The word 'vegan' first originated in the 1940's by co founder of the Vegan Society, Donald Watson when trying to find an alternative to the term 'non dairy vegetarian'. Donald Watson, who lived to a ripe old age of 95, advocated the health benefits of a vegan diet and encouraged fellow beings to live with compassion. Veganism can be viewed as a philosophy of life.
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Vegan or Vegetarian?
Both vegetarians and vegans do not eat any meat, however vegans choose not to consume anything which comes from animals, including dairy products, eggs and honey. This is the basis of the vegan diet. A vegetarian however, will still consume animal by-products (dairy products, eggs and honey) and semi vegetarians, who have primarily plant based diets, will eat animal by-product foods and on occasion fish, seafood, chicken, and possibly even red meats.
Why People Choose to Become Vegans
There are many and varied reasons why people choose to remove animal by-products from their diets.
"We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form." - William Ralph Inge, England, author, professor at Cambridge University UK, and Anglican Dean, 1860-1954
One of the main reasons people choose to undertake a vegan lifestyle is because of the atrocious conditions which farm animals endure in factory farms.
Dairy Cows are made to produce 10-20 times more milk, for human food, than they would normally. This is done by constantly impregnating the cow and taking the calves from the mother within a day or two of being born. Most of the male calves are slaughtered for veal or sent to meat-rearing farms, where they will spend the rest of their lives in dark enclosed areas. Female calves remain at the dairy to suffer the same fate as their mothers. Due to the unnatural load on their udders and concrete flooring, cows often have udder infections, pelvic and back problems, with no pain relief or medical care. Cows are known to be highly maternal animals and are revered by the Hindu religion as a being which represents sanctity of all life. Vegans realise that if they were to eat dairy products, they would be contributing to a very cruel and unnatural industry which is also ultimately supporting toward the meat industry.
Chickens bred in factory farms for the production of eggs, also suffer greatly at the hands of people. To ensure the chickens do not peck at each other in their tiny cages, chicks are 'de-beaked' (their beaks are seared off) with no anaesthetic or pain relief. Their toes are also cut off so they do not scratch at each other; normally they would scratch in dirt for worms, however factory farmed chickens do not have the opportunity to fulfill their natural behaviour of scratching in soil. Instead they live cramped inside metal cages, they live amongst their faeces, disease and dead chickens.
Factory farmed animals live unnatural lives, they do not breathe fresh air or stretch their legs, they are fed a diet of hazardous antibiotics, they do not interact with members of their own species as they would normally, they do not even have the basic right to rear their own offspring. Farm animals suffer immensely in factory farms; gone are the days when a farmer respected the animals which were his living. Corporations have now taken living, breathing creatures and turned them into nothing but a product, 'livestock' from which they can profiteer.
But vegans know that these animals are not products, they are not stock, they have feelings and needs just as we do. By becoming and being a vegan, a person effectively boycotts the cruel industry that is factory farming, and as veganism grows, we will ensure that atrocities toward farm animals do not continue.
"If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do. There is a direct relationship between eating meat and the environment. Quite simply, you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist. Sorry folks." - Sir Paul McCartney, England, musician, born 1942
Factory farming is a major contributor to global warming, as large numbers of cattle bred for meat creates a large amount of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which is damaging to our ozone layer. The fertilizers and pesticides used in factory farming, as well as the waste from farm animals and fish/prawn farms, cause water pollution, destroying the natural environment and killing marine life. The manure also contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which contribute to acid rain.
In the oceans, wild fish numbers are dwindling as a result of human ignorance and indifference towards the sea. Fishing methods such as trawling rape the ocean of life. Long lining, a method of fishing where up to 2,500 baited hooks on fishing lines are used, and shark finning have a devastating effect on our aquatic environment. It is believed that up to 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. Wild fish are also further depleted as they are taken to feed farmed fish.
World meat production has increased rapidly over recent years and the population of farm animals now exceeds our human population by 3 to 1. Over 21 billion animals are now bred each year for consumption purposes. Farm animals consume more protein and calories then they produce, therefore animals reared for food is an unsustainable use of resources. Many vegans understand that besides the environmental impact from the gases and waste, the production of meat and dairy uses vastly more energy, water and land, than the growing of crops. The amount of food and water used to feed all of these animals could instead be used to ensure an end to world poverty.
Although it is believed that farm animals occupy less land than plants and trees grown for food, the land used to feed these farm animals is not taken into account. Imagine how much land you would need to feed farm animals numbering 3 times our human population! 'Ghost Acres' is a term used for the crops that are grown as food for farm animals in developing countries. Most of the crops used by factory farms are grown in countries that are in a state of privation. Although living in poverty, farmers in developing countries are encouraged to use what land and resources they have for financial benefit.
As consumers we can reduce our impact on the environment by not supporting factory farming and commercial fishing. Many activists argue that a vegan diet is necessary to become an effective environmentalist and environmental advocate, be it for the land or sea.
For more information, read this recent and ex-meat eater's personal voyage of discovery regarding the meat industry and its effects on the environment.
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." - Albert Einstein, Germany, physicist, awarded Nobel Prize 1921; 1879 - 1955
A vegan diet of varied foods reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke, protects against cancers, prevents loss of vision, osteoporosis and assists lowered blood pressure. Plant based diets help to reduce cholesterol and saturated fat, and to increase carotenoids, healthy fibre, vitamin C and folate. Independent scientific studies state that a diet based on the principles of veganism is perfectly adequate for good health throughout one's life (read more about the evolution of the human diet).
An unbalanced vegan diet however can lead to a deficiency in protein, essential fatty acids, iron, vitamin B, zinc and calcium; all of which can have a detrimental effect on your health. These risks can be mitigated simply by eating a balanced diet, or by consuming specific foods and supplements. Please see our vegan nutrition section for more information.
Meat is known to cause obesity, heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer and botulism. Eating too much meat and not enough vegetables can create excessive uric acid, which can cause gout, Bright's Disease, rheumatism, gallstones and kidney stones. Large quantities of iron can also increase the chances of contracting some cancers such as colorectal and lung cancer. Eating processed meats is known to be the second largest cause of cancer in humans worldwide (smoking is still the biggest cause).
Most meats and dairy foods are also high in fat, have artificial antibiotics and growth hormones, and are low in nutritional value. Populations that eat meat only are known to die at earlier ages in life, and have high incidences of osteoporosis due to a lack of calcium, which is plentiful in green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and some nuts.
Vegans who follow a balanced diet have the opportunity to benefit from the many vitamins and minerals which a plant and nut based diet provides, decrease their chances of serious illness and have an increased life span.
Apart from the 'Big 3' discussed above, other reasons why people choose to become vegan are many and varied. Many people are born into or convert to a vegan diet due to religion. Many religions espouse a philosphy of non-violence and that all animals are created equal and therefore have equal and sacred rights to life. The Indian Jain religion is strictly vegetarian, and the Hindus of India contribute the largest number of vegetarians in the world - 200,000,000 (200 million) at the last guestimate.
In many developing countries and in sectors of some developed nations, poor people have very real financial reasons for not eating meat. Animal flesh tends to be an expensive luxury food when compared in price to fruit and vegetables.
Then there are those amongst us that just can't stomach the taste or thought of eating animal flesh ... a fairly reasonable perspective.
Whatever the reason, we applaud all those vegans around the world that have made the compassionate and selfless moral choice of putting the needs and rights of other animals first.
"I am in the process of becoming vegan and I am glad to have found this website! Thank you for developing this site Vegan SA. There aren't many vegans in SA, but I hope that will change in the near future. I will keep coming back to this website for advice and recipes." - Candice Lubbe, South Africa