Monday, September 1, 2008

Why I Am Vegan

I wrote an essay back in college on veganism. I know it was very helpful for many people. In fact, I even received a few emails from people letting me know the essay had convinced them go vegan. I'm posting it here in hopes that others will find it useful. Feel free to pass it around.

Why I Am Vegan

Exposing the moral, health, and environmental consequences of consuming animals


We are destroying the environment, our health, and our humanity, not to mention the billions of innocent lives taken by our own hands. The majority of human beings do not make a connection between buying meat or dairy and killing animals. Even if a connection is made between the two and a person fully understands that s/he is directly supporting the slaughtering of animals, s/he feels that eating flesh or consuming dairy is essential to maintaining good health. Consuming animals is embedded in our culture. It is institutionalized murder. Throughout this essay, I will present you with true facts and information necessary to possess in order to make a compassionate decision when choosing what to eat.

First, I will give a little historical information about raising animals for food and will contrast that with how animals are raised today. Before the Industrial Revolution and World War II, the images many Americans have of cows grazing in fields, pigs rolling in dirt and mud outside farmhouses, and chickens strolling along freely were correct; however, this is not the case today. Today, most all of the animals we raise for food live in factory farms. The transformation to factory farming occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the huge demand for food at a cheap cost to consumers. In factory farming, animals are treated like machines; they are treated as mere commodities whose purpose is only to serve us and please our taste buds.

The Moral Aspect of Veganism

Chickens are known to be highly social animals. They develop a “pecking order,” in which each knows who is above himself and to yield to him. They can even maintain this “pecking order” in flocks of up to 90 birds. In the factory farms, however, they are denied their extremely important need to socialize. Average flock sizes in egg factories well exceed the 90-bird limit. Most warehouses enslave hundreds of thousands of birds, some reaching a staggering 800,000. The conditions these birds are kept in are inhumane. First and foremost, the egg factories have no use for male chicks, so they are all thrown into plastic bags or dumpsters and left to suffocate to death. An average of six egg-laying hens are kept in battery cages so small that they peck at each other. In order to deal with this pecking problem, workers cut off up to two-thirds of each bird’s beak. This causes severe pain because there are a lot of nerves located in the beak. The floor of a battery cage is made of wire and provides a total living space of only 1.7 square feet per cage. Living like this leads to bone brittleness, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness. Layers of battery cages are stacked on top of one another, which provides an easy way to deal with manure; it simply falls down between the wiring and into the cages below, until it reaches the ground. To add to all this misery and suffering, egg-laying hens are put through a process termed “forced-molting,” in which food and water are removed for several days at a time. This is done because it shocks their bodies into another laying cycle.

Pigs are highly intelligent and friendly animals. The pig has one of the highest measured I.Q.’s of all animals, even greater than that of a dog. They even have the ability to remember and recognize people they have previously been acquainted with. Despite all of this, they are very mistreated in our factory farms. The stench present in pig factories is unbearable. Pigs have a very good sense of smell, enabling them to find roots that have not even surfaced yet. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that they suffer immensely from the awful smells present in their “home.” The ammonia in the air eats up their lungs and causes them to lose interest in eating, leading to a loss of weight and the development of respiratory problems like pneumonia. The level of ammonia in the air is so great that workers in the pig factories complain that they can feel it affecting their lungs. Pigs used to be kept in pigpens, but today most are enslaved in extremely narrow steel stalls. These stalls force the pig to constantly face one direction, because he does not have enough room to even simply turn around. The average room he has in his stall is 6 to 8 square feet. He lies on top of a metal grate or concrete, which takes its toll on his feet by tearing them up and giving them lesions. The metal grate is used because it is the most efficient way to dispose of waste products; it simply lets them fall through to the ground. Hormones are given to him to make him larger, because more weight means more meat. His skeleton becomes deformed and his legs begin to buckle because they cannot support his unnatural weight. If the pig is a sow (female), she is forced to produce many more piglets than she naturally would. For example, in a natural barnyard setting, a sow will have about six babies per year, but in the modern pig factories she can produce up to 20-45. Workers allow her piglets to suckle on her breasts for a couple of weeks, because without doing so they would die. When workers are sure the piglets will not die, not because they care but because of a potential loss of profit, they remove them all from their mother. This causes the sow to stop lactating, which in conjunction with many hormone injections enables her to become fertile again sooner, and this means more piglets and more money. The mother does what any human mother would do if her babies were taken away: she cries out for them, but it is utterly hopeless because she will never see her offspring again. Living in these conditions drives pigs to insanity. “Tail-biting” is the industry term used to describe pigs driven so insane that they bite the tails off of other pigs, and sometimes continue to eat into the back, causing death. The attacker then eats the dead pig if the situation goes unnoticed. How do workers attempt to prevent “tail-biting?” Well, there would be no tail to bite if the pigs did not have tails. That’s right, they cut them off. This is termed “tail-docking” and is standard procedure in United States pig factories. This, as you can probably imagine, causes tremendous pain and suffering for the pigs.

What about cows? Well, if the cow is male, he is either sent to be made into veal or to a feedlot to fatten up. The baby males that are raised for veal, termed “veal calves,” live horrible lives. Veal is a considered a “delicacy” because of its tenderness and whitish-pink color. Consuming anything other than their mother’s milk and exercising gives their flesh color. Years ago, in order to have their flesh remain white, veal calves had to be slaughtered only a few days after being born. Doing so required killing them when they weighed about 150 pounds. Producers considered this a waste and worked at developing methods to fatten the calves before slaughtering them. Today, “experts” have come up with a way to keep their flesh white and tender up to a weight of 350 pounds. Immediately after being born, the veal calf is taken away from his mother and put into a stall in a veal shed. This is done to prevent a bond from forming between his mother and himself. If the bond was formed and then he was taken away, his mother would do anything, sometimes even breaking down fences, to get him back. He will remain in this stall until he is four months old, at which time he is slaughtered. Since exercising leads to the development of muscles, which will give his flesh color, he is not allowed to do so. He is not even permitted to walk, because he is shut so tightly in his stall that he can hardly move at all. His stall is a mere 22 inches wide and 54 inches long. The stall is so tiny that he is not even able to comfortably lie down; he must assume an unnatural hunching position to do so. Obviously he cannot turn around. He cannot even twist his head because he is chained by his neck. The only movement he is at all capable of is that of a few inches back and forth or side to side. And what is he fed to keep his flesh the desired whitish shade? “Experts” have found that if he has anemia his flesh will retain its whitish color, so he is purposefully fed only food and even drinking water that contains no iron. He becomes so iron-deficient that he attempts to lick the steel walls that surround him. “Experts” in the veal industry have come up with a fix for this: they now use hardwood stalls instead of steel. Other male cows are sent to disgusting places called “feedlots.” When bulls come to the feedlots they are castrated. Why? This is done in order to turn them into steers, simply bulls with their testicles removed. And why would the industry want steers instead of bulls? Simple: steers have a higher percentage of body fat than bulls, and more body fat means more meat that can be sold. The manner in which the bull is castrated is atrocious. A ring is put around the bull’s scrotum. He will kick and swing his tail furiously for at least half an hour, until his scrotum finally goes numb. About a month later, his testicles fall off. Another method of castration is using pliers to simply cut and remove the testicles.

Each unit in a feedlot is on average 12 feet by 15 feet, and in each one of these rooms 13 steers are crammed in. Their diet, which serves to make them as fat as possible, consists of sawdust, shredded newspaper, processed sewage, body parts of cattle, sheep, and horses, grease, cement dust, and pieces of cardboard. They are also given many antibiotics because their immune systems are very vulnerable from living in these conditions. Hormones are given to them as well, to make them grow fatter faster.

What about female cows? They become dairy cows: those cows we enslave and abuse in order to provide us with the milk we so arrogantly and ignorantly drink. In a natural environment, a dairy cow would live between 20 and 25 years. In the dairy factories of today however, she is lucky to live five. Dairy cows are pumped full of antibiotics to fight off disease and hormones to promote milk production. Traces of both are found in the milk you drink. The most common hormone given to the cows is the Bovine Growth Hormone. This hormone drastically and unnaturally increases the amount of milk a cow produces per year. For example, in 1940 dairy cows produced an average of 2.3 tons of milk per year each. Bovine Growth Hormone was approved for use in 1993. In 1997, the average amount of milk produced per cow each year was 8.4 tons. Some cows have even produced more than 30 tons of milk each year. This exploitation causes udder damage and mastitis, inflammation of the udder. Dairy factories commonly use one of two techniques for milking the cows. The first one involves a milking machine being brought to the cows, who are crammed into narrow stalls and chained by the neck. The second treats the cows like machines even more than the first. Each cow is placed in something called a “Unicar,” which is a cage on wheels, and moves along a railway line. The contraption operates on the push of a single button. The farmer presses this button a couple times a day, upon which the cows in cages automatically move along the assembly line and are fed, watered, and milked. The cows then return to the storage barn, still in their cages, where they remain until the button is pressed again. Dairy cows live in these cages for an average of ten months per year. There is no room to walk or turn around, let alone hardly move. When a dairy cow’s milk production drops, she is sent to the slaughterhouse to become a hamburger.

What about fish? Most people, for some odd reason, tend to try to distinguish between fish and other animals. Fish have complicated nervous systems and are capable of learning complicated tasks. Can fish feel pain? I think the Textbook of Medical Physiology, written by Guyton & Hall, said it best: “The lower regions of the brain [which all vertebrates have] appear to be important in the appreciation of the suffering types of pain because animals with their brains sectioned above the mesencephalon to block any pain signals reaching the cerebrum still evince undeniable evidence of suffering when any part of the body is traumatized.” Also, industrial fishing is very harmful. It damages ocean ecosystems by seriously depleting food webs. Dolphins and other marine animals are caught in the netting, most of which die. Many factory fisheries are being developed right now, breeding and raising fish in cages too small for them to enjoy their lives.

How are the animals we raise for food transported? They are shoved into cages and put on trucks to be shipped around. Animals are so packed in that they often end up walking, urinating, and excreting on top of one another. Many of them do not survive the journey. Those injured so severely that they cannot walk off of the trucks on their own are dragged out by chains, still very alive and still very conscious. Is it lawful to treat animals like this? It sure is. Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, which provides legislation for the “humane” treatment of animals, animals we raise for food are specially excluded. This means workers can do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it, and as often as they wish without ever having to fear punishment by the law. It pains me to see the society you and I live in treating animals as machines, when in fact they are sentient beings and cherish their lives as much as we do.

The Consumption of Animal Products and Your Health

Did you know that eating animal products is bad for your health? It’s true. First, forget everything you have ever heard regarding animal products as being essential to maintaining good health. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The exact opposite is actually true. The meat and dairy industries have been lying to you all along. Why on earth would they want to do that? It’s very simple: money. Did you know that one in two Americans die of heart disease in the United States? It’s true. Industry propaganda has many people believing that your genetics determine your risk of having a heart attack. This is true, but not in the light they like to portray it in. Only about five percent of patients who develop heart disease have a hereditary form of it, which means the other 95 percent of people in this world determine their own fate by the foods they choose to eat. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol run high risks for heart attacks. So the less saturated fat and cholesterol you take in, the better off you will be. Considering cholesterol is only found in animal-products, the cholesterol a vegan takes in is zero. Let’s look at some statistics on cholesterol levels of Americans. First, the average cholesterol level in the United States is 210. This number means nothing unless you compare it to that of vegetarians (those who abstain from meat only) and vegans living in the United States. The average cholesterol level of a vegetarian in the U.S. is 161. The average for a vegan is 133. Considering the fact that you are virtually assured you will never suffer a heart attack in your entire life if you keep your cholesterol level under 150, one can see why many people choose to adopt a vegan diet for health reasons. Also, in regions of the world in which meat is scarce, heart disease is unheard of. Eating meat also contributes to the number one reason in the United States that people go to the doctor: high blood pressure. The ideal blood pressure to have is 110/70 or less. The average blood pressure of vegetarians in the U.S. is 112/69, while the average for non-vegetarians is 121/77. More than 50 percent of senior citizens in the U.S. have incidents of high blood pressure, while it is virtually zero for senior citizens in countries with people eating low-fat vegan diets.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund published Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective in 1997. In this publication, researchers report that 60 to 70 percent of all cancers can be prevented by staying active, not smoking, and by adopting a vegan diet. Researchers have found a link between eating animal products and cancer and state that adopting a vegan diet lowers your chances of getting cancer by 60 percent. Here are just some of the statistics that undeniably link the consumption of animal products with cancer. American men who consume large amounts of dairy products have a 70 percent increase for their risk of developing prostate cancer. American women who eat red meat daily have a 250 percent greater risk of getting colon cancer than women who eat red meat less than once a month. The death rate from breast cancer is 22.4 per 100,000 in the U.S., while it is only 6.3 in Japan and 4.6 in China. Why is this? People in Japan and China consume less animal products, eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise more, and weigh less than Americans. “The beef industry has contributed to more deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined” (Neal Barnard, President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine).

Did you know that the antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides given to cows shows up in the milk you drink? Antibiotics traces show up in one-third of milk products. 80 antibiotics are actually allowed to be found in cow’s milk in the U.S. A staggering 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics are given to livestock in the U.S. each year, and for reasons other than treating disease. This is astonishing when compared with the fact that only 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to people in the U.S. each year to treat disease. Hormones found in U.S. beef have been linked with cancer, especially the hormones 17 beta-oestradiol and the Bovine Growth Hormone that I mentioned earlier. Milk has been shown to cause osteoporosis, rather than prevent it. Remember all those “got milk” advertisements? The dairy industry was using false advertising. They are not allowed to say milk prevents osteoporosis anymore. Scientific data has also shown that vegans have lower rates of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, kidney disease, obesity, and colon disease. Vegans and vegetarians live an average of six to ten years longer than non-vegetarians.

Environmental Consequences of Raising Animals For Food

There are also environmental impacts involved with eating animal products. Do you care about our environment, but consume animal products? If so, you might like to be informed of the following information. 87% of all the agricultural land in the U.S, or 45% of the total land mass in the U.S., is used to raise animals for food. More than 80% of the corn we grow and 95% of the oats are fed to animals. This leads to the fact that the meat industry is responsible for 85% of all the soil erosion in the U.S. 5,200 gallons of water are required to produce one pound of beef. This is easily seen as inefficient when compared to the fact that one pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons of water. More than half of all the water used in the U.S. goes into raising animals for food. The average meat-eater’s diet uses more than 4,200 gallons of water each day, while the average vegan’s uses only 300. It would be much easier and so much better for the environment to consume the plants and grains we grow directly, rather than wasting resources on raising animals as a source of food.

Conclusion: It’s Up to You to Make the Change

After presenting you with all of this information, I hope you will be able to make a healthy, environmentally-friendly, ethically-sound decision about your diet. The next time you sit down to eat please remember this: eating animal products not only contributes to the amount of unnecessary suffering in the world, but also has drastic impacts on your health and the environment you live in. Please choose meals based on compassion for all living creatures.


1. Robbins, John. Diet for a new America. Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH: 1987.
2. Robbins, John. The Food Revolution. Conari Press, Berkeley, California: 2001.
3. Vegan Outreach. 3 May 2002 .
4. PETA: Factsheets. 3 May 2002 .
5. Lifestyle: The Environment. 3 May 2002


VeggieGirl said...

I sure hope that you scored a 100% on that essay, since it is by far one of the best pieces of writing I've ever read.

Bea Elliott said...

Wonderful summation! Logical and well ordered! Thanks for your well presented message. Go Vegan!

VeganCowGirl said...

Wow Billy! As usual great words and great energy. If you don't mind I am going to use a part of this to teach my kidlets about memoirs - as this has a certain component of the memoir embedded in it.

Thanks for a great post!

Elaine Vigneault said...

Great essay!

Erin said...

Very well said, thanks for posting this!