Why I became Vegan (Part 2)

2: The Sustainability dilemma

Around the time when I first discovered the truth about the conditions on factory farms and the horrific way the animals are treated, I also became aware of the enormous environmental devastation caused by these ‘farms’, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. This is the official name for these meat, dairy and egg factories where a large concentration of livestock are cultivated and processed on a very small area of land. Intensive agriculture at its peak.

I read about the negative health and environmental impact of huge amounts of manure generated by such operations in the United States:

“The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce… Depending on the type and number of animals in the farm, manure production can range between 2,800 tons and 1.6 million tons a year. Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities… Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.

“The EPA’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory found that 29 states specifically identified animal feeding operations, not just concentrated animal feeding operations, as contributing to water quality impairment. A study of private water wells in Idaho detected levels of veterinary antibiotics, as well as elevated levels of nitrates…”

– National Association of Local Boards of Health, Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities

I glossed over that one. After all, those were just farms in the US and other western countries. Our Nigerian farms were not causing such problems (as far as I knew).

Then I watched a documentary about the global impact of these CAFOs and realized that intensive livestock production was affecting ALL of us:

Nothing could have prepared me for this documentary. (I cried at the point where Kip took the chicken to the animal sanctuary instead of killing her.)

Cowspiracy was a big turning point for me. I had no desire to eat any kind of meat after watching it.

It showed me that there is a very strong, concerted campaign by the meat and dairy industries to cover up the link between global warming, rainforest depletion, species extinction, ocean dead zones and livestock production, and between disease and consumption of animal products, because they know that if people found out, demand for meat would dissipate. It made me realize that there is no such thing as sustainably raised meat or fish or chicken or pork – there are simply not enough resources in the world to maintain enough livestock to feed 6 billion people with animal products without destroying the environment. It proved to me that our practice of raising livestock to support our meat eating habits were destroying the planet, and would eventually destroy us too.

And then it also made the claim that human beings are not even supposed to eat meat to begin with! Here I had to pause. Meat that people have been eating since prehistoric times? Haba. Being my curious, questioning self, I started doing the research to find out whether this was true. My research led me to the China Study.

3: Health considerations

The China Study, conducted by Dr. T. Olin Campbell, was the most comprehensive epidemiological study of nutrition ever conducted, spanning nearly 10 years and involving 6,500 adults and their families. Dr Campbell discovered that there is an undeniable link between consumption of a diet containing animal products and highly refined foods, and incidence of diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancer.

But ain’t nobody got time to read that whole book. So I watched Forks Over Knives, a movie based on the conclusions of the China Study.

There’s a summary of the movie’s main points here.

So everything I had ever known about milk and meat was a lie? I have to be honest, I was depressed for a while after watching this. We were being told so many lies, I was just weak. I knew it was wrong to eat animals, but now these people were saying it was also unhealthy? But everyone knows lean meat is the best source of protein and milk is the best source of calcium.

I had to take a balanced view of the whole thing. I read two critiques of the China Study  here and here.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe the research was inaccurate? And then I read Dr. Campbell’s detailed responses here and here:

I concluded that Forks Over Knives and the China Study were legit. But as I read about veganism, I saw again and again references to B12 deficiency in vegans. So I researched the nutrient sufficiency of vegan diets. I found that vegans only seem to lack one nutrient: B12. It is the only essential nutrient not made by plants. But it is not made by animals either . In fact, most livestock these days are given B12 supplements. Plus, meat eaters are just as likely to have B12 deficiency as vegans and vegetarians (whether or not you eat animal products, it’s a good idea to get checked). The reason is that B12 is made by bacteria that live in healthy soils, in the presence of a mineral called cobalt. But because modern farming practices drench the soil in chemicals that kill off all organisms in it, these bacteria do not survive. Plus, we are so clean and hygienic now that the bacteria which would normally stay on our hands and get ingested when we eat food with dirty hands, are no longer there. Which is not a bad thing, because good hygiene keeps germs away and prevents disease. But that has also gotten rid of the good bacteria. So basically, we all need supplements to get adequate B12 these days.

Overall it made more sense to me to take B12 supplements and not eat meat, than to eat meat from an animal that had been fed the same supplements. Why filter the nutrient through an animal’s body?

That was it for me. It was clear from all my research that animal products were an unnecessary and even harmful part of our diet, and our consumption of it was being promoted by selfish corporate interests. So all the suffering we were putting these animals through was just so we could eat something that happens to taste good but was also killing us slowly? I resolved to go vegan and spread the word to as many people as possible. All this needless torture of animals needed to stop.

So there you have it. That’s how I switched to a plant based diet. And I fully believe it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful, compelling presentation by Gary Yourofsky, a prominent advocate of veganism, called “Why Vegan?”

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16 thoughts on “Why I became Vegan (Part 2)

  1. Neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, actually can’t stand most vegetables and fruits. For anyone familiar with Parks and Rec, my diet is no different from Ron Swanson’s! But respect the decision, and amen to anyone willing to make this sacrifice.

    Some questions, would/do you drink honey and would you eat termites? And clothing/footwear/accessories, how do you deal with that? Then friends and social events?

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    1. Hi James! That’s interinteresting, never met anyone who doesn’t like fruit at all before. I avoid honey because it involves exploitation of animals, not because it contains animal proteins like casein in milk which are harmful (as far as I know, honey is mostly fructose). I would eat termites because human beings are biologically adapted to do so (other primates also eat insects and their larvae), but I don’t really have a desire to. With clothing/footwear /accessories, leather, wool and other animal products are products of cruelty and abuse and I avoid them when possible. Most ‘leather’ goods are imitation leather anyway. I will absolutely not purchase fur though.
      At events and when I’m out with friends I eat whatever appears to be prepared without animal products. In Nigeria this is not so hard actually. I just do moimoi and rice at weddings. At the cinema, popcorn is fine.

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      1. Fruits looked weird and were an eyesore when left to rot on the ground, that was enough for some reason. I can eat bananas and oranges but will not touch them.

        There’s this caricature of vegans as dogmatic folks who reject all animal foods, nice you consider things case by case.

        About honey, to the best of my knowledge – on this topic, that’s next to nothing – bees do not feel suffering. Is exploitation inherently bad especially if there’s no harm done to the exploited?

        Moimoi and rice with the meat/chicken left to your cousin? Or the moimoi replaces the meat in the typical moimoi rice combo?

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    2. For some reason I can’t reply the other comment so I’ll write the reply here.

      I think some people regard vegans as being dogmatic because they are uncomfortable with the idea of totally giving up something (just like some people see Catholics as being extreme because the priests totally give up sex), and do not take the time to understand (or ask!) why vegans do not eat certain animal products, as you have just done. I’m sure I’m not the only vegan who evaluates things on a case by case basis. Many vegans do, and because they are primarily evaluating their choices against the yardstick of ethical treatment of animals, in every case they come to the same conclusion – I will not use/consume this product/food because animal exploitation is involved. Onlookers see this as being ‘dogmatic’.
      In the same way, my primary consideration is animal exploitation, but by having this conversation you’ve also seen the additional layer that I add to my evaluation – is this food harmful to me? In the case of termites and honey, the answer is no, but because I have no desire to harm termites or bees, I won’t eat them or their products unless it is absolutely necessary/unavoidable.

      Whether or not bees and other insects feel pain or suffer is immaterial. Just because an animal might not feel pain the same way we do, does not give us the right to inflict harm on them. I do not believe it is ethical to exploit and harm any other being for our wanton pleasure. It’s not as if honey is the only food on the planet.

      My cousin wouldn’t get my meat/chicken because I wouldn’t collect any in the first place. 🙂

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      1. I think it’s okay to exploit animals – use them for our benefit – and would consider suffering and pain very material to the discussion. It’d be cruel, possibly illegal, for a person to throw dogs at a fence which electrocutes them (for whatever reason) but I’d think it perfectly reasonable to swing an electrocution bat at insects even if it’s for fun!

        But it’s okay if we disagree on this. Personally, I wouldn’t drink honey but would be happy to help someone who wants to explore bee-keeping as a business.

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    3. Yes, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I can only hope you’ll eventually come to the realisation that any form of exploitation of a living being is simply unethical and against our conscience. When we exploit animals we suppress that part of ourselves that tells us what is right and wrong. This is a dangerous path that predisposes human beings to all sorts of violence. You find that people who are kind to animals are more likely to be non-violent pacifists, and also tend to be happier in general. For instance I could not imagine Jesus (the greatest pacifist who ever lived) or Gandhi ever saying “I think it’s okay to exploit animals”.

      Something that confuses me is how people think it’s cruel to treat dogs a certain way, but when the same thing (or worse) is done to cows, no one bats an eyelid. It’s not cruel to hit cows with sticks and administer electric shocks to get them to move where you want them to go – but it’s cruel when it’s a dog? It’s not cruel to tie up a goat to a tree and leave him there in extreme weather conditions but when it’s a dog everyone will cry foul? The double standard is mind boggling. An animal is animal. The life of one should not have more value than the other, simply because one is more ‘cuddly’ or friendly to humans.

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      1. I think it’s a stretch linking eating meat with human violence – something of a slippery slope fallacy in there.

        About categorizing animals, on any given day, chances are you kill 1-10 ants without realizing or acknowledging it. If you somehow managed to find a way to do the same to dogs, there’s no difference?

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  2. I get all ur concerns. I do. Especially the cruelty angle. i have a friend who quit beef when she watched the kind of vids u shared. But what’s a guy looking to add muscle mass to do if even milk and eggs are out of the question?

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    1. Hey Samson, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
      I’m not an expert on body building, but there are lots of vegan athletes, boxers and body builders who are just as strong and built as meat-eating athletes. They go up against meat eaters in competitions and win, all without using steroids, which some meat eating athletes tend to depend on.
      The thing is, milk and eggs may be very dense sources of protein, but what the fitness industry doesn’t tell you is that you’re getting protein as well as loads of cholesterol, which your body then has to work harder to get rid of. Plant foods have lots of protein too, without the cholerstorol; and I’m not just talking beans. All plant foods, except leafy green vegetables, have adequate amounts of protein, so all you need to do is eat a lot of food, really. The calorie surplus will go into building muscle as you work out. You can even get plant based protein shakes if you want to go that route.
      This website has a lot of info on vegan bodybuilding: http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/. This is also a good article on the topic: http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/how-to-build-muscle-mass-on-a-plant-based-diet

      Happy body building! 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much! This is a great response to a question I get all the time.
      What happened to the other comment though? It got wiped off?

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    1. I watched the video, thanks for sharing! But eish, so many inaccuracies though. She talks about how vegans/vegetarians can find it difficult to get protein, or have limited variety in their meals. I feel like she didn’t bother speaking to actual vegans/vegetarians before making the video. Protein is so easy to get, and focusing on one macronutrient is not a healthy way to eat anyway. Plus most vegans will tell you that their food has lots more variety than when they ate meat. So I’d say her video was a noble attempt at catering to her non meat eating audience, but not well researched at all.

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