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Why You Should Go Vegan

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I am indeed aware of the starving children and I would help them before the animals if I could. Satisfied?  The “why care about animals and not suffering people?” argument is one that comes to many minds when they first see this title. It is fallacious because by that logic, you should never do anything nice for anyone until you’ve helped the starving children. How dare you hold open the door for that stranger whilst a person goes hungry? Most would agree that the easier and more within your domain of control a good deed becomes, the greater obligation you have to do it. Thanks to modern, first-world conveniences like year round access to fruits, vegetables and greens, veganism is very much within your control. Veganism is an ideology that rejects the current practice of using animals as a commodity, premised around the realization that they possess a will to live, some semblance of sentience, and an experience of physical and emotional suffering. Since we know that the death of animals is no longer required for us to survive or live optimally, we therefore have a moral obligation to not harm them or support the industries that do.  At this point I could make an appeal to emotion by showing you terrifying pictures of what we do to animals, and that would be a completely relevant and appropriate persuasive technique capable of swaying some. However, according to Kevin Dutton in “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”, lawyer is the profession with the second most psychopaths after CEO, so perhaps the empathy approach isn’t my best strategy. Rather, I’m going to logically walk you through why any rational person looking to live a healthy and successful life would choose veganism. I’ve divided it by argument so you can skip to ones that interest you:

 

  1. No, Evolution Doesn’t Say We Have to Eat Meat
  2. Health of Vegans vs. Meat Eaters
  3. No, You Won’t Get Deficiencies
  4. Sample Vegan Meal for a Day
  5. Damage to the Environment from the Meat Industry
  6. Respected Individuals Who Supported Veganism

 

  1. No, Evolution Doesn’t Say We Have to Eat Meat

 

66 million years ago, an extinction event wiped out the dinosaurs and other large mammals, leaving room for our genetic ancestors to thrive. They were tree dwelling primates that looked something like this:

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This is called a purgatorius and it ate fruits and plants. Over the next 50-60 million years it’s descendants would hold onto this vegan diet, adding to it nuts, seeds and starchy roots. This includes our closest primate ancestors- chimps, and bonobos- who eat primarily fruits and plants, but may switch to nuts, seeds and even tree bark depending on where they live. They do get some “meat” from bugs, but they are selective about eating them and prefer fruits/plants.  Chimps did figure out how to hunt and will kill other monkeys for food, but this is still not their preferred diet even where there is a lot of prey and lower amounts of greens. Roughly 6 million years ago we diverged from chimps and bonobos and our earliest human-looking ancestors (hominins) appeared; the biggest difference being that we could now walk upright. Still, we continued to eat a largely vegan diet. One requirement from eating a raw plant-based diet though was how long we had to spend chewing our food and how much energy and time was needed for our bodies to break down the tough, fibrous structures of plants and roots. This is why the discovery of fire and the beginning of cooking by our ancestor Homo Erectus dramatically altered our timeline. Cooking allowed us to access nutrients within the food we couldn’t prior, and it made these nutrients more bio-available. Suddenly, we could extract a lot more from our vegetables, starchy roots like potatoes and carrots, and of course from meat (which was also dangerous to eat raw). Our guts began shrinking since we spent less time digesting and our brains started getting larger.

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Our newly found spare time coupled with excess energy for brain development made hunting a more profitable concept as we developed the ability to implement complex, organized strategy. Our ancestors didn’t care about the health implications of what they we’re eating unless it was going to kill them. In their eyes- the more calories, the better because having a next meal wasn’t a guarantee. At the time, the survival and developmental benefits eating meat provided far outweighed any negatives- negatives that will be made clear in the next section. This truth about the utility of meat eating has continued to be true until the modern day, until now. In no other time in our evolutionary history than right now have we had access to the variety of foods we do. We have within our ability the opportunity to attain all of our required nutrients and calories from non-animal products simply by walking into a grocery store. This is a luxury afforded to no other human ancestor in our entire history. Not only can we do this, but also based on health, environmental and ethical considerations, it appears we should do this. There is a reluctance to give up eating meat because it’s a connection to the more primitive, adventurous aspects of ourselves. Indeed, if you find yourself lost and hungry, by all means hunt and kill an animal for survival. However, if your hunting expedition involves finding parking at Loblaws, then you are just causing suffering for no reason.

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The male hunter stalks his prey.

 

  1. Health of Vegans vs. Meat Eaters

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Modern research is consistently pointing to vegans having the greatest health outcomes including the longest life spans, protection against cancer and most importantly, protection against all of the cardiovascular damage meat causes. This means not only reduced incidence of the biggest killer of men- heart disease, but also reduced incidence of blood-flow related ailments such as Alzheimer’s.  A general study comparing vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diets found that vegans had the healthiest body weights and highest scores for nutritional uptake (2). In a 96,000 participant cohort study comparing vegetarians and non-vegetarians, vegetarians had a 55% lower risk of developing hypertension, 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, were ½ as likely to develop metabolic syndrome, were 23% less likely to get GI cancer and 35% less likely to get prostate cancer (3). A famous study done on 73,000 members of a religious group who don’t eat meat called the 7th Day Adventists, found that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of dying from all causes and that the effect is more robust in males (4). Another study on that same group found an increased lifespan of 7 years for males and 4 for females (7).  A European study found vegetarians to have a reduced incidence of cancer. (6) Finally, the current position of the American Dietetics Association is as follows:

 

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes (5).

 

Vegans aren’t just healthier because they focus on eating more fruits and veggies, it’s also because of what they don’t eat, specifically saturated fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol can be produced by our body and is indeed essential for the construction of cells and steroid hormones. A multitude of studies are showing that cholesterol and saturated fat in our diet however promote diabetes, heart disease and cancer (8), (9), (10), (13), (14). Despite the recent shortening of our intestine, it is still long like that of a herbivore, meaning rotting meat produces compounds in our gut that cause colorectal cancer (11).  Despite often being labeled omnivores, humans actually demonstrate traits much more similar to herbivores including our intestinal length, teeth (molars not claws), hands and the way we release heat (sweating not panting) (12). Meat seems to be a relatively new introduction to our diet that was good for keeping us alive, but is not ideal for long term, optimal health. When you feed carnivores meat, they don’t get atherosclerosis (heart disease). Only herbivores get heart disease from eating meat.  This fact is what leads heart surgeon Dr. William C Roberts to assert that we are indeed herbivores and that the only way to reverse heart disease in humans is to adopt a vegan diet. In fact, another heart surgeon, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, confirmed this theory on heart disease reversal in his patients and now devotes his career to promoting the prevention of heart disease through diet. Even amongst professionals, opinions are all over the place with diet and this discussion requires far more than an article. You need to do your own research and I’ve provided some papers that can give you a nice start. You may also want to look into how bad eggs and milk are for you- (15), (16), (17). But don’t forget, the longest living people follow a plant-based diet.

 

 

  1. No, You Won’t Get Deficiencies

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If you stop eating meat now and then start munching on whatever you find in your pantry, chances are you won’t be eating very healthy.  You can’t just replace meat with processed junk food- of course this would lead to nutrient deficiencies. A piece of chicken is still “healthier” than a bag of chips. Let’s discuss the main deficiencies potential vegans fear:

 

Vitamin B12- This is a vitamin produced exclusively from bacteria and if it wasn’t for how sterilized fruits and veggies are by the time they get to us, this wouldn’t be a problem. When you eat meat, you eat the bacteria in their gut, which provides the b12. Vegans can get this from sea algae like chlorella, but they mostly get it from fortified foods like cereals, soy milk or nutritional yeast. This is really the only nutrient that you won’t be able to get from day to day eating and it’s only because we eat get our food shipped to us instead of picking it from nature.

 

Calcium- The main source of calcium for vegans is dark leafy greens, which everyone should be eating daily. Some vegans don’t eat enough and therefore are low in calcium but this is from inadequate food choice, not from dietary insufficiency.

 

Protein- This one is a complete myth. All plants have almost a full amino acid profile (1) and you don’t have to worry about proteins at all on a vegan diet. Some vegans early on struggle to eat enough calories because they aren’t aware of their options.

 

Iron- Beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds and spinach are a few examples covering this mineral.

 

Vitamin D- Supposed to be produced by our skin from the sun’s rays but many people in cold countries like Canada are deficient. Taking a vitamin D supplement is recommended for everyone, not just vegans.

 

Zinc- Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are a few examples covering this mineral.

 

Iodine- Sea vegetables, navy beans and black beans are few examples covering this mineral.

 

EPA/DHA- These fatty acids are not found in plants, but can be produced from a precursor found in seeds and nuts called ALA.  Eating flax seeds or walnuts is an example of how to cover this requirement.

 

Remember, supplementing doesn’t mean that what you are doing is unnatural and therefore a vegan diet is not optimal. Just because someone is eating meat, that doesn’t mean they are hitting all of their nutrient requirements either and wouldn’t benefit from a supplement. Vegans are just more prone to actually track this information.  The only serious concern when starting a vegan diet is to ensure b12 is taken. Other than that, focusing on eating fruits, greens, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds/beans will ensure you are eating optimally.

 

  1. Sample Day as a Vegan

 

Breakfast:  Oatmeal with berries, sliced mango, a banana, and a handful of almonds

Lunch:  Pea and lentil soup with chopped onions and herbs. Salad containing spinach, kale, collard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers with oil and vinegar.

Snack: Celery and carrots dipped in hummus.

Dinner: Grilled zucchini and broccoli, baked potatoes and whole grain pasta topped with tomato sauce and pesto.

 

  1. Damage to the Environment from the Meat Industry

 

For a society obsessed with the environment, the damage of the cattle industry is rarely spoken of. Not only does a fully-grown cow require roughly 24x more freshwater than the average human (20), but rearing cattle also releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere including methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia (18). A report by the World Watch Institute (WWI) found that livestock use up 20% of the world’s land (19).  Reference 19 includes a full report by the WWI and sheds a lot more light on the issue. The gist is that our continued increase in meat consumption is becoming more of a threat to our freshwater, ozone layer and land than cars or factories.

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Methane has a much more profound greenhouse gas

effect than carbon dioxide.

 

 

  1. Respected Individuals Regarding Veganism

 

  • “One is dearest to God who has no enemies among the living beings, who is nonviolent to all creatures”- The Bhagavad Gita

 

  • “He who does not eat meat becomes dearest to men, and will not be tormented by diseases”- The Laws of Manu

 

  • “The righteous one regards the life of his animal but the heart of the wicked is without mercy”- Solomon from Proverbs

 

  • “I decided that God is testing us to show that we are no better than animals, after all, the same fate awaits humans and animals alike” Ecclesiastes

 

  • Pythagoras, Buddha and Ghandi all advocated for restricting oneself from eating animal products claiming eating meat stopped you from reaching spiritual enlightenment.

 

  • Leonardo Da Vinci,“If you are as you have described yourself the king of the animals — it would be better for you to call yourself king of the beasts since you are the greatest of them all! — why do you not help them so that they may presently be able to give you their young in order to gratify your palate, for the sake of which you have tried to make yourself a tomb for all the animals? Even more I might say if to speak the entire truth were permitted me.”

 

  • Albert Einstein who adopted a vegetarian diet near the end of his life said, “nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution of a vegetarian diet.”

 

  1. BONUS- You Get to Tell People You Are Vegan and Watch Them Freak Out

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Christian Monti, 1L, is a Staff Writer

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