So I'm doing an extended essay on veganism this year for my IB Diploma in high school. To be more specific, the essay is about the various reasons or arguments for living a vegan lifestyle and eating a vegan diet (reasons including ethical/morality, the environment, culture/tradition, health, etc.) I've only done a draft last year and it isn't even a finished one because I was writing it only a day or two before the due date because I was swamped with work from other classes. Anyway I'm just going to copy and paste it here for anyone that's interested to read, and I'm completely open to any advice, corrections, and criticism that anyone has to offer. With that said, I'd also like to add that I'm going into my senior year of high school and I am definitely not an excellent writer so I apologize that this essay may not be what's expected or anything great. I have an advisor from school that I've submitted this to in May but she hasn't contacted me to give me feedback yet so I really don't know how bad or how good it is. I wrote this essay in google docs so the format that it will be here isn't the exact same it was in, it looks better the way it was. I believe that the essay needs probably a lot of work because to me it sounds too biased and overly persuasive rather than informative and knowledgeable. Any help is appreciated and thank you very much to anyone who takes the time to read it and comment on it :)
April 29, 2014
A. Research Question
What Are The Various Reasons (Ethical, Cultural, Health, Environmental, etc.) Why People Choose a Vegan
Originally the topic was going to be only a comparison of two diets or the only various
health reasons for going vegan. In attempt to formulate more of a well-focused knowledge
question capable of being answered in conclusion, I narrowed the topic to something still broad
within itself and tried to put it in more of a global context.
A vegan, in the general context, is someone that abstains from consuming or using meat or
any animal product such as dairy, eggs, and animal derived substances. However, it is not only a
diet decision - it comes with a set of beliefs that rejects the commoditization of animals and
promotes the idea that man should live without exploiting animals.(Wikipedia, “Veganism”) This
includes diet, clothing, entertainment, and transportation. They do not consume poultry, beef,
pork, fish, eggs, milk, or honey. Nor do they wear anything derived from a killed/harmed animal
such as leather, suede, wool, ivory, silk, or feathers. Vegans also do not purchase any products
that contain animal products or ingredients tested on animals, and often most vegans do not
support zoos, rodeos, circuses, or aquariums. (Nathan Schneider, “Introduction to Veganism”)
There can be strictly dietary vegans, someone that abstains from merely the consumption of all
animal products but may not necessarily implement the overall philosophy to other areas of their
lives and may still be okay with the use of animal products for other purposes.
Although the overall philosophical concept of veganism is of ethical reasoning, vegan
people all have various personal, independent, and shared reasons and justifications to why they
choose to live the lifestyle that they do and what drives them to do so. Throughout my research, I
have found that there are ethical/humane, health-related, cultural, and environmental reasons why
people choose a vegan lifestyle. The purpose of this essay is to introduce and explain each type
of reasoning and the justifications, or facts for each.
The most common reason why people adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle is the belief that it is
unethical to exploit, slaughter, and consume or use other sentient, living beings. The beliefs behind
this is that we should not unnecessarily cause suffering or kill any animal, including for food, and
that our tradition and convenience of slaughtering animals is not morally correct. Vegans that argue
for the ethical reasoning, sometimes called “ethical vegans” believe that the act of harming
nonhuman animals for our own benefit is speciesism and they are in disagreement against this
concept of humankind being superior to other species and thus being justified to exploit other
animals as they please. Animals are thought to have natural rights, such as the right to live a full life
without unnecessary suffering. This has been in debate against people that believe to have rights,
one must also have responsibility, rational, language, etc. The majority of vegans see this argument
to be flawed with the justifications that we do not deny moral consideration to the mentally ill or
challenged, physically incapable, handicap, or infants and that we should not base our
considerations on hierarchy of sentience or intelligence. (“Ethical Reasons For Going Vegan”)
The reasons why killing and using other animals for the purpose of consumption and other
purposes are thought to be unnecessary in the terms of ethical veganism is because humans can
obtain all of the adequate nutrition they would get through an omnivorous diet, with an exception
of vitamin B12 which many meat eaters are also deficient in but that there are supplements for, in a
vegan one that is healthy with adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Many vegans
also argue that an omnivorous diet is not the natural diet suitable for humans but that it is a learned
behaviour and traditional way of eating. The justifications for this are that humans natural instinct,
often observed in children, is to be compassionate with other animals instead of showing
carnivorous or omnivorous behaviour which would be to attack and consume the animal in it’s
raw state. Also, humans do not possess the same characteristics of carnivores and omnivores seen
in nature but rather we do show characteristics of herbivorous/frugivorous animals such as well
developed facial muscles including masseter and pterygoid muscles as opposed to carnivores and
omnivores who have less developed facial muscles which only include temporalis muscles for a
wide mouth. We have an elaborate jaw capable of side-to-side and front-to-back motion compared
to a restrictive jaw designed to swallow prey whole and only rip flesh. Humans have similar teeth
to herbivores which include broad, flat incisor teeth, small “canine” teeth, and flattened molars
with nodular cusps that allow for grinding of plant fibers. We possess carbohydrate-digesting
enzymes in our saliva which carnivores and omnivores do not have and we also contain the same
enzymes in our stomachs as herbivores rather than the ones carnivores and omnivores have, and
we have a higher pH in our stomachs and extremely long intestinal tracts as opposed to short
intestines and colons that allow meat to pass through the body quickly and high acidity to
decompose meat quickly and kill bacteria efficiently without cooking. (Dr. David Collison, “Human
Anatomy & Physiology”) Not only is consuming animals or animal products unnecessary, but
wearing their fur and other forms of animal exploitation are arguably not a necessity with all of the
other fabrics and substitutes available.
Not only the act of consuming and using another animal is viewed as unethical but the
process is not so humane either. The living conditions and treatment of animals within factory
farms, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), dairy farms, and slaughterhouses is one
of the ethical reasons why people adopt a vegan lifestyle. Hundreds of animals are confined in
warehouses in crowded spaces and cages with so little room that they can barely turn around or lie
down. Their living conditions are unsanitary and filthy - covered in faeces, waste, and dead or
nearly dead, sick animals. They are deprived of sunlight, fresh air, and exercise and are injected
with drugs and hormones to genetically alter them and produce more flesh, eggs, and milk for
human consumption. Some of them are fattened up so much they can barely stand or walk.
Female dairy cows are impregnated continuously in “rape racks” (“Factory Farms”, A Well-Fed
World) and their offspring are removed from them to be either raised to be slaughtered for meat or
to produce milk. Cows are also branded (burned), detailed, and dehorned, and chicks and chickens
are debeaked. The people handling the animals are often not very nice to them either. There
have been multiple cases of people in factory farms and slaughterhouses abusing animals by
jabbing and stabbing them with sharp objects, kicking and hitting them, dragging them with hooks,
raping them, and other disturbing things. Most ethical vegans argue that there is simply no humane
way to killing an animal regardless of what way you do it but a lot of times, animals in
slaughterhouses suffer a slow, extreme, painful death and are fully conscious and aware of what is
going on to themselves and other animals around them.
The second most common reason why people go vegan is the health factor. There is no
one vegan diet, just like a meat eater or omnivorous diet could consist of anything and can
range from anywhere health-wise. However, most of the United States and other regular countries
that have fast food restaurants and regular consumption of meat and dairy also have high rates of
adult and child obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other conditions
that have been linked to diet. Animal meat, dairy, and eggs are high in fat and dietary cholesterol. It
is purely all saturated fat which clogs arteries and raises cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing
the chance of stroke and heart disease. The average American consumes twice as much
protein as necessary for a healthy diet (“57 Health Benefits of Going Vegan”). The World Health
Organization (WHO) recommends, with a wide safety margin, that women and men get 5% of
their daily calories as protein. That would be 38 grams for a man that consumes 3,000 calories a
day and 29 grams for a woman that consumes 2,300 calories a day (John McDougall, “Where Do
You Get Your Protein?”) , which is relatively easy to get and almost impossible not to get
provided that the recommendation for total daily calories are being met, even with a vegan diet. A
diet high in protein is often times associated with high intakes of total fat and cholesterol and are
also restrictive in other nutrients such as carbohydrates (“Dietary Protein and Weight Reduction”,
AHA Nutrition Committee) which is the body’s main source of energy and is needed for proper
muscle tissue development and cellular function.
Animal products are also high in acidic content, which is bad for bone and teeth strength
and development, can cause conditions such as acid reflux and leaky gut syndrome, and also
creates a favorable environment for cancer cells and bacteria. The way the body compensates for
high acidity in the body is by pulling minerals out of the bones and tissues which can lead to
thinner/weaker bones and lower muscle mass longterm. Although milk and cheese contain
calcium, they are also high in acidity and the countries with the highest consumption of milk and
dairy are also the highest in rates of osteoporosis and vise-versa, the countries with the lowest
consumption of dairy have the lowest bone fracture and osteoporosis rates. Dairy products have
also been found to have a link to increased risks of ovarian, prostate, and other cancers because it
increases Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (“New Study: Increased Milk Intake Does NOT Protect
Against Osteoporosis”, Jeff Nelson) which increases the chance of these cancers.
Other health concerns related to the consumption of animal products are antibiotics,
hormones, mercury in fish and seafood, diseases from contamination such as E.Coli, Salmonella,
and Mad Cow Disease, as well as other contaminants. A large amount of animals are given
antibiotics due to their unsanitary living conditions in factory farms and eventually develop
resistance strains. These drugs can get into the bodies of humans that consume the animals which
can cause more severe illnesses and resistance towards antibiotics to treat the illnesses. These
animals are also injected with hormones to help them grow faster, get fatter, and produce more
milk and there are also naturally occurring hormones such as Oestradiol, Progesterone and
Testosterone. These hormones transfer to humans when consumed, disrupting our hormone
balance and causing a variety of complications such as developmental problems, reproductive
issues, and even cancers.
There are also risks in contamination and contracting disease and illness from beef and
other meats because of bacteria and decomposition. Cooking often kills off enough of the bacteria
to be safe for humans to eat but sometimes that isn’t always the case and just a tiny amount can
make a person severely ill and can even kill a person. From 2009-2010, there were 29,444 cases of
foodborne illnesses and 23 deaths. (“Tracking and Reporting Foodborne Disease Outbreaks”)
E.Coli and Salmonella are the predominant pathogenic illnesses and they are extremely severe. This
bacteria can be spread to other non-meat items too if it is prepared next to or somehow in contact
with it. One of the ways meat is disinfected in packaging and processing factories is by spraying it
with ammonium hydroxide. Too much of this vapor can be harmful, causing irritation to eyes and
lungs and if consumed, can cause burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach (“Q&A About
Ammonium Hydroxide”). Mad Cow Disease is another concern, it is a fatal neurological disease in
cattle which is caused by feeding cows other dead animals and bones. It can be transmitted to
humans if traces of infected cow’s spinal cord and tissue are consumed. Although very rare, it is a
risk that is fatal.
In fish and seafood, methylmercury is the big risk factor. Mercury accumulates and
magnifies in the body, so even relatively low amounts in fish can become large amounts if
consumed regularly or from time to time. Almost all of the fish and shellfish consumed have
mercury in them, and there is a way of testing how much is in the fish but often times it is still put
on the market if it is a higher concentration than is allowed. Mercury has toxic effects on the
nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and on the lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes (“Mercury and
Health”, WHO) Exposure can cause neurological symptoms such as paresthesia, ataxia,
dysarthyria, hearing defects, and death, and has also been associated with developmental delays in
children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy (“Exposure Assessment for
Methylmercury from Seafood”, FDA) The more seafood and fish is consumed, the more of the
chance of getting methylmercury poisoning and these effects are higher and the more
methylmercury is increased in the body.
Although it is absolutely possible to have an unhealthy diet and still be vegan with the many
high fat and high sodium foods available, people that switch from the “standard American diet” to
a vegan one due to health conscious reasoning often improve their health by switching to a diet
that is high in vegetables, fruits, and grains. Studies and individual’s blood tests have shown that
plant-based diets have lowered the risks of the many common diseases that people have been
suffering from with a diet consisting highly of animal fat and dairy. Many people have helped their
conditions by following a vegan diet and some doctors recommend it to their patients with heart
diseases, obesity, diabetes, etc.
Another reason why some people may be vegan or choose to follow a vegan diet and/or
lifestyle is culture, religious beliefs, or societal influences. Veganism and vegetarianism have long
diverse histories that can date back all the way to 580 BCE with Pythagoras, and Egyptian religious
groups in around 3,2000 BCE followed vegetarian ideology such as abstinence from flesh and
wearing of animal derived clothing upon karmic beliefs in reincarnation (“World History of
Vegetarianism”). In some countries and places today, it is common for people to be vegetarian or
vegan. Sometimes people in these countries cannot afford meat as it is more of a luxury for the
wealthier people of the country. Instead, they buy cheap starches and vegetables like rice and
potatoes and if not vegans or vegetarians, have only occasional little amounts of meat. India,
China, and Thailand have been the predominant vegetarian or vegan countries. Several religions in
these countries do not condemn the killing and eating of animals but it is viewed as impure and
cruel, and other religions such as some forms of Buddhism incorporate vegetarian diet to refrain
from killing and controlling one’s subservience to the senses (“Vegetarianism by Country”). Many
religions around the world have practices and ideas of non-violence, and compassion towards
other sentient beings and other veganistic values which may or may not conclude in their followers
to live vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. India has the highest vegan and vegetarian populations,
mandatory markings on food items that indicate whether or not animal ingredients were used.
Recently, however, China’s and other countries’ meat consumption has been increasing likely due
to places like McDonalds being available and the cost of meat decreasing. Even though affording
meat and dairy is getting easier all over the world, veganism and vegetarianism is also becoming
increasingly popular in many places, like Thailand and Israel for example.
A common reason why people choose a vegan lifestyle or a benefit to it is the impact on
the environment and global food supply. Factory farming is impacting the environment in a
negative way due to compromised air, wasted water, fecal contamination, dead zones,
deforestation, hormone contamination, and ransacked oceans. According to a 2006 United Nations
report, animal agriculture is “one of the the top two or three most significant contributors to the
most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Perhaps the biggest
impact and threat to the environment caused by animal agriculture is deforestation due to livestock
grazing and burning down for use of the land. More than 40% of the United State’s total land mass
is used to raise animals for food. 260 million acres of land in the United States has already been
cleared for livestock grazing. This depletes our forests, endangers the populations of animals in
those forests, and degrades the soil. Factory farms also release tons of greenhouse gases and toxic
pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air every year and not only do farms use
water to provide animals to drink and for irrigation, they also use scarce freshwater resources to
flush manure out of barns. Worldwide, 87% of the use of freshwater in the United States is used
in agriculture and agriculture accounts for 93% of water depletion worldwide. Agriculture is also
the single largest source of water pollution in rivers and lakes. Fecal waste from factory farms
runs off into groundwater, and eventually into the sea and due to its toxins and other pollutants, it
can kill many fish and potentially devastate marine ecosystems. Waste generated by factory farms
has already polluted more than 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states, and contaminated groundwater
in 17 states. Fertilizer spills are also common and when it contaminates groundwater, massive
numbers of marine organisms and other animals die. This severely threatens the populations of the
marine animals in the oceans and the sanitation of the water, as is our consumption of marine
species. “According to a Food and Agriculture Organization estimate, more than 70 percent of the
world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted, and researchers have warned that all fish
may be gone by the year 2048 if overfishing trends continue.” (“Factory Farming: Destroying the
Environment”). Another environmental impact of animal agriculture is the hormones that enter soil,
ground surface, and groundwater through cow manure. Aquatic ecosystems are the most
vulnerable to these hormone residues and there have been studies to show that there have been
substantial effects on the gender and reproductive capabilities of fish and marine animals.
This is as far as I’ve gotten but it is not a complete essay. I have more information to include and the conclusion hasn’t been written yet. I think it is acceptable for a rough first draft although it isn’t finished and isn’t that well organized.
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