When it comes to discussing veganism, I often have the hardest time talking to vegetarians or flexitarians. Sometimes, the tension comes from a level of insecurity that can quickly lead to defensiveness and the need to explain that cutting out animal flesh is already “so much more than what most people do” and that “at least vegetarians don’t harm animals.”
Just as a disclaimer: I do think that being vegetarian is amazing. I think that even cutting out one serving of meat per week is amazing. I think that any attempt to reduce our consumption of animal products is the right direction to a healthier and more environmentally sustainable life. That also means that I support anyone who makes it a goal to reduce meat, dairy, egg, and/or fish consumption. And by the way, I was a vegetarian for a long time before going fully vegan. But I also distinctly remember the moment when it all kind of dawned on me. I can’t recall exactly which article I had read, but it was definitely about dairy production and that was the end of the vegetarian road for me. After I thought it through, there was no way back. I couldn’t just ignore the knowledge I acquired, the truth I discovered. I had to go the extra mile if I wanted to feel in balance with my moral convictions.
1. The Environment
Let me start with the first reason, why going vegetarian is not enough if you want to make a full, positive impact on your own body, the environment, and the lives of animals. When it comes to the dairy industry, the environmental footprint is large. A 2012 Dutch research paper written by Dr. Arjen Hoekstra explains that producing one liter of dairy milk requires around 900 liters of water. Whereas 1 liter of soy milk, requires about three times less water. Around 19% of the global agricultural water print is related to dairy cows.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, we know that cattle produce large amounts of methane, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates to represent about 1/3 of total agricultural emissions. In addition, manure from livestock management makes up for another 14% of methane emissions. On a global scale, milk production represented 2.7% of worldwide Co2 emission in 2007 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
2. Your Health
In addition to environmental reasons, health plays a major role when it comes to the increased benefits a vegan diet can have compared to a vegetarian diet. Organizations such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are alerting people the dangers of dairy consumption based on scientific research that links dairy to osteoporosis as well as animal protein consumption (casein in the case of dairy) in general to increased risk for cancer and other chronic health problems. When it comes to osteoporosis, many people still believe that the calcium in dairy protects your bones from breaking and makes them strong. The truth is, however, dairy is an acid-forming food. When you drink milk or eat cheese, your body will hence try to balance the acidity by pulling from alkaline sources–such as calcium stocked in your bones. As a result, your bones are weakened and can break more easily. In addition to that, think about all the hormones and antibiotics that are fed to cattle and that you will subsequently consume.
3. Animal Welfare
Finally, animal welfare. This is a topic that not everyone cares about equally, but I want to bring it up and point to the fact that the dairy industry is not an ethically acceptable way of treating animals. Although dairy cows are not primarily raised to be killed, they live a fairly miserable life. Calves are taken away from their mothers just one day after their birth, and female cows are inseminated every 10 months to lactate and produce milk. It is known that most dairy cows only live until they are 5 years old, versus their natural lifespan of 20 years, which is mainly due to the stress they endure as well as the diseases they can easily contract in the crowded lots that they live their lives in.
I hope some of these reasons (or all of them!) can be helpful for anyone who’s considering making the switch and going fully vegan. Again, every change is worth it. Every little reduction in animal product consumption is a huge contribution, but at the same time, every instance of animal product consumption spurs harm–and that’s something we should all know about.
Are you thinking about becoming vegan? What motivates you to make the change?
Also by Isabelle: Why Moving to the US Made My Healthier (and Happier!)
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