A detailed guide on what it means to live a vegan lifestyle?
By Saloni Gole
A word that keeps buzzing around us today- ‘Veganism’. Whether it is in everyday conversations, social media trends, or dating profile bios. We have all heard so much, especially in the wake of a pandemic when meat consumption and animal rights issues came into the limelight.
But, what is the first thing you think of on hearing ‘veganism’? Probably an animal rights activist, or a high-shot celebrity pledging to go on a ‘plant-based’ diet, or simply the ‘it’ girl you know who is going to turn vegan because that’s the new trend. Did we get the image right?
Sadly, a majority of us associate the idea of veganism with the rich, educated, and elite section of our society who can afford to switch to a diet like this. But I am here to tell you that we all can become vegans. In fact, we may already be making strides in that direction.
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Of course, when thinking of going vegan, you may have several doubts and questions.
- What does a plant-based diet include? Only eating phool patte, ghaaspus?
- How will we get the required amount of nutrients if consuming milk is off the table?
- Are we not altering the environmental cycle by not consuming animals and their milk? Isn’t it supposed to be that way?
Asking these questions and many more is definitely a valid argument. I have adopted a vegan lifestyle quite recently. To be more precise, I am still in the process of being completely vegan. Even I had these questions and so many doubts. Plus, multiple myths around nutrient deficiency, health issues, and expensive living can demotivate anyone to make the switch. However, I knew I had to make a transition.
In the early phases, I started to refer to many articles, books, videos, and other resources. I was astonished to find so much more than what comes out in popular media. So, I decided to boil down all my research in multiple articles. This is the first amongst many more to come.
First, What is Veganism?
Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude- as far as possible and practicable- all forms of exploitation, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. This by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment.
Let’s break down this colossally worded definition.
Veganism essentially means not consuming animals or any animal products for food, clothing, accessories. Animals and animal products here mean:
- Meat or Fat of all animals
- Honey (sourced from honeybees)
- Dairy (which encompasses milk, butter, paneer, yoghurt, and ghee)
- Leather as in boots
- Silk (produced by silkworms)
Now that we know what veganism essentially means let’s get to why we should practice it? Just for the sake of animals? Yes and No.
Why should I make the switch for animals?
Firstly, let’s talk of the transition from a non-vegetarian diet to a vegetarian one.
I was a non-vegetarian until four years ago. But what made me go vegan? I started to think more than simply what I liked tasting. Once the moral reasoning of not killing an animal just for the sake of my pleasure (of eating) kicked in, I couldn’t let go of that thought. More so, animals and other beings have the right to live as much as we do; denying that right just because it is voiceless is inhumane.
Now moving the argument to a tougher bet- vegetarian to a vegan diet.
The most common argument within this sphere is around dairy products. People say, “cows and buffaloes give us milk, and we do not cause them any harm collecting it from them and treat them with dignity and respect.”
My answer to this is usually two-fold. Firstly, these animals do not give milk to us. Like all other reproducing living beings, the milk they produce is for their young ones, not us. Two, dairy farming is a full-fledged business now. Its commercialisation has led to ruthless and heartless practices. Some of them include:
- Forceful impregnation of 90% of cows in India
- Artificial insemination (a practice akin to the rape of female cows)
- Separating cows and their calves mere hours after the birth and feeding the calves
milk powders and fodder at an absolutely young and unsuitable age
- Sending off male cattle to slaughterhouses, leaving them to wander off on the streets
and trading them for money as their use in dairy farming is unsubstantial
- Dehorning cattle
- Shorter life span of animals due to these heinous conditions
The above data has been sourced from the documentary Unholy Cattle of India: Exposing the Cruelty in the Indian Dairy Industry by Bengaluru Brigade For Animal Liberation
The torture is consistent across the industry- whether it is large dairy businesses or small dairy farms with five cattle. I’m sure none of the readers would approve of such merciless treatment of the cattle for the dairy products they use.
Whether we like it or not, but using these products is indirectly a form of supporting the brutality the cattle face. Moreover, it is time to support the right things and voice your support loud enough that the dairy industry sits up and takes note.
Does veganism help us be healthier and fitter?
It definitely does! While the popular debate in anti-vegan channels seems to focus on nutrient deficiencies and health issue veganism makes us healthier in the following ways:-
- Promotes healthy weight loss
- Reduces the risk of heart diseases by decreasing cholesterol levels
- Lowers your chances of getting certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer
- Manage diabetes by lowering A1C levels
- Improve the functioning of vital organs like the kidney
- A vegan diet can reduce pain from Arthritis
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if you research more, you are bound to find more benefits.
I want to share another health benefit that I have very recently discovered in my journey to veganism. Vegan diets help structure your life if done the right way. So, unnecessary hogging on food and eating junk is absolutely avoided. This leads to feeling energetic throughout the day and no more phases of drowsiness.
As to why this happens? Since we are cutting out protein-rich food items (dairy particularly), we feel less drowsy as the food is processed faster.
Does veganism help the environmental issue?
According to a UN report, rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars. An individual can reduce their carbon footprint by a whole 73% by switching to a vegan diet, thus making it the single best way to reduce our environmental impact.
Meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein. Yet, it uses the vast majority, 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of this, if this land were used for crops and the animals be left in the forests, more people could be fed causing less expense to the planet.
Also, these cattle need 50 times less land to thrive on natural pastures than the farmlands. In doing so,
- Water can be conserved. Livestock rearing consumes huge amounts of water while also leading to its pollution. Replacing chicken, meat, etc., with a vegetarian or vegan alternative saves around 4500 litres of water.
- Energy consumed in rearing animals, shipping the products, and maintaining a set temperature is reduced 8 times in a plant-based diet.
The environmental benefit of a vegan diet is not limited only to greenhouse emissions but also land use, water conservation, and eutrophication. Research says switching to a vegan diet has more impact on your carbon footprint than cutting down on flights or having electric cars.
Finally, is veganism only limited to food?
No, veganism is not just about vegan food. It is a way of lifestyle. It constitutes everything- from food to clothes, cosmetics, accessories and even footwear. Components like leather, animal skin, and even eyelashes are rampantly used in the accessory and skincare industry.
The good news is that now, conscious alternatives are easily and widely available. Vegan leather, skincare brands that do not test on animals or alternative fabrics are just some of the many options. Yes, some of these brands may be high priced, they are surely an investment item. You can always find brands that are animal friendly and provide products that fit your budget with a little bit of research.
Thus, leading a life with compassion and love for animals with a conscious effort is far easier now than ever before. I am sure you have many more questions. Look out for more articles that will answer them all and help you start your vegan journey!
Saloni is a biotech engineering student studying at IIT Kharagpur. She runs the Instagram page called The Sustainability Saga to help more people in India, become aware of sustainability and zero-waste lifestyle in a simple manner. Saloni’e hobbies include reading novels, dancing, learning new languages, and debating.