Why are you a veg*n? Chances are if you ask that question in a room full of vegans or vegetarians, you’ll get more than a dozen different answers. The reasons people choose to become vegetarian or vegan are varied, and many people cite a combination of reasons. While the decision to switch to a veggie lifestyle is highly personal, not every veggie eats this way for the same reason and it helps to understand some of the different reasons people make the switch to a veggie lifestyle.
Some people opt to become veg*ns for health reasons
. Veggie diets naturally lend themselves to low fat, low cholesterol and high fiber diets. Vegans can easily avoid common allergens like honey and milk products. If you have a special dietary concern, you might find it easier to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Other people turn to the veggie lifestyle as an effort to lose weight
, gain weight or maintain a healthy weight. While some people view weight control via vegetarianism and veganism as a cosmetic or aesthetic issue, others still follow veggie diets to control weight for health reasons.
Health conditions like insulin resistance, hypo- and hyper-thyroid and others require a specialized diet to help maintain a healthy weight. The constant monitoring, vigilance and changed relationship with food can help these people customize their diets easier than an omnivorous diet can.
Ethical Treatment of Animals
Concerns about the ethical treatment of animals is another reason people choose to become vegetarian, and especially, vegan. Vegetarianism is primarily a dietary choice that excludes the consumption of animal flesh. On the other hand, veganism not only eschews the consumption of meat, but also abstains from using any animal by-products whatsoever, including milk, eggs, honey, and the like, and also abstains from the wearing of leather, wool, or any other product obtained from an animal, living or dead, and wherever possible, refrains from using products known to be tested on animals, by way of vivisection.
As awareness grows of the often horrendous treatment animals are subjected to, such as cattle being hormonally altered to produce more milk than they otherwise naturally would, or chickens being confined in dungeon-like conditions, never to see daylight, to become virtual egg-laying machines, or baby chicks being ground alive, because they are of no use to the industry, the plight of animals for the profit of people becomes a significant motivation for choosing the lifestyle.
Different religions hold vegetarianism and veganism as a standard for their followers. Hinduism and Buddhism are two religions that preach nonviolence toward living things, including animals. Adherents of these religions stick to a vegan or lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
Seventh Day Adventists and Jains also keep to a strict no-meat diet for spiritual reasons, Roman Catholics will generally observe a piscatorial (fish) diet on Fridays during Lent, although Traditionalist Catholics abstain from meat entirely for the entire 40 days of Lent.
Other religions don’t necessarily endorse veggie lifestyles for their adherents, but find veggie options useful. Jews keeping Kosher or Muslims following a Halal lifestyle will often opt for veggie meals if Kosher or Halal meat dishes aren’t available.
Food Safety Concerns
The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that of the more than 48 million people who get sick from food borne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized and more than 3,000 people die each year in the United States alone. These statistics are staggering and lead many people to choose vegetarianism and veganism as a way to avoid illness.
While the CDC data for 1998-2008 lists produce as the main contributor for food-borne illnesses (46 percent of all cases of sickness and 23 percent of all deaths), the statistics pointing to meat and poultry have a slightly higher death toll at 29 percent with an overall sickness rate of 22 percent.
Deaths from contaminated dairy and eggs sit at 15 percent with an illness rate of 20 percent, while deaths from shellfish and seafood sit at 6.4 percent while illness rates are at 6.1 percent.
Taken at a glance, it seems you have a higher chance of getting sick from contaminated produce, but people are as likely to get sick from eating meat and animal byproducts – and when they do get sick, it’s more severe.
In addition to the risk of contamination, people who go veggie over concerns about food safety avoid parasitic infections and zoonotic illnesses – those that can be passed from animals to humans. Mad cow disease in contaminated beef and trichinosis from under-cooked pork are just two examples.
Still, some avoid meat and animal by-products to avoid excess hormones and additives that they feel are harmful to the human body. This is an issue of both the ethical treatment of animals and food safety concerns, so it’s not uncommon to hear this as a reason for choosing a veggie-rich lifestyle.
Environmental Protection and Global Concerns
Going meatless isn’t always about health, beliefs or animals. Sometimes it’s a matter of saving the world. Large-scale meat and poultry production is, by and large, environmentally unsustainable.
Fecal matter from farm animals contributes to air pollution and antibiotics used in livestock, slurry runoff, feces and other farm waste can contaminate the water supply and ground. Livestock farming for food production also requires a large swathe of land. For example, large tracts of the Amazon rainforest and other forested lands have been cleared to make room for raising beef cattle and other animals.
The quality of life for those living near battery farms, large-scale cattle operations and slaughterhouses is greatly reduced, as well. The stench, waste and presence of these operations can make people sick – literally and figuratively.
If these weren’t enough reasons that going veggie was good for the environment, it’s easy to consider that the amount of space, resources and money going to raising animals for slaughter could be put to more efficient use raising plants that could make a huge difference in the global food shortage. Think about how much grain it takes to feed a cow to adulthood and then imagine how many people it could feed instead.
Why Are You a Vegetarian/Vegan?
We’ve explored just some of the reasons people choose vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Many people do it for a combination of reasons and the decision is often personal.
In the end, it doesn’t matter why you’re a vegetarian or vegan, as long as you’re safe, healthy and happy with your decision. Not all veggies agree on every topic related to vegetarianism, but we’re all working toward a similar goal and using similar methods to make the world a better place and be healthy enough to live in it.