Dissecting Veganism: What is an ethical lifestyle?

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Image of Ellen Fisher courtesy of Cadencia Photography

BY SERENE NEKOUI                                                                                                                               ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR

After recently speaking to a friend who had vowed to practice a vegan lifestyle for 30 days after watching the Netflix Original documentary “What the Health”, many questions surrounding health and ethics as young people ready to take on the world began to rise. Like several of my friends and family, I am constantly torn between excluding meat from my diet because of the mistreatment of animals for mere food production/ taking on the perfect Instagram vegan life (I’m looking at you, Ellen Fisher), and devouring the plate of bacon my mom serves for our Sunday morning family breakfast.

All over social media, vegans are often ridiculed and discredited for encouraging veganism as a lifestyle that fosters a healthier and more active routine, lessens environmental degradation, and promotes ethical food production by eliminating animal based products from their diet, when really, there’s a little more to it.

While a vegan diet undoubtedly encompasses numerous health benefits, such as decreasing chances of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, disease and illness are still present as GMO’s are used to cultivate vegetables and fruits with no health regulations in North America. The Center for Food Safety Organization outlines the potential risks Genetically Modified foods have on our health. The organization outlines the FDA’s recognition of GMOs as dangerous toxins in food consumption, resulting in health risks through the appearance of new and not previously identified toxins.

As the use of pesticides and growth hormones are used as a means to harvest fruits and vegetables alongside meat, health risks are similar when consuming plant based foods and meat. Meat is regarded as a cause to heart disease and diabetes because of its content of cholesterol and saturated fat having a negative effect on the body when eaten often and in large quantities. Like anything in moderation, every food group is necessary for consuming necessary nutrients, and anything in excess risks imbalance and health risks in a diet. It’s important to keep in mind correlation does not equal causation since the relationship between two factors does not mean that A causes B. In this case, an excess consumption of meat and dairy products can lead to obesity and heart disease, but is not the cause, as millions of people who consume animal based foods do not suffer from any such disease. Monaco, for example, holds the highest life expectancy rate. According to an article by CBC News, Monaco’s people typically eat a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes an abundance of cheese and seafood.

Veganism is often practiced as a way to lessen environmental degradation by decreasing our carbon footprint. According to PETA, 2,400 gallons of water is needed to produce just one pound of meat. In contrast, only 25 gallons are needed to grow 1 pound of wheat. It’s no secret that decreasing water waste goes a long way, especially when it leads to no real nutritional benefits, but rather, the profit behind marketing fatty meats such as bacon and steak.

But it’s also important to understand the ethics behind the production of superfoods that act as a non-dairy and animal based substitute. Soybeans, most commonly used to produce milk and tofu, contributes to deforestation and devastating effects on numerous natural ecosystems across South America. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted reduces biodiversity.

The popularizing and commercializing of superfoods as vegan alternatives for animal based products has resulted in capitalist exploitation, causing the rich to get richer, and the poor to get poorer. Gaining popularity in recent years for its high protein content and its nutritious substitution for meat, quinoa had taken the west by storm as a healthy super food. Since 2006, the Peruvian native grain has tripled in price. The reason? It became a popular alternative for caloric and protein intake weight loss companies and agricultural manufacturers pushed as an ethical and filling substance. This increase demand and price of quinoa in the First World has notably helped farmers in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, but for locals who once indulged in this native and staple food, it is now far too expensive to afford. An article by The Guardian outlines that imported processed foods are less expensive, aiding in malnutrition in quinoa-growing areas.

It’s important for me to clarify I am not demeaning veganism, but rather, providing information to deliver an unbiased conclusion in regard to industrial agriculture. Although veganism is heavily rooted in ethics and self-restraint, and as a way to promote moral righteousness and advocate for a change in the system, the problem still lies within how our food is produced. Our products are made with capitalist and exploitative intentions, regardless if it is meat-based or plant-based. What I’ve taken away from writing this piece is my inability to pick and choose what is ethical. Who am I to decide if a community should live in poverty so I can have a substitute for meat? Like anything you wish to commit to, I encourage you to research, and find moral alternatives if you are looking for a change in lifestyle. I hope I have shined some light on how our society views food production as a whole. As our generation continues to search for ethical answers, I am confident we will be living in a righteous world.