Updated: Jan 22, 2021
By Allegra Pearl
In the spirt of the global campaign "Veganuary," I'm discussing a few of the main reasons why millions of people around the globe are setting aside meat and animal products and adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
At 11:59 PM on December 31st, I raised my champagne glass with my family members and gleefully said sayonara to 2020. I think I speak for most when I say that I did not shed a tear saying goodbye to what has all around been an exceptionally difficult year. One of my new year's resolutions (on top of losing less face masks and Purell bottles) was to participate in Veganuary.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a non-profit organization that encourages people to go vegan for the month of January. This global campaign began back in 2014 and has since grown into a massive movement. This year over 500,000 people, including myself, are participating in the 31 day vegan challenge. In honour of Veganuary and this global push towards a vegan lifestyle, I thought I would highlight a few reasons why people all over the world are choosing to become vegan.
For the Animals
One of the main reasons why people choose to go vegan and abstain from eating animals and animal by-products is for ethical reasons. There is a massive disconnect between the bacon we have for breakfast and the pig that was raised in captivity and slaughtered to produce it. Did you know that pigs are actually smarter than dogs? Contrary to popular belief, they're very clean animals and when trained they can learn their name after two to three weeks. Eating animals has become so normalized that the vast majority of people do not associate the food on their plate with the reality of factory farming and the horrific processes that take place in our agricultural systems. Therefore, lots of people go vegan out of compassion for the animals and to act in accordance with their values. To learn more about this topic, I highly recommend watching the documentaries Earthlings and Dominion. As well, I recommend reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer and Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.
For the Planet
Another common reason people adopt a vegan diet is for environmental reasons. Dr. Joseph Poore’s research highlights that “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use." A study from the University of Oxford concluded that removing meat and dairy products from one’s diet can reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. As well, the UN reports that farmed livestock accounts for 14.5% of all man made greenhouse gas emissions and that if everyone went vegan, food-related emission would be drastically reduced by 70% by 2050. Choosing to eat more plant-based food at an individual level is great, but we must also work at the institutional level and demand that governments to stop subsidizing these industries and invest in more sustainable food systems. Cowspiracy and Food, Inc. are two of my favourite documentaries that explain the severity of this situation. I also recommend reading We Are the Weather by Jonathan Foer and Eat for the Planet: Saving the World One Bite at a Time by Gene Stone and Nil Zacharias.
Another major reason that people begin transitioning towards a plant-based diet is for health reasons. Switching to a vegan diet means increasing your intake of whole grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, etc. This results is an increase in nutrient rich plant-based foods that are excellent fuel sources for your body. According to one of the leading doctors on this topic, Dr. Michael Greger, predominantly plant-based diets are associated with lowering one’s risks of developing type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, etc. More and more research is coming up on the health benefits of a vegan diet. Wet markets and slaughterhouse are also breeding grounds for pandemics, including covid-19. If we want to avoid the next pandemic, we have to start having hard conversations around keeping animals in these tight, dirty conditions. Healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables are often more expensive than fast food and junk food, which is why we must work harder to make these foods more accessible to everyone. I highly recommend watching Gamechangers and What the Health and reading How Not to Die by Michael Greger and Food Justice by Saryta Rodriguez.
For Workers Rights
This reason isn't quite as commonly cited, but it should be. Working in a slaughterhouse is one of the worst jobs on the planet, so it's not surprising that it falls to low income workers and migrant workers to do this traumatic work. According to the Yale Global Health Review, published in 2020, there is a specific kind of PTSD that slaughterhouse workers suffer from: A type of post-traumatic stress disorder called perpetration-induced traumatic stress (PITS). In other words, they are the direct reason for another being's trauma. 2020 showed repeated instances where slaughterhouse workers were failed to be protected in other ways as well. Meatpacking plants, along with prisons, were some North America's leading hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 infections. Thousands of meatpacking workers have fallen ill and many have died. This leads to the question - you couldn't do this work yourself, why are you paying someone else to do it? And who are you to judge the people who are forced to do it because of your demand for this product? No one wants to have this amount of blood on their hands. We must advocate for a juste recovery in order to get better physical and mental health support for these workers and help them transition to safer jobs. Beyond this, we must be aware and informed about the way the farmers who grow our plants are treated as well.
These are just four out of the many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Although people can be initially motivated by one or two of these reasons, most people stay because they begin to align themselves with many of these different reasons. At the end of the day, it all boils down to compassion and working towards a better, cleaner, more just world. As Sharon Gannon puts it, “Don’t wait for a better world. Start now to create a world of harmony and peace. It is up to you, and it always has been. You may even find the solution at the end of your fork”.