(As an aside: A vegan is an individual who abstains from any product that is made from animal products of by-products. We are not all militant, we are not all impolite, and we do NOT all listen to Earth Crisis.)
A lot of people, I see, have a problem with veganism and his big brother vegetarianism. Is it the bizarre nature to tease others that causes this, is it a great deal of conservative leanings, I don’t know. I think it’s about time I gave my two-cents on the subject. And so, without further adeu, why I am a vegan.
Believe it or not the thing that finally got me to be a vegan was not the aspect of cruelty, however that’s what I’ll address first.
First on my list of abominations is our treatment of chickens, a supreme example of the torture we inflict on animals. B. Rollin’s book, Farm Animal Welfare which was published in 1995 details how chickens farmed in conditions as cramped as standard cages have a tendency to get irate and peck at one another. A way to fix this problem is to cut off the beak using a hot knife, many times (though obviously not the majority) rendering the chicken unable to eat. In the case of egg-laying chickens, Rollin states that for every egg we eat a hen must spend 34 hours in a cage with a wire floor sharing only 1.47 square feet with several other hens. These conditions lead to lameness, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness (none of these conditions hampers egg production, of course).
Now let’s talk about cows.
According to the March edition of Meat and Poultry Magazine, most mammals are killed through either the captive bolt method or the electrical stunning method. The captive bolt method entails placing a helmet over the animal’s head and using a remote controlled device, barreling a long metal rod into its head, killing it quickly and rather painlessly. The other common method, the electrical stunning method uses a stunner to induce a grand mal seizure and afterward a worker slits the cow’s throat.
However, using the voltage approved by the USDA – a voltage sufficient to render the cow unconscious – can char the meat, making it unprofitable. In order to avoid this some companies will reduce the voltage, which means that in a large number of cases the cow is awake and aware throughout the process of slicing it up. In the January ’97 Survey of Stunning and Handling, done by the USDA, Temple Grandin, says that sometimes-insufficient amperage makes the animal paralyzed though it retains its sensibility. Steve Cockerham, an inspector, and Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian, both employed by the USDA, relate this phenomenon in the February, ’98 edition of Reuters Magazine. They say that in order to keep production moving smoothly companies ignore United States laws on humane killing. In order to save time, men are routinely seen cutting off the ears, feet, and udders of cattle, letting the machines that skin the beasts go to work while the creature is still blinking and looking around.
In the video documentary, “A Cow on my Table”, aCanadian livestock trucker relays what he told another trucker after a 45 minute struggle with an agonized bull, “You may as well not get upset. It has been going on for a long time, it will be going on after you and I are dead. You just don’t think about the animal, you think that it’s not feeling it or whatever.”
In the case of dairy cows, Peter Cheeke states in his 1999 book, Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture, high milk production leads to udder ligament damage, metabolic disorders, and a condition called “mastitis” wherein a cow’s udders swell like pronged balloons. All of these disorders usually necessitate killing the animal. Male calves are rarely of use on a dairy farm. Upon birth, according to Cheeke, male calves are not allowed to nurse from their mothers and are fed a milk-substitute for eighteen months before being slaughtered for veal.
Our cruelty to the individual animals is not the only problem with their use though, there’s another matter in my mind, one that’s pretty fucking big. Our planet is ill. Warren Leon, head of Massachusetts Union of Concerned Scientists said in the April 27th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle that “The industrial production of beef, poultry and pork pollutes waterways and air and fouls the land.”
According to a USDA survey in 1995, feedlots are a worse water polluter than any industry. This pollution comes not only from manure, but from pesticides that are used on plants for animal consumption that are not used on plants for human consumption. Speaking of manure, I don’t have much of a problem with cow or chicken excrement, at least not until it gets into our rivers killing over 11 million fish since the late 1970’s, as was reported in Senator Tom Harkins’ 1997 report “Animal Waste Production in America: An Emerging Problem”.
Loss of diversity in the water is not the only environmental problem, but diversity in the fields has long been a problem. Peter Cheeke details that having eliminated the majestic red wolves and hulking grizzly bears throughout the southwest, the US Department of Wildlife Service and animal farmers themselves now kill over 100,000 coyotes, bobcats, bison, feral hogs, and mountain lions each year. They are shot, poisoned with cyanide, caught with neck-nooses or steel-jaw leghold traps that are so painful that innocent animals like deer and domesticated dogs have been known to chew through their own legs to get out.
Livestock farming is also a terribly inefficient practice, says Dr. David Pimentel in his article for the Canadian Society of Animal Science in 1997, “90% of US cropland is losing soil at least 13 times faster than the sustainable rate due to overgrazing.” He continues to say that animal agriculture is the cause of 80% of the deforestation in the world. Due to deforestation over a million species have become extinct since 1970.
- Vegans tend to eat less fat than both omnivores and ovo-lacto vegetarians. Excess fat in the diet may contribute to obesity and raise the risk of cancer. Most important, vegans consume very little saturated fat and no cholesteral, since cholesteral is found only in animal foods. This is most likely the primary reason for their lower cholesteral levels and reduced hear-disease risk.
- Vegans consume as much as four times more fiber than omnivores. Fiber protects against colon disease and is an important factor in the reduced rates of colon cancer seen in vegetarians. It also may help to protect against heart disease and diabetes. Fiber is found only in plants.
- Vegans consume generous amounts of antioxidants. These are components in plant foods (they include certain vitamins, minerals, and non-nutrient components) that protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are a normal by-product of metabolism, but they play a critical role in the development of cancer and heart disease and perhaps other diseases, like arthritis.
- Vegans have high intakes of the B vitamin folate. High levels of folate reduce the blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Homocysteine is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, this may be one important protective factor for vegans.
Aaaaaand now I will reply to a lot of the other questions I’ve gotten and I’m sure will come here, now.
It’s nature’s way that something must die so that something else may live. Would you fault a wolf for killing a deer?
Of course not. The wolf must kill the deer to survive. However, if the wolf locked the deer in a pen just a little larger than its own body and pumped it so full of hormones that it couldn’t get pregnant; if the wolf destroyed his environment to eat the deer; and if the wolf had a much more efficient mode of feeding itself through plants…I would fault it.
If we’re not supposed to eat meat, then why do we have canine teeth?
Our canine teeth are remnants of the first proto-mammal. They’re archaic, old tools that we still have but we no longer need, certainly not proper arguments for why we should pollute the rivers and our bodies with meat. Weep not for the canine teeth, do you weep for the appendix?
And finally, my friends, if you actually want to get something done about the problem, here’s what you do.
On the personal level (which is all anyone can ask), the ideal solution would be to accept a totally vegan diet. Abstain from all those products that use animals in their manufacture. If you’re willing to take such an extreme path (and admittedly, it is), be sure to consult a physician first and find a book on vegetarian health. It’ll detail things that are harder to get from plants than animals, such as certain B-vitamins and protein as detailed in JoAnne Stepaniak, M.S.ED’s The Vegan Sourcebook. But if you’re like most people and not ready to make such a big change, then abstain, there are stores all over who sell purely rubber and canvas shoes, belts, and gloves. Try to add more variety to your diet, substitute tofu or beans for meat, through these means you’ll be lessening demand for slaughter and thereby lessening its supply.
This is an argument for why I’M a vegan, not why YOU should be. So if you disagree with me then I honestly hope you enjoy your steak.
However, if you agree with me then try to make a change, it’s not really that hard. After a little while you’ll realize that you, a single individual however great or small, will be crying out for prisoners who can’t even speak.