Are Vegans Extreme?
Many people think vegans are extreme. Is wanting to stop animal cruelty, needless death, destruction of the planet, and world hunger, whilst improving our health, an extreme stance to take? If so, then exactly what makes it extreme, and if it is extreme, why is that a bad thing? Is ‘extreme’ synonymous with negativity? Some people view a vegan lifestyle as ‘extreme’ because it contrasts starkly with the traditions of our society.
Using animals as food is so deeply embedded into our cultural norms that it seems extreme even to question it. But animal farming contributes more to climate change than the emissions from all the cars, planes, ships and trains on the planet. It is also a key driver of deforestation and species loss; it wastes land, energy and water; and it pollutes the air, waterways and the earth.
It causes appalling unnecessary suffering to billions of animals whose lives are anything but natural – artificial insemination Is routine, hormone sponges are commonly implanted inside animals’ vaginas, and routine and legal mutilations are all commonplace. And, though we care deeply about the animals we know, we turn away from the suffering of farmed animals, often because we cannot bear to witness it.
What are Vegans?
Most vegans prefer not to be labelled. There is some historical precedent for it: animal-rights activists in the 1970s resisted being labelled as vegans, fearing that it was an umbrella term used to cover all sorts of activities, including environmentalism. In 1979 the Vegan Society had a bumper poster campaign, headlined ‘What is a Vegan?’ (it was actually very clear – vegans avoided animal products, whereas vegetarians ate non-animal products).
But, slowly, some vegan definitions have developed. A vegan diet excludes animal products including meat, eggs, milk, honey, cheese, and certain animal derivatives such as gelatin, although some vegans also have small amounts of certain fruit, nuts and non-dairy milk. It is no surprise that vegans tend to be passionate about their dietary choice.
A survey conducted by Ofcom, Britain’s TV and radio regulator, found that a third of those surveyed have considered giving up meat to reduce their environmental footprint. Nearly half would give up the purchase of animal products to reduce their carbon footprint and up to one-fifth would give up meat to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Veganism is easy to understand in terms of caring for animals. It avoids the use of all animal products – which is why it is practiced by billions of people around the world. It is also easy to understand in terms of the environment, the benefits it will bring to human health and the impact it has on reducing climate change and deforestation.
Vegans are, of course, not unique in this way. The majority of us wouldn’t touch a pork chop with a bargepole. We don’t eat fish, dairy, eggs or honey. Or buy meat or fish products in a supermarket. We don’t purchase meat or fish from a slaughterhouse. In a free and democratic society, we can choose to eat meat or fish, or not. It is the ‘why’ we decide to eat certain animals that define the ‘where’.
In a vegan world, the ‘why’ of eating animals is impossible to answer. That doesn’t mean we all decide to become vegans overnight, but that, gradually, it will become more and more obvious that consuming animal products causes serious environmental harm, unnecessary suffering and is not natural. The ‘where’ is also more obvious – we’d stop eating animals if there were no animals to eat.
Reasons To Be A Vegan
There are plenty of reasons to choose a vegan lifestyle. Being vegan does not mean you’ll never eat meat or that you’ll never get fat; it means that you choose not to consume meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. To me, being a vegan means doing everything you can to prevent cruelty to animals:
- refusing to give them hormones, pain, and antibiotics.
- It means avoiding the unnecessary use of battery cages and veal crates.
- It means seeking out meat substitutes that are nutritionally balanced and do not include antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.
- It means consuming vegetarian diets whenever possible.
Why? Because, to quote Mark Twain, “I went to live at the foot of a tree, and I would see how the other half lives”. Scientific evidence also exists to suggest that if we were to all switch to a vegan diet today, the carbon footprint of the world’s crops would be reduced by as much as 1.6 billion tons every year, and animal agriculture would be decimated, likely to disappear within a decade.
This means we could save hundreds of millions of animals, create more than one million new jobs in the farming and food industries and save up to $40 billion in nutrition costs by replacing meat with fruit, vegetables and grains. What are some of the primary reasons that inspire people to change their diet to include no animal products?
Health – Animals suffer immensely and live horrific lives before they are killed and used for food. After thinking about it for a while, I’m beginning to see that living a vegan lifestyle is neither extreme nor stupid. People who think it’s extreme can’t be human and, if they’re rational, they don’t know enough about the meat industry to decide if they agree with vegans or not.
They just don’t get it. But some of those who think we should be more concerned with climate change because we don’t kill any animals are equally silly. While it’s true that people (like me) can contribute to climate change without eating animals, people who can’t eat animals don’t have any chance of doing so without reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. A ‘modest’ vegan diet is a useful tool to avoid committing all the polluting activities of the meat and dairy industries and save the earth.
Being Vegan Is The Opposite Of Extreme
And yet, if we embrace the vegan option, by bringing our food production systems and diets into alignment with the Golden Rules of the World Conservation Union, animal agriculture will become the most environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and humane form of agriculture on the planet. This is not at all extreme. It is more sustainable than growing crops for humans, catching fish in rivers, or putting fertilizer in the ground.
It is more humane than using chemical and surgical techniques to fix broken bones in livestock. It is more equitable than picking apart animals to obtain the parts we most value. And it is more moral than keeping animals confined and fattened for meat, milk and eggs.
Veganism, not unlike vegetarianism, isn’t just about ‘do no harm – it’s about doing good. It encourages the search for local, fair and healthy food; invests in new methods of production to cut back on animals in our food supply chain; and allows us to share and to enjoy the company of other animals and the countryside – and of course, the food that comes from it.
Veganism isn’t a moral protest. Rather, it is a part of a very well-evidenced social movement – one which challenges our values, arguments, and arguments against our values. Because we begin by questioning our beliefs about why we live in a society with animals and where animals come from, we end by questioning our beliefs about human rights and other pressing issues.
The vegans I work with who are concerned about climate change typically lead balanced, dual lives: one life in the tradition of ancient Greeks who celebrated the beauty of nature, and other lives in the tradition of Hippocrates, who promoted a body and mind-centred view of health. In a culture where animals are believed to be commodities, we too often deny their feelings, and therefore their worth.
We perceive veganism to be radical and thus oppose it. But veganism is nothing more than avoiding products that are unnecessary to our modern lives. Like any other lifestyle, veganism requires a shift in our thinking about food, health and wellbeing. It requires a discussion and a commitment to food, animals and the environment – and can no more be ‘extreme’ than veganism itself.
Being Vegan Is the Opposite Of Having A Superiority Complex
And, of course, being vegan is the opposite of having a superiority complex. The ones who should be feeling superior are those who choose to eat animal products. We have all knowingly chosen an unnatural diet that creates negative consequences for ourselves and others. Why, then, do we still eat animals? We live in a country where the ‘eating an animal’ narrative is still in full swing, with nothing more to say about the consequences than that they’re ‘not a big deal.’
This might be true for some, but it’s not true for everyone. A huge problem with veganism – like so many diets – is that it works against those people who are trying to lose weight, gain energy, feel better, or improve their health. The idea of a vegan superiority complex is no more correct than the notion that veganism is just for the elite, or that veganism is ‘for everyone’, or that vegans simply don’t know how good they have it.
Veganism is based on compassion – for the animals, for the planet, for ourselves – and is there for people of any background, race, colour, creed or class. It’s a basic human need that every person can and should enjoy. Veganism is the opposite of hierarchy and authority. “Animals are the ones who are suffering,” says Stella, a member of the Skinned Army. “I can’t justify that someone could treat other people like that, yet they’re treated like they’re the centre of the world.
Vegans Don’t Push Their Beliefs
As vegans, we don’t wish to push people to become vegans. Instead, we want to encourage people to question the ways in which our society and economy perpetuate cruelty. Being a vegan helps people live more compassionately, but the greatest gifts we can offer are a new way of thinking about the way our world works and how to change it.
- Meat-Free Mondays.
- Vegan Day.
- Vegan to Give
These initiatives are all about raising awareness and providing support for people who want to stop eating animal products and the foods that come with them. Recently, this approach has won favour in other fields – it’s now possible to become a vegan as a way of celebrating your personal independence, as an act of protest against racism, and as an act of support for the LGBT community.
Yes, it’s true that a vegan diet is very different from the traditional human diet. But that’s just how it should be. We don’t wear clothes that require sewing or woodcarving skills; we eat human-grade foods that are produced to high animal welfare and environmental standards, grown sustainably on healthy soils.
We don’t force our beliefs on others, or label everyone who eats meat as ‘Christian’, and we certainly don’t try to impose our values on others by labelling people who do what we do ‘evil’. Likewise, we don’t try to force other people to adopt vegan beliefs. Nor should we. Being a vegan is not a requirement for being a good and moral human being. While many vegans hold religious views, a significant number do not.
Vegans’ Argument In Extreme Animal Cruelty
Animal rights activists often argue that an omnivorous diet makes more sense for the planet than a vegan one. By definition, omnivores do not eat animals, so they eat only plants. Veganism, however, means that vegans don’t eat any animals or animal products, including meat, eggs, dairy and honey. They also avoid animal byproducts such as leather, wool, silk, and bone.
This has left some vegans feeling like they’re giving up food – not just animals – in an effort to ‘save the planet’. But it’s possible to eat a truly healthy, compassionate, nutrient-rich, plant-based diet, and there is nothing extreme about that. In fact, there are about 2.5 billion vegans in the world, compared to nearly one billion carnivores. Veganism holds that all animals have the same intrinsic worth.
This includes the right to live a life of their own; to have the basic needs of food, water and shelter; to roam in a safe environment, and to be able to experience their fullest potential. How do we reconcile the right to life of sentient, conscious animals, with our long-standing interest in farming animals to produce meat, milk and eggs? The concept of ‘speciesism’ (or, discriminating between one species and another), is increasingly coming into play.
This is a key driving force behind veganism. It has been described as the belief that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ animal, and that human supremacy is supreme, and animals need to be rescued from their unnatural environments and subjected to human control. Most humans share the Earth with millions of animals who need us as much as we need them – we are, after all, descended from them.
There’s nothing abnormal or ‘extreme’ about our feeling an ethical responsibility towards animals. Instead, veganism is simply a logical response to a dilemma that we all face. If we continue to rely on animals to meet our basic needs of food, warmth and shelter, then they are already in pain, distress or suffering before they are slaughtered and become our dinner.
If we fully recognize that animals have value, compassion and rights, then we have to give up on the idea that there is anything natural about animal farming. If veganism is the only way to avoid harming animals in this way, it is undeniably extreme.
Vegans’ Argument In Extreme Health
At one end of the scale, veganism and vegetarianism are linked to better health, according to a 2007 Cochrane review of multiple studies. But it isn’t just the facts on the ground that convince health professionals and the public that diets rich in plant foods are healthy for us.
It’s how people feel – and feel they should feel. Studies show that there is a strong relationship between how people view the quality of their own health and how they exercise and eat. Due to the extent of these impacts, some proponents of veganism say it is the ‘healthiest diet’ – and even ‘the only health-supportive diet’ – and the ‘only diet that allows for proper digestion of food and the removal of toxins.’
This argument seems to have been repeated in the introduction to Ethical Vegan’s list of reasons why vegans choose to go veg: ‘A vegan diet is the most effective way to support the body in reaching and maintaining optimum health.’ Vegans argue that it is wrong to unnecessarily harm animals for food, which isn’t doing anything good for health. Here are some of the reasons why they see veganism as the answer to human health:
- Vegans believe that by choosing not to consume animal products, one will avoid eating animals and animal by-products, such as leather.
- Vegans say that by not eating animal products, they can also avoid the very large environmental impact caused by farm animals.
- Veganism is linked to a lower BMI and lower blood pressure, which some belief reduces one’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Vegans believe that by not consuming animal products, people are not consuming animal products which they cannot trace back to their source.
Vegans’ Argument In Extreme Environment
They would say this: Animals raised in large-scale intensive animal production – but not for their flesh – are also animals raised in large-scale intensive non-intensive production. But, when it comes to environmental impact, the impacts are dramatically worse in large-scale intensive production, because those animals must be crammed together like sardines on filthy feedlots or crammed into confined cages in overcrowded factory farms.
And, to make matters worse, they are pumped with so many drugs and injected with so many hormones that they are kept in a permanent state of sexual arousal. It’s like humans being brought up to be penises on wheels. On top of all that, the sheer mass of the animals we eat is a major cause of environmental degradation. The Earth has sufficient resources for us to grow all the food we need without destroying the environment in the process.
In fact, scientists estimate that our footprint on the planet is not much larger than the footprint of a meat-eating cow. If we did reduce our meat and dairy consumption – if we ate just 150g of red meat per day – we could produce enough to feed an estimated six billion people. If you eat a plant-based diet you would only need to eat just 5% of your calories from animal products to have a similar effect.
The argument goes that it is impossible to be a responsible human being without cutting meat out of your diet, but the vegan view is that everyone is responsible. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and the crisis in the world’s food security – resulting in deforestation, desertification, sea-level rise and species extinction.
It depletes soils, requires vast amounts of water, occupies valuable land and destroys biodiversity. It requires the land to be cleared to grow and fertilize animals, which produces methane, and thus contributes to climate change. Vegans argue that the causes of climate change are intertwined and interconnected and that the solutions are also intertwined and interconnected.
Are Vegans Extreme?
Animals raised for food are by their very nature already slaughtered before their natural lives are over. For example, according to The Economist, factory farming in the UK kills around 70% of male calves – some as young as four days old. Crucially, the factories are not held accountable for this massive impact on the environment, its callous and wasteful treatment of the animals, and the damage caused by the use of many highly toxic chemicals and insecticides. It’s time to rethink factory farming and put animal welfare at its centre.
We need an industry of good farming. There are lots of ‘extreme’ ideas out there; when you are presented with them, is it your responsibility to judge whether someone is extreme or not? If you tell someone that their choice is ‘extreme’ because they are vegan, are you being insulting? What do you really think about the validity of the idea? Perhaps you don’t have a lot of direct experience of vegetarianism, veganism, or even vegetarianism in general.
Perhaps you don’t have a lot of empathy for others’ ideas of what is extreme. Maybe you feel that in your vegetarian life, you are managing very nicely and that there’s no need to be extra cautious about how you act. Maybe you don’t see vegetarianism as extreme at all, but you feel that giving up meat is extreme, because we’re so attuned to the idea of meat in our culture.
I believe that by going vegan, one does not ‘die’ from veganism. Going vegan empowers you to live a healthier, more fulfilling life. If you are going to be eating animal products anyway, why not choose to eat healthier, cruelty-free products? There is now an abundance of evidence that going vegan will have a positive effect on our health.
Here are just a few. Advances in the medical profession and research are allowing us to diagnose and treat diabetes and other diseases without resorting to killing animals. All animal products are not equal when it comes to long-term health. Taking the approach of eating a vegan diet can be beneficial. We see some of the healthiest and happiest animals on earth, such as tigers and elephants, on a vegan diet.
I trust you enjoyed reading the article about Are Vegans Extreme? Please stay tuned. There are more blog posts to come very shortly.
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Ideas? Thoughts? Questions? I would love to hear from you. Would you please leave me your questions, experience, and remarks about Are Vegans Extreme in the comments section below? You can also reach me by email at Jeannette@LivingTheVeganLifestyle.org.