Thinking about adopting a vegan lifestyle? Here's a go-to guide on veganism and what its potential benefits and drawbacks are for a person considering taking on this rather monumental personal lifestyle change. First of all, a quick word on the distinction between practicing a plant-based diet and living a vegan lifestyle.
Plant-based diet practitioners eat that way for health reasons and will happily eat meat, dairy or eggs as soon as their health improves or their doctor signs off on it. They also usually have no qualms about wearing leather or using animal-tested or sourced hygiene or beauty products. Veganism is about much more than diet. It is at base an ethical choice, usually based on highly individual ratios of concern for three considerations: one's health, the environment, and animal welfare.
The Pros of Going Vegan
When it comes to going vegan, it is considerably less about what you will have to give up and much more about discovering a whole new world of possibilities, from brand new and interesting tastes and textures in your food and beverages to losing some inches off your waistline to feeling more energy in your day to day life.
The health benefits of opting for a plant-based diet are virtually indisputable, though there is some contention regarding some types of nutritional deficiencies that can crop up, such as a lack of adequate iron and B12. These will be addressed in the "cons" section.
Suffice it to say, many studies have been done, including the China Study by T. Colin Campbell, which has been called the most comprehensive research project ever done on nutrition. Campbell convincingly showed that many maladies stem from an animal-based diet, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And the American Dietetic Association has declared that well-planned vegan diets can provide adequate nutrition, or, more specifically, that they "provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." That includes pregnant or lactating mothers, athletes, and infants.
As for the environmental benefits, they are equally as dramatic. It has been estimated that it requires about 2,000 lbs. of grain to provide enough animal protein for a person to live off of per year, whereas around 400 lbs. of said grain could feed a person for a year. The tremendous amounts of water, unsustainable levels of fertilizer, and large amounts of highly toxic pesticides needed to sustain animal-based diets is, simply put, bad for the environment.
Rounding out the three main reasons a person goes vegan is a concern for animal welfare. While some skeptics are right to wonder about any kind of misplaced anthropomorphism on the part of some animal lovers and vegans who worry about an animal who "doesn't want to die," there is a logical way to resolve this. Vegans focused on animal welfare object to killing animals unnecessarily. Though the animal may not actively know that it doesn't want to die, this doesn't take away from the vegan's objection that animals shouldn't be killed unnecessarily.
It is at heart a highly personal decision based on each person's values, ethics, and philosophical considerations. For some people, seeing a cow jump for apparent joy in a pasture after being penned in all winter will spark a feeling of empathy and goodwill for that creature. Others viewing the same scene would be less moved.
First, while vegan food is interesting, tasty, and full of delights, limiting what kinds of foods you eat means you will miss out on some things. It can be especially difficult eating out at restaurants.
Second, some vitamins and minerals are easier to absorb, such as iron, or nearly exclusively present in meat, such as crucial vitamin B12. B12 is also found in almond milk and cereal. Worst case here is the need to take a few regular supplements.
It does take a bit more effort -- many people don't live near vegan restaurants, so new vegans will hopefully learn to love to cook their own meals -- and sometimes spend a little more at the grocery store.
Short Beginners Guide to Veganism
Simply cut out animal products in your food and beverages, such as lard, fish oils, honey, and of course meats, eggs, and dairy. Adopting a vegan diet means depending more on spices, herbs and plant-based foods, including all kinds of nuts, grains, seeds, legumes, mushrooms, fruits, vegetables and more.
New vegans are sometimes downright amazed at what they can still enjoy, from coconut milk whipped cream to almost suspiciously great vegan cheeses to almond milk-based ice cream. From multitudes of delectable desserts to delicious entrees, snacks, sides, and appetizers, vegans have a huge amount of vegan meal plan choices to choose from.
This article will hopefully have encouraged those leaning towards adopting a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle to take the plunge, for better health, a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and to perhaps start advocating a bit for every animal, not just our beloved cats and dogs.