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Why vegan instead of vegetarian: a primer

(Edited for clarity, and to add an important point)

I count vegetarians and omnivores among my friends, and that's pretty much unavoidable in present-day society; however, it's not immutable or inevitable. We can and should all be vegan, and society should move away from animal agriculture and animal-derived products. I've written a lot about this in my journals before; I'll write in more detail about it in the future. For now, here's the 101 version.

Something I want people to realize is that as much harm, sometimes more, is involved in animal byproducts as there is in meat. Dairy and eggs are particularly awful; a milk cow is forcibly impregnated every year until her slaughter, and her male calves are killed in their infancy for veal. Mother cows grieve over the loss of their calves. Male chicks are either ground up alive, or simply tossed into the garbage to suffocate; this is standard hatchery practice, and applies equally to eggs from free-range organic farms and 'factory' farms. Chickens are also routinely debeaked in both kinds of operations, and "free-range" is rarely as good as it sounds.

I don't support anyone's right to eat these products, as I wouldn't support their right to wear a fur coat. We can feed ourselves without meat, milk or eggs, just as we can keep ourselves warm without fur (or other animal products).

The issue of cruelty aside, it's clear that eating animal products cannot be a personal choice. You need consent before you can have choice, and no animal -- chick, calf, or cow -- consented to be killed. Only a structure that takes away their choice can create the appearance of a free choice on your part. Freedom of speech or religion is sometimes invoked in defense of anti-LGBT actions; in a similar way, freedom of diet is invoked in defense of anti-animal actions.

That doesn't make being able to discriminate against other people a right, however used to it we might be and however uncomfortable we might feel to lose it. And it doesn't make eating non-vegan a right, however used to our eating habits we might be. Both actions are inherently supremacist: both involve using the greater power of one group to exploit or harm a group with less power.

I appreciate any effort to cut back significantly on animal products -- as long as it's all animal products, not just meat -- and I don't look down my nose at people who're trying. While, yeah, people shouldn't be eating animal products at all, the aggregate good of ten people eating a lot more vegan is greater than one person eating 100% vegan.

Also, it needs to be stressed that eating vegan isn't a diet. To extend the sartorial metaphor, cutting out fur from your wardrobe doesn't tell you what to wear. Generally, new vegans eat too strictly; the sky won't fall if we get more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, if we get 40 instead of 50 grams of protein, or if we eat white rice instead of brown. Veganism ain't that hard, we just make it hard.

On a personal note, my mom is sensitive to soy protein and dislikes concentrated protein foods/processed foods in general; I eat low-fat (about 1/2 fruitarian and 1/2 starchitarian), eschew nuts, and don't put oil on my food; and my dad will eat anything, as long as it's salty, sweet, or fatty. :P The three of us keep a vegan household without any nutritional worries or great inconvenience.

For healthy plant-based eating, http://www.drmcdougall.com/ is a good all-around informational resource that debunks a lot of food myths.

Other resources:

T. Colin Campbell, 'The China Study', 'Whole'
Forks Over Knives
All American Vegan

For veganism and social justice perspectives:

Vegan Feminist Agitator
The Vegan Ideal
The Scavenger

For ethical issues/arguments:

Peaceful Prairie
Free From Harm
http://gentleworld.org/bruno-a-new-perspective-on-happy-cows/

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