The Vegan Lifestyle: Mainstream Reason, Compassion, and Environmentalism

by David Sudarsky

Every vegan is aware that his or her lifestyle is regarded by many as extreme, alternative, or even stoical or unhealthy. But how is it that those of us seeking to end the suffering and exploitation of animals represent such a great diversity of backgrounds, careers, and socioeconomic standing? It doesn't take a radical view of the world to come to the realization that the vegan lifestyle is compassionate, reasonable, environmentally conscious, and nutritionally favorable; it only requires a conscientious examination of the facts by a mainstream mind.

The production of meat, eggs, and dairy products may evoke images of a traditional, idyllic farm setting, where animals are treated humanely while alive. This impression is certainly the one these industries wish consumers to maintain. But in the latter half of the 20th century, increasing demand for animal products and agricultural interests in production efficiency led to the decline of traditional farming and the rise of intensive factory farms, the source of the vast majority of animal foods consumed by Americans today. Such "farms" are high production, largely-mechanized indoor settings, where animals are heavily crowded and routinely treated in an inhumane manner. While overcrowding, unanesthetized mutilations, excessive drug usage, and repeated artificial impregnation are everyday practices of factory farming, it is important to point out that even traditional (and free-range) farming has never been humane. In fact, the stresses of transportation alone are so extreme that animals commonly die en route to slaughter. Furthermore, the transport and slaughter of all animals associated with food production, including dairy cows and egg-laying hens at relatively young ages, ensures that animal suffering is an unavoidable consequence of the human consumption of animal products.

In addition to creating serious animal welfare problems, factory farming is detrimental to the environment due to the disposal of waste associated with raising nearly 10 billion animals each year in the U.S. alone. In fact, according to Senator Harkin's recent study, this industry is a primary polluter of rivers and streams and is contributing to the contamination of our drinking water. Further environmental problems due to this type of agriculture include an increased consumption of the Earth's fossil fuel reserves, and an over-farming of grains for animal feed: According to Worldwatch Institute, 70% of all grains grown in the US are fed directly to farm animals, unnecessarily adding enormous levels of pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemical fertilizers to the Earth year after year, and consuming more fresh water than any other human endeavor.

Numerous nutritional authorities, including the American Dietetic Association (ADA), accept veganism as a healthful alternative to meat and dairy-based diets. The surprisingly common notion that veganism is somehow nutritionally inferior is utterly inconsistent with scientific nutritional and health research. Furthermore, the fairly recent explosion of soy- and grain-based substitutes for nearly all animal products has made the switch to a vegan diet more palatable than ever.

Of course, the animals we subject to the meat, egg, and dairy industries are not fundamentally different than those we consider our companions, and although the vast majority of Americans hold that it is wrong to cause animals unnecessary pain and suffering, all but a fraction of a percent continue to support such mistreatment by purchasing meat, eggs, and/or dairy products. In light of the inhumane, unnecessary production of animal products, eliminating them from our lifestyles is not an extreme position, but a rational one which follows simply from currently held ethics.

Copyright © 2000 TheVegetarianSite, All Rights Reserved