Why Vegan?

At first it is a daunting task to explain the reasoning behind a vegan lifestyle. This is especially hard when people have not even considered the reasons for vegetarianism or what a vegan is. This is how the N.S.W. Vegan society define veganism:

"Veganism is a way of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of all products from the animal kingdom. A vegan is a total vegetarian who consumes no animal by-products. Vegans go even further by avoiding both animal derivatives and animal-tested products in their whole lifestyle. This means an avoidance of meat, milk, eggs, butter etc., as well as leather, wool, cosmetics, soaps and shampoos derived from animal ingredients or tested on animals."

I, by no means, feel defined by this statement, nor would I assume any vegan to be so. All vegans are individuals and we settle on this lifestyle from many varied beliefs. I chose "settle" because I consider veganism the best compromise in our present society. I hope that some of my suggestions for future changes to farming and environmental management in Australia will one day be implemented in some form, thus allowing a mutually sustainable and beneficial relationship with our country. While veganism is sustainably and to most accounts not destructive towards the environment, I don't believe we are making the best use of our resources both ecological and intelligently to create a dynamic and bountiful global ecological plan.

I will attempt to cover the basis for my decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I have divided my reasons into two main categories. The first I call "Biological". It covers the issues that I see as important and relate to both humans and animals. I am still learning about many relevant areas and there are of course issues I have not covered.

1. Biological:

A. Human:

People are under the illusion that we need meat to make us healthy. A well-balanced vegan diet provides all the vitamins and energy required at any stage of life. In fact, it is not just as good as a diet that includes animal products; it is healthier. An increase in fibre and reduction of fat in the diet is important in disease prevention. This has been proven to reduce the incidence of cancer, especially bowel cancer and organ disease, particularly cardiovascular disease. Meat moves through the gastrointestinal system very slowly and in many cases undergoes putrification before leaving the body. This stagnant rotting flesh is high in toxins and these leach into the surrounding cells of the bowel wall. Environmental factors are implicated as causes of the original insult to the body in bowel cancer. These factors include viruses, free radicals causing oxidations and various toxins. Following this damage and under the influence of ongoing environmental stressors cells undergo irreversible changes which results in the condition commonly known as cancer. Together, cancer and cardiovascular disease form the top two killers for humans. A simple way of looking at cardiovascular disease implicates the deposition of lipids and cholesterol in the arteries as a major factors. Others includes oxidation by free radicals and damage due to high blood pressure. Arteries which are clogged by fat deposits can become blocked so that essential nutrients cannot to get cells. These may be the vital cells of the brain or heart and such blockages may results in death through stroke or heart attack. The main treatment for high cholesterol is a change in dietary habits. Clearly western medicine advocates a high-fibre low-fat diet for "a healthy heart". Low fat is good for your arteries and high fibre is good for your bowel - a simple explanation of the health principles behind a vegan diet.

Animals, especially fish, contain concentrated environmental pollutants, which are also dangerous to humans. One example is dioxins, which are carcinogens and also affect reproduction and hormonal balance. Many meat products now contain antibiotics and steroids. Animal products also cause well over 90% of food poisoning.

B. Animal:

i. Meat: Having dismantled the illusion that we are eating meat for our health then we must be eating it for pleasure. This is where the issue of animal rights is concerned. Captive bolt pistols, electrodes, knives, prods and guns are the cruel tools of this business. The picture of cows standing in concrete feed lots, covered in their own excreta and suffering many infections though dosed up on antibiotics is increasingly common. Statistics from the N.S.W. Vegan Society inform us that:

"Over 56% of stock animals in Australia are factory farmed. They spend their entire lives in artificial conditions, unable to move freely or to carry out even their most basic social functions. As an example, pigs are confined to concrete stalls away from sunlight and social interaction. These animals only see natural sunlight when they are transported to the abattoirs for slaughter."

ii. Dairy: This is a more difficult industry to comprehend because much of the suffering is hidden from our general knowledge. One myth is that humans drink only the extra milk, leftover after a calf has had what it needs. In reality the calf is taken from its mother after about three days. A dairy cow lives only a quarter of her natural life span before becoming uneconomical and is slaughtered. This is because she is literally milked to death. I say this because each year she is made pregnant with a nine-month gestation to increase the milk production. She is milked on average three times a day, again to increase lactation. Another method to increase milk production is concentrated feed pellet.

"A cow's stomach, designed for digesting grass, cannot cope with the vast pellet quantities ingested for such high outputs. The demand for production can be so great that she will consume her own body tissue in order to keep up supply."(N.S.W. Vegan Society).

"The intensity of the system places the dairy cow under great stress. Her full udder can weigh up to 50kg. Mastitis (a bacterial infection of the udder) affects 40% of British dairy cows annually; lameness affects 25%. The dairy cows sent for slaughter at the end of their "useful economic life" are pregnant, with the result that calves can occasionally be born en-route." (U.K. Vegan Society)

As for the calf: ten percent die, most are raised for up to 11 months for veal, rennet (a product of their stomachs used in maturing cheese) or meat for Aussie meat pies. The remainder enter the milk cycle themselves.

iii. Eggs: Unless you specifically buy free-range eggs, eggs come from battery hens. Four hens are crammed into multi-tiered cages in dark barns. The birds cannot move and constantly rub against the wire of the cages. Their skin becomes infected and in some cases the skin of their claws actually grows around the wire of the cages. In Australia, practically all birds used for commercial egg laying are debeaked twice, including free-range hens. The process involves a red-hot blade cutting through the sensitive tissue at the top of a chicken's beak. Few roosters are required so male chicks are killed.

"They are dispatched en-masse by being thrown into plastic bags where they suffocate under their own weight or they are gassed or thrown into mincing machines."(N.W.S. Vegan Society)

Even free- range hens are not spared when egg yields cease to be economical. Egg laying hens are used as second grade meat.

iv. Animal Products: The list of everyday items whose production involves the pain, suffering and death of animals is mind boggling. It would be impossible to cover them all so I will give some examples that help illustrate why I chose to avoid these products. Fur, leather and silk are used as clothing. All these products require the breeding and slaughter of animals for their production. Gelatine is made by boiling animal hides and bones and is used as a thickener in many foods especially lollies and sweets. Shellac production involves the slaughter of live lac insects. It is a resin used in cosmetics, confectionery, fruit glazes and paints. It could be replaced entirely by synthetic resin. One product of interest in Australia is wool from Merino sheep. These sheep have been breed for a high wool yield. This has resulted in genetic selection for increased folds of skin. These skin folds attract flies as they provide a good nest for maggots, especially around the anus. To discourage this infestation farmers engage in the process of muesling. Without anaesthetic the skin around the anus is scraped off and pulled into a taut scar, a mutilating and excruciating process. Unfortunately the list of suffering is very long.

Whether it's tail docking, branding, castration, close confinement, light-deprivation or debeaking, the commercial use of animals invariably involves cruelty. Just because we do not see it, does not mean it is not there. Indeed the very fact that it is hidden from us makes cruelty all the more likely to occur.

The second half of my reasons I term "Ecological". They involve the environmental destruction and pollution of the meat industry. Another fact is the inefficient energy production when land is used for grazing.

2. Ecological:

A. Deforestation and Salination

The Australian environment is particularly vulnerable to desertification and our present farming methods encourage it threefold. First, by clear felling native trees we are removing the natural protection of the topsoil. Secondly, intensive farming of hard hoofed animals destroys any integrity of the topsoil allowing it to be washed away. Finally, the seedlings that may provide some meager soil protection and hope for future regeneration are trampled by the crowded animals leaving the field permanently barren. This results in the washing away of the nutrient rich topsoil and the land itself quickly becomes impoverished.

Reducing the number of trees causes the water table to rise. This rising water table brings with it the salt that is in both the soil and water. Soil that is effected by salination becomes an arid wasteland on which nothing can grow.

B. Pollution

i. Water: Ocean ecology is at present poorly understood and the over fishing that continues to occur results in massive losses of species. It not only effects the fish deemed culinary delights but also those above and below it on the food chain. It is easy to see how fishing in oil powered boats results in devastation to the delicate ocean environment. Furthermore there is direct physical destruction by boats in areas of coral reefs, even protected areas. Silt run-off from deforested grazing areas streams directly into our waterways and bays, suffocating and destroying plant and animal life.

The water quality of many inland and coastal streams in Australia is threatened and there is an increasing prevalence of blue green algae blooms. Wastewater from yards and milking sheds can contain manure, urine, mucus, soil, gravel, milk, cleaning agents and a range of other contaminants (Roger Wrigley, Environmentally friendly farming, Melb. Uni.) As put by Mr. Wrigley' "Pollution is a resource in the wrong place" and there has been much time spent on designing environmentally friendly farming practice guides.

ii. Air: Ammonia production is a huge problem in high volume farming. In the air it combines with water to form acid rain and on the earth can be equally harmful. An ongoing study in Europe shows that ammonia, dust and bacterial toxins regularly reach high enough concentrations in farm buildings to harm both farm workers and animals.

C. The Greenhouse Effect

Ok, I'll take what is actually a very complicated issue and make it simple, for now. International scientists have agreed that a one-degree increase in average temperatures will cause huge problems such as flooding, drought and crop failures. The rise in temperature is caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases - principally carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Car and factory emission and coal and oil burning cause approximately half of the problem. The other half is due to the agricultural industry. Cows were never meant to be farmed this way and our planet cannot sustain it. Furthermore we are taking away the only protection our planet has by clear felling oxygen producing forests for grazing land.

D. Efficiency

It is clear to me that some people have way too much to eat and others are starving. In fact the number of deaths due to starvation is equal to 300 jumbo jets crashing every day, with no survivors. The problem is that we grow grain and feed it to the cattle and then we eat the cattle. Up to 85% of energy is lost producing food this way (N.S.W. Vegan Society). There can never be enough land to feed the world this way. At present we have only half a hectare of food-producing land per person and yet it takes three quarters of a hectare to meet the requirements of a typical meat-based Western diet. Veganism is the way to improve the efficiency of our agriculture and to feed both humans and animals sustainably.

3. Future Farming:

A. Problems

The above information highlights the major problems with intensification of present farming methods:

- Disease both for animals and humans

- Environmental destruction

- Animal stress and employee dissatisfaction

- Farm mismanagement

B. Solutions

A general outline to environmentally friendly farming practices includes:

1. Wastewater management

- effective treatment through the removal of solids

- reuse of nutrient rich water over an adequate amount of land

- recycling of all farm produced water on the farm, no green-snake run offs

2. Erosion minimisation

- vegetated buffers

- treed riparian zones

- calculation of animal to plant ratios

3. Air quality

- outlaw concrete feedings lots and battery egg farming. Concrete has a deleterious effect on cow hooves so that there is an increase in lameness and therefore an economic incentive to avoid this material.

- creation of guidelines for air quality practices

- set volume density levels

- further research into nitrogen cycles and how farming can benefit from this environmental recycling i.e. best farm sites, seasonal variation, safe volumes.

4. Animal and employee stress

Cows that are force fed, densely packed and generally denied a natural relationship with their environment become stressed. This is evidenced reduced milk production, increased soiling in milk sheds and shortened life spans. Therefore animal stress results in both environmental damage and economic losses. I chose to group this with employee stress because both can be managed by the same changes. Foul working conditions, increased yard washing requirements and aesthetically dissatisfying farms are some of the causes of worker dissatisfaction. Practices to eliminate farm stress would include:

- improved farm planning

- tree planting

- water management

- improved cow flow through laneways with good water drainage, not concrete.

- cover for cows

- clean food and water

The Nazarenes of  Mount Carmel
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