I have an idea for a resolution for the new year that I’d ask you consider trying with me — go vegan, even if you can only do a few days at a time to start with.
There are many reasons we should make this change: personal health, protection of the environment, decrease of dependence on developing countries and reduction of animal suffering.
A vegan diet does not contain any animal products. This is also called strict vegetarianism. No meat, fish, eggs or dairy are consumed. You might wonder what is left, but vegans eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains and seeds; perhaps more so than those who limit themselves to meat-and-potatoes type meals.
Most vegans also eschew leather and wool products, as they reject exploitation and commodification of animals for any purpose.
If you are vegan, you are more likely to cook your own food, if for no other reason than that there are still not many vegan options in mainstream restaurants. This means you have more control over what you eat and are less likely to rely on processed items with their high amounts of sodium, preservatives, and other food additives.
Vegan diets are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and higher in fiber than the traditional Western diet, which leads to better, longer health.
Meat production equals environmental devastation by disrupting the balance of ecosystems across the globe. There is a tremendous amount of waste produced by large scale farms and fisheries that can contaminate surrounding soil and water.
In developing countries, often rain forests or other areas are cleared to make room for cattle grazing for meat that will be exported to wealthier countries. This exploits the vulnerability of the people of these countries who have no say when their land is taken for these purposes.
Eating meat is not sustainable in a world with six billion people.
We need to think about the impact of our eating habits in the era of globalization. It is incredibly inefficient to grow grains to feed to cattle, then to slaughter them for consumption.
People are starving around the world for want of food; how then can we justify taking what could be their food and using it to fatten cattle for our own meals?
Yet we allow this because we want our cheap, convenient hamburgers. Every time we go to a drive-thru window, we support this. There would be enough affordable food to go around if we all adopted veganism.
If we fail to do so, it is because we are more concerned about our own comfort than about global justice. If we are ignorant of these facts, then we need to do our research to discover the path our food takes before it reaches us.
Ethical treatment of animals is another issue. Almost gone are the days of the local family farm, as they cannot compete financially with the large-scale factory approach to meat, eggs and dairy. In these situations, animals are given growth hormones, are kept in confinement with their own feces, and are pumped full of antibiotics to combat the inevitable diseases that are a result of these overcrowded, squalid and deplorable environments.
This also dovetails with human wellness issues — it cannot be good for our bodies to eat sick, miserable animals and absorb whatever the animal has been forced to consume.
We are what we eat. Imagine the adrenaline that is released into the bloodstream of the animal when it is in a state of terror as it realizes it is on the way to the slaughterhouse. All this will be in the flesh that we consume.
We also need to address the hypocrisy of considering some animals as companions and others as unworthy of such a distinction. We cannot justify the senseless, torturous sufferings of countless sentient creatures just because they belong to a species that we have arbitrarily sorted into the category of food rather than friend.
If you think the idea of eating your dog is revolting, then just extend that sentiment to all the other unfortunate creatures out there.
We cannot turn a blind eye to these painful truths, and we must modify our behavior accordingly. We live in a land of plenty and have many options for food and clothing that do not rely on animals. As those with the economic power we can set the tone of what is acceptable in our world. Choose compassion. Go vegan.
Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.