why-im-veganDon’t read Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book Eating Animals. You don’t want, or need, to hear the results of his extensive, hands-on research into factory farming. You don’t want to hear yet another reformed vegan tell you:

  • The six main reasons to be vegan:
    1. to reduce the ghastly and endless suffering of billions of thinking, feeling creatures;
    2. to live healthier and longer;
    3. to reduce global air and water pollution, land degradation, water shortages and climate change impact;
    4. to reduce the risks of pandemic diseases carried by genetically identical, sick, mutilated, confined chemical-soaked animals;
    5. to eat (when the external costs and agribusiness subsidies are factored out) less expensively;
    6. to end the atrocities and human psychological damage that occur in industrial animal slaughterhouses;
  • “Someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning.”
  • “The controversy around PETA may have less to do with the organization [and its tactics] than with those of us who stand in judgment of it — that is, with the unpleasant realization that ‘those PETA people’ have stood up for the values we have been too cowardly or forgetful to defend ourselves.”
  • “The power brokers of factory farming know that their business model depends on consumers not being able to see (or hear about) what they do.”
  • It’s a myth that “free-range” or “organic” animal products are more humane than factory farmed products.
  • [quote from a rancher of unmutilated, undrugged, un-genetically modified animals, one of the dwindling number who now collectively produce less than 0.5% of US animal products] “Michael Pollan wrote about Polyface Farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma like it was something great, but that farm is horrible. It’s a joke. Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask him. So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference… KFC chickens are almost always killed in 39 days. They’re babies. That’s how rapidly they’re grown. Salatin’s organic free-range chicken is killed in 42 days. ‘Cause it’s still the same chicken. It can’t be allowed to live any longer because its genetics are so screwed up… These aren’t things, they’re animals, so we shouldn’t be talking about good enough. Either do it right or don’t do it.”
  • Many of the workers in modern industrial slaughterhouses find the atrocities and suffering they witness every day so desensitizing that they become deranged sadists, and slaughterhouse owners ‘cover’ for the horrific acts they then routinely commit on animals.
  • The American Dietary Association has repeatedly confirmed that “vegetarian [including vegan] diets are appropriate for all individuals during all stages of the life-cycle, including pregnancy, infancy, adolescence, and for athletes…[and such] diets tend to be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol and higher in fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals…[and] are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of hypertension, lower risk of type 2 diabetes… and lower cancer rates.” In addition, they note that vegetarians and vegans have more optimal protein consumption than carnivores, since excess animal protein intake increases the risk of osteoporosis, kidney and urinary tract diseases and some cancers.

You don’t need to read the book. You know all this. There are reasons you still consume animal products, that are, inevitably, factory farmed. Eating is, after all, a social activity. It makes people really uncomfortable to tell them you’re vegan, and talking about it is hard. It’s even harder to replace all the animal products you use (especially eggs and dairy for baking and flavouring) with vegan alternatives, and to find replacements for the ‘processed’ products (sauces, desserts, breads) that you buy because it takes time to make them from scratch.

So here’s what you do. At least, here is what I’m going to do, as I take the last small step to being vegan, all the way, all the time:

  • Learn the list of 5 reasons for being vegan in the diagram above. Partly to remind myself, partly to answer the “why” question that others always ask. My approach is not to debate, not to defend, but to be ready if someone is really ready to listen.
  • Get a button that says, simply, vegan, and wear it on days when I am going to food stores or restaurants.
  • Use the Veganomicon cookbook for all my meals. This book is wonderful, unintimidating, practical, easy, delicious and funny.
  • Keep a copy of Eating Animals to give to anyone who is ready and wants the facts.
  • Be prepared for dinner invitations. Let the host of dinner parties know in advance that I’m vegan and that I’m serious about it. Know which restaurants in the area I’m going to be eating in, have vegan options. If I know I’m going to be eating at a place with no vegan options, eat in advance.
  • I don’t have non-vegan family members living with me anymore; if I did, I’d tell them of my choice and that I’m serious about it, but that I will never impose it on others.
  • Become sufficiently proficient at vegan cooking that I don’t need to fret when I’m cooking for or hosting non-vegans. Tell them in advance that all meals will be vegan, and what the vegan alternatives will be for milk/cream (for coffee, cereal), eggs and cheese. There are alternatives.

Not so hard after all.

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21 Responses to Vegan

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  2. Wendy Farmer-O'Neil says:

    Thanks Dave for this timely reminder. I have been slowly working my way back toward Veganhood again. I have been tackling my day one meal at a time, figuring that a 75% vegan day is better than not trying at all. Not having others at home would make a huge difference. As a single mom with three young kids who think rice, beans, many vegetables are ech, blah, poo-poo, yuck, the very thought of having to shop, plan, and prepare two sets of meals often daunts me beyond my capacity to undertake it. And my kids are environmentally aware, they just haven’t had that naked-lunch experience yet. I’m working on it. And yes, i’ve tried many of the ‘fun’ ‘guaranteed kids will love it’ vegetarian meals–and no go. And simply taking the hard line is doubly tough when their other parent is a committed carnivore. My integrity is aching–and so is my concern for their future environmentally and physically. So back i go again to the daily struggle between what i know is the only long-term choice, my own capacity and energy, and how much of my children’s displeasure i’m willing to risk. Any thoughts?

  3. Steve Bean says:

    It would be interesting to see more of Foer’s statement that “It’s a myth that “free-range” or “organic” animal products are more humane than factory farmed products.” The flip side to this perspective and some of the other bullet points can be found in The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. Among other counterpoints, she offers the clear understanding that animals don’t necessarily have to come from factory farms. She does have a bit (or more) of a victim stance, but I don’t think that takes away from her research or general clarity on food choices and their impacts on our health and the environment.

  4. Jeff Vail says:

    Hi Dave,

    It’s a tough step, and I applaud you for taking it. I’m not there yet, but I’m moving in that direction. Two concerns:

    1. I am not yet convinced that we can easily source the kind of EFAs and some micronutrients that we need from truly vegan sources (most non-animal EFAs are less readily absorbed, or so I’m told), but I think this is something we can and will solve.

    2. I still think that we can live in harmony and true partnership with animals if done properly–while recognizing that our current food system seems structurally incapable of doing so. My parents, for example, have 8 chickens for eggs, and I honestly believe that these chickens are humanely raised and cared for. They aren’t slaughtered at all for meat, but allowed to grow old and die, being fed even after they stop laying. The eight of them have about 250 square feet of pen space, they regularly roam a vast orchard, and are fed the finest greens and seeds from my mom’s garden (same stuff they eat). It’s a pretty good life, though certainly not perfect–they’re still the result of highly suspect genetic processes, still confined to a degree, and still the result of a breeding system that sexes chicks and grinds up the males alive. Also, this example, being unavailable to many/most people, may not be the most relevant. However, thought question: if it was possible to set up a system for laying chickens where the humane treatment and quality of life was by every measure equal to that of birds in nature, would an objection to eating eggs derived from that system be tenable? I don’t know… same question could be asked of dairy. Similarly difficult questiosn: where do we draw the line at life-forms high enough to object to killing and eating? Isn’t it a bit of an artifical line that we draw saying fish can feel but plants can’t? I know there’s a huge gap there, but it’s a continuum, and somewhere on that continuum it gets too gray for me to figure out…

    Food for thought. Here’s my favorite vegan recipes:

    North African Stew: Put olive oil, chickpeas, sweet potato, fire-roasted tomato, cumin, ginger, turmeric, cayenne (or better yet powdered chipotle), salt, water,and garlic in a slow cooker (whatever ratio suits you, but heavy on the chickpeas). Cook 8 hours on low, then mash it up a bit with a potato masher and serve.

    Also, if you like Indian food, much of it is naturally vegan (or can easily be made so). I’d recommend getting a good vegan indian cookbook for experimentation…

  5. yinyanggirl says:

    If you’re going to be honest about this stuff, it’s important to also note that the farming of grains and vegetables in this country kills a far greater number of creatures (a wide variety of rodents, birds and insects) on a regular basis than does even factory slaughter. In general, the farming culture as it now exists in the U.S. does not accord itself with respect for life and the only way to remove yourself from it is to grow all your own food in accordance with your own values (even then, some unwanted loss of life will likely be necessary — things that live in the soil, etcetera, are killed when soils are tilled and the more you grow, the more infestation by insects and animals becomes a serious problem.) It is impossible to eat without killing SOMETHING — some draw the line at plants, but why do we believe they have a lesser right to exist than any other living being?

    The other thing that you need to be honest about is that domesticated animals depend on human beings for their existence. If we are not raising them for food, there is no real place in the world for chickens, cows, lambs and many other domesticated animals. They are not suited to life in the wild, and if they were to be abandoned by human farmers, their lives would likely be short and end violently or in starvation, not necessarily an improvement even over their often cruel and abbreviated lives now. I’ve never seen anyone write realistically about what the consequences would be — for the animals, not humans — if humans were to suddenly stop raising animals for food. It’s important to think about this because it is the reality — neither we nor the animals live in an ideal world, but in a world so harsh that many species chose domestication as their best route to survival. Veganism may be a personal solution to not involving oneself in a cruel enterprise . . . but, on a broader scale, is it an ethical or viable solution for the world? Food for thought.

  6. Tree Bressen says:

    I’m delighted to see you moving beyond thinking and talking about this issue to fully changing your behavior–i think both are important. I know it will be an inconvenience at times, but it seems worth it.

    I too take issue with the statement “It’s a myth that ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’ animal products are more humane than factory farmed products.” After being vegetarian (plus fish) for many years, my current guideline is that i only eat meat from farms i have personally visited. And i’m mainly buying eggs from local acquaintances who are raising chickens at home on a small, non-industrial scale. I use rice milk rather than dairy. So that leaves cheese, and occasionally ice cream when i can’t get any of my local stores to stock the “rice cream” i prefer. My cheese is indeed organic, industrial cheese, then again so are most of my vegetables and fruits and all of my grains, and i believe that plants are conscious beings too.

    In an industrialized society, almost everything we do has nasty consequences–life is complex, and that is the effect of the systems we are inhabiting. We’re all of us far from perfect, and remembering that helps me keep in touch with compassion for myself and others when actions fall short of my ideals. However, that’s no excuse for not trying to get better. I think what we eat is really basic and a great place for beginning to make change. Congratulations.

    In response to what Wendy said (comment #2), i feel for you. It sounds like you are getting it figured out, just not at the rate you would like. I think on some meals that many people would not even notice the difference as to whether it had meat or not, e.g. you can throw TVP into chili or spaghetti sauce for texture (although i also wonder what the health effects are of eating too much industrially processed soyfood). Personally i rely a lot on leftovers, i usually cook extra at least once a week to make my life the rest of the week easier; throwing leftovers into a pan to heat up on low is so easy it hardly counts as meal prep, so then even if you still cook something separate for the young’uns at least your own meal is covered? Anyway, my main thought for you is compassion because it’s a tough situation to face.

  7. pradtf says:


    you are being very honest and are helping the most important change people can make these days for their health, for the environment and for their ethics.

    arguments such as grain killing more animals is just fluff when you consider that 80% of the grain goes to feeding animals who are then butchered. the we kill whenever we eat is the old, if you can’t do everything then you shouldn’t do anything nonsense that is propagated by those desperately trying to rationalize their contributions to the destruction of the planet as well as the imprisonment, exploitation, abuse and murder of sentient beings.

    we’ve been all through this i seem to recall. :D
    but we can go through it all over again if anyone wants to. ;)

    in friendship,

  8. vera says:

    Aw, do you have to slam Salatin’s farm? Effing true believers… those nice vegans recently pepper-pied Lierre Keith while she was lecturing, and gloated over it. Yeah, way to go.

    My point? It’s time to stop fighting one another. Including fighting about the right food to eat. Wanna be a vegan, with all the costs it entails? Fine, be a vegan. But if you are a vegan to do a guilt trip on others then it’s more of the same old same old: let’s stay divided so we can be easily conquered!

  9. pradtf says:

    nice to see you again, vera!
    surely you are not condemning vegans because of some pie assault?
    would it not be more appropriate to condemn those who committed the assault as criminals instead of as vegans?

    it’s important to fight those who eat at the expense of other sentient beings.

    if you want to discuss the costs of being vegan vs the cost of not, let’s do it!
    let’s discuss it along the 3 main areas health, environment and ethics … with some actual facts and figures this time.

  10. vera says:

    Hey prad, good to see ya again. :-) I am condemning those vegans who are true believers. Like we needed more of them in this world…. True believers are willing to harm others in the name of their cause…

    We all eat and live at the expense of other sentient beings. That’s how the planet works.

    As for debating, I am going to pass. I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians, and respect the impulse behind their preferences. I would be interested in discussing our common cause: how to stop bickering with each other, how to end CAFOs, and how to relocalize food. Any other common causes you can think of?

  11. pradtf says:


    we can stop bickering as soon as we recognize that sentient beings should not be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered for the sake of one’s palate. that’s not such a tall order is it?

    the fact that we eat at the expense of other sentient beings, does not excuse one from at least minimizing the damage done. (there is after all an ethical difference between intentional killing and its complement that even the legal system recognizes). otherwise, it’s like saying i kill microbes when i breathe so that means it’s ok to live life as a serial baby killer since killing is inevitable.

    the way to minimize it in this particular case is to go veg. if you want, i’ll show you the facts and figures which clearly demonstrate that veg enormously reduces the suffering and death of sentient beings using works and calculations by grass-fed ruminant advocate, davis (who started some of this problem) as well as matheny and lamey … well, i’m probably going to do this anyway, so hope you stay tuned.

    how’s janene, btw? i enjoyed the last discussion the three of us had on dave’s blog and it proved to be very productive.

    in friendship,

  12. vera says:

    Hey prad, alas, I have no news of Janene at the moment… her blog has grown silent. I am hoping the reason is she’s fallen in love. :-)

    Minimizing the damage done is a good thing to aim for. I am with you on that one. As for accusing meat eaters of murder, well, heh, arguing with vegans is like arguing with Christians, it never goes anywhere, and they (you?) want to insult the rest of us. I am not interested to be on the butt end of verbal abuse.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    Nothing like bringing up the morality of our food system to stir up discussion on the blog. Thanks for the comments (and recipes)! As I said I’m past the point of debating on this. Just a few points:

    – After reading Foer’s book, I’m no longer a believer that there is a real “cruelty-free” meat-eating alternative to vegan, but he takes a whole book to explain why that’s the case. Rather than debate it here, I’d encourage people to read the book, and if they’re still not convinced, we’ll just agree to disagree. Even if it were theoretically possible to guarantee farmed animals a relatively stress-free life, in some way that could scale even a bit, I wouldn’t personally go back to eating them. (For the animals, it’s still not a natural life.) If that could be done I’d leave the “stress-free” market for those who feel they must/want to eat animal products but ‘buy’ the five reasons why they ideally wouldn’t.

    – At one point I thought the answer was science and technology inventing a way to grow meat/milk from cells in a laboratory, or at least something that tastes like it. But now I’ve discovered some excellent vegan recipes I don’t think we need to mimic the carnivorous diet to make going vegan easy and delicious.

    – I’ve found that telling people you’re a vegan without being defensive or getting them uncomfortable is mostly a matter of practice. It’s no longer an issue for me. I don’t make an issue of others eating animal products in my presence, and I’ve found that over time people watching your example just tend to become vegan themselves. You know: “don’t tell me, show me”. Others tell me that it’s the same with kids, though it takes patience waiting for them to come around.

    – Janene is fine; her silence on her blog, she says, is no cause for alarm.

  14. vera says:

    Prad said: “we can stop bickering as soon as we recognize that sentient beings should not be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered for the sake of one’s palate. that’s not such a tall order is it?”

    It’s kinda like a Christian says… we can stop bickering as soon as we all recognize that Jesus is Lord! That’s not such a tall order, is it?” Nah? Silly me, I thought that being civil to each other should not depend on whether or not the other person agrees with me.

    So for the record, I’d like to say that I no longer debate with people who hold in contempt or disparage everybody who does not believe like themselves. I will no longer participate in such a disrespectful and divisive discourse. You wanna be a true believer troll? Ok, but not with my help.

  15. pradtf says:

    now vera look at what i wrote:
    “sentient beings should not be imprisoned, exploited, abused and murdered for the sake of one’s palate”
    i didn’t say meat eaters murder sentient beings – for all i know they could be eating road kill.
    but sentient beings are murdered for consumption of any corpse industry: meat, dairy, eggs etc. that is the point.

    the reason some people find it difficult to argue with vegans is because they really do hold an unassailable position. those who choose to consume other sentient beings do so only, as peter singer put it, “by the hand of tyranny”.

    now, if i’m reading dave correctly on post #13, he’d prefer we don’t get in to a discussion here on the matter. so i won’t, beyond providing a link to show that the “grain kills more creatures argument” is arithmetically incorrect as a result of erroneous assumptions (made by davis, actually):

    there is a lot of material there, but it is clearly laid out so people can see the actual numbers, calculations as well as follow-up on the ethical matters that are unavoidable when it comes to diet.

    if anyone wants to discuss these things further with me, just ask dave for my email address and i’ll be happy to continue.

    good bye for now, vera and dave.
    give my regards to janene too.

  16. Dave Pollard says:

    I think someone said we should focus on what we agree on, and not fight about what we don’t. I’m with them.

  17. Bob Watson says:

    Just a shoutout to say I for one am glad you spoke on this matter. The relentlessly flannel-mouthed always show up on this issue with their half truths and shabby shibboleths.
    To paraphrase slightly (one word) again the (seemingly) immortal John Connor:
    And understand.
    That vegan-atic is out there!
    It can’t be bargained with.
    It can’t be reasoned with.
    It doesn’t feel pity,
    or remorse,
    or fear,
    and it absolutely


    Until you are dead!

  18. Jason says:

    Vera, i find it interesting the way you bring up religion in this debate the same as last time. The reason you can’t argue with any religious zealot is because their beliefs are not grounded in reality but rather faith, and faith doesn’t need facts.

    Whether, as an individual, you make a decision to (or not to) become vegan doesn’t change the facts about what actually goes on in this world regarding exploitation of animals. And the fact animals feel pain, and feel mental anguish, etc… It also doesn’t change the facts around environmental impacts. Facts here are facts based on research, observation, and experimentation – not “faith”. I don’t want to flood this post with useless references when it’s done much better in other places, e.g. read Animal Liberation.

    Vera do you also dispute scientific method in general?

  19. vera says:

    Jason said: “The reason you can’t argue with any religious zealot is because their beliefs are not grounded in reality but rather faith”

    Actually, that applies to any zealot, not just the religious ones. Even, zealots for science. They call it scientism. :-)

    As I said, I am interested in working together, omnivores and vegetarians of all persuasion, on common cause. Are you?

  20. dean says:

    You narrow minded vegans think that a utopia world can exist, what happens when peacetime population grows? what happens when Human consumption of plant matter overides areas for wildlife? what happens when crops are the target of animal scavaging/grazing? do we shoot the 1 ton elephant? What happens when animal human interaction is gone, do we wipe them out, unnessecary burden, What happens to these animals,Will they become extinct due to humans selfish nature since we no longer need them,What happens when a plague hits? sit back and watch because we are not allowed pesticides?

    IM happy vegans have the diet they take and yes, like religion, keep it to youselves, you’s are no better than anyone else in this world, you are all consumers to a society that no matter how hard you try has a butterfly effect. eg that computer that you type on, who made it? How did it get to your house? Did the people that made it or delivered it eat meat???? So therefore are YOU still contributing to the way things are in the exact same way you would regardless of what you eat??

    Untill you (vegans with the big voice) live in a selfsufficient area of space with no direct recipience of anything from outside your commune and are self sufficient in every possible way! and personnally reply to this when i come and vist you.You don’t you got a leg to stand on!

    1 i would love to see you vegans live in a rat infested house and not do a thing about it!!! And don’t say get a cat because you are still dealing the ace card you would with a mouse trap!!

    2 Tyranny is the way of nature, there is always something eating another eg insect eats decomposed item, excretement absorbed by plant, plant devoured by mammal, carnivore eats mammal, carnivore dies and so on with many possible branches

    3 nature is far more visious than humanity, take a look at a pride taking on one elephant, athough i do not condone alot of the practises carried out by humans especially the ones pointed out on vegan sites. I have lived on a dairy farm over my life time and cannot understand perceptions carried out, where im from they eat grass no grain! cows are given the best possible life, no deseases, plenty of food, and a rotational system of paddocks, As a upside of not having calfs to look after they remove the possibilities of infections from teeething and especially mastitis.I would welcome anyone to come watch these animals go bout their everyday lives .and even walk up to them and touch them.

    To live off the land comes respect for nature! Not control

  21. Harinder says:

    This debate over to be or not to be a vegan or who is better off may be continued by the following:-

    The vegans have a attitude ” holier than thou” they should realize that even water & air have life in them. That Vegans also cause to take life by consuming crops, vegetables is beyond doubts.

    The Nature’s life cycle is so designed that nearly all species in one form or the other live by consuming the other form of life.

    However, the global warming can be controlled quickly if humans stop eating meats as much larger energy is consumed in raising,preserving, consuming & transporting the meats. We must have balance in the universe & should do all possible & live in harmony within God-s creation.

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