By Leann Skallerud
What’s a vegan? Why do people want to be vegan? Is it even healthy? The vegan diet excludes the consumption of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.), and even honey. Vegans also try not to use other animal products like leather or feathers. People choose this seemingly drastic lifestyle for the benefit of their own health, the well-being of animals, who are abused in industrial farming, and for the sake of the environment, which is damaged by greenhouse gas emissions from industrial farms and livestock.
Why would people want to go vegan? Does it really make a difference in animal welfare or the environment? Animals go through various forms of physical abuse like being stuffed into overcrowded cages, hooked up to machines for most of their lives, debeaked, castrated, branded, ground alive, forced to live in their waste, and killed at birth based on gender. Many Americans understand that the conditions for animals in factory farms are brutal, but they choose to not think about it. Americans who consume animal products don’t want animals to suffer but they don’t feel that animal suffering is worth drastically changing their diets.
Meat has been an important part of human culture for most of our time on Earth, so why would we change it now? According to a recent report by the United Nations, agriculture is estimated to use 70% of the world’s fresh water, and account for 38% of land use, and 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This data ranks agriculture and the use of fossil fuels as the most important contributors to global climate change.
According to the report, land needed to grow food for the animals in industrial farming involves wiping out forests and other habitats. This contributes to major losses in biodiversity, which, according to researchers for the U.N., humans have changed more in the last fifty years than in all of human history. The goal for vegans is to eventually persuade the general public to stop or at least decrease the consumption of animal products in order to lower consumer demand. If factory farming no longer has consumer demand for animal products, it will be unprofitable and unjustified to continue farming the way we do today.
But, is veganism even healthy? Some may wonder how humans get nutrients like protein and vitamin B12 when excluding all animal products from their diets. According to a 2009 study, well planned vegan diets “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” According to dietitian Sandra Hood, people must learn about vitamin B12, iodine, calcium, and fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 before going vegan. Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient listed that is not found in plant-based foods, but can be supplemented or found in fortified foods like cereal, crackers, nondairy milks, and nutritional bars. All of the vitamins must be researched and people should talk to their doctors before drastically changing their diet.
What about protein? One advantage to animal protein is that it is a complete protein, meaning a piece of meat has all of the important amino acids that humans need. Plant protein has the same amino acids but only when a variety of foods like beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables, are included in the daily diet, which in effect may offer even more nutrients than meat could when eaten alone.
One obstacle to veganism occurs when a person starts checking ingredients and realizes that many products contain animals. Other complications include access and affordability of vegan food depending on where people live and if their food is being donated to them.
Luckily for BCC students interested in veganism, finding vegan choices at restaurants and stores is surprisingly easy. Many restaurants in downtown Berkeley like Tamon Tea, Crunch, Cinnaholic, Saturn, and Toss, offer vegan options. There are also affordable vegan snacks like bagels, smoothies, health bars, cookies, chips, and nondairy milks sold at Walgreens, CVS, and even K’s Cafe near Berkeley City College.