Why Vegan?

Veganism may be defined as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

In dietary terms it refers to the practice of dispensing with all animal produce - including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, animal milks, honey, and their derivatives.

Abhorrence of the cruel practices inherent in dairy, livestock and poultry farming is probably the single most common reason for the adoption of veganism, but many people are drawn to it for health, ecological, spiritual and other reasons.

“Land, energy and water resources for livestock agriculture range anywhere from 10 to 1000 times greater than those necessary to produce an equivalent amount of plant foods. And livestock agriculture does not merely use these resources, it depletes them. This is a matter of historical record. Most of the world’s soil, erosion, groundwater depletion, and deforestation – factors now threatening the very basis of our food system – are the result of this particularly destructive form of food production” (Keith Akers, p. 81, “A VEGETARIAN SOURCEBOOK”, 1989).

Here you describe who are vegans and nothing on why one should become vegan…

being vegan is an ethical choice, built upon compassion, equality, peace and purpose. As vegans we view animals as sentient beings, able to suffer and feel pain, and therefore should be treated with equal moral respect.

Section 1: The Ethical Choice

Chew On This


Thank you dragonfly. :slight_smile:

There are many reasons why to become vegan, health reasons, economic reasons, world hunger, religion, environmental concerns.
But one of the most robust cause is compassion, the attempt to lessen the suffering of other life beings.

I am a philosopher by trade, and I can’t help but notice a couple of arguments here that are wildly pervasive when these kinds of questions come up, but which I don’t believe are sound.

First, you made that argument that there is a net energy loss when animals are fed plant material. So the argument might go something like this:

  1. Animals require at least 15 times the number of calories in terms of feed than they produce for human consumption.
  2. If (1) then (3)
  3. Raising animals for human consumption is inefficient.
  4. Hence, we should abstain from raising animals for human consumption.

It’s valid, but I don’t think it’s sound. Premise two looks pretty bad to me. There’s no denying premise one, because all animals [including us] require more calories to subsist than we produce in terms of flesh. When calculating the food requirements of an animal, one must include the Resting Metabolic Rate [RMR], the Thermic Effect of Food [TEF], the Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis [NEAT], and the Exercise Related Activity Thermogenesis [ERAT]. Only when the incoming calories exceed the sum of these requirements does the animal gain mass. Put simpler, the animal has these four components, all of which obliterate the calories from the vegetative matter. Allegedly, these calories could go to e.g. cure world hunger…I don’t buy it. First, it seems odd to abhor the supremely disgusting grade of grains they feed to the animals, but then turn around and assert that they’re plenty good for African children – how absurd. Further, the second premise could only potentially get off the ground if we held fixed that grains [or some other food useful for human consumption] were the only thing to feed animals. But this is strictly unrealistic. In fact, cattle are designed by nature to process perennial grasses. They are ruminants. Can people eat perennial grasses? I suppose they could, but they wouldn’t get the same nutritional value from it that they would from the animal that grazed on it. Further, intestinal damage is almost certain to result from trying to eat forage nature intended for ruminants. So what’s the verdict on the argument? It gives us at least one good reason to think that feeding grain to cattle is wrong, but we’re a far cry from demonstrating that eating animals is an inefficient behavior.

The other argument is that using animals in agriculture inevitably entails soil degradation and the like. This is just not the case. In nature, animal droppings decompose and are used as fertilizers. Additionally, when say a cow chomps off the grass at about the halfway point as is their custom, the roots do something very interesting: they sever at a node such that the root-length becomes approximately equal to the blade-length. This is sometimes called the “root-shoot-ratio.” The severed portions of the roots become food for the worms, who do a wonderful job at creating a rich compost, thereby improving the quality of the soil over time. This is, by the way, the very same process that makes ALL grass-eaters beneficial to the soil. While I would not disagree that soil degradation is one of the most serious ecological and agricultural problems we have created in the twentieth century, I just don’t think that the evidence shows that animal husbandry is the culprit. I would argue that the wanton destruction of mycorrizal fungi has more to do with soil erosion than animals do by a long shot. I also think that nutrient runoff is a product of farmers’ using batch fertilizers rather than testing the soil to see what is needed and what will simply seep through. If a farmer can buy a bag of synthetic fertilizer that will coat two acres and ensure that every major nutrient and mineral need is satisfied, then why would he bother doing soil tests and buying specific products that usually end up costing more in the long run? It’s usually a problem of short-sightedness: it may indeed be cheaper in the short run to buy the synthetic fertilizer, but in the long run something like subterranean fungi may replenish the nutrients more efficiently, and do so at a reduced overall cost.

I see no problem with condemning contemporary agricultural practices, but to suggest that keeping animals for food is the culprit for our problems simply has not been well argued for.

Hi Herschs, and welcome to the vegan talk forums! :slight_smile:
I can’t say a lot about soil, I am not the specialist to talk about it, but I think that what you are saying is correct when the number of animals is relatively small like it is in nature, but in industry scale farming the density of animals is way higher. Just watch the movie “Home” to get the feeling of what is happening. It is like an overdose of medicine, when the amount is small it heals you but if you take too much it kills you.

I have researched a little about the amount of land needed for growing food.
So from one hectare of land in one year one can either grow 2 cows, that results in about 500kg of meat. That is the best case scenario.
In reality a cow needs >30kg of food per day. You can make the calculus yourself of how much it needs in one year and google to see how much grass you can grow from one hectare in one year.

Now from the same hectare you can grow up to 40 000kg of potatoes or 20 000 kg of tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables or approximatively 2000 kg of grain or legumes. Thats also the best case scenario.

Now lets compare the nutritional value of 500kg of raw meat with 2000kg of raw lentils, thats about the maximum amount you can get from one hectare per year. Here you can see the amino-acids comparison.

Raw meat has about 70% of water while the raw lentils has only 12% of water.
Because various types of cooking adds or remove water from the product, lets remove the water from our equation to see how much nutritional staff we really have.

After removing water we have only 150kg of dehydrated meat vs 1760kg of dehydrated lentils.
1760 / 150 = 11.7 times more vegetable food from 1 ha per year.

But… while there are many arguments for why being vegan related to environment, health, hunger etc which are less philosophical and more scientific. I personally believe that the ethical argument is the most sound one, which has a more philosophical aspect btw. :wink:

Hey Andy,

Thanks so much for the warm welcome, and I very much like your medicine analogy. I may have to use that at some point. And I’ve never heard of the movie “Home” before you mentioned it – I’ll have to get a copy.

Your numbers aren’t far off, actually. Here at our ranch [we just raise meat for ourselves and friends] we get between 590kg and 680kg hanging weight per hectare. We also raise F1 Wagyu, which marble better than most breeds by a long shot. The result is a carcass that is often over 25% fat by mass. That adds up to right around 3000 calories per kg of cut beef. Multiplying that 3000 kcal by an average weight of about 635kg per hectare [hanging weight] we get about 1,905,000 kcal per hectare.

Lentils only have about 1030 kcal per kg. Assuming the 2000kg per hectare figure that you cited [I don’t know enough about lentils to say otherwise], we’d yield about 2,060,000 kcal per hectare. It is indeed more efficient in terms of calories to grow lentils, but this stripped-down model assumes a couple of things: (1) My beef yield per hectare is based on the sole input being perennial grasses – our beef is 100% pastured, and (2) no additional inputs are included in the lentil calculation. But anybody who has ever farmed knows that you cannot grow something as phosphate intensive as lentils without adding something back to the soil eventually. It is conceivable that those inputs might make the lentils less efficient. Then again, some organic farmers have been highly successful just planting cover crops in the off-season or restoring beneficial microbes, etc. So it is also possible that the lentils would remain more efficient.

The other apprehension I have with regard to these kinds of comparisons is that they may be apples-to-oranges. For example, I regard cattle as a four-legged mower with the unparalleled ability to add value to land rich in prairie grasses. Some men see tall grasses and cannot wait to stain the land with petroleum using an implement of man to mow the stuff. I look at the same grass and see a means of parlaying the grass into meat for my family and friends to enjoy. I do, in truth, see an additional environmental problem: there is far more of this grass-rich land than there is land with the richly fertile soil that most edible annuals require. Also, the mere fact that all of the vegetables and grains you mentioned are annuals poses additional problems of stewardship. The veggies won’t come back every year without being replanted time and time again. My grass comes back stronger each season whether I want it to or not!

I try not to think of it as veggies OR meat…we grow most of what we eat, and the majority of it is plant material. I just don’t think that I could afford the energy-intensive cultivation of veggies and fruits given the shear amount of food we eat.

And with regard to the ethical thing, it’s obviously something I don’t agree with, but I usually don’t like talking about it because it isn’t the sort of disagreement that stems from misunderstanding. I mean, there isn’t anything that I could say that would change your mind, and I would never be so arrogant in any case. I actually have a great deal of respect for your resolve.

You’ve given me some great things to ponder. Thanks so much!

I would like to clarify some things.
Correct me if I am wrong but, the actual meat from hanging weight is about 60%, so 680kg of hanging weight is equal to about 400kg of meat without bones.
So your highest meat harvest from 1 ha is 80% of what I wrote above.

Also according to USDA data, while boiled lentils with salt have 1140kcal/kg the raw lentils have 3530kcal/kg, and the harvested lentils are raw, after boiling the mass increases more than 3 times.

Lentils calories: [size=150]3530 kcal/kg * 1200 kg/ha[/size] (thats a more realistic lentils harvest) [size=150]= 4236000 kcal/ha[/size]

My comparison of meat with lentils was because raw lentils are rich in protein, about 25% of the mass, which is more than in some raw meat.
If I would like to compare calories, 40 000 kg/ha of potatoes 770 kcal/kg would be a much more favorable comparison for vegetarians. :wink:
But it would not be accurate because meat is considered the main source of protein and we need something vegan providing the same value.

Regarding accuracy I have recently reread the data from my research, and I have to admit that the amount of lentils I wrote in the previous post is too high in comparison to real harvests, I wrote the median amount of legumes in general instead of lentils which is not quite correct.

But for example if we use soy instead of lentils the harvest is about 2500 kg/ha and Raw mature seeds of soybeans have 36% of protein and 4160 kcal/kg.

Soya calories: [size=150]4160 kcal/kg * 2500kg/ha = 10400000 kcal/ha[/size]

I understand your argument about grazing grass but unfortunately the reality in our business oriented world is that on industrial scale a large percent of food for cattle and pigs consist of imported grains and soy.

So to conclude:
Comparing your 1,905,000 kcal/ha with 10,400,000 kcal/ha in the case of soy we get about 5.46 times less calories per hectare in meat production.
And if we consider that only 60% of the hanging weight is actually edible by humans 1,905,000 kcal/ha * 0.6 = 1,143,000 kcal/ha the difference with 10,400,000 kcal/ha from soy is 9 times.

If we compare the potatoes calories which are equal 40 000 kg/ha * 770 kcal/kg = 30,800,000 kcal/ha we get a difference of 26.9 times.

Please correct me if I have made mistakes in my calculus.

No, I think that your calculations are quite good. And thank you for correcting me about the lentils: I was indeed calculating boiled, unsalted lentils, and you are quite right that the raw ones would have far more energy per kg.

I believed that meat production on my model was comparable to production of high-protein plants, but you have given me sufficient reason to change my mind – I stand corrected.

While this is fascinating work, though, there are still two issues that I believe are largely unresolved:

  1. Can soy [or lentils, or any other high-protein plant crop] truly be grown with few enough inputs to keep them viable over grass-fed beef?
  2. Is the amount of arable land currently available in the world sufficient to grow enough crops to not require additional land?

Question one is important because the annuals that we eat [soy, corn, lettuce, etc] require a tremendous amount of energy input to keep sustainable yields. Without these inputs, we risk sucking the life right out of the soil, even with the best organic methods available.

Question two is important because a negative answer would pose a huge problem, namely that more land would have to be tilled. Historically, when we needed more arable land we just tore up grass lands and natural ranges, an act that I believe has dire environmental consequences. Ironically, these are exactly the kinds of lands on which cattle are designed to graze. So of course we should expect that there will be increasing economic barriers to beef production: we’re tearing apart the land we need to raise beef in a responsible manner!

That said, I also have avoided talking about the environmental consequence of overtly increasing animal populations, whose flatulence and excrement are obviously of concern when we talk about e.g. greenhouse gases. So even if there’s an environmental consequence to tearing up grass lands to make way for more fruits and veggies, there is also an ecological liability involved in producing more large animals every year. While I am not an ecologist, I might argue that carbon sequestration offers a potential solution. At least with respect to emissions, there is a plausible way of mitigating the damage. In fact, methane digesters have been employed successfully to not only trap the methane in cattle excrement, but also to create a fuel in the form of compressed natural gas [CNG]. This looks promising. I think someone would be hard-pressed to argue that the damages in ripping apart native prairie soil for the purposes of cropping would be so easily reversed.

Still, this depends on how we answer those two questions. What do you think? Would we truly need more land to grow more fruits and veggies, or could we sustainably produce enough food for the whole world to go vegetarian without ripping up new land?

Hi Herschs! I just wanted to add a couple of points to this fascinating thread :slight_smile: I’m no philosopher, so I hope neither of you mind me butting in :wink:

The traditional method of growing crops is “crop rotation,” which is something the EU has been encouraging a return to. One year you will grow the ‘annuals’ that you mention on a plot of land. The following year, you grow nitrogen fixing crops like legumes on that land, and grow the ‘annuals’ on another patch of land. The following year, you grow something else again on the first plot of land or leave it fallow, and so on… This way, the life is not ‘sucked out’ of the soil and the quality of your land is maintained. This method of farming has worked for centuries: in my area we actually started losing topsoil as a consequence of modern intensive farming methods.

The vegetarian society in the UK was actually founded because it was calculated that the UK could remain self-sufficient with arable crops, but could not raise enough meat to remain self-sufficient. The Vegan Society still campaign on this basis: www.ivu.org/articles/PR-Nigel-Winter-GPEW.doc (you might want to check out some of the documents referenced in there). A balanced Vegan diet uses at least three times less land and water than the typical European diet, and this figure is accepted by the government.

With regard to tearing up native prairie soil. Increasingly swathes of rainforest in Central and Southern America are being used to make cattle ranches, often owned by individuals and companies in the USA. I was fortunate enough to visit southern Mexico some years ago. You should not underestimate the social and political impact of buying up land from extremely poor indigineous communities to build luxurious ranches. There was tremendous animosity towards the [US] Americans, and this had already turned into violence on occasion. I would like to see methane digesters / biogas facilities used for human excrement, but I don’t think it redresses the many problems of cattle farming.

I note that you live/work on a ranch? Are you considering growing more crops? I am interested that you rear this marbled, fatty beef - everyone I know eats lean meats (if at all) because we are all on diets :unamused: I am eagerly awaiting your response! :slight_smile:

Hello, I’m new to this vegan diet idea right now. I’m just having trouble getting past the fact that I believe we were made to eat meat and that is whats best for our body. I’m not stating this for religious reason but just I want to put in my body what was made for my body. If anyone out there could get me started on a convo that would be great?! Thanks!

Yes … the only problem I have it that any animal eats what tastes to good to them because of its natural instincts to eat it. So meat is something seems to be natural for us to eat because most people do seem to automatically love it. Also, many say that kids should not do a vegan diet of the times. I believe this is probably because our bodies our meant to eat meat.

Hi jwill201.
It is the official position of The American Dietetic Association (the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate for all ages, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
This statement is based on scientific data and many researches.
Now we can start analyzing what is your belief based on?

Yes. But animals usually make the correct choice only when eating raw food. If the food is processed and mixed like we usually eat, animals can make really bad choices. Cows for example can eat the incinerated remains of other cows which is very unnatural for them.

I think that people usually like processed or prepared meat, try eating for one week only raw unprocessed meat without salt, vegetable oils, bread and spices - and let us know if you still love it. A carnivore like a cat or tiger, will have no problems still loving it.

The truth is that humans can eat meat to survive in extreme conditions if there are no other sources of food.
The ugly truth is that humans can even eat human meat for survival, and it happened during famine and war.
The question is how ethical is this?

I apologize for not having posted over the last month – I really hope that this thread can reinvigorate.

Big Becka: yes, I own and operate my own ranch. It’s more for our own sustenance than it is an actual enterprise. We raise what are called F1 Wagyu, which is a Wagyu sire crossed with a cow of a different breed. We keep Black Angus cows, because their medium-large phenotype allows them to calf more naturally when crossed with the smaller Wagyu. We actually don’t even assist in the calving unless the newborn and/or cow are in trouble. We literally walk around the field in the mornings during Spring and see if any new calves are walking around.

Wagyu progeny are known for excellent marbling, which amounts to considerably more fat in the final cuts. You raised the question of health, which is a great question. The short version is that, while there is more fat, the ratios of the kinds of fat are in better proportion. For example, the ratio of polyunsaturated fats to one another is closer to ideal: the meat is much higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than the average store-bought cut. Additionally, the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats in considerably higher – in fact, there is less saturated fat by mass in the carcass of a Wagyu than in almost any other breed, despite the carcass being higher in total fat.

I also wanted to address something that was talked about before. I have been sufficiently convinced by Andy that raising plant material for food is more efficient in terms of land usage [by quite a lot] than raising animals. However, we keep dodging the question of whether the same kind of land should be used to raise these things. Again, I think that it’s an apples-to-oranges issue. We don’t have enough farmland here in the States to produce adequate plant material to feed everyone. We would need to tear up more native grass lands and range land. It seems silly to try to rectify one ecological problem by creating another one.

Given that:
-Nature uses animals to fertilize plant material and fungi
-Soil fertility can be improved with management-intensive rotational grazing
-Nobody has given a good argument for why we should have to make the MOST efficient use of the land

I can’t help but think that animal husbandry is not in itself a broken system. Certainly the way we raise animals needs a sharp check, but I don’t think that we should do away with eating animals.

its getting tiring and frustrating having to constantly explain why im vegan to doubtful people, any advice on how to block out people that are bringing me down? So many of my friends/ family are saying I’m crazy to be vegan and my own father tells me i need to eat meat. People dont understand and these “debby downers” are making it really difficult for me. thanks xoxo :slight_smile:

Wow that really sucks. Thank God, I on the other side get lots of compliments and encouragement. In fact I’m noticing that people around me tend to eat healthy.

I think I’m a bit selfish in terms of why I became a vegan. I saw this old video called: “Food that Kills” (a must see) and I was completely shocked! Here’s the link: youtube.com/watch?v=KNCGkprGW_o

In short I thought about my body and longevity in this earth. Now however I have become an avid advocate of animal rights after seeing countless videos on cruelty to livestock.