Robert Mathers tackles some of the common questions about going vegan. Thinking about going vegan this World Vegan Month? Download the new VeGuide app and go vegan the easy way.
Discussing veganism naturally gives rise to many questions and for anyone considering veganism or just wanting to know more about it, the answers are important. Because the topic doesn’t often come up in our daily lives and details about vegan diets are not exactly common knowledge, here are answers to some of these most common questions about veganism.
Do animals suffer?
Animals have the same evolutionary past as us and the same reporting mechanisms for pain that we do; a brain and central nervous system. They also produce the same reactions in scenarios where pain would arise; they flinch and make noises of distress. There’s strong evidence too that animals experience mental suffering. In stressful situations vertebrates have been found to release adrenally-derived glucocorticoid hormones which “drive gluconeogenesis, suppress reproductive processes, alter movement and feeding rates, impact immune functions, and generally help an individual enter a ‘state of emergency’ when an environmental stressor induces their release”. Fish too, for example, “experience a rise in cortisol” (commonly known as the stress hormone) when confronted with factors capable of producing fear. There is even evidence that animals can experience mental illnesses just as we do.
Do plants suffer?
Plants have input and output reactions to certain stimulation, for example photosynthesis, but they can’t experience pain or mental suffering due to not having a brain or central nervous system. Being vegan actually reduces the number of plants eaten because the animals we eat have to be fed on vast quantities of plants. Producing a kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain, one kilogram of pork requires nine kilograms of grain and one kilogram of chicken requires three kilograms of grain. This is also why the argument that eating meat is better than being vegan because more insects and small animals are killed in plant agriculture does not hold.
Does producing milk, cheese and eggs cause suffering?
These processes indeed cause great suffering to animals. Mother cows need to be pregnant to produce milk so from 15 months old they are forced into confined spaces every two or three months and artificially impregnated. After birth, the calf is removed from the mother within 36 hours; if the calf is male, he will likely be sold to be raised for veal or if there isn’t enough demand, he will be shot. The Drum reported in 2012 that 90,000 male calves are shot dead each year for this reason. If the calf is female, she will often be prepared to be a mother calf.
Normally, a cow holds at most two litres of milk in her udder but the antibiotics farmers use for optimum milk production cause cows to carry 20 litres at any one time. The weight of this often makes cows lame or causes painful inflammation of the mammary glands (mastitis). Cows naturally live for up to 25 years but after 5 years of producing milk in these conditions their yield will no longer be profitable and they are slaughtered.
In egg production, whether free range or not, hens have their beak painfully trimmed to prevent them injuring other hens due to the stress of confinement. They also experience a pre-mature death at around 80 weeks, when their natural life span is up to 8 years. Caged hens never see daylight and are restricted to space only slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper. Male chicks are an unnecessary by-product of this process and are killed straight after hatching by incineration or gassing.
Is veganism healthy?
Well-planned vegan diets contain all the nutrients we need to remain healthy. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is the professional association for dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The BDA recognises that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.
It's always a great idea to pay attention to nutritional needs, but this applies to everyone, not just vegans. Going vegan is great opportunity to pay more attention to your diet and health. The Vegan Society has a full-time Dietitan on staff, check out their nutrition section for advice and guidance.
Is it more expensive?
Being vegan needn’t be more expensive than a diet containing animal products. Some of the cheapest and healthiest foods available are great staples of a vegan diet, including cereals, beans, rice, potatoes, lentils, pasta, bread, fruits and vegetables. If you’re eating a balanced diet that includes animal products, you likely already buy and enjoy many of these anyway. Some vegan items such as vegan milks and cheese can be more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts, but this additional outlay is likely to be balanced by the savings you make through not having to buy meat.
Do you have to sacrifice taste or variety?
Not at all. Most of the flavour that we enjoy in foods comes from spices, herbs, salt and sugar, which are all plants. The Vegan Society has an excellent list of recipes for different styles and purposes and there’s so many out there that you’re bound to find vegan dishes you like. Variety also needn’t be an issue for vegans. There are myriad forms of fruits (68 here), vegetables (75 here), grains (21 here), legumes (hundreds here) and vegan meat and dairy substitutes.
Is it hard to get vegan food?
If you do a weekly shop in a supermarket you shouldn’t have any trouble finding vegan food. For example, typing ‘vegan’ into the Morrisons groceries website returns over 1,500 products. If you’re used to shopping at very small local shops, then you might find less variety of meat substitutes. If you’re keen to have these and don’t live or work near bigger supermarkets, you can always buy food on a supermarket website and have it delivered at an average cost of £3 a time or even less if you sign up for unlimited deliveries throughout the year.
People have many more questions about veganism than can be covered in this short post, but when we dig down into evidence, moral reasoning and applying logical extensions of ideas we can see that veganism will reduce a significant amount of animal suffering. We also find that it doesn’t have to result in sacrifices of health, money, taste, variety or convenience. These facts show it as preferable to a diet containing animal products.
For those looking to find out more about veganism, I’d recommend the following links:
by Robert Mathers
Robert Mathers is an Online English Teacher to students in China, Taiwan and Japan. He pledges to give at least 10% of his income to highly effective organisations and supports Buddhist ethics, veganism, minimalism and organ donation.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.