Whenever I tell people on campus that I’m vegan, the common responses I get are either, “I thought about going vegan… but cheese!” or “Cool! I was vegetarian for a while but I fell out of it. Maybe I’ll go vegan one day!” I used to think that giving up cheese would be impossible too — let alone giving up salmon, which used to be my favorite food. I’ve consumed my fair share of animal products in my lifetime, and I completely understand that veganism can seem intimidating at first. Being vegan is actually much easier than you think.
For those who are unfamiliar with veganism, it’s a lifestyle that aims to minimize animal suffering by abstaining from animal products including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, and not purchasing products such as leather, wool, silk, or animal-tested products. I used to think: why would anyone go through all this trouble just to save the lives of animals whom they haven’t interacted with?
However, the things animals go through just to end up on our plates for lunch are more than burdensome. In the documentary “Earthlings” directed by Shaun Monson, clippings of the brutal killings and human exploitation of animals are exposed through hidden cameras. One clipping shows chicken slaughterhouse workers in “The Hang Pen” in Moorefield, Va., jumping repeatedly on live chickens then slamming them against the wall. This slaughterhouse was owned by Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation (PPC) — the country’s second-largest poultry processor, with Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation (KFC) being its largest customer, buying seven hundred million chickens per year. In fact, it won KFC’s “Supplier of the Year” award in 1997. It was not until animal rights group, PETA, taped this video in 2004, that KFC and PPC expressed disgust about the situation, yet they still didn’t do anything significant to end the exploitation.
Most people think that meat is essential to being healthy — that is not true. Human beings can not only survive, but can thrive without meat. Being vegan actually brings significant health benefits. Did you know that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians? A study funded by the National Cancer Institute concluded that vegan women have 34 percent lower rates of breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. So if you were worried that not consuming animal products would be harmful to your body, it’s actually the opposite!
Many people also go vegan for environmental benefits. Livestock farming significantly increases water wastage. Not only is it the greatest source of water pollution, causing eutrophication, creating coastal dead zones, and coral reef degradation, it also contributes to land-use wastage. According to VegFarm, “a 10-acre piece of land can feed 60 people when used for the production of soybeans, 24 people when used for wheat, 10 people when used for corn, and only a mere two people when used for cattle.”
An aspect that is often hidden to the general public, even to most vegans, is the violation of human rights in the meat-production industry. Thousands of injuries and illnesses in this industry go unrecorded, resulting in a huge violation of Article 23 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right… to favorable conditions of work.” Most of the work in the meatpacking process is still performed by hand, causing this industry to be one of the most dangerous in America. These manpowered jobs include: the Knocker, Sticker Shackler, Rumper, First Legger, Knuckle Dropper, Navel Boner, and the Feed Kill Chain. The violent nature of these jobs are only vaguely suggested even with the explicit names. Many workers also often accidentally lacerate themselves and their coworkers.
If any of the points above resonate with you, you could test out veganism at a small scale by simply doing Vegan Mondays! Being vegan at Andover is actually not hard. If you enjoy stir-fry, you can take tofu from the salad bar and ask to stir-fry it instead of the meat; if you like buttered bagels, try out margarine with bagels instead — they taste the same but margarine is plant-based; if you like pizza, Paresky Commons always serves a vegan option (third pizza from the left) — there is never a line for it so it saves time too; if you cannot imagine giving up the taste of bacon, try out the Maple Bacon Kettle Chips at the den — they taste like bacon, but are completely vegan-friendly! Little did you know, most Luna Bars and Clif Bars are vegan too.
Veganism means a lot to me and other vegans, but it means even more to the exploited animals, workers, and the environment. If you are interested in learning more or in having a conversation about this, please feel free to contact me!