It is inevitably the second question I am asked when someone gets to know me after, “What is a good looking guy like you doing at a place like this?” For what is a novel conversation to the asker, is to me a dialogue I have been having for the twelve plus years since I gave up animal products.
I’ve found there are two types of people that ask why I’m vegan. Those that want to mock that choice and those that are intellectually curious. Because I feel I know through experience which routes both conversations will go I often answer, “I like animals.” It’s short, to the point and does not allow follow up questions.
But that is the lazy path. (And also not an entirely true answer. If I see a cockroach running around my first instinct is not to hug it.) After more then a decade of blindly saying no to omelets, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes, maybe it’s time to reexamine the reasons why. So to those of you asking in good faith, here is my manifesto. For those of you out to ridicule, I offer you either of my upraised middle fingers, to do with what you will.
Reason #1- It’s better for the animals.
To me this is the easiest argument. Even those who believe it is God’s will for us to eat animals, will admit that those same animals feel pain. When you accidentally step on your sleeping dog’s tail, does she not yip? Is it not logical to think cows, pigs, fish, and fowl also find it uncomfortable to be executed?
The next question is what about dairy and eggs. Neither milk nor egg consumption leads to the death of the animal. True, but the way the factory farms treat dairy cows and egg farms are not practices I wish to support.
A dairy cow’s life comes down to impregnation, birth, and milking. Two to three times a day for ten months of the year (including seven months of the back to back nine month pregnancies), she’s attached to an electric milking machine. Then she’s sent back to a concrete stall without even a deck of cards until the next milking.
At commercial egg hatcheries chicks are segregated by sex. The males are not large enough to be sold profitably for meat and are often killed by the cheapest methods. The females are denied food and water for days in order to shock their systems into more rapid egg laying cycles.
I’ve enjoyed having the argument for the last couple years about the football player, Michael Vick. For those not in the know, Mr. Vick is a talented quarterback who led a dog fighting operation. This resulted in a two year prison sentence and being cut from his multimillion dollar contract with the Atlanta Falcons and his sponsorships. Many people are outraged that his punishment was not severe enough and he should be banned from the NFL for life. To me it is hypocritical that he was punished at all. The NFL accepts millions of advertising dollars from McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s, corporations who treat animals with as little respect as Michael Vick did. But people have a special relationship with dogs. And I suppose with Ronald McDonald too.
I’m not asking anyone to boycott the NFL. That would leave my autumn Sunday’s feeling empty. But it is worth thinking whether the way we respect one species should be consistent in the way we treat others.
Reason #2 –It’s better for the Earth
I’m 31 years old. Since I was a little kid I’ve been told the world was about to end. Global warming, nuclear explosions, swine flu… they’ve been throwing apocalyptic scenarios at us for decades. If at all possible I’d like to do something so a thousand years from now Earthlings can enjoy sunsets and river rafting.
Remember when people were up at arms with the destruction of the rain forest? They were clearing up land for farms. Thousands of species of plants, birds, and insects went extinct to make agricultural space. All those acres of land weren’t adapted so livestock could have space to stretch out, they also needed the land to grow the soy and corn that feed the animals. It takes ten pounds of plant matter to get one pound of beef, pork, or chicken. That’s a lot of land and water to get a quarter pounder. I’ve heard statistics thrown around that to get one pound of beef, it takes as much water as we use in a year’s worth of showers. If this fact is true, all the water efficient toilets and weak-ass shower heads wouldn’t make the slightest dent in our water usage as giving up animal consumption.
One fact I know is true is that animals have to poop and their waste has to go somewhere. 500 million tons of it! Laws in states such as Tennessee and North Carolina are lax in what farmers have to do with animal waste and they have destroyed some of the most beautiful, pristine rivers in the world.
Now, of course, I have been informed by Al Gore that the planet is in worse shape since I became vegan, so what’s the point? The world is still going to end and we are all going to die. Yes, that is one worldview. We can accept the universe is a vast place and that we are as insignificant as a grain of sand. Or we can decide our lives and actions have meaning.
Reason #3 – It’s better for my health.
I began to write about how the chemicals and hormones injected to make sure the chickens and turkeys provide enough white meat and the cows provide enough milk can’t possibly be good for us. But I’m not good at writing scientific mumbo-jumbo. Besides dissenters can then point out the variety of organic milks and free range eggs available at most grocery stores. No, my reason for eschewing dairy is more neurotic then any data. It also will betray me as not being the logical person I’ve tried to portray in this essay.
Is it just me or isn’t it weird to drink a bodily fluid from another animal? No other mammal in nature drinks another species milk. I’ve never seen bats drink giraffe milk, nor a hippopotamus drink cheetah milk. In a world where we’re grossed out by stepping in dog poop, why are we lining up to dip our cookies in a liquid that seeped out of another animal?
There you have it, my one sided answer in why I am vegan. I have tried not to be preachy, if it came across that way, I sincerely apologize. I try not to push my beliefs on unsuspecting passer-bys.
For those that might be nudging toward giving up animal products, look forward to posts on here on ideas for vegan substitutions for your favorite grub. And if I’m really feeling ambitious you might find recipes and reviews of vegan cookbooks and restaurants.