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Vegan lifestyle lessens effects of factory farms
2005 04 06

By Megan McGowan |

As soon as people find out that I’m vegan the first thing out of their mouths is always, “Really; why?” This seems like such a simple question, but I’m always overwhelmed by it. How do I explain the reasons for my decision in a succinct one or two sentence rationalization when there are so many complex justifications for it? I usually end up giving some lame explanation like, “The animals are treated so horribly,” which doesn't even begin to convey my reasons.

More than 25 billion animals are killed by the meat industry each year. Chickens, highly social creatures who form very important social relationships in natural conditions, are kept with at least four or five other chickens in a wire cage roughly the size of folded newspaper. The chickens are so stressed by these artificial environments that they take to pecking each other, sometimes to death. Since dead chickens are not profitable to the factory farming business, the situation is remedied not by placing the chickens in more humane conditions, but by cutting their beaks off to prevent injuries from the pecking. This extremely painful operation is done to young chicks without any anesthesia. This is only the beginning of what chickens in the factory farming industry go through. I could go on, but chickens are not the only animals undergoing such torture.

Cows are victims of similar conditions. To begin with, young cows are taken from their mothers very soon after they’re born, which is extremely traumatic for both the mother and calf because of the maternal bond they share. Male calves are then taken to veal crates, which are so small they cannot even turn around. These calves are kept immobile so they don't form muscles because muscles make tougher meat. On top of that, they're fed an iron-deficient diet so that they will become anemic. Why? So the meat will be a lighter color. It seems barbaric to even suggest making an animal sick for such a reason.

Although the way animals are mistreated is the main reason I first became a vegetarian and then a vegan, there are several other reasons that support such dietary choices. Producing meat is extremely detrimental to the environment. It takes just 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, and 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. McDonald’s destroys 55 square feet of rainforest to produce just one "quarter-pounder." In addition to the water and land wasted to produce meat, animals raised for food are a huge source of waste. They produce 86,000 pounds of excrement every second. This is excrement laced with antibiotics and growth hormones and this waste drains off of the land and pollutes our waterways. The meat industry causes more water pollution in the United States than all other industries combined.

But maybe some people don't care. After all, it’s just the earth and animals. But what about the effect people’s meat-eating diet has on other humans? Forty percent of the world’s grain production is used to feed animals to support meat-eating diets. At the same time, someone in the world is dying of starvation every 3.6 seconds. In the time it takes you to watch “The O.C.” 1,000 people have died and millions of animals are being fattened up to go to slaughter. People always claim that animal rights groups are trying to put the interest of animals before those of people, but in reality adopting a plant-based diet would save countless numbers of lives. If Americans reduced their meat consumption by just 10 percent, which would mean less than one meatless day per week, 60 million people could be fed on the saved grain and over 1.5 trillion gallons of water could be saved.

Maybe you're saying to yourself, "these are great reasons but they don’t affect me." But they do. A vegetarian or vegan diet is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Studies of societies that consume high-fat, meat-based diets consistently have the highest rates of every type of cancer. Not only have lung, stomach, breast, colon, prostate and pancreas cancer been linked to an animal-based diet but so have high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity. I don’t mean to say that adopting a plant-based diet is a cure-all for everything, but how many other simple choices can have such a beneficial effect on your life and the lives of others?

After going through all these reasons, the question to ask yourself isn’t "Why should I be vegan?" but instead, "Why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I adopt a diet that saves animals' lives, the environment, other people and my health?" To learn more about this topic and factory farms please come and see Erica Meier from Compassion over Killing speak tonight at 7 p.m. in Squires Student Center in room 150.

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Related: The True Cost Of Meat

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