More and more people around the world are adopting a vegan lifestyle these days. In a recent video, popular YouTuber Mic the Vegan took a look at current data available and estimated that there are about 15 million vegans worldwide. Cities like Berlin, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong and London all have thriving vegan scenes. Even Seoul, which could be considered a meat lover’s paradise, boasts 29 vegan restaurants as of today including longtime local favorite Plant, the fast-growing whole food deliver service Sprout, and newcomer raw vegan joint Raw Vega. There are even all-you-can-eat vegan buffets like Veg Green and Hangwachae. It is also possible to find vegan options at non-vegan restaurants like Vegan over Rice at Morococo Cafe and to-die-for ice cream at Fell + Cole.
Food is such a huge part of every culture around the world. Here in Korea, BBQ is so common that office workers can be seen grilling meat and shooting soju on any day of the week. Meat also features prominently for meals and even gift giving during the holidays. In other places of the world, like where I am from in Canada, skipping turkey dinner or not leaving milk and cookies out for Santa would seem like nothing less than sacrilege. What could possibly motivate so many people to take such ‘extreme’ measures?
It seems to me that there are three main reasons why people become compelled to reduce or eliminate animal products from their diets.The first one is rather obvious. Ethics. While social conditioning does allow most of us to eat animals without a second thought, the more information comes out about the conditions animals face in factory farms the harder it is to ignore. Ethical vegan activist Gary Yourofsky’s lecture at Georgia Tech on the ethics of eating animals has gotten more than 4 million views to date and inspired thousands of people to go vegan. But the problem with focusing on animal rights is that a lot of people don’t actually care equally about animals. Plenty of ‘animal lovers’ shower their pets with love while eating farm animals without a second thought. Some people even think that God put animals on the earth for us to eat. As long as factory farms and slaughterhouses are kept out of sight, animal suffering alone is not enough reason for most people to stop consuming products made with animal ingredients.
The next two reasons, however, hit a lot closer to home for everyone. The public health and environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry is causing people to lose not only just their livelihoods but their lives. Let’s talk about health first. Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are the top reasons for premature death and all three of them are referred to as lifestyle diseases or diseases of affluence. As countries around the world develop, the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs also go up. Meat consumption is even linked to erectile dysfunction There is compelling evidence that the rates of consumption of these products are linked directly to the increase in these diseases. But the main problem is that the animal agriculture industry is using very similar tactics to the cigarette industry. When new evidence comes out, they publish conflicting evidence to confuse consumers. Even associations meant to protect the health of consumers are often sponsored by meat companies. This is very well presented in the documentary What the Heath. With the medical system designed to treat sick people rather than prevent disease, it’s no wonder that doctors have so little incentive or training to educate patients on the role diet plays in disease. There are also huge incentives from Big Pharma to for doctors to prescribe medicine to treat the symptoms rather than fixing the problem through diet and lifestyle changes. Dr. Michael Greger discusses this issue in this video. To learn more about what made Dr. Greger stop practicing medicine and focus completely on getting nutritional information out to the public for free at nutritionfacts.org click here. I have mostly referenced Dr. Greger’s work here because I love how throughout yet understandable his work is. But there are plenty more health professionals out there who advocate plant-based diets, the most well-known of which are listed in this article called Top 20 Plant-based Health Professionals to Follow.
The third main reason why people go vegan is the environment. The impact that animal agriculture has on the environment is jaw-dropping. You may have heard about how the CO2 from ‘cow farts’ are contributing to global warming (more than the entire transportation industry combined!), but did you know that animal waste leaking into our rivers and oceans is creating ocean dead zones where no fish can survive? That animal agriculture can be attributed to 1/3 of fresh water usage and the average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots? Did you know that animal agriculture is the main cause of rainforest deforestation? The documentary Cowspiracy covers this issue really well and is also available for streaming on Netflix.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the depressing news in the world. But just by changing our daily habits we can do so much to make positive changes in so many areas, especially the ones mentioned above. Sure, it may not seem that way for each individual but the combined efforts of all of us can make a huge impact. Take a look at what is happening to the dairy industry, for example. And there is more good news. You don’t have to be a perfect vegan to make a difference. As Brian Kateman, says in his TEDx talk, even reducing your consumption of these products can make a big difference in your own health and the health of the planet. If you are interested in finding a non-judgemental community that can answer your questions, I recommend Friendly and pragmatic vegans and vegetarians. Sadia at Pick Up Limes also has a great Beginner’s Guide to Veganism video and if you are into health and fitness be sure to check out Derek at Simnett Nutrition’s incredible Vegan/Calisthenics Transformation video. And most importantly, you don’t have to give up your favorite food customs! There are people around the world, like chef Gaz Oakley at Avant Garde Vegan, working tirelessly to create sustainable alternatives for all occasions. And if you don’t wanna cook, no matter where you are in the world you can use the Happy Cow app to find veg-friendly restaurants near you.