I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that in recent years more and more people have been adopting a vegan lifestyle. Perhaps you, or someone in your family, are discovering the joys and benefits of eliminating or reducing animal products in your diet. Surely you’ve noticed the explosion of vegan products at grocery stores and you’re probably noticing more and more plant-based meals at restaurants and even fast food outlets.
Athletes and celebrities routinely make news headlines for choosing a vegan lifestyle, and they are certainly not the only ones. The number of Americans who identify as vegans has increased by 600% in just the last three years!
And while vegetarian diets used to be considered a fringe, divergent anomaly, now even mainstream outlets like Kaiser Permanente (the largest healthcare organization in the states) are encouraging us to eat less animal products and more plants, and Walmart and other major retailers are pressuring their suppliers to provide more vegan products.
So what’s the big fuss?
Why are so many people choosing to make a fundamental change to their diets?
Why is the demand for plant-based products reshaping the market place?
The broad arguments for adopting a vegan lifestyle fall in 4 categories: improved personal health, lessened environmental impact, compassion for other creatures and a desire end world hunger.
1) Personal Health
As you’ve seen, refraining from eating animals protects us from major illnesses and increases our consumption of antioxidants, healthy fats and proteins, vitamins and minerals, and of course the gut’s favorite nutrient: fiber!
The high fiber content of a vegan diet is believed to be the reasons that vegans are more successful at dieting and maintaining a healthy weight. (Fiber helps us to feel full and prevents us from overeating). Vegans also benefit from lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity and 78% less chance of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to non-vegans!
The statistics about vegan diets and heart health are convincing:
- Vegans have a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure
- Vegans have a 42% lower risk of developing heart disease
- Vegan diets are more effective at reducing levels of blood sugar, LDL and total cholesterol
Vegans are less likely to develop chronic conditions like cancer and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. A plant based diet even supports optimal cognitive function and decreases rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
2) Environmental Impact
Did you know that animal agriculture is the number one contributor to rising levels of greenhouse gases?
The United Nations has declared that a global shift away from animal consumption is necessary to combat climate change.
Water use is another major issue with animal agriculture. It takes a lot of water to grow crops for farm animals and the animals themselves drink a lot of fresh water daily. Just one person switching to a vegan diet saves over 200,000 gallons of water every year!
Pollution is also a problem. The EPA contends that runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing is one of the biggest polluters of our waterways. Bacterias and viruses carried in the water are a threat to marine creatures as well as our own drinking water.
Plus, animal excrement is stored in large waste lagoons that become sources of toxicity for people in nearby communities. The state of California reports, “Studies have shown that [animal waste] lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”
Surely you’ve heard about the huge expanses of the Amazon that have been deforested in order to make more room for cattle grazing?
In fact, more than 90% of cleared land in the Amazon is used for cattle grazing!
The large amount of land necessary for grazing herds is a threat to natural ecosystems. On the other hand, it takes 20 times less land to feed a vegan compared to a meat eater.
Fish cultivation is reeking havoc on our natural treasures as well. Bottom-trawling and long-lining fishing techniques destroy all life on the ocean floor and kill coral reefs. They also kill thousands of turtles, dolphins and sharks that are caught unintentionally. Plus, coastal fish farms are disturbing waterways and sickening sea life by releasing feces, parasites, bacteria and non-native fish into fragile ecosystems.
3) Ethics of Compassion
The deplorable and inhumane treatment of factory farmed animals is reason enough to adopt a vegan lifestyle for many people. I could go on and on about the cruelty inflicted on innocent creatures by operators of factory farms, like chickens having their beaks cut off so they won’t attack each other while living in overcrowded cages… or the heart-wrenching trauma of newborn calves being separated from their mothers at birth… or the shame of a pregnant pig crammed in a space so small she cannot even turn around!
The atrocities of the factory farm industry are multitudinous and well-known. We can all help these animals and prevent further abuse simply by refusing to participate. By refusing to spend money on and consume these products, we can all put an end to the shameful treatment of farm animals.
4) World Hunger
Animal farming is very resource-intensive, requiring large amounts of water, land and energy.
People who consume beef are believed to use more than 160 times more land, water and fuel resources to produce their diet compared to a vegan!
Another way of looking at it is by yield. One acre of land can produce 250 pounds of beef. The same acre could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes!
70% of grains grown in the States are fed to animals, while people go without food every day.
Transitioning away from the resource-draining animal farms and towards the cultivation of produce for human consumption can be an important part of a strategy to feed a growing world population.
If you are already vegan, transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle or simply reducing the amount of meat in your diet, I hope this information has made you feel even more excited about your choice and empowered to change the world through your actions and example!
And if you have never been interested in considering a plant-based lifestyle, I hope you’ll take these points to heart and reconsider your position. There’s just too many reasons not to!