Whether or not I should eat animal products has been on my mind for a long time. At 15, I tried vegetarianism but, not for long. My doctor advised me to stop as she claimed that my deficiencies were due to the fact that I wasn’t eating fish and meat. I left it at that.
This past year, I’ve become increasingly aware of animal cruelty. But, I believed that because I rarely ate fish and meat, as well as, only bought animal products that were organic, came from local farms and had “free range” labels, I probably wasn’t part of the problem – it didn’t concern me. And even if I did contribute to the problem, I wasn’t going to stop eating animal products and do what my doctor and loved ones didn’t think I should do, right?
Yet, I kept having the feeling that something was off, changed my opinion on this subject countless times and often felt bad about not knowing what I thought was right.
Recently, I’ve done more research on this subject and have realised to what extent animal cruelty is really cruel. I also realised that, contrary to what I thought, I am part of the problem. I don’t always know where the animal products that I buy come from. Furthermore, I didn’t even know what the labels that were ‘so important to me’ meant. What is “free range”? Does ecological meat mean that the animals were treated better? Or, is it just about my health? How can I claim that I’m not part of the problem when I don’t know anything about the problem?
In addition to these realisations, I’ve also understood that it is possible to eat vegan and still be healthy. That I can get the right amount of nutrients without eating animal products. Now that I know that, I wonder, is it morally okay to take animal’s lives when you don’t even need to eat them to survive? Yes, I’m aware that it won’t taste the same and I know that veganism requires effort, but, isn’t it worth a try?
In this post, I am going to talk about why I’m becoming vegan instead of only vegetarian and how I am going to eat to prevent the typical deficiencies people get on a vegan diet. I’m changing the way that I eat mostly because of animal cruelty but, the environment is also a big factor in my decision. The environmental impact of animal-based industries won’t be covered in this post though.
Also, I would like to add that I know that veganism isn’t a viable option for everyone. My decision to not eat animal products is personal and necessary for me, but I don’t claim that I know what is right for you. However, I do think it’s important to be educated and to be aware of what you eat so that you can make an informed decision based on what you think is right and what works for you.
The WHY – (why do I want to be vegan and not just vegetarian?)
Why do cows produce milk?
It probably sounds stupid, or rather ignorant, but, I only recently became aware of the fact that cows’ sole purpose for producing milk is feeding their babies. Of course, it makes sense when you think about it. Why would cows otherwise be producing milk?
If you think about it a bit more you’d quickly realise that in order to have babies, female cows need to first be pregnant. So you can probably guess that, to maximize milk production, these cows are kept in an endless cycle of pregnancy and birth. In the industry, the impregnation is called “artificial insemination”. Had it been done to humans, we’d call it rape. In fact, the female cows are put into devices known as “rape racks”. Once the cows are restrained in the device, an arm is inserted in their rectum to reposition the uterus and then, a metal instrument is forced in their vagina.
When the baby cows are born, they are immediately taken away from their mother. The males are killed and sold for veal. The females become milk machines, just like their mums.
A dairy cow can, as a result of selective breeding, produce about 10 times more milk than what her calf would need. This might be good for production but it puts a strain on the animal. For example: “the great weight of the udders often causes painful stretching or tearing of ligaments and frequently causes foot problems, such as laminitis. These foot problems can be associated with significant pain.”
Additionally, the endless cycle of pregnancy and birth causes exhaustion and mastitis (a condition in which a woman’s breast tissue becomes painful and inflamed). When the female cows reach their limit and are too exhausted to keep producing milk, they too are killed and sold for beef.
Technically, the dairy industry is the meat industry. Buying milk basically amounts to buying beef. Cows should normally be able to live for about 20 years. In the dairy industry, they usually don’t live past
– Dairy industry explained in 5 minutes
– Dairy industry in Sweden (in Swedish)
– About dairy cows
What does “free range” on a pack of eggs really mean?
I used to buy “free range” eggs thinking that they came from hens who had lots of space to move around, who were spending their time outside and had good, happy lives. I mean, that’s what the picture on the pack shows, so why not?
In Sweden, “free range” means that the hens can move freely (they are thus not placed in cages) but the label doesn’t imply that these hens have access to the outside. In fact, most free-range hens live inside. Additionally, yes the hens are not in cages but, I wouldn’t say that they can move freely. In most cases, there are about 9 hens per squared meter. That’s not a lot of space to move around.
Only 3% of the hens in Sweden are ‘real’ “free range” hens – hens that are allowed to go outside at least once per day. For those hens, the maximum is set at 4 hens per squared meter.
What about the ecological egg production? In Sweden, the maximum is set at 6 hens per squared meter. The hens are fed with organic feed (95% organic ingredients) and, the hens have access to the outdoors in the summertime and during at least a third of their life.
Problems and common practices
Within flocks, chicken have a social hierarchy known as a pecking order. It is thus normal for hens to peck each other in the establishment of this order. However, when hens live in crowded conditions, feather pecking and cannibalism occurs. “Free range” hens are no exception. Diseases are also more likely to spread in confined spaces.
In the US (and other countries), the hens’ beaks are trimmed to reduce the risk of feather pecking and cannibalism. The practice is known as debeaking. The beak is an organ with a considerable amount of nerve supply – the debeaking process is thus very painful and harmful for the hens. Some of them die because they can’t eat or drink as a result of the procedure. Debeaking is illegal in Sweden. Still a thing in the UK though.
Another practice (prohibited in Europe, thank god – but widespread in the US) is called forced molting. It consists of depriving hens of food for long periods of time, from 5 to 14 days. Under stress, the hens start producing more eggs than usual. The equation is fairly simple: no food = more eggs = more money. Most hens die after this procedure.
What happens to the male chicks?
Male chicks born in the egg industry are killed as soon as they come to life. They are usually ground up alive or suffocated in plastic bags.
Do we eat these male chicks? No, they share the egg-laying hens’ genes and are thus not fit to be eaten (they don’t get big enough).
I used to think that no animal was killed for eggs, but, that’s not the reality. Millions of male chicks are killed every year. The hens are then also killed, once they’re done laying eggs.
– What’s wrong with eggs?
– Egg industry in Sweden (in Swedish)
Here, I mentioned a few of the things that made me think twice about eating animal products. But, there is a lot more that I don’t know and there is a lot more to learn. I am probably going to read quite a bit about this in the future and will add links to books and documentaries here, in case you want to learn too.
– Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
A book written by a soon-to-be father who tries to learn about what we eat and writes about his findings. Although it was written a while ago and talks mainly about the US, I still thought it was compelling and I learned a lot.
The HOW – (how can I be vegan but still remain healthy?)
I know most people eat and aren’t particularly interested in what they eat or in how the food that they eat affects their wellbeing. I am not that way. At an early age, I realised that food could dramatically impact the quality of my life. From then onwards, I’ve tried to understand what makes me the healthiest, happiest me. In fact, one of the reasons why I considered studying neuroscience was because the relationship between our brain and food is fascinating to me.
Consequently, when I was told that vegetarianism wouldn’t be healthy, I listened to that advice. Being vegetarian or vegan for a few years and then eventually finding myself sick isn’t what I want. I’d like to lead a happy life while being vegan.
I’ve heard people claim that it is impossible to be vegan and deficiency free. I’ve heard others who believe that it is possible. In the end, the only way that I can know is by trying for myself. If in a while I realise that I need to eat a small piece of meat every two months (or something else), I’ll probably listen to my body and do it. Ultimately, this is my decision and I’m not stressed about it fitting what other people believe veganism should look like. I want to do what I think is right both for the world and for myself. What that will look like? I don’t know. But, if it eventually doesn’t fit the label – it’s okay.
I also want to say that I don’t want to become obsessed with what I eat. I don’t want to count the amount of nutrients present in my food. However, I still think it’s important to be aware of what I should eat and pay attention to.
Here’s what I’ve found so far:
How to prevent deficiencies as a vegan
Of course, this pdf isn’t perfect and will be updated.