Veganism is a controversial topic among many people that often results in heated debates. Those who follow the vegan lifestyle, or at least advocate for it, argue that it is a clean and healthy way to live, a way that has positive effect on both a person’s physical health and their impact on the environment. On the other hand, there are people who counter that veganism is a radical and impractical lifestyle that is almost impossible to maintain in today’s society, and that the physical benefits might not be worth the effort or as good as they seem.
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However, it is undeniably clear that those wishing to live a healthier and more environmentally friendly life should adopt a vegan lifestyle, despite the challenges it presents.
Veganism is a plant-based diet that eliminates consumption of all animal products. This includes not only the meat from the animal itself, but anything produced from an animal, such as milk and dairy products, eggs, honey, fish, etc. These products are substituted for products derived from plants, like soymilk or tofu.
There are many unrefutable pros to veganism. include weight loss in some cases, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, lower risk of developing illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and higher levels of key vitamins like dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamins C and E. Weight loss sparks a certain amount of interest in many people, and in some cases is the prime reason why people transition to a vegan diet in the first place. Vegans tend to be thinner than average people because of the lack of saturated fats in a plant-based diet and because of the significantly lower caloric density of plant-based foods. An article on healthline.com discussing the benefits of veganism and weight loss claims that “In one study, a vegan diet helped participants lose 9.3 lbs (4.2 kg) more than a control diet over an 18-week study period” and furthermore, “participants on the vegan diet lost more weight than those who followed calorie-restricted diets, even when the vegan groups were allowed to eat until they felt full”. This means that vegans can eat a higher volume of food for a lesser number of calories, and who doesn’t want more food? The article also explains that vegans also tend to have higher levels of key vitamins; plant-based foods are not only lower in calories and harmful fats, but higher in vitamins and antioxidants. When comparing a vegan dish, lentils, to a traditional dish, chicken, you can see that the vegan dish is a much healthier option. For example, in 3.5 oz. of lentils, there is 2 percent more calcium and 24 percent more iron than there is in 3.5 oz. of chicken breast, not to mention 18 percent less fat (SkipThePie.org, Lentils vs. Chicken).
Another key pro of veganism is the positive impact it has on the environment and the refusal to purchase from companies that use inhumane treatment of its animals as well as unsustainable resources. Animal-based products use far more precious resources such as water or land to produce than plant-based products do. PETA, an organization focused on countering the abuse and neglect of animals and the environment, compiles research to show exactly how wasteful and harmful producing animal-based foods is. For example, “It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of cow flesh, whereas it takes about 180 gallons of water to make 1 pound of whole wheat flour” (Kreith, PETA). If more people were to adopt a vegan lifestyle, the demand for meat would decrease, and along with it, the use of water. Furthermore, “Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them – that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states.” (Vesterby and Kupra, PETA). If more people were to adopt a vegan lifestyle, these numbers would decrease significantly and there would be more available land for parks and forests, things necessary for a healthy planet. It would also discourage the unfair and cruel treatment that many farm animals experience in the process of becoming edible products. The ultimate goal of large corporations is to produce the most product in the least amount of time using the least amount of money as possible, even if that means overlooking ethical practices. Many food corporations that specialize in meat products often mistreat the animals they use and force them live their lives in miserable conditions. Oftentimes, “Cows, calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and other animals are kept in small cages or stalls, where they are often unable to turn around.” (PETA) and “are fed drugs that fatten them more quickly, and they are genetically manipulated to grow faster or produce much more milk or eggs than they would naturally.” (PETA). It’s a common misconception to think that foods labeled “organic” do not use these practices; according to PETA, “since none of the labels applies to transport or slaughter and none prohibits bodily mutilations such as debeaking, tail-docking, ear-notching, or dehorning, the worst cruelty continues to be completely unregulated”. A very common product found in many American households, milk, is obtained through questionable methods. Just like humans and all mammals, cows only produce milk when nursing their young. According to PETA, “Female cows are artificially inseminated shortly after their first birthdays. After giving birth, they lactate for 10 months and are then inseminated again, continuing the cycle. Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are confined to massive, crowded lots, where they are forced to live amid their own feces.”. Artificial insemination of animals is unethical because their bodies are forced repeatedly to undergo drastic changes that strain the animal both mentally and physically. In a book on the ethics of veganism titled Farm to Fable by Robert Grillo, Grillo argues that artificial insemination is cruel because “All of this is done without the animal understanding why she is being violated or why her offspring are being taken away from her” (Grillo, 49). Furthermore, Grillo explains that oftentimes, the practice of insemination is unclean and ill-done as those doing it are often “farm workers who have little or no veterinary experience.” (Grillo, 49). Adopting a vegan diet boycotts malpractices like these and is considered to be more “ethical”. Since ethics vary from person to person and culture to culture, it is hard to set a standard for what is ethical and what is not. In an article titled “A Case for Ethical Veganism” by Tristham McPherson, McPherson makes a point that in some cases, veganism is not adopted because a person doesn’t believe animals should be consumed, but because they believe that the animal does not have to suffer before it is killed. As said by McPherson “One might accept that it is wrong to cause animals to suffer, but deny that it is wrong to kill animals” (McPherson, A Case for Ethical Veganism). America uses animals in a capitalist manner; large food corporations chew them up and spit them out in large factories for a profit, without concern for how these animals are treated. Perhaps for some vegans, animal consumption would not be so despicable if the animals were treated humanely. Since America is all about supply and demand, switching to veganism would ultimately lower the demand for animal products, and as a result, lower the amount of animal products produced. Many Americans can agree that after watching Food Inc. and Supersize Me, documentaries that show the behind the scenes of how our most popular foods are made, that food production in the U.S. is very flawed and grotesque; yet despite this, many choose to turn a blind eye because, well, meat tastes good. Those who do switch to a vegan diet significantly reduce their ecological footprint and can rest with an easy conscious knowing that they are not supporting the unethical abuse of animals.
In light of all of these pros, veganism may seem like an obvious choice. While it is the best solution for a healthy and earth-friendly life, there are drawbacks to this lifestyle that make it difficult for some people to commit to, such as difficulty to sustain in a meat-centered society, significant decrease in calories and certain nutrients, and social stigma. The capitalist structure of America is centered around making the highest profit in whatever way possible. The first drawback is the challenges that veganism presents in a capitalist society. American corporations are notorious for widescale greed and American citizens are notorious for omnivorous and fat-saturated diets, whether these fats are coming from fried meats or sugary treats. The United States Department of Agriculture makes information on the product for beef public to citizens. In 2015, the total U.S. beef consumption was 24.8 billion lbs. (USDA), proving that America has a huge appetite for cow meat. America has a meat-centered diet and few restaurants are conscious of vegan lifestyle and do not offer vegan dishes. However, as veganism grows in popularity, more businesses have included vegan meals on their menus. In spite of this, majority of restaurants and even groceries in the United States, are not vegan-friendly. This makes it extremely difficult when dining out on a plant-based diet. Unless a meal is specified as vegan, vegans must be one hundred percent certain that every ingredient in the dish was derived from a plant and not an animal. Even dishes that are declared as vegan are few and far between at restaurants and can leave vegans stranded with few measly options when dining out.
Another concern with opting for a vegan diet is the change in nutrition. It’s a commonly known fact that meat is high in protein, and that protein is key in building muscle and maintaining good health. Meats also have high levels of iron in them, particularly red meats like beef and pork, which is essential to healthy blood cells and therefore a healthy immune system. Women especially need to maintain adequate iron levels due to loss of blood in menstruation (womenshealth.gov). A woman with a vegan diet is more likely to suffer from an iron deficiency than a man with a vegan diet is due to their lower levels of iron. The upside to this dilemma is that there are other plant-based foods high in iron. These foods include quinoa, spinach, dark chocolate, cereals and grains, squash, and more (myfooddata.com). Iron and protein aren’t the only things vegans must be sure to consume an adequate amount of; plant-based foods tend to be less dense in calories than foods derived from animals. For example, 101 ounces of chicken contains approximately 197 calories, while 100 ounces of tofu contains only 60 (twofoods.com). Vegan dishes are often significantly lower in calories than traditional dishes, meaning that vegans must be wary of eating enough calories and maintaining a healthy body mass index. It’s possible that between the combination of less iron, less protein, and fewer calories, vegans are physically weaker than those who follow a traditional diet, and that a healthy body weight cannot be maintained with a vegan diet.
One more small and somewhat subjective downside to veganism is the social stigma surrounding it. Veganism is seen as a very radical decision by many people who follow traditional diets. There are stereotypes that label vegans as “tree-huggers” or “hippies” or “social justice warriors”. Vegans are sometimes portrayed as condescending and patronizing toward people with traditional diets. However, this is all a matter of opinion and can even interfere with political affiliation or religion.
There are pros and cons to transferring from a traditional omnivorous diet to a plant-based vegan diet. So, which one outweighs the other? Is veganism worth it? Veganism has many positive effects on both a person’s physical well-being and the environment with some drawbacks here and there. Veganism can lower cholesterol levels, reduce risk of disease, aid in weight loss, and discourage unethical practices used when obtaining animal products. Ultimately, it is your decision whether these things are worth the possible deficiencies in iron and protein, the discipline and education required when dining out or cooking on a vegan diet, and the social stigma surrounding the whole deal. But if you’re seeking a healthier body and a better way to coexist with nature, veganism is clearly the way to go.
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