Veganism: The Better Diet?

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Issue 17, Volume 111

By Justin Huang 

The number of vegan Americans has spiked in recent years. In a 2014 survey sampling 11 thousand Americans, only one percent was vegan. This number increased to six percent by 2017. Despite the recent surge, the topic of whether people should switch to a vegan diet, or even a plant-based one, has been incredibly polarizing. Supporters of veganism believe that the diet is more ethical and efficient compared to omnivorous or carnivorous diets. Others claim the practice has a beneficial effect on the consumers, animals, and environment.

The benefits of veganism are overwhelming. Veganism protects the environment by conserving freshwater, cleaning soil, and purifying air. Raising livestock is detrimental to the environment, as approximately 6.7 million acres of tropical forest are cleared each year to make room for cattle, which replaces oxygen-producing trees with methane-producing machines. Animal agriculture heavily pollutes the air, and agriculture uses about 36 to 74 trillion gallons of water. It takes 100 to 200 times more water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of plant foods. This wasteful practice is a large contributor to the looming global freshwater shortage, which scientists estimate will worsen by 2050.

Animals are also inefficient at producing food for the human populace. While livestock takes up more than 80 percent of the farmland in the United States, they only account for 18 percent of calorie intake. The allocation of resources to produce food is ill-managed; 70 percent of grains grown in the United States are fed to animals, meaning that hundreds of millions of tons of food that could be consumed by people are instead given to livestock. Those hundreds of millions of tons of plant food could be provided to people rather than animals.

However, not only is animal agriculture unsustainable, but it is also unethical. Nearly all livestock raised in the U.S. live in dystopian-like, industrialized factory farms, where animals are subjected to filthy, cramped, and artificial living conditions. The livestock are sentient beings, as cows are known to have social hierarchies amongst the herd where they choose leaders with favorable social traits. Crowding them in factory farms and feedlots upsets this class system and leads to an increase in cortisol levels, which causes stress.

Additionally, due to corporations attempting to maximize margins, factory farms are often unsanitary. Feces are littered throughout animal living spaces, and disease runs rampant, which sometimes leads to foodborne diseases. The meatpacking industry also cuts corners when slaughtering animals, often processing them in hair removal vats and de-feathering stations while they are still conscious. Animals should not be subjected to such treatment, and we most certainly should not empower large corporations to continue these unethical practices.

Many opponents of the vegan diet claim that it is not sustainable and lacks important nutrients such as protein. However, there are many protein-rich foods that adhere to a vegan diet, such as tofu, soy products, quinoa, and nuts. In fact, participating in a vegan diet bolsters the immune system, eye health, and wound healing, as well as reduces the risk of contracting colorectal cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other health complications. Many people who switched to a vegan diet often feel more productive, energetic, and healthier overall. While the vegan diet lacks two vitamins that need to be supplemented—Vitamin D and B12, which both come from animal products—these vitamins only have to be taken occasionally. For example, the average vegan requires 250 mcg of B12 daily, which equates to only two standard 1,000 mcg capsules per week.

Some critics also claim that adhering to a vegan diet is much more expensive than just eating meat. However, this argument is untrue as a vegan diet costs about the same as an omnivorous diet. For example, a gallon of almond milk costs the same as a gallon of whole milk. Meat and seafood prices are also rising in contrast to vegan meat substitutes, which are declining in price. Additionally, the health benefits of reduced risk of heart disease mean that less money will be spent on medication, doctoral visits, and insurance in the long run.

While vegans may have a negative image as people who flaunt their moral superiority, this stereotype is mostly false. Veganism, as much as a diet, is a philosophy that informs others. It is an ideal diet that has exemplary benefits, but the ideology behind it branches out to other vegetarian, plant-based, and organic diets. At surface level, veganism seems binary, but the main goal should be to follow a diet that is ethical, resource-efficient, and healthy.