As a child I was a strong activist for animal rights and consistently desired to become a veterinarian and decided to become a vegetarian at the age of eight. Alas, this lasted only three days since the McDonald’s Big Mac was just so tempting, with its crisp lettuce, juicy hamburger, and melt in your mouth cheese, and a large fry just would not cut it for my ravenous hunger. Meat was an exceptionally glorious experience for me and I was unable to give it up. Steak was godsend, chicken was crafted by angels, and bacon was pure heaven. This meat eating lasted up until the age of 18, and boy were those the best 18 years of my life in my consumption of meat.
I remember when I at age of seven I was proud that I had eaten a whole Big Mac sandwich by myself, and my parents were proud as well. This Big Mac of 540 calories and almost 1,000 grams of sodium was seen as an accomplishment by my carnivorous family, something I was conditioned to strive for. For most of my childhood, every dinner was based around which meat we were consuming that night. We once spend over one hundred dollars of meat at Gaff’s Meat Market. This life I had grown into was normal, accepted, and if I strayed from the general consensus that meat was necessary to survive, I was ruthlessly made fun of by the older brother, slightly mocked by the father, and received doubtful enthusiasm by the mother.
The choice for me to become vegan wasn’t easy for my family; but it was the most obvious and least difficult decision ever made in my life. That being said, had you asked me a year ago what my thoughts on veganism were, I would tell you that the cows bred for meat were meant to be killed since that was their destiny, that they grazed on plains and then humanly killed (no such thing), that you couldn’t survive without that protein, that meat and dairy were just too good to give up, and that vegans were dramatic and held unrealistic views of the world. Even after watching Food Inc. four years ago, I just blamed Perdue and Tyson for their treatment of chickens and made no change in my eating habits other than boycotting (hardly) these companies.
In the fall of 2015, I watched a video for my philosophy class for a presentation. The documentary was Earthlings. This video broke my heart. I not only witnessed the deplorable conditions that these factory farm animals were living in, and for the first time witnessed the process of making authentic fur and leather. Nothing like this had ever shocked my core in regard to animals-yet nothing changed. I did not switch to veganism or vegetarianism, I simply moved on after crying over the video, and I am sad to admit that I was weak and chose to continue my bad habits. After watching Earthlings, it was recommend that I watch 101 Reasons to Go Vegan, a sketchy presentation at best, and clearly 101 points were not presented, but it nonetheless gave me a new perspective to consider.
By the time the New Year rang in, I had ceaselessly thought about those videos day and night and I wondered if I should change. On January 12th, 2016 I knew I was going to change. Not just vegetarian, I would become a full on vegan; no eggs, no dairy, no meat, no animal by-products. I ended that day with my ‘last supper’, I had mint ice cream (my favorite), a Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger (the greasiest), and Chick Fil A fries with Chick Fil A sauce (of course), and I felt like absolute crap that night. The next morning, January 13th is the first day I was vegan, and I haven’t gone back.
After choosing to be vegan for ethical reasons, I constantly am presented with new knowledge of why veganism is a better health and environmental option. Ethically speaking, by stopping meat production, the amount of grain that goes to feed cows, pigs, and chickens in the world and would be able to end world hunger, reduce the amount of deforestation, and ultimately help end suffering of animals.
After being told my whole life that milk “will make your bones stronger,” and that “you better drink milk for calcium,” that “cheese is life” (it really is), I was shocked to learn that the countries that consume the most milk have higher rates of osteoporosis and countries that have little to no milk consumption have the lowest rates. Not to mention the fact that if you actually consider what cow’s milk is, it’s a fluid designed to grow a calf to an alarming 400 pounds. If it can do that to calves, what does it do to us? Humans are the only species to consume another animal’s milk, let alone consume milk after the required time period. Dairy isn’t essential to a healthy human being and can be extremely harmful. Considering the ethics of this cultivation, calves are ripped away from their mothers after two days of breast-feeding and are either grown to be dairy cows or spared for some weeks to become veal. These dairy cows have an average life expectancy of 20 years, but due to factory farming and excessive milking and mistreatment, their average life span in a factory farm is 4 years. In terms of chickens, cows, and pigs, their protein is not essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle, since many vegetables and carbohydrates are more protein dense than that of meat. I should not have to take a life in order to live, I don’t want the death of an animal on my hands because I was in the mood for ribs or other meat products. Another health reason to avoid meat is the presence of chemicals and antibiotics in the animals. 70% of all antibiotics produced in the United States go to cattle for meat and dairy production, and consumption of second hand antibiotics can cause resistance to antibiotics, therefore making treating illness with antibiotics near impossible to treat. The resistance of antibiotics can cause an infection to worsen, last longer, or be transmitted to someone else.
Environmentally speaking, veganism is the best choice to save the planet and the epitome of an environmentalist. When you think of deforestation, you think about what has been ingrained in you since you were a kid: rainforests to allow for the mining of gold. But in truth, 91% of the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest is due to animal agriculture, in terms of soy production to feed to the farm animals, and to have room to expand for cattle. It seems only natural that not eating meat would stop this deforestation by lowering the corporations’ profits. The loss of fresh water on Earth is a concern for many in that many countries face droughts- like California (a state), and the only solution you are told is that you must use less water. But what you aren’t told is that it takes 660 gallons of water to make one McDonald’s hamburger (which is equivalent to two months of showering), and 2,500 gallons of water to make ONE pound of beef. Animal agriculture uses the most water per day than any other system in the world and contributes the most damaging pollutants to the atmosphere.
By becoming a vegan, I save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30Sq.ft. of forest, 10 pounds of CO2, and one animal’s life a day. My choice to go vegan has made me feel empowered, I feel I have more energy, my acne has cleared, my conscience is free, and I am proud of my decision every time I see an animal. My passion is animals and I would be a hypocrite to eat them, veganism is the ethical choice.
Manuel is a contributing writer for Feminist and Health and Wellness Thoughts.