Heather Rockwood is a food science senior and Mustang Daily food columnist.
“Vegetarian is a diet choice; vegan is a lifestyle change.” That was what my cousin told me earlier this summer. This was part of the reason she didn’t want to take the plunge into veganism, even as she treaded the waters of vegetarianism. She was ready to take control and change her diet, but assured me she was many steps away from putting forth the effort to completely change her lifestyle, not to mention forever withdraw from the pleasantries of all things cheese. I silently sighed in relief — I can’t even begin to fathom a life without cheese.
Yet, here it is, not more than four months after our first discussion on the vegan topic, and my cousin has been vegan for more than a month. Crazier yet, she is surviving without cheese. So, in honor of November presenting itself as National Vegan month, as well as my newly-vegan cousin’s birthday month, I will explore the world of veganism.
Veganism, as vegan.org puts it, is “the natural extension of vegetarianism, (and) is an integral component of a cruelty-free lifestyle.”
Vegetarians restrict meat from their diets, but are still permitted to consume other animal products such as dairy, eggs and honey. Vegans, on the other hand, refrain from consuming or using any animal products which also includes silk, wool, fur, leather and any chemical/cosmetic product that has been tested on animals. The determination of not just avoiding consumption of animal products, but also refusing to use them, is what extends veganism from just a diet into a lifestyle.
Vegetarianism, although often thought odd in the West, is fairly accepted in many eastern Mediterranean and Indian societies, especially by followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism — who strongly value ahimsa (doing no harm to any other living thing).
The term vegan did not appear until 1944, but clear examples of this lifestyle can be witnessed in the lives of many of the above mentioned religions’ holy men. However, in the West veganism has become less associated with religious values and is now more widely accepted as a cruelty-free and healthy alternative way of life.
Vegans identify three major recipients of the benefits created by a vegan lifestyle. It is healthier for No. 1, the animals; No. 2, the environment and No. 3, our own health.
Clearly, the refusal to eat animal flesh saves the animals’ lives, but what could be wrong with eggs, milk and cheese, which are all products that can be consumed without actually killing the animal?
Many vegans would agree that the manner in which our food market conducts itself vastly affirms profit over the animal welfare. Therefore, although chickens and cows that provide eggs and milk, respectively, are not actually consumed, they are not treated properly and, thus, vegans should not promote that market by purchasing those types of products.
What benefits can veganism have on the environment? The large scale of animal agriculture, especially in the United States, has been linked with many negative environmental consequences such as top soil erosion, pollution of groundwater and rivers from massive amounts of animal waste (produced often in feedlots), greenhouse gas pollution, as well as the extra amount of energy expenditure in raising agriculture to feed cattle as opposed to growing it for human consumption alone. These are just a few of the reasons vegans argue this lifestyle is “green” and better for our planet as a whole.
Lastly, if none of the previous positives have tugged at your heart strings enough to motivate you into rethinking the value of veganism, then vegans will play on the most intimate chord of our lives — our very own health. If you do not care about the animals or the environment, vegans argue that you must at least care about yourself — it is human nature after all.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with reduced risks of heart disease, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension and obesity according to reports from the American Dietetic Association, and thus, is at least one of the diets considered healthy in our society.
This lifestyle is a decision many more people are choosing to make, and even though I know the logistics of why and even know people who successfully follow it, I still can’t seem to fully grasp how a life without cheese can be possible.
So, in this honorary month, I invite you to join me and “walk in another man’s shoes.” I am going to spend the next week crossing over to the land where there is no milk and honey, and see just what it is like to be vegan — and if I too can survive without my beloved cheese.