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Ever have someone wonder why you're vegan vs vegetarian? One of my relatives said to me years ago, "I can understand being a vegetarian, but vegan just makes no sense. Just... why?" She's subtle.
The thing is, I spent years as a "vegetarian" (though technically I was a pescatarian because I occasionally ate fish) and I knew nothing about veganism except that I thought it seemed extreme. Once I decided to actually learn about the vegetarian lifestyle, I realized that for all the reasons I believed in not eating meat, I should also not anything that came from an animal.
It turns out that going vegan was nowhere near as difficult as I thought and it completely changed everything for me, from my energy level to my body shape, to my confidence in my convictions. I fully understood that if I wasn't okay with slaughtering a chicken, I also should not be okay with eating its eggs.
When I was around 12 years old, I had a friend whose sister was vegetarian and who talked to us a little about not eating animals. I had a fervent love of animals and as soon as she brought it up, I realized I didn't want to eat them. At that age I did little research into vegetarianism (I hate to admit that was before the internet) and just went with it.
So, for another 15 years or so, I was just a "vegetarian" who sometimes ate fish and always ate dairy products and eggs. Only once I was out of college did it start to bother me that I didn't have a great reason for being a vegetarian. That's when I actually started to read about it, and really, it quickly became clear that I felt strongly that I would have to go vegan.
For most of my life, I thought of farms as small family farms like Old MacDonald's. I assumed that milking was just a natural thing that kept the cow's udders from being too full, and that once the hens laid the eggs, what was the difference if we took the unfertilized versions and ate them? I was kidding myself; farms today are nothing like that. They are factories for milk and egg production.
Producing milk does actually hurt the cows. Cows in nature lactate only after they've had a baby, just like humans. Also just like humans, they dry up when the baby has weaned off the milk and is ready for solid food (in their case that means grass.) Then they have a little bit of time before they become pregnant again and the process starts over.
To give humans milk, cows go through none of the normal, natural process. Dairy cows are permanently hooked up to milking machines and are milked around the clock. Their biological rhythms are changed with a combination of hormones that make their body think it's constantly pregnant or lactating, light/dark manipulation to make their circadian rhythms think it's daytime and milking time, and forced mating (essentially, rape) with bulls to make them pregnant long before it's biologically time.
This process does a few terrible things to the cows. For one, they develop incredibly painful abscesses around their udders which seep pus and blood. They also get internal infections from the constant lactating. If you've ever had mastitis you know it's awful, and in order to keep their ill cows standing during the constant milking, they are pumped with antibiotics.
Secondly, when a male calf is born to a dairy cow, he is completely useless, so the farming industry has created a perfect use for him; he becomes veal. Veal calves are kept in extremely small crates so that they cannot turn around and develop their muscles. Muscles make veal meat tough and the market demands soft meat. In another effort to prevent them developing muscles, the cows are fed a liquid diet with no nutritional value. These poor veal cows suffer endlessly from indigestion and diarrhea from the unnatural diet.
The mother dairy cows suffer tremendously when their calves are taken from them, often crying out for days afterwards, and after their milk producing lives, they die long before their natural lifespans, at an average of less than three years old. Their bodies are too destroyed to sell for meat, so they're sold as meat by-products and are chopped up for dog food and sometimes as other farmed animal feed.
There is rampant suffering in the dairy industry, and if you drink milk, you support it. When I first read about dairy cows, I knew the vegan vs vegetarian debate was closed for me, but I continued to learn more.
The egg-producing industry is perhaps worse. Egg laying hens are kept in tiny crates with several other hens, none of whom are able to stand up, turn around, or spread their wings. Their beaks are seared off with a hot knife shortly after birth because otherwise they'd start pecking at one another in their close living quarters. This mistreatment is horrible for chickens because they have an innate desire to peck through dirt for food.
Another innate urge they have is to spread their wings, but their wings are docked to prevent being opened. Even still, most egg laying hens are pecked incessantly by their crate mates since they are out of their minds with boredom. And, since they can't move around, often their feet begin to grow around the wires of their crates, causing incredible pain.
Illness is also rampant because the crates are stacked on top of each other, causing the chickens to poop and pee directly onto the heads of the chickens below. Again, antibiotics are fed to prevent illness, but it doesn't prevent death. When an egg-laying hen dies in her crate, she isn't removed, but simply stomped on by the other hens who jockey for position, and often pecked at from sheer boredom.
And speaking of being stomped on, males born to egg-laying hens are simply worthless to factory farmers, so they're thrown out. Yup, suffocated in trash bags or on trash heaps or in wood chippers or in trash compactors.
None of the hens ever sees or lays on her eggs as they fall right down a shoot and are taken away immediately to incubators. Farmers need the egg layers to produce a multitude of eggs, so again their circadian rhythms are altered and again they're killed once they are no longer financially worthwhile for the factory farmer. They are turned into chicken noodle soup and other low-quality food products.
So you might be wondering, like I was, if free range chickens are treated any better. Unfortunately, the terms "free range" and "cage free" are just ways for the egg industry to capitalize on our compassion for animals. They mean almost nothing and change nothing for the livelihoods of those poor animals.
For awhile after learning about the factory farmed cow and chicken industry, I even tried to find local farms where I knew for a fact that the cows ranged and gave birth when they wanted and were milked only during that natural lactation period and the chickens were given the same rights. I temporarily felt better about this, but I knew how infrequently I'd be able to actually assure myself that this lifestyle truly was occurring.
Before long I realized that I do not believe that I have a right to steal the milk of another animal simply because I have a taste for it. Each person has to make the decision themselves, but for me, I associated any eating of an animal's natural resources with me believing I was better than them and that I deserved whatever I wanted.
So that solved the vegan vs vegetarian aspect of loving animals for me. I love them, so I do not hurt them or eat them.
I also went vegan vs vegetarian for health reasons and have found that the vegetarian diet simply isn't as healthy as the vegan diet.
All that milking of the dairy cows and overproducing of egg-laying hens leads to illness and veterinarians are expensive, so they simply can't be called in anytime a cow is sick. That would diminish the profit margins. So, antibiotics are fed to absolutely every cow. They aren't targeted at sick cows or targeted for certain illnesses; it's just across the board.
All of those antibiotics, hormones (fed to factory farmed animals to force them to produce more), pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides (sprayed all over the feed as well as on the animals to prevent insect infestations) are stored in the body of the animal. There are excess antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides/herbicides/insecticides in both the meat of the animal as well as in the milk and eggs.
Doctors have recently noticed a spike in antibiotic resistance and it's often linked to the overuse of antibiotics, which causes an immunity to them. How about some growth hormone in your coffee creamer?
Besides the chemical contamination of milk and eggs, it's hard to find an actual health reason to eat any animal product ever again. They simply do nothing for you. Yes, I know they are loaded with protein and calcium, but they're also loaded with cholesterol and their protein and calcium is derived from animals, which are notably lower in quality than plant proteins. I'll get my protein and calcium from plants any day.
I read a ton of books on the vegan diet because that's what I needed to personally arm myself with information and make the decision on my own. If you are the same as me, these are a few that were very helpful to me:
The list of books could go on and on, but these address the main problems with dairy products, and the major illnesses of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. They also talk about the benefits of a vegan diet.
Another reason I decided to go vegan vs vegetarian was because I believe we are doing grave danger to the environment with our pursuit of eating animal products.
Going vegetarian wasn't enough because those dairy cows still produce 25 pounds of excrement each, daily, and because that poop is still loaded into huge waste pools that leech into our water supply. They also pee and fart a lot and all that extra liquid and gas alters the air quality.
It's been found that the animal industry produces more toxic greenhouse gases than the entire transportation industry combined (all planes, cars, trains, buses, trucks, etc.) So, if I keep eating vegetarian, I keep supporting the destruction of the environment.
Though some of the decisions gave me anxiety (the idea of no more cheese once made me so sad), I stopped eating dairy and eggs and went fully vegan. I would say that for about a month I still wanted cheese, but everything else was wondrously easy.
If you battle cheese like I did, you might want to check out my ebook on quitting dairy. Cheese is really hard because it has the most concentrated form of the dairy protein, casein, and it works in the body like morphine. Most of us are physically addicted to cheese.
I lost a bit of stubborn weight without doing anything different with exercise, I had more energy, I felt clearer, and I finally felt 100% innocent around animals. I had no part in hurting them or in causing them suffering and I was doing my part to keep them healthy.
Many people report that going from vegetarian to vegan is the extra step they needed to lose weight, or to get off allergy medicine or insulin for their diabetes. And, I've heard about numerous people who reversed their heart disease when they finally got rid of the cheese. It does make a difference in your health. Those foods are simply not made for humans.
So, vegan vs vegetarian is a personal decision, and one I would never force on anyone. But, if someone asks, I can immediately give them the big three ways in which vegan vs vegetarian is no contest in my mind.