Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I talk about veganism quite a lot these days.
For those not in the know, I decided to switch from a full, meat-eating omnivorous diet to a vegan one about a year and a half ago.
I believe there is an enormous amount of societal ignorance around veganism. This ignorance is so entrenched that myths about veganism appear all over the place.
Until about two years ago, I subconsciously subscribed to many of these myths. However, I had a growing curiosity about the environmental aspect of our diets. And one by one, I realised that the myths about veganism were myths.
The nail in the coffin of my meat-eating diet was delivered by Dr Richard Oppenlander. I watched a talk he gave about why eating local, less meat and taking baby steps won’t work. In his talk, he spends about an hour and a half detailing an overwhelming number of environmental reasons why we seriously need to stop consuming animal products. He meticulously outlines his sources for each point that he makes, and there are many major organisations and scientific bodies that back him up. Including the UN.
If I had known about the arguments that Oppenlander makes, I would have become a vegan much sooner (or I guess as soon as I had known about them). And I think this is the reason that I bang on about veganism. If, as an 11-year-old, I had been in full view of the facts of how meat gets to our plates and the impact that it has on the environment, I might never have eaten meat (I was a vegetarian when I was younger just because I didn’t like meat).
And bearing all of this in mind, I think a lot of people I know would be vegans too. So I preach. And I preach because almost no-one else does. Environmental charities barely mention the impact of animal agriculture, no major political party in the UK gives it any recognition, and the general lack of information leaves most people in the dark and means I still get asked on an almost daily basis, ‘but where do you get your protein from?’
For example, here are some broadly undisputed facts about the environmental impact of animal agriculture:
- 13% of global greenhouse emissions are caused by transport (road, rail, air, and sea), while 51% are due to livestock and their byproducts.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon deforestation
- Animal agriculture causes five times as much rainforest deforestation as the palm oil industry (in Southeast Asia)
- 110 animal and insect species are lost every day from rainforest deforestation
- For every 1 kilogram of fish caught, 5 kilograms of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill (whales, sharks, turtles etc.)
- Countries where children are dying of starvation export most of their food to the west where it’s fed to animals
Then of course, there are the plethora of ethical reasons. I think most people are more familiar with these, but simply try not to think about it when they go about making scrambled egg and bacon for breakfast. Then again, did you know that male baby chicks are ground up alive because they can’t lay eggs? I didn’t.
Then there’s this:
The above graphic is not even being crass about the dairy industry. This isn’t like the shock tactics PETA use. This is just how it works.
So, I started out by talking about the myths of veganism. A lot of people I talk to seem to agree with me on almost everything I have said so far. However I am often met with, “it’s great you’re doing that, but I couldn’t do it. I like cheese too much.” I’ll be honest, these sorts of responses do grate on me: “Yep, I know I’m causing untold suffering and torture and give money to an industry that is totally ravaging the planet, but I must have a bit of Boursin on my cracker. Nothing is worth more than me and my love of eggs benedict.”
But anyway, I’ll leave that to one side for a minute. Here is my vegan myth-busting section:
- “Oh, it must be so difficult being a vegan.” Wrong, being a vegan is really easy. There is so much food that you can eat. Vegan products are available in all supermarkets. The growing demand is leading to lots of new restaurants popping up, and established restaurants are taking notice (last year Pizza Express introduced a vegan pizza). And even if you do occasionally have to go for a vegetarian option that has cheese in a restaurant, or you totally fall off the wagon and eat a big slice of cheesecake, being a vegan 95% of the time is still much better than not doing it at all. I’m mentioning this here because people often say things to me about finding it hard to completely stop eating something. I find this a bit bemusing. It’s like saying, “well, I can’t be a good person all the time, so I might as well just be a dick to everyone I meet.”
- “But vegans will inevitably have nutritional deficiencies.” Vegans are perfectly healthy. There is nothing that you don’t get on a balanced vegan diet, and you don’t need to take supplements. And there is considerable evidence to suggest that vegan diets are actually healthier than omnivorous ones.
- “Where do you get your protein from?” Vegans get plenty of protein. Westerners eat more than twice as much protein as they need anyway. Read Rich Roll, vegan ultra-endurance athlete, on slaying the protein myth. As a further point, a whole host of athletes and sportspeople are vegan including David Haye and Scott Jurek.
- “I couldn’t be a vegan because I couldn’t stop eating x.” Plenty of snacks and junk food are vegan anyway. Believe it or not, all of the following are vegan: Oreos, Hobnobs, Jammie Dodgers, chocolate bourbon biscuits, gingernuts, turkish delight, and Green and Black’s dark chocolate range. Then there’s other family favourites like Bisto gravy and Marmite. Then there are healthier snacks like Trek bars, Clif bars, and nakd bars. The list goes on and on but I’ve got bored. But not to mention chips, mushy peas, many veggie burgers, most breads.
- “But I like x too much!” There are some amazing vegan products out there, and more are coming out all the time. From Pudology puddings (a bit like Gu puds, but vegan); to Vegusto and Midas vegan cheeses; to Swedish Glace ice cream; to the Linda McCartney range of sausages, pies, burgers, and more; to an astounding variety of milks, yoghurts and spreads made from coconut, hemp, rice, almond, hazelnut, oat, and the classic soya; the list goes on, and it’s growing.
By following a vegan diet, you cut your carbon footprint in half, you no longer expose yourself to the risk of eating contaminated chicken (or horse, if that bothers you), you can stop worrying about the inhumane practices that go into producing your food (despite Hugh’s Fish Fight and battle against chicken factories, things are only getting worse on both fronts), and you can enjoy a whole new array of foods that you never knew existed.
In conclusion, if you’ve read this far, I understand that it remains statistically unlikely that I’ll have convinced you to become vegan. But I would like to make some parting requests. Look out for some vegan products, try vegan sausages in your next meal that requires them. Try hemp, coconut, almond, hazelnut, oat or rice milk. If you’re ever in London try going for dinner at The Gate or Vanilla Black, for Manchester try Greens or the Earth Café, if in York you absolutely have to visit El Piano, in Glasgow you’re spoilt for choice, but The 78 is one of my favourites, Edinburgh has the spectacular David Bann, Dublin has Cornucopia, and for anywhere else ask me, I may have a recommendation.
If your curiosity is piqued, I recommend checking out/watching these:
- The film Cowspiracy (or at least its trailer) about environmental organisations and charities and why they don’t talk about animal agriculture.
- Veganuary, an increasingly useful resource. It’s jumping on the activity-month bandwagon but it’s a good site.
- Philip Wollen’s opening remarks at an Intelligence Squared debate in Melbourne. Watch the whole debate if you fancy it, see how flimsy the meat-eating side’s arguments are.
- For a real haymaker to the face, Earthlings, or even just its trailer. It’s a feature-length documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix (who has been a vegan since the age of three).
This is really interesting and something I think about regularly. I’ve become increasingly aware of the damaging effects of meat production on the environment and the problems that too much red meat consumption can cause to the body. My main gripe is the ignorant, mass-consumerism that surrounds global meat production/consumption, that is symptomatic of our lovely capitalist structure. That hideously arrogant “fuck that” attitude when the idea of even cutting down meat consumption is raised. That “go hug a tree” response when one raises environmental concerns. This all sounds quite hypocritical when I come clean and say I do indeed eat meat – but one step at a time – I’ve gradually limited my intake and I’m always more concerned with where it comes from than I used to be. I think, if the majority of the populous could begin to concern themselves with the tip of the iceberg, the meat production industry and all of its apathy-induced damage could be halted.
I hear you Matt. I was in your position for about a year before I went vegan.
I agree, just getting people to cut down would make a huge impact (and it’s a much more achievable aim). My problem came to be that I found it too much effort to try to ensure that the meat I was eating was produced in a way that made me feel comfortable.
And since going vegan, I have just felt increasingly uneasy about the whole thing. As it’s perfectly possible to live on a vegan diet, I now feel it’s totally unnecessary for anything to have to die so that I can eat.
Matt, if it helps, I was actually the one who sent Jack the Dr Oppenlander video link after a mate sent it to me with grave tidings (“you’re not gonna like this, mate…” etc.). But Jack reacted to it and beat me to the vegan shift by almost a year, which really impressed me and inspired me. After watching it again several months later and immersing myself in other related media and podcasts, I finally conceded to dismantling my existing paradigm for this one. I am now proudly 100% vegan and see no going back. It sounds like you’re where I was just over a year ago, and that’s good news. Keep going and keep learning. You know it makes sense.
Ha, this could’ve written almost exactly by me. I don’t go as far as to call myself a vegan, but more so as calling myself someone who eats vegan 95% of the time. The 5% being when I’m in an environment where I have little to no control of what I eat. And I’m fine with that because like you said: “95% of the time is still much better than not doing it at all”.
Thanks for sharing, I may just copy and paste some of this into a post of my own 😉
You lost me when you included whales as by kill.
Hopefully this will help you find me: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/bycatch
(Scroll to the bit about non-selective fishing, or just search “whale” on the page.)
More on this here too (it has its own Wikipedia page): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetacean_bycatch
Right on, Jack! Have you watched Earthlings now?
This TED talk by Melanie Joy is badass. Such a concise argument on the ethical side, perfectly executed. And perfect for those with shorter attention spans but wishing to peak behind the curtain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0VrZPBskpg
Hey Jack, well said. You barely mention the health aspect; I usually refer non-vegans (and vegans too, lol) to “Forks Over Knives”. It’s a great documentary. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on iTunes, Netflix etc. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ijukNzlUg
Hi Jack, came here when looking at the credits for WP 4.3, well done on the voice-over. Good post above as well, I always enjoy stumbling over vegan-related posts when not expecting it. I’ve been vegan for over 15 years and sometimes wish I would preach more, but these days I often find it hard to find the balance where you help someone see meat-eating in a different way and where you simply cement their opposition to veganism.
I wouldn’t quite agree with “you don’t need to take supplements” though, but perhaps you didn’t mean fortified foods as well? Most dietitians (vegan included) would recommend B12 supplements or fortified foods http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/everyvegan
Looking forward to the three-day vegan festival starting tomorrow here in Berlin! Enjoy Keswick, incidentally I have some (vegan) friends living there, they seem to have a great time.
Hi Karl, thank you very kindly for the comment about the voice-over. Glad you enjoyed the post, I may write a follow-up as I’d like to expand on, and update, some of the points.
You make a very good point about the balance. I share quite a lot of stuff on Facebook and I think my friends are gradually silencing me because they’re sick of hearing about it! I try to carefully consider what I write or share before doing so. As a relative newcomer to veganism, I like to think that it sparks interest in those who know me – many were shocked when I first told them I had gone vegan.
I also agree with your point on vitamin B12. I was aware of this and my partner and I tried to ensure we got enough from fortified products like plant milks, but also foods that are naturally rich in B12 like nutritional yeast, Marmite and Veggiemite.
However, I’ve been meaning to add an addendum to this post as shortly after writing it, my girlfriend and I decided to start taking the Vegan Society’s supplement. Vitamin B12 is water-soluble so we decided that even though you probably can get enough without taking a specific supplement, there’s no harm in taking one. We were also getting tired of ensuring we ate so much Marmite!
And for any lurkers who think that the need to supplement B12 is a sign that we obviously shouldn’t be vegan, we used to get a lot of B12 from eating dirty vegetation because it develops in bacteria. The sanitisation of fruit and vegetables and our evolved inability to digest dirty foods means this is no longer a viable option. B12 is only found in animal products because animals eat dirty fruit and veg.
Anyway, thanks Karl! I’m still yet to visit Berlin but I hope to make my way over there in the not too distant future. I hear it caters very well for vegans these days!
We are vegetarian and my teenage son was considering going vegan, but was worried about the protein issue. Fortunately there is a lot online to debunk the myths and the whole family is now looking at the vegan lifestyle. I agree that you have to preach. People accuse vegetarians and vegans of preaching anyway, so you may as well do it!