The Case for a Plant-based Diet
What do all of these famous people have in common? Yes – they are all Vegans. Particularly among the rich and famous there seems to be a rapidly growing trend towards plant based diets. So why is this so?
Well the most obvious answer is that plant based diets are helping these people to stay younger looking, fitter and more healthy. As we have pointed out in past issues, the health problems associated with eating meat and dairy products are becoming increasingly clear and we now know that the longest living peoples of the world follow mainly plant based diets. Also, now there is an abundance of delicious meat free products and recipes to be found on the internet, in books and on TV.
However, there are also very good practical and ethical reasons for being Vegan. We like to consider ourselves as animal lovers and yet more than 56 billion animals (around 1 billion in the UK) are killed every year for flesh, dairy, and eggs. More and more people are finding it hard to justify this. If it is wrong to act violently to a dog or cat just for enjoyment or convenience, how can we condone the exploitation and slaughter of other animals? We certainly do not need to eat animal products to be healthy; we do so only because it is a habit and we enjoy the taste of these products. From the point of view of those who see animals as souls with feelings and who suffer just like ourselves, the often torturous conditions and butchery that take place in factory farms all around us could be equated to the horrors of Auschwitz being multiplied and repeated on a daily basis.
If we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more ‘energy-efficient’ and generally lessen our environmental impact, we must also examine the most important element of our personal ecological footprint: what we eat.
The production of meat and other animal products places a heavy burden on the environment – from crops and water required to feed the animals, to the transport and other processes involved from farm to fork. The vast amount of grain feed required for meat production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction. In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. Cattle farming is the biggest threat to the remaining Amazon rainforest and the single biggest cause of deforestation in the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that animal farming contributes more to climate change than every car, plane ship and bus on the planet. On the other hand, considerably lower quantities of crops and water are required to sustain a vegan diet, making the switch to veganism one of the easiest, most enjoyable and most effective ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) estimates that one in nine people are chronically undernourished. With the world’s population expected to increase from 7 billion to reach 9-11 billion by 2050, one of the most urgent questions we now face is how we, as a species, will feed ourselves in the 21st century. Around half of the current World food harvest is fed to farmed animals.
Meat-heavy, Westernised diets are a waste of resources we desperately need to conserve. This is because livestock consume much more protein, water and calories than they produce. Most of the protein from vegetable feed is used for the animal’s bodily functions and not converted to meat, eggs or milk. Studies indicate that a varied vegan diet requires about a third of the land needed for conventional Western diets; 3.5 billion humans could live off the food currently fed to livestock.
If you are considering joining the ‘jet set’ and becoming vegan it is worth visiting the Vegan Society UK website (www.vegansociety.com) for advice and information. Being Vegan is in itself no guarantee of having a healthy diet. There are now plenty of products available which can tempt us into unhealthy options instead of the fresh, organic fruit and vegetables which should form the basis of all sound nutrition. It is easy to fall into the trap of filling ourselves up with too many grains and cooked fats such as breads, pastries, cakes, chips and biscuits. Instead, excellent sources of energy and protein are legumes, seeds, nuts and ‘false’ grains such as buckwheat and quinoa. Care must also be taken to find a source of Vitamin B12 which can be found in foods such as nutritional yeast or spirulina.
You might also like to join the East Riding Vegans on Facebook to meet other vegans in the area. If you feel strongly about cruelty to animals you might consider joining Animal Aid (www.animalaid.org.uk). Finally, the film ‘Knives over Forks’ is available on internet and will help to remove any lingering doubts you may have had. (Sources: various vegan charities)