To be or not to be Vegan?

Amaris E. Rodriguez, Opinions Editor

I open up my Facebook page to another notification from my friend tagging me in a video on why people should go vegan, a common practice for him. On Instagram, another person posts a video showcasing how meat products are made with the caption “Go Vegan!” It seems like, in recent years veganism, the practice of not consuming or using any animal products has picked up the pace.

As a meat-eater who has recently found herself watching vegan food diary videos on YouTube, I am constantly torn between the idea of living an animal-free-product life and my love for pepperoni. Veganism has recently gained popularity in the United States, especially among millennials. According to the “Top Trends in Prepared Foods in 2017” report, six percent of the population now identifies as vegan, which is a tremendous increase from the one percent back in 2014. As their numbers keep increasing, so does my curiosity on what a plant-based diet looks like and why people turn to it.

One of the main reasons that people turn to veganism is animal rights. While many people are familiar with the concept of being vegetarian, being vegan is taking that one step further.

Vegans do not use or consume any product that was made with animal products, including dairy and leather. PETA videos and strong online communities are focused on educating people on the inhumane practices of animal farming, and how society has disconnected human’s feelings towards certain animals.

An argument that is often made is why humans value the life of certain animals over others. Why are we okay with killing a baby calf, but not okay with killing a puppy? For us in the U.S., it could be because we associate a dog as a pet, but this concept is not the same throughout the world; a domestic animal here can be dinner somewhere else.

Another argument from animal rights activists is that animals feel pain, just like humans do.

Scientists and psychologists have long debated the idea of animals feeling or showcasing emotions, testing different species of domestic animals such as dogs to wild elephants. Researchers have gone to great lengths to show similarities between animal and human emotions.

A 2014 study in Hungary, conducted by the Comparative Ethology Research Group, showcased that humans and dogs have the same reaction to emotional sounds such as crying and laughter, which light up areas of the primary auditory cortex in both. These signs point to the idea that animals are able to recognize emotion, while other researchers are working towards proving that they feel emotions the same way humans do.

As an animal lover, this is one of the strongest arguments that make me feel guilty about consuming meat and other animal-based products. While I stay away from products that are tested on animals I have not been able to give up chicken for good.

Recently, as I have started to pay more attention to what types of food I consume, I have experimented with more plant-based products. I have opted out ground beef meatballs for meatless ones, and have made great use of my veggie spiralizer. Since I was a little kid, I have been told that consuming more natural food, including fresh fruits and veggies, has great benefits for our health. However, most of us were also taught that we need animal products growing up, like milk and animal protein, to grow strong and healthy.

While many U.S. citizens believe milk is needed to grow strong and healthy, studies have rendered that popular belief a myth. A study conducted by Yale University School of Medicine in 1992, showed that over sixteen different countries, 70 percent of bone fracture rates were attributed to the consumption of animal protein. A more recent study released in 2016 by the Massachusetts General Hospital showcased that high intake of proteins from animal products was associated with higher mortality rates, as opposed to their counterparts who received their protein from plant-based foods. The study, which was conducted over a period of 30 years, related that a diet consisting of high animal protein derived from red meats had a direct correlation with the higher mortality rates seen in carnivores.  

While many people have their own reasons for switching and maintaining a vegan diet, it is important to understand that everyone’s body is different. People who might suffer certain medical conditions, especially those involving muscle development, need to consume animal protein since protein from animal sources tend to deliver all the amino acids that a body needs while plant-based proteins usually lack one or more essential amino acids. Other people’s bodies are able to function to their full potential while on a strict raw vegan diet.

As I strive to educate myself on more humane ways to consume animal products or different alternatives that are available, the chicken will remain a part of my diet for now. Through education and awareness on different reasons why people turn to veganism, I have discovered that what is best for my body at the moment, and recommended by my doctor, is consuming animal protein. Even people who do consume animal protein can take small steps that can have positive effects, such as choosing grass-fed and humanely treated options.

As veganism becomes a more prominent option for food consumption one of the main topics of discussion is healthier food options. Regardless of what diet someone follows, healthy food should be a concern for everyone.