Joshua Elwess (12th), Reporter


Veganism is the practice of abstaining from using animal products. It is not just about your diet. Vegans, in addition to not eating anything that contains animal products, also do not use things like leather purses or fur coats. There can be multiple reasons vegans have for being vegan. I am personally a vegan for ethical reasons, so, in this article, I will mostly be talking about being vegan for ethical reasons.

I am vegan because I believe animals have complex emotions and intelligence and can feel pain similar to people. According to Daniel Weary, an applied animal biologist at the University of British Columbia, “Abrupt and early weaning, such as occurs on the typical dairy farm, appears to be distressing for both calf and cow.” The same article where that quote is in, “The Emotional Lives of Dairy Cows,” states, “Weary and his colleagues found calves were less likely to approach ambiguous screens after both dehorning and separation from their mothers, indicating they were experiencing a negative emotional state after both events. The calves continued to show this negative judgment bias for at least two and a half days after separation.” These quotes show that cows are not just mindless drones that eat, give birth, and die for the purpose of serving our appetite.

Another animal in particular, pigs, are especially complex. According to neuroscientist Lori Marino and assistant professor of English Christina M. Colvin in their paper, “Thinking Pigs: Cognition, Emotion, and Personality,” scientific research tells us that domestic pigs have excellent long-term memories; understand symbolic language; have a sense of time, remember specific episodes in their past, and anticipate future events; are excellent at navigating mazes and other spatial tasks; play creatively; and live in complex social communities and easily distinguish other individuals, both pigs and humans. I could go through other animals, but this information shows how animals that we consume are very intelligent and complex.

The article from the Independent, “Do animals feel pain in the same way as humans do?,” goes over how animals can experience pain. The article states, “…as we developed a greater understanding of pain, and studied its impact on the aspects of animal life that we could measure, we veterinary surgeons, along with many behavioural and animal scientists, recognised the significant impact of untreated pain, and we now believe this experience causes them to suffer.” The article also states, “We also know that it is not just our dogs and cats that can suffer pain – there is an equally strong evidence base for the presence and negative impact of pain in sheep, cattle, pigs and horses among other species.” These quotes show that the animals that people regularly consume experience suffering and pain, making it, in my view, cruel to engage in something that continues that suffering and pain.

Some would say that we “humanely” murder the animals that people consume. It would take me a lot of space to quote and go over information on the way animals are treated, so I will just link many sources on the subject of treatment towards animals at the end of the article. Regardless of how animals are treated, I would personally say that there is no way to “humanely” murder an animal since, regardless of what you do, you are taking away a complex emotional being for your self-interest. I think saying that we could “humanely” kill an animal is comparable to saying we can “humanely” kill mentally retarded people or human newborns. Some might say that it is completely unreasonable for me to compare animals to humans. I would say that the animals’ complex emotions and intelligence make them pretty comparable to human life. It is not just me who would compare human life to animals. Alex Hershaft, a vegan Holocaust survivor, has stated, “I noted with horror the striking similarities between what the Nazis did to my family and my people, and what we do to animals we raise for food: the branding or tattooing of serial numbers to identify victims, the use of cattle cars to transport victims to their death, the crowded housing of victims in wood crates, the arbitrary designation of who lives and who dies — the Christian lives, the Jew dies; the dog lives, the pig dies.” I also personally think that animals should have the right to have what their body produces. I think that there are specific cases where it could be morally justified to take what an animal produces away from them. For example,

I will now go through common arguments against vegans. One is “plants are alive too. Why do you eat them?” Firstly, this misrepresents what vegans believe. It is not about living things in general. An article called, “Plants don’t have feelings and aren’t conscious, a biologist argues,” states, “‘There’s nothing in the plant remotely comparable to the complexity of the animal brain,’ says Taiz, of the University of California, Santa Cruz. ‘Nothing. And I’m a plant biologist. I love plants’ — not because plants think like humans, he says, but for ‘how they live their plant lives.’” Also, plants do not feel in the way that animals do. An article from Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Given that plants do not have pain receptors, nerves, or a brain, they do not feel pain as we members of the animal kingdom understand it. Uprooting a carrot or trimming a hedge is not a form of botanical torture, and you can bite into that apple without worry.” This argument is just completely wrong on every level.

Another argument is that land will be required for the population to become vegan, which will contribute to habitat loss and other forms of environmental damage. Actually, the reality shows just the opposite. In a study from the Weizmann Institute of Science, “The researchers report that in the United States alone, avoiding opportunity food loss — that is, replacing all animal-based items with edible crops for human consumption — would add enough food to feed 350 million additional people, or more than the total US population, with the same land resources. ‘Our analysis has shown that favoring a plant-based diet can potentially yield more food than eliminating all the conventionally defined causes of food loss,’ says lead author Dr. Alon Shepon, who worked in the lab of Prof. Ron Milo in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department.” This illustrates that a vegan diet would be much more environmentally friendly.

There is also the argument that veganism is unhealthy and lacks important nutrition like protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, Omega 3, and other nutrients. There are plenty of plant sources that are excellent for some of these vitamins and there are supplements for others. For example, rice and beans, soy milk, tofu, cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanut butter, quinoa, chia seeds, and hummus, among others, give you plenty of protein. Vitamin B12 can be obtained from fortified foods and supplements. As long as you pay some attention to what you eat (just like any other diet), you will be fine.

There are two more arguments that I would like to address. One of them is that veganism is expensive. Firstly, not all vegan foods are expensive. Rice, beans, and potatoes are pretty cheap and nutritious. With some planning of what you will eat, veganism will not break the bank (see for example, this article from someone who claims that his vegan diet costs less than $25 a week:

Finally, there is the argument that people are exploited and misused too, so why should we focus on animals? I agree that humans are exploited and misused too. I will admit that I am guilty of buying things that were made through the exploitation of workers. I do try to minimize it, however. We can focus on both issues without abandoning the other.

I believe that becoming vegan is not enough for animal rights, just like how buying fair trade products is not enough for workers’ rights. I believe that, under our capitalist society, people and animals will always be exploited for the sake of profits. That is why I believe that only a nonhierarchical society where workers own the means of production and people are paid according to their work and needs is the solution to the problem of exploitation. Unfortunately, we are far from a society like that right now. However, we can attempt to push for greater changes through direct action and organization, just like the movements in the 1960s. Through this, we can improve animal (and human) welfare and push for a society that ends the problem of exploitation.