“”♫ You don't win friends with salad! You don't win friends with salad! ♫
|—Lisa the Vegetarian, The Simpsons|
Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude the use and consumption of animal products — be it the leather in your shoes, the cashmere goat wool in your sweater, or the cheese on your pizza.
A big aspect of veganism is the diet, which excludes products from any and all animal sources, as far as possible.
The word veganism may refer to such a diet, but very often it is used as a synonym for what could more narrowly be described as ethical veganism. Here, people embrace a vegan diet for certain ethical considerations (most notably, Animal rights), and consequently apply the same exclusion principle to other areas, too: They boycott fur, leather and wool; they oppose the use of animals for entertainment, i.e. in circuses, zoos and marine parks; and many are against animal testing. In an even broader sense, veganism may refer to a set of philosophical considerations which are key thoughts of ethical veganism.
There is some dispute on what to call vegan. For example, honey is consumed by a considerable number of people who also regard themselves as vegans, although it comes from bees, which are animals. For outsiders, such discussions, in their seeming vanity, might bear resemblance to OS Wars. Given that these discussions often focus solely on the semantics of the word “vegan” — and not on the more important, ethics — this seems somewhat legit.
Freeganism is a practice with close ties to veganism. Freegans hold the same ethical principles as vegans, but are okay with eating animal products that were in some way "free" - that is, the consumption of said products does not increase their demand. An example would be if someone were about to throw perfectly edible meat in the trash.
There are many health benefits of removing animal products from one's diet. These include reversing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other ailments. The scientific literature substantiates these claims, such as the reversal of coronary artery disease and increasing insulin sensitivity through the adoption of a vegan diet alone. Some studies that have been published on the topic — particularly by vegan proponents like Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish — have received criticisms of methodology by a blogger. But an increasing number of studies shows that the fewer animal products we consume the healthier we are in terms (at least) of type 2 diabetes, even healthier than a non-westernized omnivore diet with low meat and fish intake and after accounting for various confounders and risk factors (e.g., age, body mass index, smoking, alcohol, sweetened beverages).
Some animal-derived foods may pose greater risks to health. Meta-analyses tend to show a mild to moderate increased risk of all-cause mortality with consumption of red — and, especially, processed — meat. Red and processed meat may, most notably, increase risk of prostate, colon, thyroid, esophageal , breast, and other forms of cancer. In particular, meat cooked at high temperatures may produce an additional number of carcinogens. Higher meat consumption, particularly processed meat, may also promote a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Dairy and eggs are generally more controversial but there may be some benefits to excluding them such as reduced risk of breast cancer.
Conversely, higher consumption of certain plant-derived foods such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables have shown to have had a generally positive effect on health with reduced risks of the same diseases. This may partially explain the generally lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and other diseases among vegans and vegetarians. Moreover, for vegans as well as non-vegasn, consideration must be given to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12 in the case of vegans, because of its absence from non-fortified plant foods, though it's present in some yeasts.
An evolutionary argument for a plant-based diet can be done, to contrast "paleo" fad diets, that the early human diet was plant-based. The diets of human ancestors were primarily based upon plants for much of their evolutionary history (Australopithecus and early Homo species) although diets varied across regions, with some populations consuming more animals than others. A study of strontium/calcium ratios in skeletons shows that the niche of early Homo species may have included exploitation of underground plant resources such as starchy roots and tubers, contradictory to the prevailing belief that meat was a universally present component of the diet. Although physiological comparisons of humans and other hominid species suggest that there is an increased adaptation to the digestion of meat (e.g. longer small intestine) in humans, these adaptations are not large enough to support a large consumption of meat, and dairy products were entirely absent from the adult human diet for a large part of its evolution until recently, with the domestication of cattle and other animals.
- Much lower in saturated fat and a lack of dietary cholesterol.
- Fewer animals were harmed in the making of your meals, clothes, etc.
- Plant foods require less water to produce than animal foods (liters of water used in production/kilogram of food).
- Plant crops produce more food per acre than livestock animals (pounds of food/acre of arable land).
- Some estimates place the contribution of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions at 51%. (This includes the CO2 contribution from mechanized farming and transport of the livestock.)
- Some vegans are motivated to consume only plant-based products for ethical reasons, and view their lack of engagement with the factory farming system present in modern husbandry as a strong benefit.
While it is accepted that vegan diets can have some health benefits, vegans can be at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies even though these deficiencies are shared with non-vegans (except vitamin B12). Furthermore, the latter have 5 more deficiencies: fiber, folate, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Vegan deficiency risks are:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency leading to anemia and/or neurological problems
- Iodine deficiency, shared with non-vegans, leading to thyroid problems. This is not often an issue due to the iodization of table salt. Vegans can also get adequate iodine from consuming sea vegetables.
- Calcium deficiency also shared with non-vegans. The calcium in plants like kale and broccoli is better absorbed than milk.
It is essential that vegans include a vitamin B12 supplement or B12-fortified foods in their diets (e.g. most plant-based milk brands, many breakfast cereals, or B12-fortified nutritional yeast), or the algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa to prevent deficiency. This is particularly true for women in early pregnancy because B12 deficiency is known to increase the likelihood of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, by fivefold in babies.
In 1926, Minot and Murphy found that a man was cured of pernicious anemia with liver extracts, a discovery for which they received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1934. Ricke and Smith isolated crystalline vitamin B12 in liver extracts in 1948. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a vitamin that is synthesized in nature only by microorganisms. It is necessary for animals and is present in every animal tissue at very low concentrations (1 ppm in the liver). A B12 deficiency causes pernicious anemia. The need for vitamin B12 in some animals is covered by taking or absorption of vitamin B12 produced by gut microorganisms. But humans only get vitamin B12 from food or supplements, since vitamin B12 synthesized by microorganisms in the intestine cannot be assimilated.
No, we're not talking about the latest heavy metal band. Unfortunately, there are a few vegans who, insisting they can survive on only kale and sunlight, give the rest a bad name. There have been several court cases regarding vegan parents killing their children through their diets.
- In 2001, Garabet and Hazmik Manuelyan, fruititarians from Surrey, England were placed under a 3-year community rehabilitation order (though they could have potentially faced prison) for the death of their undernourished 9-month old daughter. The daughter had been fed a fruit-based diet and died from a chest infection brought on by malnutrition. The parents were vegans but switched to a diet of raw vegetables fruit and nuts in 1996.
- In 2002, Roby Jan Moorhead and Deborah Anne Moorhead from New Zealand were sentenced to 5 years in jail for the death of their infant son. The son died from bronchopneumonia associated with anaemia and brain damage, which was brought on from vitamin B12 deficiency.
- In 2011, Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou of Amiens, France were sentenced to 5 years in jail for the death of their undernourished 11-month old daughter. The daughter, who was fed only on breast milk, was suffering from pneumonia, but the parents refused to take her to the hospital despite a doctor's advice; the parents only used alternative medicine. An autopsy revealed severe deficiencies of albumin, protein and vitamins A and B12, which led to susceptibility to bronchial infection.
- In 2011, Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas of Atlanta, Georgia were sentenced to life in prison for the death of their 6-week old son, Crown Shakur. The baby died from extreme malnourishment from being fed only soy milk (not modern soy-based infant formula, which is safe) and apple juice. The parents did not seek medical attention as the baby wasted away.
- In 2014, Jennifer and Jeromie Clark of Canada are being tried for the death of their 14-month old son in 2013 from a treatable Staphylococcus infection that was brought about by malnutrition. The 'radical Christian' family followed a strict vegan diet and shunned medical attention.
- In 2015, Sean and Maria Hosannah of Canada were sentenced to 30 months in jail for the 2011 death of their daughter who died from "chronic malnutrition from a vegan diet devoid of Vitamin D, B12" and sufficient protein.
- In 2016, Elizabeth Hawk is facing criminal charges over the malnutrition of her 11-month old son. Hawk allegedly only fed her son fruits and nuts, and the son suffered from a severe rash as well as loss of control of his motor skills.
Besides death, a B12-deficient diet in mothers and/or their infants can cause in infants "a cluster of neurological symptoms, including irritability, failure to thrive, apathy, anorexia, and developmental regression."
Harm no animals
There is also a more background criticism of the "try to harm no animals" claim of vegans. The very world we live in, with cars, computers, 2.2 kids, and specifically the requirements of many vegans and non-vegans for out of season fruits and vegetables, as well as more exotic grains places great stress on the natural environment as we cut down forests and kill off natural habitats in favor of farms, orchards, and of course mines, oil fields, etc. For example, starting around 2011, ongoing debates over quinoa, "Are we harming subsistence farmers?" "Is the meat industry worse than the quinoa industry?" "We are destroying precious land for the latest grain fad!" have popped up, each side happy to blame the other for everything from starving farmers to global warming. Many who make these arguments fail to realize cattle are fed on those same grains.
But maybe the idea of living without exploiting animals like bees falls down when you consider the role of many animals in pollinating crops. Farmed bees are commonly used in industrial agriculture to pollinate fruit trees and nut trees such as almonds; oil crops such as rape and borage also depend on bees. Industrially-reared honey bees may be brought in at pollination time, rather than relying on wild bees; someone concerned about cruelty to commercially-farmed bees would have to know how their plants were pollinated. But the critics fail to explain the need of cruelty. Bats pollinate tropical fruits such as mangos, durians, and guavas, and agave plants used for tequila and vegan honey substitute, although few people would suggest this is unfair exploitation of bats.
Ethical vegans often respond to these criticisms by referencing the Vegan Society definition of veganism, which is "Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose". Vegans explain the wording of "as far as is possible and practicable" is here because of these issues, and that the point of veganism is to reduce as much as possible one's effect on animals, it is not about personal purity.
However, if vegans do not eat farmed animal products, farmers (especially in poorer countries) often use animals for other purposes such as transport (horses, donkeys, etc) or labor/working fields (horses, oxen, wildebeests). Vegans would logically be opposed to this (PETA is even critical of pet-keeping), but although many countries have laws on animal welfare and/or labelling schemes for good practice, it's almost impossible to purchase foodstuffs that are guaranteed not to involve animal labor.
It also might be good to note that most of the vegetables (and meat) in US commercial agriculture use migrant labor. Who are often paid under the table at much lower rates than legally allowed, not protected by labor laws, and deported if they complain. Labor conditions and pesticide use outside the US are not better for imported foods. So it would be good to be careful about the source of ones food if abuse of sentient beings is a major priority. However, it is noteworthy that animals grown for meat require, themselves, that a significant percentage of produce from crops be redirected to feeding them until they are put down - therefore, abstaining from eating meat would actually translate to fewer crops and, logically, fewer cases of animal exploitation in agriculture.
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