What is it?
- Veganism is defined as a lifestyle “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”.
(The Vegan Society). Types of veganism include: dietary, ethical, green, raw, plant-based, VB6, Paris, weekday/weekend, virtual and travel.
What does a vegan do?
- Depending on the type of veganism they follow, a vegan eats a diet consisting of foods, namely plant-based, which don’t contain any animal products. Many vegans also buy clothing, cosmetics and household items that are free from animal cruelty or products.
Avoided foods include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, honey, gelatine, bee pollen, animal-based fats and food additives. Other avoided animal products include leather, wool, down, fur, silk and angora.
Things you may not know frequently contain animal products: Chip/biscuit flavourings, lollies (gelatine and other gums, beetle-based colouring), marinades and sauces, most fresh pasta, many supermarket bakery products, some alcoholic drinks.
What is a vegetarian?
- A vegetarian follows a diet in which consumption of meat is avoided. A lacto-ovo vegetarian, as they are often referred to, is someone who still includes dairy and eggs in their diet. Vegetarianism generally refers to diet, as opposed to a lifestyle.
Why avoid animal products?
- Environmental footprint reduction
- Animal ethics
- Better personal health
I am very much aware that in our world it is impossible to be 100% purely animal-free. To me, achieving this as a goal is far from the point - any way we can minimise our impact on climate change, pollution, quality of life and mistreatment of animals is a positive step. Where perfection is unattainable, striving for a minimal impact lifestyle is the best option.
HOW TO GO VEGAN: Click here
The moment I decided to stop eating meat was when I discovered that animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas production in the world. This information shocked me big time - how could I not know about this? Why is it not all over the news? Why is there nothing about it on the sites of huge international not-for-profit environmental organisations? Why aren't we all talking about this in our daily life?
The growth, production, maintenance, feeding, watering, transport, processing, packaging and refrigeration of millions of animals every single day creates more toxic gases than all the transport in the world combined. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the UN climate research body) released the Synthesis Report, detailing the destructive pattern of climate change in recent decades and ways to reduce further damage on a global scale. One big, new piece of information to come from this was a recommendation to reduce the amount of meat we consume given the high percentage of greenhouse gases contributed. My perspective on this is that when an international independent research team identifies a core aspect of human behaviour and tradition as something that is destroying the planet, we should be listening and asking why. Cowspiracy (see link on SEED homepage under Animal Free) is a daring, enlightening documentary that describes the global impact of animal agriculture in much more detail, highlighting why this knowledge is not yet widespread, especially in America. As with everything in the western world, it all comes back to money (unsurprisingly). Giant corporations holding a finger on the trigger, pointing the barrel at less powerful organisations who are shot down in court or expensive secretive settlements for speaking out. (See here about the six-year multimillion-dollar battle between Oprah Winfrey and the Beef Industry in the 90's as a perfect example). Beef production is by far the biggest contributor of all meats, and is also one of the wealthiest industries, meaning a trend away from beef would see many businessmen and investors very unhappy.
In 2013-2014, Australia produced 2.5 million tonnes of beef and veal (Meat & Livestock Australia). On average we each ate 30.9kg of this, while a significant proportion of our meat was also exported. 10% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions is directly from livestock production, and a whopping 47% of our land mass is used by cattle and sheep farmers (Target100). Since the 1980's, Australian agriculture has improved quite dramatically, reducing emissions and resources used. In many ways we provide more sustainable meat than other countries (Target100). Having said this, meat is a luxury item and not a necessity. One of our core industries, animal agriculture consumes and pollutes to provide a product that is in no way essential to a healthy life. At least in Australia, I don't at all believe this is a direct fault of farmers (most of whom strive to keep their animals and property healthy and thriving) but of a longstanding, ingrained tradition that goes back thousands of years and, now that it provides good incomes, is very hard to look at from a new perspective.
Animal agriculture = waste. Food, resource, biological waste. Perhaps the most obvious problem is that raising thousands of animals in a small area means extremely high production of urine and faeces in high concentration, and it all has to go somewhere... often into our waterways. Water pollution from animal agriculture is a huge, well-recognised problem and has a devastating impact on our land and waterways, our most precious resources. Nitrates and urea in high concentrations kill living organisms and contaminate surrounding soil, preventing future use of land or natural regeneration. See here for photos of devastation from feed lots in America. Some innovative farmers have technology that allows distribution of composted manure to be spread on nearby crops as fertiliser, however due to costs this is not adopted by everyone, and run-off after irrigating or rain is still a real problem.
> > Mind-blowing facts on the environmental impact of animal agriculture from Cowspiracy
May 2016 saw 3, 725,459 livestock slaughtered for meat production in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics). That's over 122, 000 animals killed daily. Can you imagine the outrage and media coverage if we slaughtered nearly four million puppies this month? This staggering number doesn't even include the number of slaughtered chickens, the most commonly consumed meat in our country. Speciesism - the belief that one species is superior to other life forms - is a trait that humans seem to have possessed since the dawn of time. It appears that thousands of years ago, humans would not have survived by eating plant-based foods only as they were not abundant enough nor as calorie-dense. Nowadays, we have created a world where there is no longer a need to kill for survival, to farm animals due to lack of other available food sources - we have anything and everything available to us 24/7. Nutritionally, eating meat is completely optional in the 21st century. There is no legitimate argument that we should eat meat 'because we're meant to', as it's well known that vegetarians and vegan can live long(er), healthy lives with a well-researched, varied diet. There are so many foods we can substitute into our diet to get adequate iron, protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as readily available supplements. In my opinion (that of a past omnivore who has actively researched information both for and against meat eating), choosing to eat meat because 'it tastes good' is stating that: you are willing to ignore that you are a) directly contributing to the deaths of a few hundred animals a year, b) not interested in protecting the only planet we have to live on, and c) accepting of the higher risk you have of cardiovascular disease and of bowel and prostate (for males) cancers. While I am not here to judge, dictate or preach, I believe that the most important way to approach this debate is to make yourself aware of ALL the factors involved before deciding what path is for you. If you are knowledgeable and informed about the situation but still choose to continue eating meat, that is entirely your decision. My aim is to, at the very least, inform you about facts, research and opinions that you may not already be aware of.
The definition of veganism stated at the top of this page means that any harm to animals, or 'sentient beings', is avoided as much as possible. Humans have evolved alongside (and much later than) animals and should therefore treat animals respectfully with equity and compassion. While nearly all of us don't intend to harm animals and feel cruelty is wrong, most of us don't make the connection between eating meat or buying leather and killing innocent beings. Here's a little activity I think is really important to do at least once in your life (and why not right now?):
Ask yourself this - why is it OK that I'm alive, while the pig that supplied my brekky bacon is not? Is it OK because you're more intelligent? Surely not - when was the last time you ate a person's flesh that had a lower IQ than you?! Is it OK because we're 'meant' to eat meat? Well no, because you now know that we now have a choice whether or not we eat meat - it is no longer a dietary essential and is in fact linked to some common cancers and serious ailments. (The 'caveman card' here won't work either, unless you're also happy to accept that we are 'meant to' hunt for 12 hours a day, live in rock shelters and build fire. Humans have evolved a bit since then..!). Is it OK because animals are bred for the purpose to provide us with sustenance? They are bred for that yes, by us - they have had absolutely no choice in the matter. It is well established in research that animals can and do feel pain (see this link), are often capable of more complex emotional experiences, are intelligent, and therefore would not voluntarily offer themselves as food for other species if left in the wild. We send people to jail for murder for longer than any other crime, for killing someone who did not want to be killed, yet for animals it's fine - whaaat? Here's another tough question - imagine yourself sitting down to a roast dinner and your Mum pulls out your pet dog from the oven, crispy-skinned and drizzled with gravy. Gross, right? Not to mention devastating. My question is simply why is this not OK, but swapping your dog for a six-month-old calf is? What is the difference?
I'll repeat here that I absolutely don't aim to judge or chastise anyone, but to put the hard questions to you that you might not ever have really thought about. I felt the same discomfort, confusion and uncertainty as you not that long ago, but reflecting on these questions and comparing them to my values taught me invaluable truths.
Animals are intelligent, sentient (have the capacity to feel, think and perceive subjectively) and have no less right to a life free from harm or premature death than we do. This is definitely a foreign concept for some - please be open minded for the moment before forming your final opinion. The way the meat, dairy, science and clothing industries use (and often abuse) animals to provide resources for human benefit is often kept hidden, disregarded or ignored (because we would be horrified if the truth was in plain sight). When was the last time you bought or received a beautiful new leather bag? Did you ever wonder what it used to look like as part of the once living, breathing cow who was killed to make it? Have you ever thought about how cows are sourced, transported and killed to make bags like yours? These are questions that, understandably, many people never consider out of lack of education and awareness, or by choice. I never knew before I researched deeper that Indian cattle, the primary source of global leather goods, are usually transported secretly into regions where killing cattle is not condemned (the wider Hindu population considers cows sacred), travelling hundreds of miles without water or food, having their tails broken or chilli rubbed into their eyes to force them to continue walking, as they slowly deteriorate from malnourishment and eventually get to their destination (IF they survive the journey), only to be slaughtered and skinned in front of each other. I can't look at my old favourite leather bag and boots the same way now. Thinking about where your Mimco purse may have come from is not at all pleasant. Why does the ill feeling we get in our stomachs when we picture these thoughts then turn us towards ignorance rather than towards further investigation or change? A cow’s life will not be spared by the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ ethos, but it can be by deciding not to support the leather industry by avoiding products in future. Once you're informed, the choice is easy. Read more about the production processes of leather, down, fur, angora, wool and silk here.
OK, I get the meat thing, but why avoid eggs and dairy?
These two industries are perhaps the least known about in the general population. How could chickens be harmed or killed when they are only farmed to produce eggs, which they already do naturally? The reality is that only female chickens can produce eggs and, as we do not yet have technology that allows development of female fertilised eggs and prevention of male ones, male chicks are terminated shortly after hatching. This is done in two main ways in Australia - maceration, and gassing (have a look here). Further harm comes to female birds, where they are fed a diet that encourages higher than normal egg production, made to live in flocks where disease is prevalent and spreads easily, are regularly fed antibiotics to prevent some disease (which are eventually ingested by us), and whose lives are terminated after the first or second egg-laying year (Isa Browns can live up to eight years). While there are more farms today that aim to carry out necessary tasks in the most humane way possible, it is not feasible to farm chickens for eggs (or meat) on a commercial scale without these awful issues. This information was confirmed by a local free-range egg farmer whom I contacted to gain a realistic idea of the egg-farming truths - not just from any old website.
What about milk – how can death and harm come to cows who wander the fields by day eating green grass and stand happily indoors for milking by night? Cows, like all lactating species, produce milk to feed offspring. Once they have given birth, cows will generally continue to produce milk as long as it is regularly milked (i.e. the calf feeds). In dairy farms, milk production is not economically sufficient to continue milking a dairy cow for its (short) life after one baby – reinforcement is required from hormone production through multiple consecutive pregnancies. Artificial insemination (involving a human ejecting a syringe of bull sperm into the cow’s vagina at arms depth) allows cows to be continuously pregnant to maximise productivity. Just pause for a minute and imagine being forced into almost full-time pregnancy for years, being separated from each and every baby within 24-48hours, and having a full, distended and overworked udder 24/7. Sound awful? The life of a dairy cow. But wait, there's more...
Life for the dairy cows ends at about four years of age, where a non-commercial cow naturally lives for up to 20 years (Animals Australia), the energy of constant calving and milking literally sapping the life from them. For the calves, even four years may not become a reality. Veal production involves keeping the male dairy calves confined in tiny spaces indoors, unable to turn or interact with each other . They are kept this way for up to five months as this inhibits muscle growth, producing more desirable meat for the consumer. These calves are born from a suffering cow, into a life of suffering, culminating in a horrible, early death.
>> Veal production video
>> Dairy production video - Australian
Note: this description represents large-scale commercial dairy and egg farming and does not necessarily represent farming practices in small-scale or household milk/egg production.
Testing chemicals, procedures, drugs and cosmetics on animals to gauge safety for human application is still common practice in many places despite years of campaigns and media attention on the topic. PETA lists scores of brands in the above image that still test on animals at present in some way. There are many arguments against animal testing, the primary reason being they are frequently subjected to unsolicited painful, harming and often life-ending treatments for the benefit of another species. It is often argued that if products are intended for human application, there is no great benefit to test on animals given the myriad of differences between us. Read more here about arguments against animal testing, and watch this YouTube video discussing arguments in favour of animal testing for medical research, to develop your own view.
>> The Cruelty Free Shop, Melbourne & Sydney
There is good evidence now revealing a negative association between red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and some common cancers. Yep, two of the three biggest killers of Australians are preventable diseases and may be avoided by reducing meat consumption (AIHW).
Fortunately, Australia does not routinely use hormones in meat production, unlike many other countries. We do, however, use a heap of pesticides and herbicides on our crops, much of which is fed to the animals we then eat. Some are concerned that we may then be indirectly ingesting these chemicals, some of which are proven harmful to humans. Antibiotics are another chemical very commonly used in animal agriculture to mitigate the abnormally high disease risks that present when a high population of animals are confined in a small area together. Again, many are concerned that humans indirectly ingest these antibiotics. This presents a particularly large risk in the 21st century, where drug-resistant superbugs are a very real concern and are becoming more predominant every year, concerning scientists and doctors about the future of pharmaceutical disease control. These risks could be minimised by consuming meat products from small, local farms that don't have the need for these chemicals and
Dairy products have been quoted for years as being essential for calcium and strong bones. The initial association between calcium intake and bone health was a logical one, as we store calcium supplies within our bones, adding to their structural integrity. In recent years, particularly in central Europe, this strong association has been debunked, where some studies have found higher incidences of fracture rates in populations consuming higher amounts of dairy products (see here) and others no association in reduction of fracture risk (Bolland et al, 2015). It can be said for most foods that just because they contain a certain vitamin or mineral in high amounts, these aren't necessarily absorbed or stored by the body. Our gut is far more complex than that (and I don't have the physiological knowledge to provide more detail on this). D-galactose, a product of the carbohydrate lactose, has been shown to have various negative health effects in animals at doses representing 1-2 glasses of milk a day (Michaelsson et al, 2014).
>> The China Study PDF
>> WHO on meat and cancer
STILL HAVE QUESTIONS? Looky here!