A vegan is one who chooses a diet and lifestyle free
of animal products, and of supporting businesses that exploit animals.
No meat, fish, chicken, fowl, eggs, milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt,
gelatine, honey, whey, wool, silk, leather or other animal derivatives.
Think of any aspect of life that uses animals and the vegan is seeking
a way to avoid that exploitation. Some do so for health reasons, others
due to concerns over the environment, while still others ponder how
our inhumanity to animals affects us spiritually and emotionally. There
are vegans for social justice reasons and also to equalise global resource
Viewing the world from an agricultural perspective, it seems that it
has gone quite mad. Organic growing systems are an attempt to infuse
some sanity into this imbalanced situation. Veganic food systems aim
to encourage further innovation.
Organic agriculture was the norm from the beginning of time until World
War II, when The Green Revolution ushered in the era of chemical fertilisers.
Modern organics has been identified as ‘alternative’, something done
by ‘hippies’. And yet, our grandparents recognise these concepts as
traditional, albeit now with the benefits of scientific research to
Veganic agriculture is a growing body of knowledge and gardening practice
which seeks to replace all the animal inputs which currently exist.
In compost, for instance, the vegan, who eats no eggs, would add no
egg shells. Similarly, veganic gardening avoids the use of blood and
bone meal, and manures because of their origins. Veganic gardeners are
finding increasing success in using no manures. The Organic Certifier
in Northland, New Zealand, Merlin Rees, is experimenting with good success
growing crops from only veganic compost. In the US there are farms which
have run for up to 25 years on this system. Will Bonsall of Maine has
experimented with leaf and even wood compost and has found that both
have sufficient nutrients which are readily accessible. Seaweed added
to the compost adds trace minerals and other nutrients, too.
In this era of Mad Cow Disease, Foot and Mouth and other pathogens it
makes good sense to consider all the inputs going into your garden.
What is the source of that blood and bone meal? Did it come from diseased
animals? And can one be secure that, if it did, the disease is destroyed
in the heating process the compost undergoes? Even if the animal was
not diseased, what did it consume before its demise? To what else was
After all, it is for health reasons that most people turn to organics.
It is healthier to consume a diet devoid of pesticides, chemicals, growth
hormones, synthetics and other unnatural adulterants. These are more
often found in animal products, organic or otherwise, because such substances
concentrate in the animals’ fatty tissues and, in turn, in ours as well.
Vegans have a fraction of the diseases which plague meat-eaters by avoiding
animal fats as well as everything to which the animal has been exposed.
There is evidence to suggest, for example, that the sugar in milk products,
lactose, contributes to heart disease by weakening the heart muscle.
Lactose intolerance is epidemic in indigenous populations and takes
a significant toll on all non-Caucasian people whose ancestors were
not exposed to it. The good news is that most conditions are reversible
simply by changing one’s diet. A total transformation accompanies a
lifestyle change which includes diet, exercise and a positive attitude.
Many people who eat organic do so for more than their own health reasons.
Organic enthusiasts tend to be iconoclasts who question authority and
societal norms. The vegan is similar. The indictment against modern
food production transcends the merely human health issues. It includes
the impact on the environment and includes questions about the overall
treatment of animals.
Animal agriculture has a deleterious effect on the environment. Grazing
of range land leads to desertification and extinction of indigenous
plants, animals, and peoples. Methane gas from animals is a major contributor
to greenhouse gases. Animal excrement contaminates ground water. Run-off
from cow, pig, chicken and sheep faeces eventually reaches the ocean
and causes adverse changes in rivers and estuaries. A major cause of
deforestation is the ever growing need for more range land. This deforestation
alters the oxygen balance in the atmosphere, contributing to global
warming. All animal products must be refrigerated until consumption
using fossil fuels, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial
fishing is destroying entire marine populations and ecosystems within
the ocean, and threatening local human populations. While organic animal
agriculture may be less harmful, it still contributes to these problems.
All animal agriculture accepts as a given that human use of animals
is defensible. Perhaps organic producers accept that there is some responsibility
to animals to treat them humanely, (witness the free range egg movement)
but there remains the implicit assumption that animals are put here
for human use.
The vegan disagrees. A peak inside the abattoir explains why. When people
feel fear, they secrete adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Animals
do, too. An animal which has been hoisted by a hoof sees what fate is
about to befall it. It screams and howls while those yet to be processed.
That adrenaline pulses through its bloodstream and stays in its flesh.
Humans consume that fear in the form of adrenaline when they eat the
meat from that animal. How can we seriously hope to create a non-violent
world when every bite of meat is literally violence incarnate?
Neither are dairy products or eggs free from this violence. Battery
hens live in appallingly confined conditions with no room to move. Imagine
if you were a visitor to a foreign country whose culture allowed the
rape, enslavement, torture and murder of sentient beings with whom you
relate. Vegans inhabit such a place; it is called Earth. And everywhere
the vegan turns, she/he sees suffering.
That suffering is not limited to animals either. Worldwide, a child
dies of starvation every thirty seconds. Meanwhile, animals are being
fed the majority of grains, even in countries where there is widespread
human starvation. The diseases of animal consumption are the primary
killers and cripplers of humans. And the Earth herself cries out for
liberation from the shackles placed on her by humankind.
To be alive requires some degree of ‘tuning out’. One can hardly be
aware of all that exists simultaneously. The mind emphasises the body’s
survival needs first and then selectively admits information. Our values
become our preferences. Thus, a smoker must ignore the saner signals
which tell him/her to stop. We filter out that which is dissonant. To
fail to do so requires changing behaviour or risking insanity.
Chief Seattle said, “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we
borrow it from our children. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.”
Organic agriculture is a partial acknowledgement of this truth, but
it is a limited awareness, focussing on only some of the merely physical
inputs of the ecosystem. The vegan ventures into spiritual and emotional
realms and opens up to other beings’ cries for justice. Here we feel
the suffering of countless rapes, stolen children, enslavement, forced
labour, torture and agonising slaughter rather than a massive indifference.
We can no longer filter out our awareness of the animals’ suffering,
and must either change or become part of the ongoing situation. Fear
and love cannot coexist. The raison d’etre of being vegan is the desire
to live in love, to heal the wounds inflicted on nature by humanity.
For one day, or even one meal, experiment with a vegan diet. You will
feel better and your small gesture may well have saved a life. The world
can change and you can change it. Just look at the end of your fork...
it is there you will see the future, violent or gentle.
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