There are moral reasons to go vegetarian:
- Recognition that it is wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering.
- The injustice of exploiting animals and killing them for no good reason.
- If human have rights, then many nonhuman animals also have rights, and confining and killing these animals for food violates these rights.
There are environmental reasons to go vegetarian:
- The production of animal-derived foods is implicated in every major environmental problem.
- According to the Food and Agricultural Organization's own report entitled Livestock's Long Shadow: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. . . . Livestock's contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale."
- This FAO report goes on to note that livestock production is a major contributor to "land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity."
There are self-interested, health-based reasons to go vegetarian:
- The major killers of Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke—are all strongly positively correlated with meat consumption.
- Plant-based diets significantly reduce one risk of these chronic degenerative diseases.
- According to the American Dietetics Association's Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets:
It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. . . . [A] vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. [Journal of the American Dietetics Association 109(7), July 2009: 1266-1282.]
And there are religious reasons:
- According to the Bible, the original divinely-prescribed diet was an entirely plant-based, vegan diet: "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.'" Genesis 1:29
- The First Ethical Precept of Buddhism states: "I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill." This precept is variably stated as follows:
- Avoid killing or harming any living being.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
- I shall endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures.
Taken together, these reasons make a very compelling cumulative case for becoming a vegetarian. What might be less obvious is that each of these reasons actually gives us a reason to adopt an entirely plant-based vegan diet, devoid of animal products. One cannot produce eggs or dairy products on a large scale without the wholesale exploitation of animals. Layer hens spend their entire lives permanently confined in battery cages with 6-9 other hens and have only half a square foot of living space per bird. These birds are some of the most abused animals in agriculture. Since the male offspring of dairy cows don't produce milk, they are sold to veal farms, where they are permanently confined in veal crates that prevent them from moving or turning around. So, by purchasing dairy products, one is indirectly supporting the inherently cruel veal industry. One might think that eggs and dairy products are still preferable to meat on the grounds that "At least I am not contributing to the unnecessary killing of animals," but that too is false. After two or three laying cycles when their egg production begins to wane, the layer hens are inhumanely loaded onto trucks and sent to slaughter, where they are processed into chicken soup and pet food. After several years of confinement and continual reimpregnation on a dairy farm, spent dairy cows are sent to slaughter where they are processed into ground beef. The reality is that by purchasing eggs and dairy products, one is supporting the unjust exploitation and slaughter of hens and cows (which ipso facto violates the First Ethical Precept of Buddhism).
Eggs and dairy products also contribute to all the environmental problems listed above. Plus, vegans tend to have lower body mass indexes than lacto-ovo vegetarians and lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and stroke than their egg-and-dairy-eating vegetarian counterparts. And, as noted above, the original divinely-prescribed diet was a vegan diet.
Given all the compelling reasons to go vegan, why don't more people do it? In particular, why don't more lacto-ovo vegetarians (who are already aware of the reasons in favor of plant-based diets) go vegan? I suspect that more people don't go vegan because they mistakenly think that it must be incredibly difficult to eat vegan. I was a vegetarian for 12 years before going vegan in 1996, because I thought giving up eggs and dairy products would be incredibly difficult. But when I did make the change in 1996, I couldn't believe how easy it was to be vegan. I centered my diet around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. I replaced cow's milk with soy milk. I quit eating cheese, opting for ethnic cuisine that didn't call for cheese. I started experimenting with tofu scrambles till I found how to make ones that I like, and these are every bit as tasty as scrambled eggs and are far less likely to cause salmonella poisoning.
It really is easy to go vegan, and most people who go vegan report that they have more energy and feel better and more healthy almost immediately. But don't take my word for it. Why not try it for yourself for 21 days? Now is the perfect time to try out a vegan diet, because tomorrow marks the start of the PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Challenge. Check out PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Resource Page, where you will find meal planners; recipe suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; healthy snack alternatives; and tips on how to make over your diet. This 21-day program is designed for anyone who wants to explore and experience the health benefits of a vegan diet, and its free! That's right, free! During these three weeks, you will have access to:
- Daily e-tips that will put you on the path to weight loss, better health, and greater well-being.
- A delicious, easy, and satisfying recipe sent every day that will help you break your cravings for unhealthy foods.
- Weekly motivational nutrition webcasts featuring Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.
All you need to do to get these recipes and have access to the webcasts is register, which you can do here. Just click on "login" or "profile" and you'll be able to register. Then you will discover the delicious, healthful culinary world open to vegans.