What Is a Vegan?
It’s easy to think of veganism as a simple diet. Many restaurants offer a wealth of vegan options, clearly marked on their menus. Food brands and meal kits advertise “plant-based” offerings. You likely have a few friends who’ve announced that they’ve “gone vegan” (whether they’ve stuck with it). Veganism is incredibly trendy.
However, veganism is more than a food plan and it’s more than a fad diet, even though the health benefits are expansive (many scientific studies have shown how plant-based diets benefit heart health and weight loss, among other health concerns). Veganism is a broader lifestyle that comes with a multitude of benefits that go beyond your physical health, impacting your mental health, worldview, environment, and even ethics. Here’s how.
As any vegan will tell you, following a strict vegan approach to your food — meaning abstaining from all meat products and meat by-products, including those related to seafood and insects — requires quite a lot of forethought and consideration. Every meal, every bite, must be planned out to ensure adherence to this choice.
However, don’t think that this amount of thought and attention is a downside to the vegan lifestyle. Instead, it’s part of conscious, or mindful, eating — a concept that provides benefits far beyond just ensuring you don’t accidentally eat an item that contains eggs or honey.
In an article published by the American Diabetes Association, mindful eating is described as a beneficial practice that can change one’s entire approach to eating, noting, “mindful eating (i.e., paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment) is an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food. It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein … The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.”
The article goes on to state how taking this conscious and more thoughtful approach to eating can further encourage positive modes of thinking that are more patient, non-judgmental, trusting, and accepting.
While many practitioners are attracted to veganism initially due to veganism’s health benefits, it quickly becomes apparent just how many environmental benefits accompany the vegan lifestyle. As climate change and environmental woes are consistently brought up in conversation, more and more studies point to meat consumption as a culprit, spurring the planet on down a disastrous path.
One 2020 paper published in the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection noted that livestock production negatively impacts greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint, water pollution, and water scarcity. The paper summarized, “It seems evident that human dietary habits regarding meat consumption in general, and red meats and wild meats in particular, should be significantly modified downward, as much and as soon as possible.”
An open case study from The University of British Columbia notes, “Modern agriculture is now the number one contributor to a variety of factors that impose hazards to the environment, including and not limited to, an increase in rates of methane and CO2, overconsumption of water, overuse of land resources, waste production, water, and air quality degradation, deforestation, and species extinction.” The university reports that agriculture production accounts for up to 90% of U.S. water consumption and that emissions from meat production processes contribute more than 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Even without considering veganism in the slightest, it’s apparent that the meat industry is harming the planet and should be scaled back. For those who are unsure of the vegan lifestyle, then, it makes sense to at least reduce the number of traditional meat products consumed, if not eliminate them.
Some vegans choose veganism because of the lifestyle’s ethical implications. As The Vegan Society explains, many vegans go beyond simply choosing to consume a meat-free diet, and also search out animal-free products for use elsewhere. This might include choosing cosmetics that are not tested on animals, avoiding leather products, looking for medications and supplements that do not contain gelatin or lactose, and avoiding entertainment that puts animals at risk, such as zoos, horse races, and circuses.
While this may seem like overkill to some, take into consideration that the leather industry contributes heavily to environmental pollution (Journal of Cleaner Production), and that thousands of “surplus” healthy animals are euthanized in European zoos each year (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) and that just one product being tested for a market can be tested on up to 12,000 individual animals (Nature Publishing Group).
While veganism is, on the surface, merely a choice to abstain from meat and meat by-products such as dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin, it’s a choice that carries a far deeper impact. When you choose to go vegan, you also choose a healthier, more conscious relationship with food, a better future for the planet, and better lives for the animals who share our planet.