By Sara Kuchimpos
The Mirror Staff
“Being vegan has allowed me to discover what I truly value: the planet, the animals, and life.”
Please Don’t Eat the Animals
FOOD & LIFESTYLE: Kicking the chicken, beef and pork habit is “veganing.” Animal products are proven to hurt the environment and you. Is leading a vegan lifestyle the solution?
Behind every steak and chicken leg is a lifetime of windowless sheds and wire cages.
Animals raised for food are kept from their natural environments, and the by-products of their processed bodies leave huge carbon footprints that have been proven to be harmful to the environment.
Nearly one million people in the United States follow a vegan lifestyle—eating only plant-based products. Such a diet not only provides health benefits, but also benefits the environment.
The driving factor for people that switch to a plant-based diet seems to primarily be animal exploitation. Vegan advocates believe that all sentient animals have the right to live free from pain, fear and distress. An animal product-free lifestyle allows them to stand in solidarity against animal cruelty.
“I don’t believe that the few minutes I spend enjoying a non-vegan meal is worth the pain, suffering, and life of an animal,” said Maya Peterson, a vegan student at Van Nuys High School.
“I don’t want to feel guilty knowing that my pleasure was at the cost of another living being. We were put on this planet with other organisms, and I believe we should stay humble and thrive together.”
But the meat and dairy industries are driven by other motives, mainly an aim to maximize outputs and minimize costs, often at the expense of animals. Factory farms often cram animals into pens beyond reasonable capacity, resulting in unsanitary conditions that lead to disease and infection.
Diseases linked to factory farming include E. Coli, Salmonella, and Mad Cow disease. Campylobacter, a bacteria linked to a host of food-borne diseases, contaminates as much as 80 percent of broiler chickens—which are then produced into chicken nuggets, hot wings and chicken breasts.
Genetic modifications speed up farm animal growth rates and enhance overall product quality. Some animals grow so abnormally large that their legs can no longer support their oversized bodies. Nearly 90 percent of broiler chickens have difficulty walking because of these genetic manipulations. Unable to move to get food or water, these “superanimals” often die of starvation and thirst.
After watching documentaries like “Cowspiracy” and “Earthlings” that expose the negative effects of the animal agricultural business, Peterson switched to a vegan lifestyle.
“All the information was put in front of me: the ethics, the cruelty, the environment, my health. It was hard to ignore,” Peterson said.
She started out as a vegetarian, eating some animal products like eggs and dairy, and then gradually progressed to eliminating all animal products from her diet.
Besides taking a heavy toll on the welfare of animals, animal agriculture has placed a heavy strain on the environment.
The amount of grain for feed that goes into intensive animal farming contributes to the irreversible environmental consequences of deforestation, habitat loss, and the extinction of species—all to make more room for growing space.
According to the World Bank, animal agriculture is accountable for 91 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction.
Water and land resources are stretched to the breaking point to grow crops to feed farm animals. These resources that go into feeding livestock for our consumption could be redirected to feed up to 3.5 billion people in the world that don’t get enough to eat.
Animal agriculture is not only depleting the planet’s limited resources, but is also increasing the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. Livestock production contributes to nearly 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gases.
Going vegan benefits the environment in many ways. If everyone were to just reduce their
consumption of animal products, the human carbon footprint would become significantly smaller.
“It’s better for the environment,” said Emely Ordenez, who also has adopted the vegan lifestyle.
“The meat and dairy industry especially contribute a great deal to the deterioration of the ozone layer from methane production that comes from cow excretion.”
Vegan meals are better for you. Vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans and nuts are packed with essential nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Although a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily equate to weight loss, vegan diets tend to have a lower calorie count and limit certain food options that could potentially cause weight gain.
Restricting foods high in cholesterol also lowers the risk of heart disease, the number one cause of death for Americans.
But poorly designed vegan diets can be harmful, intensifying nutrient deficiency and contributing to other health problems. Vegans are at a higher risk of suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency. Monitoring nutrient intake can prevent these deficiencies.
“There are so many ways to get sufficient plant-based protein,” said Peterson. “As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet, you will get all the nutrients your body needs. I highly recommend nutritional yeast for B12.”
A well-planned vegan diet has also been linked to a boost in energy levels since plant-based proteins don’t require as much energy to digest as animal proteins.
“Since I have been vegan, I have rarely gotten sick,” said Peterson. “Natural, whole foods give me energy and don’t make me sluggish like I often felt after eating animal products.”
Many people are wary of a vegan lifestyle because they’re unwilling to trade their steaks, ribs and burgers for vegan alternatives. Others think a change in diet won’t be enough to reverse the damage that’s already been done.
“Anyone can make a difference, vegans and non vegans alike. If everyone reduces their consumption of meat, our planet, the animals, and our bodies would still benefit. By decreasing the demand for animal products, the manufacturers will be forced to produce less. Gradually, we can lead our society into a more sustainable way of life,” said Peterson.