I was about to enter my first year of high school. I made the decision in September or November. Jim gave me shit (as is common and will be the topic of this post), and so in order to prove him wrong, I dove into it.
Granted. I'd never been much of a meat-eater. My lifestyle didn't change all that much. I was still eating fish which can be found at any fast food restaurant. And being surrounded by conservatives I got a lot of grief about it, which I took in stride. However, the response made me less sure in my decision. I was a really self-conscious high schooler (who isn't?) and took these things to heart. Out of pride I continued, but I don't know if I had any real reason in my heart to continue at the time. I hadn't done any research. I wasn't receiving the health benefits because I still relied on fish and cheese as my primary protein sources. But I kept on.

For lent this year I decided to go vegan. Wow. It sounded overwhelming (and still kind of does). Even to me, vegans were extremists--crazies--comparable to conservative Christians in their intensity and arrogance. But it had been on my mind, and I knew I had to try. I wanted to be healthy when I did it, so I did all the research I hadn't done when I'd initially picked up pescetarianism. I learned plenty about eating healthily as a vegan (actually a very healthy, protein-filled diet contrary to popular belief) but I also learned the reality of the meat industry. It shocked and disgusted me.
I was raised in a liberal household, but in college I've changed ideas and beliefs (as one should) and I've become far more liberal than the rest of my family. When it comes to animal rights, my family has a much more conservative viewpoint which I've grown to disagree with. Before I talk about this any more, I'd like to make it clear that I respect my family greatly. Their liberal upbringing gave me a strong foundation of a life based on compassion and inclusivity. From that, I've developed more liberal beliefs, just as they are more liberal than their parents, and their grandparents before them. With each new generation, revolution inspires progress. We fight injustice because it matters to us. We are the educated, passionate, liberal masses of Generation Y.
So, I promised a why and how regarding my vegan/vegetarianism. I'm going to try to stick to comprehensive facts and to cite my sources so you can check up on me or gain more information if you're interested. Before I get started, though, I'm going to define veganism. I've been surprised at how few people actually know what it is. A vegan is someone who does not buy or consume any product that has any substance from an animal. That includes, of course, all meats, eggs, milk, honey, some food dyes, and other things you may be surprised to learn have animal by-products. Okidoke.

It's healthier for the environment to eat less meat. An ignorant science teacher of mine in high school once said, "vegetarians are actually hurting the earth. If cow farts are to blame, then they aren't helping by not eating them." Oh, yes. This happened. If you were thinking along the same lines, it's important to remember that cows are severely over-bred to meet the extremely high demands of beef in our country. "A University of Chicago study found that the ‘typical’ US diet generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tonnes more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet. The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transport sector (which produces 13.5%), including aviation." Link here. Plant-based diets require 1/3 of the land used to house animals bred for food. The animals that we kill actually consume more protein and minerals than they produce. Plants are also a far more-sustainable food source. It makes way more sense to eat the plants we feed to farmed animals ourselves in a world with such precious and limited resources. Picture a world where the food used to feed over-bred farm animals went to feed impoverished families around the planet. We take this planet for granted. By 2050 our population is expected to have reached 9 million which is entirely unsustainable based on the average, meat-eater's diet today. Check it. 

It's a lifestyle choice rooted in compassion. This is where much debate arises. People bring up plants as living beings, blah blah blah. Plants are not sentient beings which is the basis of many who choose a plant-based diet. Most don't like to hear that pigs are more intelligent that our beloved dogs. "Man's best friend." Because we don't eat dogs, that would be barbaric, right? This is a state of ignorance that we have chosen as a society. No one wants to know what happens in those factory farms. The conditions are despicable. It's a lot easier to say, "don't tell me, I don't even want to know!" as I have in the past. But I care deeply about animals--mine, as well as the ones that man has designated as inferior. And so now, when I'm exposed to horrible truths about the industry, I feel a deep-rooted sense of shame when I turn away from it. If it makes you so sad that you can't even look at these images, then why do you support it? That was a question I really had to look at.
a rebuttal
I was discussing it with Mom earlier this week, and another misconception that many don't consider rose to the surface. She pushed my liberal buttons with this one: "If you're saying that eating eggs is wrong, then you're saying abortion is wrong." There are a few things wrong with this statement. Most obvious is that I don't care about the life that egg could have had. It was not a sentient being. I care about the hen who made these eggs, and is doubtless still doing so under inhumane circumstances. Many people I know who have been raised around farms will say, "no one did that to animals that I saw." There's also a problem with that statement. More than 99% of all farmed animals come from factory farms.Yup. Why? Because they produce cheap meat. They can house thousands of animals on one property. Because they aren't given special attention, there are no vet bills to pay for, and workers are paid as little as the industry can get away with. Local meats are far more expensive and won't be found at your local Wal Mart anymore. This quote summed it up beautifully:
"The disturbing nature of these problems can make it difficult for many people to accept the truth about factory farming when they are first confronted with it: “Surely,” one is tempted to say, “it can’t be that bad.” But once the scale of the devastation that this industry is wreaking on our health, the environment, and animals becomes clear, the most surprising aspect of factory farming is how effectively these problems have been hidden from the public in the first place.
It's healthy. When people picture vegans this is what comes to mind:

Rarely do these, more accurate pictures come to mind:
Lea Michele

Venus and Serena

Ellen and Portia

Emily Deschanel

Bob Harper

Jane Lynch
AmIRight? Some people have claimed vegan diets have helped with things like asthma, allergies, arthritis, indigestion, and migraines. Not to mention the obvious: lower cholesterol, considerable improvement in diabetics, and help for symptoms of IBS. Here is a seriously long list of personal testimonies to healthier bodies and minds. Commonly, people worry about my protein intake. What they don't realize is that the average American eats twice as much protein as is necessary for a healthy diet. Getting your protein from beans and grains is healthier and can even reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Also, the human body is not designed to process cow milk. 75% of the population may be lactose intolerant and live with undiagnosed milk allergies. A lot of people find cramps and constipation are alleviated with a vegan diet, simply because what they had been eating was poison to their bodies unbeknownst to them.
One woman said that when people ask her where she gets her protein, she answers, "where do you get your fiber?" Fiber leads to healthier bowel movements which can help prevent colon cancer. A vegan diet is beneficial to prevention of many diseases. Cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, arthritis and many more. We are told to drink lots of milk to prevent things like arthritis. Ironically, a dairy-free diet has shown substantial benefits for arthritis symptoms. I could go on and on, but the link above has a really great list from a nursing website.

Finally my favorite argument: evolution. Another liberal button. As I've said, vegans are often compared to religious zealots. However, most vegans are left-leaners (as one might imagine), and this is an unfounded theory regarding human consumption of animals that naysayers like to torture us with. I do believe in evolution. Of course I do. We are a highly developed species. But that does not give us the right to eat all animals for a few reasons. First of all, these aren't animals we're hunting. They're bred in captivity and shipped out. All we have to do is pay for it. Other species have to fight for meat--have to chase it. Unless we can kill it with our own hands, we have no right to be eating it, and we aren't expending the calories necessary to get that food, which is another reason humans suffer from weight problems. Secondly, we are using dairy from cows which was never made for humans. Do we feed other creatures human breast milk? Better yet, who continues to drink milk into adulthood? It's unnatural. And here is the completely scientifically irrelevant point I'll make. Along with our evolution has come a refined evolution of compassion. We have the brilliant gift of speech, which has aided human emotional development (linguistics for ya). The fact that so many people turn away from images of the industry they support is because of guilt. But here's the good news. How about you try a Meatless Monday in your house? Maybe cut out red meats and buy soy milk when you can? You'll feel good about your decision not to support a capitalist, immoral industry even if only once a week. And of course you can reap the health benefits. You can make a difference. It's hard to be vegan. Worth it, but hard. I'm not asking everyone to make that life change. But I would like for people to know where I'm coming from now that I have. This post wasn't written to shame anyone about their diets. But I can tell you that I don't really find your meat jokes funny, nor do I find rape jokes funny, or child abuse... injustice should be taken seriously. Y'all will take from this what you will. If I've convinced someone to just give up red meat, I've done something. These are hard things to hear, but as compassionate, sentient beings, it's our responsibility to care for those who are least among us.

1 comment:

James Kennelly said...

Hi this is James!

I want to address your favorite argument in favor of veganism: evolution. While I think you could have a point that veganism could be an "evolved" diet in the sense that could be nutritionally superior to a meat diet, I disagree with many of the points you make.

First, the argument that one shouldn't eat meat unless one hunts it seems to be a weak argument. If one should only eat the food one gathers for himself/herself, then I imagine being vegan would be very difficult, since you don't make soy milk on your own, do you?

Secondly, while it is indeed unnatural for one species to drink the milk of another species, this argument too seems slightly narrow in focus. You are correct, it is unnatural for humans to drink the milk of other animals, yet it is also unnatural for humans to live as long as we now expect to. Perhaps we are able to live to such unnaturally high ages by engaging in unnatural activities such as drinking cow's milk, which supplies us with a great deal of essential nutrients.

The argument I think you should make in favor of veganism as an evolved diet would resemble the following: 1)The production of meat requires much more energy than it gives it return (i.e. a net loss) 2) While meat provides a lot of nutrients, it also provides us with many unnecessary components which a vegan diet does not 3) Due to an increasingly "global" economy foodstuffs which create a net loss of energy should be avoided in favor of more efficient foodstuffs in order to better feed our crazy big population.

Thoughts from someone who thinks too much, James