Six months ago, I made what many people considered a radical decision to eat only a vegan, or plant-based, diet. Vegans do not consume any animal products, including meat, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, gelatin and honey. Over and over people ask me the question, “What made you decide to become a vegan?”
This is usually followed by a second question, “What the heck do you eat?”
Switching to a vegan diet beneficially affected my health, but I didn’t make the decision because of health reasons. In fact, I did not even become a vegan primarily because of animal rights.
I strongly believe that animals should be treated humanely and with respect, but they are not the only victims of the meat and dairy industries. Factory farming is one of the greatest causes of greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination and pollution, and rainforest destruction. Our planet is not designed to support the animal-based diets that most Americans consume regularly, and our choices have contributed to widespread hunger and food shortages in the rest of the world.
Veganism plays a real part in addressing world hunger, considering that the resources needed to produce a meat-centered diet for one person can produce a complete plant-based diet for fifteen people. Choosing to stop eating animal products directly benefits the environment and the lives of countless people who are severely affected by the destructive effect of the meat industry.
Factory farms practice some of the worst acts of violence people can inflict upon other creatures. They are places of suffering and despair for both animals and humans. Many slaughterhouse workers are non-English-speaking immigrants and people from the poorest regions of the United States who are taken advantage of by corporations that only seek to make the greatest profit.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, working in a slaughterhouse commonly results in injuries. One in three slaughterhouse workers suffers from illness or injury every year, compared to one in ten workers in other manufacturing jobs. There are also numerous cases of post- traumatic stress disorder, and, statistically, workers are more likely to be involved in violent crimes. Humans, not just animals, are victims of an industry that preys upon the most vulnerable members of society.
So why am I a vegan? I am a vegan because of my concern for human rights, the environment and the treatment of the creatures with whom we share our planet. I am a vegan because I believe eating a plant-based diet is the best choice for my health, and it makes me more conscious of the foods that I put into my body. I am a vegan because of my deepest spiritual beliefs about God’s design for the universe and because I am committed to a lifestyle of compassion, non-violence and respect for life.