Veganism–the popular diet choice that involves cutting out all animal products, from meat to eggs to leather–has divided the world for years. Is it a genuine way to improve one’s health, help the environment, and limit animal cruelty? Or is it just the Urban Outfitters of food, a deceptive and ephemeral fad through which hipster snobs can further condescend to the masses? Juniors Eva Kuhn and Dominic Polycarpou, two of Sleepy Hollow’s best, weigh in on the pros and cons. Then, sophomore Jack Weidner offers his unique perspective. –Sarah Clayton
PROS: Eva Kuhn
Veganism is the best choice for people, environmentally, morally, and physically. The stigma associated with veganism downplays the enormous benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Environmentally, veganism is the best choice for helping to protect our planet. First of all, veganism protects against soil degradation. Raising livestock is a large source of soil erosion (the gradual destruction of topsoil) and nutritional depletion (the removal of vital nutrients from soil). Not only does raising livestock degrade our soil, but it also depletes our water. Over 70% of fresh water is used for agriculture, and it takes 100-200 times more water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of plant foods. Finally, animal husbandry is a major source of air pollution. In fact, a UN report concluded that animal agriculture is a larger contributor to greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation (this includes cars, buses, trains, even planes). By following a vegan diet, humans can help limit these problems.
Veganism isn’t just the right choice environmentally. It is, overall, a more ethical way of life, especially concerning the poor treatment of animals in the food-industrial complex. Animals in factory farms are so crowded in that they often can’t even turn around. Factory-farmed animals are bred to be larger, sometimes to the extent that some chickens will die of starvation after collapsing under their own weight. The egg and dairy industries are no better than the meat industry. One horror that sticks out to me is chick culling, which is the process wherein male chicks are sorted out and sent straight to a high-speed grinder. Some opponents of animal cruelty prefer to buy “free-range” meat, but even free-range animals are not safe: they still suffer cruel mutilation (such as debeaking and dehorning) and still live in crowded and filthy pens.
Not only is veganism the right choice environmentally and morally, but it also has many health benefits. A plant-based diet boasts decreased intake of saturated and trans fat and increased intake of fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. In 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who follow a vegan diet tend to have lower body weights, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. It also found that vegans consumed more fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium and less saturated fat.
Environmental, moral, and physical studies have all proven that veganism is the best choice for your health, your earth, and, perhaps, your karma. Going vegan may be difficult, but it truly is the best way of life if you care about the planet. To learn more about veganism and how to “go vegan,” visit vegan.org.
CONS: Dominic Polycarpou
There is no doubt that there are serious moral and ethical concerns surrounding the treatment of animals in our food industry. However, turning to veganism might not be the right choice. When done properly, going vegan can be an empowering choice to help the planet and assuage consciences, but veganism can be highly expensive and difficult to follow fully. Veganism has more negative effects than some people think, and some people are not considering all of the consequences.
A major issue with going vegan is maintaining proper nutrition. One of the key sources of protein for most people is meat, and careful nutritional planning must be undertaken in order to stay healthy. Soybeans, lentils, and quinoa are all important staples in any vegan’s diet, but they come with downsides of their own. While plants exist that provide much of the nutrition needed, they also often only grow thousands of miles away, and require huge carbon emissions and importation costs to ship special plants across the world. The rising demand for vegan-friendly foods can also be harmful, as it can skyrocket prices within the country where such foods are key to the average person’s diet. In Mexico, for example, the exportation of avocados has caused the average laborer to be unable to afford the fruit which was once a huge part of their diet.
Veganism is honorable and laudable if undertaken by sourcing all plants locally. However, this can be extremely difficult and expensive. Far too many people are used to importing food over thousands of miles, especially in the winter. The winter itself also poses a problem for anyone living in a temperate climate. So few foods grow during that time that unless large-scale storage efforts are made, the average person will have to import large portions of their food.
A much better solution to the twin problems of morality and environmentalism in the food industry would be to reform animal-raising procedures to ensure their well-being, while at the same time imposing some type of carbon tax to encourage eating locally. Another improvement would be to focus on eating sustainably farmed, local foods that do less damage to the environment during transportation. This would promote healthier lifestyles overall, while avoiding the extremes that are needed to be vegan while also remaining environmentally friendly. Comprehensive food reform is far better than deciding on a difficult path that necessitates concessions from the average person.
We all need to do a better job of protecting this planet we live on. But in terms of expense, effort, and environmental impact, veganism is too costly for the average person.