This article was originally published in the Dominion Post.
Siena Yates’ article on ‘Why I’m no longer a vegetarian’ (Your Weekend, 21 March) is not the first item I have read about a former vegetarian extolling the virtues of eating meat. I’m always slightly surprised when someone starts consuming animals again however. Surely preventing other sentient creatures from suffering will always be so much more satisfying than a meaty meal?
I’ve been vegetarian since I gave up meat as a young child and have been vegan for the last few years. For me, it’s all about the animals but as I’ve got older I’ve realised the benefits for myself too.
Some people believe it’s difficult to get the nutrients you need on a meat free diet, but contrary to popular opinion most vegetarians aren’t constantly tired and suffering from lack of iron. I saw this first hand growing up, as my meat-loving sister had low iron levels whilst I, the veggie, was the picture of health. Following a vegetarian diet can have many health advantages, including lowering our blood pressure, reducing our risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
And do vegetarians and vegans live in a vortex of eternal hunger, destined to be perpetually dissatisfied and feeling weak? Ask world-renowned vegan athletes like tennis champ Venus Williams, world weightlifting record holder Patrick Baboumian and vegetarian Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis!
The environmental benefits of a veg diet are obvious too. The UN has stated that, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from local to global.” Reports by the Ministry for the Environment show that farmed animals are largely responsible for our enormous per capita greenhouse emissions. New Zealand is rated 11th in the world. This is well above the United Kingdom (36th). 52% of NZ rivers are too polluted to swim in, with dairy farming a major contributor.
Still, health and environmental arguments aside, we need to stick to it for the animals that need us. Being a vegan isn’t a fad, like the paleo diet. It’s a compassionate lifestyle choice.
Some of the things we do to animals are truly disturbing. Millions of animals suffer in horrendous conditions on factory farms, never able to live life as nature intended. Taking dairy calves from their mothers soon after birth and sending two million of them straight to the slaughterhouse as though they are trash is wrong whichever way you look at it. We share this planet with many other amazing animals. They have entirely unique perspectives, and perceive the world in ways we cannot. They are different from us, but they are the same in the only way that matters: like us, they can think and feel – and suffer.
And let’s be absolutely clear: there is no humane, good, death for animals in the food industry. It’s a fallacy. On free range farms animals might live in better conditions but they are still subject to low industry standards: crowding, physical mutilation and, ultimately a terrifying trip to the slaughterhouse.
In the end we all want to live.
We all want to enjoy healthy, happy lives. And if we can do that without causing death or harm to animals, why wouldn’t we?
But do us veggies really make a difference? Of course we do. The simple supply-demand principle: by not supporting the meat industry vegetarians and vegans reduce demand, and consequently, reduce supply. By removing the demand, we’re sparing animal suffering that is beyond our worst imaginings.
We all have to make our own choices in this world. Let’s make them kind ones by leaving the animals off our plate – for good.
Mandy Carter, Head of Campaigns