Take a GIANT STEP: Go Vegan!
By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns
April 2020 Issue
There’s never been a better time to switch to a diet free of animal products.
Animal-free eating gets easier every day as more and more people seek healthy, delicious vegan foods and restaurant dishes. More and more supermarkets sell a range of easy-to-prepare products marked Vegan. With today’s culinary creativity and technology, we can enjoy delicious textures and flavors without worrying about the cholesterol, type-two diabetes and other health issues linked to unhealthy, animal-based diets. Let’s look at the arguments.
Why Choose Vegan?
As the human population grows, food-safety and environment problems grow, and animals raised for food get treated worse. They suffer more cruelly, grow sicker and pass their sickness on to us. By choosing vegan, we refuse to support the suffering of billions of animals while enjoying the health benefits associated with plant-based foods.
Fortunately, the demand for animal-free foods is growing. People want meals that are healthy, better for the environment, and compassionate to animals. Sales of vegan meat and dairy-free products are rising rapidly in the United States and elsewhere in the world, according to food trend analysts.1 Plant-based eating is a path toward a healthier, more sustainable and caring way of life.
Much of the destruction of our forests and wildlife is due to animal agriculture. Our forests, especially our rainforests, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and exchange it for oxygen. When we slash and burn forests to graze cattle and grow soybeans to feed billions of poultry and pigs, we diminish our ability and our children’s ability to breathe fresh air. Currently, seventy to eighty percent of the world’s soy goes not into tofu but into food fed to farmed animals.2
A plant-based diet helps to protect our forests and our environment. In “Saving the Planet, One Meal at a Time,” American journalist and Presbyterian minister, Chris Hedges, writes: “With animal agriculture as the leading cause of species extinction, water pollution, ocean dead zones and habitat destruction, becoming vegan is the most important and direct change we can immediately make to save the planet and its species.”3
Animals Raised for Food
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production reported that of all the terrible things they witnessed in their investigation of farmed animal facilities, “The most appalling was a facility that produces chickens for eating. It was totally dark and the dust and ammonia smells were overwhelming.”4
Animals raised for food are treated badly and they are very unhealthy. Chickens, turkeys and ducks are crammed in filthy, dark buildings loaded with bacteria, flu viruses, toxic funguses and poisonous gases that burn their eyes, their skin, and their lungs. With no fresh air, sunshine, or normal activities, the birds develop painful skeletal deformities, soft watery muscles, stress hormones and heart disease.
Chickens and turkeys go to slaughter with rotting livers (necrotic enteritis), “wing rot,” pus-filled lungs, and ammonia-burned skin. Rotting intestines and ulcerated flesh are removed at the slaughterhouse. Corpses are drenched in chlorinated water to conceal flesh sold falsely to consumers as “healthy.”5
Former Tyson chicken slaughterhouse worker Virgil Butler and his partner, Laura Alexander, described their switch to an animal-free diet: “We just couldn’t look at a piece of meat anymore without seeing the sad, tortured face that was attached to it sometime in the past.”6
“Free-Range,” “Cage-Free,” “Humane Farming”
These terms sound reassuring, but the reality behind the scenes is different. As soon as they are born, most hens used for “cage-free” eggs are painfully debeaked, and all male chicks are destroyed at the hatchery since they don’t lay eggs. “Free-range” turkeys are violently “milked” and inseminated by hand, newborn calves and piglets are torn from their mothers, and baby chicks, turkeys and ducks are denied the comfort of their mother’s wings.
All animals raised for food – “free-range” included – are slaughtered, trashed, or trucked to live animal markets and rendering companies when their moneymaking life is over. Farmers do not keep “useless” animals. The idea that billions of humans can have billions of “humanely-raised” animals is untrue.
What About Fish?
Fish are intelligent beings with feelings. When pulled from the water, they suffocate in panic and pain, the same as humans and other land animals do when drowning. Being hooked in the mouth or caught in a net is torture for fish that are increasingly raised in huge aquatic factory farms as a result of human overpopulation, overconsumption and ocean water pollution. They’re subjected to genetic engineering, drugs and diseases the same as their terrestrial counterparts. The Guardian reports that “the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.”7
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the major foodborne pathogens – viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi – occur mainly in “meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs.” 8 Foodborne bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria can migrate from people’s intestines to other body parts – blood, bones, nerves, organs, and joints – to cause chronic illnesses later in life, such as arthritis. Salmonella and E. coli contamination of plants such as spinach, tomatoes and melons comes from animal farming operations. Fruits and vegetables do not generate this contamination.
Farmed animals are fed massive amounts of antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria remain in slaughtered animals even on the dinner plate. Urinary-tract infections (UTIs) caused by E. coli affect millions of women. These infections correlate particularly with eating chicken. To reduce the risk, women are encouraged to eat the plant-based chicken products available in stores and fast-food franchises. These products taste just as good and do not present a risk of UTIs.9
The Good News
When all is said and done, a plant-powered diet produces a legitimate feeling of wellbeing in people. In “The Evidence for a Vegan Diet,” James McWilliams, associate professor of history at Texas State University, writes: “For me, the most persuasive evidence supporting a healthy vegan diet is the everyday reality that a dozen or so people with whom I eat have done extraordinary things as a direct result of intelligent veganism. They’ve conquered obesity, chronic disease, depression, and a host of food-related disorders by exclusively eating an exciting diversity of plants. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it is this: the diet empowers.”10
1. Monica Watrous, “Plant-based foods go mainstream in 2019,” Meat + Poultry, December 27, 2019.
2. Farhad Manjoo, “Stop Mocking Vegans,” The New York Times, August 28, 2019.
3. Chris Hedges, “Saving the Planet, One Meal at a Time,” Truthdig, November 10, 2014.
4. Robert Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production interviewed in E Magazine, July-August 2008.
5. Karen Davis, “Chickens: Their Life and Death in Farming Operations,” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 1, 2018.
6. Virgil Butler & Laura Alexander interviewed in “Slaughterhouse Worker Turned Activist,” Poultry Press, Fall 2004.
7. Damian Carrington, “Avoiding meat and dairy is 'single biggest way' to reduce your impact on Earth,” The Guardian, October 30, 2018.
8. Buzby & Roberts, FoodReview, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Economic Research Service, May-August 1995.
9. Martha Rosenberg, “Are Your Frequent UTIs From the Food You're Eating?” The Epoch Times, July 27, 2019.
10. James McWilliams, “The Evidence for a Vegan Diet,” The Atlantic, January 18, 2012.
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Life Can Be Beautiful – Go Vegan
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl (Lantern Books, 2019).