From my experience with veganism, the major differences between vegans and vegetarians are most tied to ethical reasons. Vegans choose to abstain from eating or using animal products for reasons that stem from an understanding and compassion for all living creatures, not just humans.
Big-bully companies in the meat and leather industry not only threaten our livelihood but the planet too. Veganism presents a solution to the issue of global warming, hate and cruelty in our world, and it starts with the choices we make about the foods we eat and products we use.
Starting with the Basics
Vegans avoid eating or using animal products because it contributes to general cruelty and harm. As rational humans, we have a choice to act in any way we desire. Acts of cruelty only perpetuate cruelty in the world; individuals that commit cruel acts become desensitized and share that experience with those closest to them, spreading acceptance of mistreatment of other living beings. It eventually translates to how we treat each other.
Choosing to use alternatives to animal products contributes to better business practices by supporting the companies that provide sustainable plant-based products and allowing industries that profit the mistreatment of animals to lose money. Here are some reasons for a few common animal products commonly eaten by vegetarians but that vegans avoid and why it’s important us.
Many think that eating cheese or drinking milk doesn’t harm cows since it’s a byproduct, but many factory farms keep their animals under harsh conditions. Cows are mammals, and similar to humans and other mammals, which means that they only lactate shortly after giving birth to feed their calves. In order to keep up with demand, cows are artificially inseminated and forced to give birth at least once a year. Then shortly after giving birth, the calves are taken from the mother cows never see each other again. The cows that are now able to lactate are mechanically milked for nine months until their production rate wanes at which point they become slaughtered for their meat.
Non-dairy options for milk are abundant at grocery stores, so I’m sure there’s already an alternative catching your eye. Options such as almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, rice milk and walnut milk are great alternatives that often resemble the consistency of milk.
Similar to cows raised in milk farms, chickens are often kept under concentration-camp-like conditions that cause widespread sickness and illness among the chickens. While many farmers market “free-range,” the term is loosely regulated and generally translates to a slightly larger cage. These animals are still raised with the intent of becoming consumables to humans, which is ethically wrong according to veganism.
Tofu offers a great substitute for scrambled eggs in the morning for those seeking a similar consistency. I just avoid scrambled “eggs” altogether and stick with oatmeal every morning—it’s much healthier for the heart. Surprisingly, applesauce makes a great substitute for eggs in most baking recipes.
Eating foods with honey is an easy mistake many first-time vegans make—I know I sometimes still do it. At first, I didn’t even stop to think that honey was something I should avoid, so I didn’t even think twice when looking at the ingredient list. Then, someone who wasn’t even vegan mentioned it one day. To my sudden realization, my jaw dropped and my eyebrows shot up towards my forehead—bees are animals too.
Many vegans avoid eating honey because the practice of honey farming enslaves bees to work for creating commodities for humans without the thought of reciprocating that back to their species. Furthermore, bees need honey reserves to thrive during winter months when flowers are not in bloom.
Honey, like many animal products, are generally farmed just for human consumption, which greatly changes the environmental impact bees have on the world. Bumble bees were recently put on the U.S. list of endangered animals in January this year.
There are many alternative sweeteners available at your local grocery store in the baking section, so finding one that satisfies your sweet tooth should be fairly easy. I enjoy coconut sugar in my coffee (when it’s not black) and very dark chocolate.
Leather and Other Animal Skins
While leather and other animal skins are not something people eat, the cultivation and exploitation of these skins are a large part of contemporary fashion. Clothing industries have deals with the same dairy and meat industries harvesting these animals for food and product to buy the hides of animals for cheap. They work closely with one another to lower the prices they pay for each other’s goods to maximize profits. As an example, since cow farming is the largest industry in the United States, it makes sense that leather is one of the most lucrative products we see on many bags, shoes, wallets, belts and other accessories. Whereas in Australia, where kangaroo meat is commonly consumed by their people, kangaroo leather and hide are sold for clothing and tourist goods.
Good vegans practice conscious shopping and choosing alternatives to animal skin. There are hundreds of companies selling vegan-friendly products that ensure that no animals, including humans, were harmed or treated poorly in the making of any of the clothing they produce—there are really wonderful people out there.
Shampoos, Conditioners, and Other Animal-Tested Beauty Products
While there are still many beauty brands that use bug guts and skin, many companies have been heavily changing in favor of more sustainable practices. Animal testing is becoming less and less common, and companies like Target and Wal-Mart now stock many cruelty-free alternatives that make it easy to be animal friendly and still remain beautiful. Finding cruelty-free beauty products also gives me an excuse to try all the different fragrance shampoos available from varying vegan-friendly companies. It’s really super easy to find vegan-friendly beauty products by Googling “vegan-friendly beauty products.”
Many in the vegan community debate on the ethics of having animals as pets, which I have found is mostly based on the idea that animals are held in captivity against their will. However, the breed of animals we often have as pets have been bred far from their natural habitat and no longer resemble the species of their ancestors. Many of the dogs and cats that humans keep as pets are dependent on us and no longer able to survive without our help, having nowhere else to go if we were to set them free into our cities.
That being said, vegans should be inclined to adopt pets rather than purchase “new” pets from pet farms and big-brand companies. Purchasing new born animals perpetuates the industry that views animals as commodities and created for human consumption. Adopting a pet, on the other hand, often saves them from a cruel fate of becoming forgotten, receiving mistreatment, or even getting killed.
Does that mean I should throw away all my clothes, throw all the food in my fridge and give away my dog?
In short, no. Your pet, Muffins, is just as much a part of the family as mom and pop.
While we’d all love change to happen overnight, it often takes a long series of focused effort to eventually see results. Vegans are slowly swaying the tide in our favor the more we avoid giving our money to the companies that contribute to animal cruelty and instead invest in the companies that are close to our values. And that doesn’t always mean we have to spend money. We could always do other activities to benefit the world, like volunteer at the local animal shelter or donate to non-profit organizations or even planting a tree.
If you want to go vegan, start at your own pace. Start by making better choices today in your everyday life. Give an extra dollar on a tip. Save a house spider from getting squashed and set it free somewhere outside. Cover a stranger’s tab. Make better food choices and just live with greater compassion and intent. Rome wasn’t built overnight, and becoming a vegan isn’t like turning on a light switch. You will act better.