“Does being vegan make a difference?”

Many people do understand that the cruelty inflicted upon animals to acquire food and fabrics is morally wrong, and are aware of the devastating environmental impact that animal agriculture has; they just feel powerless to do anything about it. This is an understandable mindset – a global atrocity on this scale can seem insurmountable, and it can be hard to accept that one individual could make a difference in the face of such a pervasive evil. 

Nevertheless, what we do as individuals and the decisions we make do make a difference. It is estimated that your average meat eater in the Western world consumes around 7,000 individual animals in their lifetime. That already is a difference we are making when we eat animals – that decision matters. It matters in terms of the massive environmental impact, the resource and energy costs, and of course it makes a difference to those 7,000 animals who will be bred, exploited and killed for our benefit. While we don’t usually kill those animals ourselves, by eating them we create the demand that is then fulfilled by the animal agriculture industries.

Conversely, the more people who choose to protest against animal exploitation by boycotting all products of the animal agriculture industries, the less demand exists for animals to be slaughtered. This is the basic principle of supply and demand – producers don’t continue to produce products in the same quantities or make the same profit regardless of how many units are sold. By refusing to purchase these products we won’t be directly saving these animals from slaughter, but by lowering our individual demand, we do contribute towards fewer animals being bred and slaughtered in the long-term. 

The difference you can make is not only measured in terms of your own individual demand, either. You may not think of yourself as someone who will be able to convince other people to go vegan, and you may also feel like you want to avoid that ‘preachy vegan’ stereotype. Nevertheless, you may be surprised at how much influence you can have even without actively advocating; as a vegan you are a visible example of the fact that it is possible to live a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle without intentionally harming any animal ever again.

This is an enormously powerful thing, for many people you will be the first vegan they have ever met, and just showing them that they do have a choice can be enough to plant a seed and encourage people to consider adopting this lifestyle for themselves, or at least reduce their animal product consumption.

This is where the real difference is made; in the collective. It is not the case that you are just one individual fighting against giant corporations; you would be a member of a global protest movement working towards the abolition of all animal cruelty and exploitation. It can be tempting to look at the sheer scale of animal agriculture, the fact that almost everyone we know actively contributes to it, and despair that change will never come.

Yet all throughout history, real change has come from an active, politically engaged minority. We don’t need to convince everyone – just a large enough minority to force social change, and how large that minority needs to be is often overestimated. Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard, looked at hundreds of campaigns over the last century and found that it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in protests to spark radical political change.

We are still quite a way from that 3.5% figure, but veganism has been growing at an unprecedented rate. In the UK alone it has increased by 360% in the past ten years, and last year, almost one in four products released here was vegan. Similar trends are being observed all over the world, with Google reporting that searches for the term ‘vegan’ have quadrupled within a five-year period. This increase in interest in vegan alternatives has had a significant impact on the demand for animal products; more companies are realising this, with vegan options becoming far more common than they have ever been before. Even well-known fast food companies are now releasing vegan options, and for every consumer who chooses a vegan option, demand for animal products is being lowered.

Your impact extends even further than animal lives, too. As we discussed earlier, your average meat-eating diet requires far more land, water, energy, crops and labour than a vegan diet does, and this comes with an appalling environmental impact.  It is estimated that each person who consumes a plant-based diet saves 1,000 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 lbs Co2 equivalent, and one animal’s life per day. 

Though these are based on annual slaughter and environmental impact statistics, any attempt at a complete figure should be taken with a pinch of salt. What cannot be denied, however, is that abstaining from animal products has an incredibly positive impact on your environmental footprint, your resource use, and on animal lives.

On this website you will find just about everything you could need to go vegan,  and I hope in these posts I will be able to show you just how easy it can be. Going vegan is one of the most unequivocally positive decisions I have ever made, and I hope it will be for you too. If you need any additional support, then feel free to get in touch; I would be more than happy to help you in any way that I can.

“Doesn’t growing vegan food require animal manure?”

It is an odd thing to consider the place of manure in our daily lives, but it’s true that so much of our food system makes use of animal faeces, particularly with respect to the fertilisation of crops. This fact is often raised as a way of implying that vegans are in some way hypocritical for consuming plants fertilised with manure, or to otherwise argue that since even our vegetables have animal inputs, there is no real way to be “fully” vegan. There are serious flaws with both of these claims, but the fact that most of our vegetables do have at least some animal inputs is beyond doubt. So how are vegans to respond to this, given that we are supposed to avoid animal products. Isn’t manure an animal product, too?

Firstly, let’s take a look at exactly why the use of manure is problematic for us in the first place. It is tempting to think of manure is incidental and therefore unimportant, but manure is a commercial product made by animals, and it’s purchase and use helps make the rearing and slaughter of animals a profitable concern. It is true that manure is a byproduct, but that doesn’t make it free from harm, depending on the context. It is conceivable that animals could just be kept in a sanctuary environment and their manure could fertilise crops naturally wherever they choose to defecate, but that will not be the case for any commercially available crops or manure. Most manure will be the result of animals who are confined, exploited and then killed.

It is important to acknowledge though, that while the use of manure is almost universal in the growing of crops, that doesn’t mean it is necessary. We use manure precisely because we raise so many animals for food, which means that we have an incredible amount of animal waste to dispose of, so much so that there are entire university programs devoted to this increasingly difficult problem. Using manure as fertiliser is a convenient, and a profitable, way to expose of vast quantities of this waste, despite the risk factors involved, such as the now frequent vegetable exposure to E-coli and other bacteria only found in animal waste.

That said, alternatives to manure exist. Veganic farming is very much a thing, you can check out the Veganic Agriculture Network for more information on that. Using plants as fertiliser is just as, if not more effective, than animal manure, and in this way we can make grow food which is completely free from animal inputs. It is, afterall, most plants which keep soil fertile in natural systems, not animal manure. Leaves, discarded branches and roots naturally decompose and provide nourishment for animals and other plants, and this system can be emulated for the growing of domesticated plants, too. Most of us however, just do not have access to this kind of product, so for the majority of us who do have to rely on manure fertilised crops, how do we justify that as vegans?

I think it helpful to refer back to what it actually means to be vegan. As vegans, we avoid animal exploitation as far as is practicable. For most of us, it is just not possible to avoid eating vegetables which have been fertilised with the use of animal manure. Manure is considered a production process rather than an ingredient, so similar to the use of bone char to filter white sugar in the US, companies are not obliged to declare on their packaging or in their marking whether or not manure has been used.

This presents the most significant problem for vegans, as it is just not possible to know either way, unless the company chooses to tell us. Vegans have to eat something, and it is hardly fair to hold us responsible for the fact that our society exploits animals to the extent that not even vegetables are free from it’s perversions. Veganism is all about doing our best, and for most of us that means avoiding animal products as much as we are able to, while also acknowledging the realities of living in a society built on the exploitation of animals.

As truly veganic farming becomes more mainstream, and I predict that this will indeed be the next great challenge for vegan food producers, then a viable alternative will exist and this will be a non-issue. Until then, we must do whatever practicable to avoid animal exploitation, and it just isn’t practicable for most us to avoid all use of animal manure. We as a community have long acknowledged that a life completely free from harm is not possible, but just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we should do nothing, as so many people claim when referencing the imperfections of a vegan lifestlye.

None of us are perfect, but at least we are doing something, and the fact that our crops make use of animal manure doesn’t make veganism any less consistent as an ideology, nor does it somehow make vegans hypocritical. This is simply the reality of being vegan in a meat eating world.

“Is veganism more expensive?”

It is a common misconception that a plant-based diet is inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products, and this is often an assumption based on seeing people eat speciality  ready meals and faux products. These products are popular and can be really helpful for a transitioning away from animal products, but they aren’t necessary for a vegan diet at all.

Plant-based staples include things like pastas, noodles, rice, breads, grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, bread, potatoes, soy, oats, cereals, and frozen, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables. These items represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it is. This is why most of the world’s poorest people subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet. Like all diets, it is often just a matter of understanding which plant based options are available, hows to buy them cheaply, and how to  combine them into sustainable, nourishing meals.

Despite popular opinion to the contrary, plant-based meals can be extremely cheap, even when compared with the lowest quality meats. The first thing to do is to get out of is the mindset that a complete meal must include meat or a faux meat alternative, as this is just not the case. As a general rule meals should include both carbs and protein, and so instead of a staple meat based meal like chicken and rice, you might substitute the chicken for lentils, chickpeas or beans. All three of these plant based alternatives are high in protein, lower in saturated fat, have no cholesterol and are much cheaper per serving than cooked chicken.

You can be as creative with a meal like this as you could with chicken, you could make a bean and lentil patty or a bean chilli to go with the rice, or use the chickpeas to make a chickpea and rice curry, all very cheaply and easily. These are just examples, but you can see how many variations of meals you could make with just these four basic, very cheap ingredients.

A related concern is often based on cooking times, that you will not have enough time to prepare these dishes. But using the examples already discussed, there is no extra preparation time when comparing cooking canned beans, lentils or chickpeas to cooking chicken, in fact, in most cases it will actually be quicker. With plant based options you also have the advantage that you don’t have to worry about it going off as quickly as meat will, so you can prepare dishes in advance and keep them in Tupperware boxes in the fridge for quite a while.

Most plant based dishes will keep for a long time this way, so you could cook your lentils, beans and chickpeas, keep them in containers, then just add them to some cooked rice for when you don’t have the time or energy to prepare on the day.

The fact that this can be done can be demonstrated in no clearer terms than just how many poor vegans there are. Check the comments on any post about how veganism is expensive and you will find tonnes of poor vegans telling you that they exist, and how cheaply they eat. Most vegans I have met have been poor, or students with very little income at the time they went vegan. In the US, most vegans and vegetarians are in fact on the lower end of the economic scale. Personally, when I went vegan as a student with a part time job as my only income I cut the cost of my weekly shop by a full third, and many other vegans report similar figures. It is very understandable why someone might see vegan ready meals or faux meat products at the supermarket and assume that being vegan is too expensive for them, but whether or not you want to invest in these products, which undoubtedly are more convenient, is entirely up to you.

There are undoubtedly real barriers to eating plant-based for some people, from lack of food availability to not being in control of what food is bought for you, but the idea that a plant-based diet is in some way inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products is nothing more than a myth. You can make veganism cost a lot of money if you have the budget, with fresh, organic vegetables, faux products and vegan speciality items, but if you stick to basics it can be done extremely cheaply, we can’t reasonably judge how expensive a plant-based diet is by looking at luxury vegan items any more than we judge how expensive a meat based diet is by looking at high end meats and ready made fresh meals. Plant based foods are almost always the cheapest items in any supermarket, and in contrast, you’ll find that the most expensive items in most people’s shopping carts are animal products.

We should also not forget, that when people make claims that veganism is ‘not accessible’ or is ‘expensive’, they are not actually talking about veganism, they are talking about a plant-based diet. Veganism is not a diet, it is an ethical position, it about avoiding animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable. For many people that will mean maintaining a 100% plant-based diet as well as avoiding animal fabrics, animal testing and other industries that commodify animals.

For some, it may mean being vegan in every other aspect of their life, but eating a mostly plant-based diet, as their situation will not allow them to avoid all animal  products all the time. Both of these hypotheticals would count as being vegan, since both are avoiding animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable. Doing the best you can do – that is what veganism is all about.

It can be really daunting to start out with veganism when you’re on a strict budget, because you don’t have the luxury of being able to get it wrong one month and overspend. But with a little research it absolutely can be done, I have a guide on how to go vegan on a budget here, as well as a bunch of ideas on cheap vegan meals here. If you need any additional resources, some food ideas or some cheap meals plans then feel free to get in touch; I’d be more than happy to help.

“Why go vegan instead of vegetarian?”

Despite the growing popularity of veganism, there remains significantly higher numbers of vegetarians in comparison. The primary reason cited for going vegetarian instead of vegan is not wanting to give up a particular animal product, usually cheese. If someone is a vegetarian on ethical grounds however, there is no morally justifiable reason to be opposed to the consumption of flesh but not other animal products, such as dairy, eggs and honey. I will discuss some of the main issues with these products individually.

Like all female mammals, cows only produce milk when pregnant and after childbirth. Cows therefore, are restrained and forcibly impregnated so that they will produce milk. Naturally, this milk is intended to feed their calves, however, in order to take her milk, farmers separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, causing acute distress and sometimes resulting in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mother on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and are not considered profitable for meat production, so are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond formed between cows and their offspring, it is common for the mothers of dairy calves to quite literally scream for their lost calves, sometimes for days at a time. Cows are put through this agonising process three or four times, before they too are killed.

The life of an egg-laying chicken normally lasts 12 to 18 months. During this time, in most commercial egg operations they will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their natural cycles and keep them laying all year round. These facilities are often extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to sear or cut off portions of the beaks of laying hens to prevent them pecking or cannibalising each other due to stress and boredom. This prevents chickens from engaging in most of their natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. In order to maximise profitability, most hens are raised with the minimum required space of 600cm squared useable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. These laying hens are sourced from vast hatcheries, where male chicks are commonly ground up alive as they do not lay eggs and are not considered profitable for meat production.

Bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them  leaving the hive. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, and some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Many people are willing to overlook welfare concerns because it is popularly thought that consuming honey helps bees and the environment. Contrary to popular belief, Apis mellifera (the species of bee we use for honey production) are not endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees.

If you oppose eating animal flesh because you think it is wrong to kill animals because we like the way they taste, then you should object to dairy, eggs and honey on exactly the same basis, since animal deaths are usually directly involved in the production of all of these products. If it wrong to kill an animal for their flesh, then surely it is equally wrong to kill them when their milk or egg production slows, or because you want to harvest what they make.  All of these welfare concerns aside, even without animal deaths at the heart of these issues is the fact that animals are being exploited for human gain. In all of these cases, we are taking something which quite simply doesn’t belong to us, and causing harm to animals concerned in the process.

Even in those few cases where no deaths are involved, an animal does not have to be directly killed for this product in order for them to be harmed, breeding an animal and keeping them in captivity their entire lives, solely to make a profit from their bodies is harmful in and of itself, and regardless of whether or not they are killed during or afterwards, their entire lives have been taken from them because we enjoy the taste of what they produce. Treating animals as mere commodities to be manipulated, exploited, bought, sold and killed is denying them their right to their own lives, and that is the core of the issue.

There are cases where a person cannot eat 100% plant based, or is using vegetarianism as a stepping stone, both these cases are completely fine and that is not what is being criticised here. The issue is when someone chooses to be a vegetarian when they have the option to be vegan, despite the fact that the exact same reasons people oppose meat apply to other animal products, too.

Sometimes this is simply a case of not knowing, and no one can blame you for that, but if you have read this post then you can never again say that you did not know, so it is now up to you to live in a way consistent with your values. If you any help going vegan, my guidance section would be a good start, and I would be more than happy to offer my support if you want to get in touch.

“Thousands of people who say they love animals sit down once or twice a day to enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living, and who endured the awful suffering and the terror of the abattoirs.”

Jane Goodall