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Citizens Against Animal Cruelty & Exploitation


People are interested in veganism for the same reasons as vegetarianism -- to abstain from practices that cause suffering, to support more sustainable and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices, and to improve their health.

With such a diversity of reasons, it is not surprising that there are many definitions of veganism. Like other philosophies, the specific meaning of "vegan" varies from person to person. An ethical vegan realizes that not only can animals suffer, but they also value their lives in many of the same ways as do humans. Thus, animals are neither tools nor objects for our use, but rather individuals with inherent worth. From this follows the specific actions of choosing products that do not support the exploitation of animals. In other words, not eating meat, dairy, or eggs; not buying leather or wool; trying to avoid products made by companies that test on animals. Beyond this basic definition, each individual has different opinions about and experiences with being vegan; there is no set list of rules to follow.

By not consuming the products that come from animal exploitation, each individual is making a statement against inhumane practices, undertaking an economic boycott, and supporting the production of vegan products with their subsequent choices. These decisions, and the message they send to others, help to move society away from industries that use animals as a means to human ends.

The path each individual takes towards veganism is a unique one. Some people follow a methodical process of cutting out foods in the order that they consider to be the most cruel, or the foods they find the most easy to avoid. Others, initially concerned with health, eventually cut out all animal products as they become more aware of the suffering involved in the production of these foods. Others go "cold-tofu", giving up all animal foods, donating their leather goods to charity, returning their Procter & Gamble products to the company, etc.

The Vegan Police
When first becoming aware of what really goes on in the production of meat, eggs, and dairy, many people try to root out every single product associated with animal exploitation, both to remove their support of these practices and so as not to seem hypocritical.

Unfortunately, the quest for personal purity is practically impossible. All around us are items connected in some way to animal suffering: some brands of white sugar (bone char used in some processing), monoglycerides (might come from an animal), non-dairy chocolate (made on machines that also make milk chocolate), beer and wine (animal products used in some processing), photographs and reel-to-reel movies (gelatin), bicycles (animal fat used in the vulcanization of tires), books (hooves and bones in binding glue), roads and buildings (animal products used in curing concrete), medicine (tested on animals), etc. Some non-vegans imply that you shouldn't take any action unless you can avoid everything. However, any steps you take to remove your support from animal exploitation is valuable. It is not hypocritical to reduce as much suffering as you can, if reducing suffering is your goal.

Although completely understandable, the "perfect vegan" crusade distracts from helping bring about the ethical evolution of society. Given that civilization has, for many centuries, been built on exploitation, no product or activity is free of any connection to suffering or exploitation if you look hard enough. You don't have to avoid everything, just the obvious animal products. Some vegans avoid all they can, but to withdraw yourself from the major support of animal suffering and consider yourself vegan, you don't have to worry about miniscule amounts of animal products. They'll fade away as the meat, dairy, and egg industries fade.

Is A Vegan World Possible?
Many people agree that animal agribusiness is cruel, yet feel their efforts will never make any significant difference. But consider the following scenario:

Suppose each of the current 2,000 members of Vegan Outreach influenced one person to become vegan every five years on average; and each new vegan, in turn, also influenced one new person every five years. Although the change would be imperceptible at first, by 2057 more than 15 percent of the U.S. population would be vegan, and far more suffering would have been prevented than if we abolished every other form of animal exploitation in the country. With more people accepting and living the principles of animal liberation, there would be many more vegan options for everyone (e.g., vegan burgers would be cheaper and more readily available), making it much easier for people to become vegan or vegetarian. At this pace, by 2068, the entire U.S. population would be vegan.

Difficulties New Vegans Face
After being vegan for several years, many people tend to find the lifestyle second nature, forgetting what it was like in their early days. For people just becoming aware of the issues of veganism, the path is neither clear nor easy.

Even when they realize the cruelty of animal agriculture, many people see veganism as a deprivation of their favorite foods -- the foods they think they need to feel satisfied and healthy. They have been told all their lives that eating animals and animal products is necessary and good.

Another barrier to acting upon the tenets of veganism is the fear of facing the moral implications of one's choices. Choosing to stop eating animals not only says that what one did in the past was "wrong," but it also implicitly communicates to family, friends, and colleagues that their continued eating of animals is wrong.

Surviving the Long Haul: Great Expectations
When a new vegan tries to share their newfound information, they are often surprised that their family and friends not only show resistance to the idea, but often react with ridicule or anger. Combine this with the fact that ethical vegans view meat-eaters as supporting cruelty, and vegans can easily develop a near-hatred of meat-eaters. In fact, it can almost seem like it is a vegan's duty to avoid meat-eaters and boycott any event having meat as a protest.

However, in order to change the world for the animals, we must let the empathy and compassion we feel for animals shine through the pain and anger we feel about their exploitation. Unless non-vegans respect and admire us (as opposed to finding us cold and judgmental), they will have little interest in veganism.

The main difficulty in staying friendly and respectful is our expectations -- we expect that people will react the same way we do. We need to understand others and give them time to deal with their unique situations, rather than burning bridges, creating enemies, and feeding the stereotype of vegans as being hostile extremists. Although difficult, it is probably best -- for our dealings with others and our long-term mental health -- to have no expectations of others.

This does not mean that animal suffering should not be taken seriously. Honestly stating how you feel is important. As long as you remain respectful, your continued example of veganism, as well as the resources you provide, will ultimately be a positive force for others.

Although much of the pro-veg literature available is old and outdated (or skewed and poorly documented), there is a lot of solid information available to help educate ourselves about the issues. We encourage vegans to read The Vegetarian Way for nutritional information. For more information on animal treatment and the environment than provided in Why Vegan, we recommend Battered Birds Crated Herds and / or Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating. These will enable you to discuss the issues more knowledgeably.

However, we needn't be encyclopedias of facts. The simplest reason for being vegan can be the most powerful: "I know that I don't want to suffer, and for this reason, I don't want to cause suffering"

On Being Vegan
The most important tool we have in the journey toward justice is our positive and sincere example. Looking at the long-term changes in society, it should be clear that each of us, in our example, actions, attitudes -- our entire existence -- is changing the world. If we could focus all our energies on understanding and outreach, rather than on anger, the world would be significantly better off -- as would we as individuals. Living consistently and compassionately as a vegan is an affirmation of life, a means to fulfillment and joy; these positive aspects of veganism are what we must embrace for ourselves and communicate to others.

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A vegetarian diet has been advocated by everyone from philosophers such as Plato and Nietzsche, to political leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi, to modern pop icons such as Paul McCartney and Bob Marley. Science is also on the side of vegetarianism. A multitude of studies have proven the health benefits of a vegetarian diet to be remarkable.

“Vegetarian” is defined as avoiding all animal flesh, including fish and poultry. Vegetarians who avoid flesh, but do eat animal products such as cheese, milk, and eggs, are ovo-lacto-vegetarians (ovo = egg; lacto = milk, cheese, etc.). The ranks of those who eschew all animal products are rapidly growing; these people are referred to as pure vegetarians or vegans. Scientific research shows that ovo-lacto-vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, and vegans are the healthiest overall.

Preventing Cancer
A vegetarian diet helps to prevent cancer. Numerous epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that vegetarians are nearly 50 percent less likely to die from cancer than non-vegetarians.1 Similarly, breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations, such as China, that follow plant-based diets. Interestingly, Japanese women who follow Western-style, meat-based diets are eight times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who follow a more traditional plant-based diet.2 Vegetarians also have lower rates of colon cancer than meat-eaters.1 Animal products are usually high in fat and always devoid of fiber. Meat and dairy products contribute to many forms of cancer, including cancer of the colon, breast, and prostate. Colon cancer has been directly linked to meat consumption. High-fat diets also encourage the body’s production of estrogens, in particular, estradiol. Increased levels of this sex hormone have been linked to breast cancer. One recent study linked dairy products to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The process of breaking down the lactose (milk sugar) into galactose evidently damages the ovaries.3

Vegetarians avoid the animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber and vitamins that help to prevent cancer. In addition, blood analysis of vegetarians reveals a higher level of Natural Killer Cells, specialized white blood cells that attack cancer cells.4

Beating Heart Disease
Vegetarian diets also help prevent heart disease. Animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet. Vegetarians avoid these risky products. Additionally, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels,5 and animal products contain no fiber. One study even demonstrated that a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diet combined with stress reduction techniques, smoking cessation, and exercise could actually reverse atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries.6 Heart diets that include animal products are much less effective, usually only slowing the process of atherosclerosis.

Lowering Blood Pressure
Back in the early 1900s, nutritionists noted that people who ate no meat had lower blood pressure.7 It was also discovered that vegetarian diets could, within two weeks, significantly reduce a person’s blood pressure.8 These results were evident regardless of the sodium levels in the vegetarian diets.

Preventing and Reversing Diabetes
Non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset) diabetes can be better controlled and sometimes even eliminated through a low-fat, vegetarian diet along with regular exercise. Because such a diet is low in fat and high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, it allows insulin to work more effectively. The diabetic person can more easily regulate glucose levels. While a vegetarian diet cannot eliminate the need for insulin in people with insulin-dependent (childhood-onset) diabetes, it can often reduce the amounts of insulin used. Some scientists believe that insulin dependent diabetes may be caused by an auto-immune reaction to dairy proteins.

Gallstones, Kidney Stones, and Osteoporosis
Vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce one’s chances of forming kidney stones and gallstones. Diets that are high in protein, especially animal protein, tend to cause the body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. These three substances are the main components of urinary tract stones. British researchers have advised that persons with a tendency to form kidney stones should follow a vegetarian diet.9 Similarly, high-cholesterol, high-fat diets—the typical meat-based diet—are implicated in the formation of gallstones.

For many of the same reasons, vegetarians are at a lower risk for osteoporosis. Since animal products force calcium out of the body, eating meat can promote bone loss. In nations with mainly vegetable diets (and without dairy product consumption), osteoporosis is less common than in the U.S.—even when calcium intake is also less than in the U.S.10 Calcium is important, but there is no need to get calcium from dairy products. For more information on protecting your bones, contact PCRM for additional reference materials and fact sheets.

A 1985 Swedish study demonstrated that asthmatics who practice a vegan diet for a full year have a marked decrease in their need for medications, and in their frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Twenty-two of the 24 subjects reported improvement by the end of the year.11 Dairy allergies may be part of the reason.

Common Concerns
Some people still worry about the ease with which a vegetarian diet can provide all essential nutrients. The fact is, it is very easy to have a well-balanced diet with vegetarian foods. Vegetarian foods provide plenty of protein. Careful combining of foods is not necessary. Any normal variety of plant foods provides more than enough protein for the body’s needs. Although there is somewhat less protein in a vegetarian diet than a meat-eater’s diet, this is actually an advantage. Excess protein has been linked to kidney stones, osteoporosis, and possibly heart disease and some cancers. A diet focused on beans, whole grains, and vegetables contains adequate amounts of protein without the “overdose” most meat-eaters get.

Calcium is easy to find in a vegetarian diet. Many dark green leafy vegetables and beans are loaded with calcium, and some orange juices and cereals are calcium-fortified. Iron is plentiful in whole grains, beans, and fruits.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a genuine issue for vegans, although very easy to deal with. Traditionally, getting this vitamin has not been difficult. In cultures with plant-based diets, the microorganisms that produce B12 grow in the soil and cling to root vegetables, and traditional Asian miso and tempeh contain large amounts of the vitamin. But with industrialized production and improved hygiene, this source of B12 has been eliminated. Meat-eaters get B12 through microorganisms living in the animals they eat.

Although cases of B12 deficiency are very uncommon, it is important to make sure that one has a reliable source of the vitamin. Good sources include all common multiple vitamins (including vegetarian vitamins), fortified cereals, and fortified soymilk. It is especially important for pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers to get enough vitamin B12.

Special Concerns: Pregnancy, Infants, and Children
During pregnancy, nutritional needs increase. The American Dietetic Association has found vegan diets adequate for fulfilling nutritional needs during pregnancy, but pregnant women and nursing mothers should supplement their diets with vitamins B12 and D. Most doctors also recommend that pregnant women supplement their diet with iron and folic acid, although vegetarians normally consume more folic acid than meat-eaters.

Vegetarian women have a lower incidence of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, and significantly more pure breast milk. Analyses of vegetarians’ breast milk show that the levels of environmental contaminants in their milk are much lower than in non-vegetarians.12 Studies have also shown that in families with a history of food allergies, when women abstain from allergenic foods, including milk, meat, and fish, during pregnancy, they are less likely to pass allergies onto the infant.13 Mothers who drink milk pass cow antibodies along to their nursing infants through their breast milk. These antibodies can cause colic.

Vegetarian children also have high nutritional needs, but these, too, are met within a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian menu is life-extending. As young children, vegetarians may grow more gradually, reach puberty somewhat later, and live substantially longer than do meat-eaters. Do be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12.

Further Reading


Footnote References:
1. Phillips RL. Role of lifestyle and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh-Day Adventists. Cancer Res (Suppl) 1975;35:3513-22.
2. Trichopoulos D, Yen S, Brown J, Cole P, MacMahon B. The effect of westernization on urine estrogens, frequency of ovulation, and breast cancer risks: a study in ethnic Chinese women in the Orient and in the U.S.A. Cancer 1984;53:187-92.
3. Cramer DW, Harlow BL, Willett WC. Galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to the risk of ovarian cancer. Lancet 1989;2:66-71.
4. Malter M, Schriever G, Eilber U. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other blood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr Cancer 1989; 12:271-8.
5. Sacks FM, Castelli WP, Donner A, Kass EH. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in vegetarians and controls. N Engl J Med 1975;292:1148-52.
6. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 1990;336:129-33.
7. Salie F. Influence of vegetarian food on blood pressure. Med Klin 1930;26:929-31.
8. Donaldson AN. The relation of protein foods to hypertension. Calif West Med 1926;24:328-31.
9. Robertson WG, Peacock M, Heyburn PJ. Should recurrent calcium oxalate stone formers become vegetarians? Br J Urol 1979;51:427-31.
10. Hegsted DM. Calcium and osteoporosis. J Nutr 1986;116:2316-9.
11. Lindahl O, Lindwall L, Spangberg A, Stenram A, Ockerman PA. Vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of bronchial asthma. J Asthma 1985;22:45-55.
12. Hergenrather J, Hlady G, Wallace B, Savage E. Pollutants in breast milk of vegetarians (letter). N Engl J Med 1981;304:792.
13. Allergies in infants are linked to mother’s diets.


Written in the New York Times, 30 August 1990.

As a culture, we have accepted that in order to eat animal flesh, you must first kill the animals (or pay someone to kill them). But people often continue eating milk and eggs because they believe that these products are different. The common belief is that to get milk and eggs, you don’t kill the animals. But it doesn’t really happen this way. To have their eggs and milk, the animals will be killed. The difference is that for flesh, the animals are killed before you take their flesh; for eggs and milk, the animals are killed after you take their eggs and milk. This is the case for free-range dairy and eggs, as well as factory-farmed.

Simple economics demand that dairy cows be killed at four or five years of age (they normally would live about twenty) and layer hens at one to two years (they normally would live eight to ten), after their production goes down. Their dead carcasses are merely by-products of this process, by which the agribusiness person makes some extra money. But, even if there were no extra money, the dairy cows and egg-laying hens would still be killed when their production rates declined. These animals would never have been bred if it weren’t for the people who eat their milk and eggs.

In general, dairy cows and egg-laying hens suffer more than animals raised solely for meat. Many dairy cows live most of their lives indoors where they have little room to move. Almost all egg-laying hens live in tiny cages with wire floors. These cages are stacked, one on top of the other. Dairy cows and egg-laying hens (who do not die from the conditions) suffer for much longer than steers and broiler chickens.

Additionally, most of the males born in dairy cow and egg-laying hen breeding operations are also killed. In the case of egg-laying hens, the male chicks are often discarded in trash bags to suffocate or starve. Male offspring of dairy cows, being of the wrong stock for beef, are taken from their mothers and raised for veal.

Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), has said that if you are going to cut out animal products in the order of which suffer the most, you should stop consuming dairy products first. In our opinion, the animals whose lives are most miserable are, in general, egg-laying hens, breeding sows, and dairy cows.

Giving up meat is a good step towards not contributing to the suffering of other animals. But, as a society, we should face the fact that there is little ethical difference between consuming flesh, dairy, or eggs.

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