Let’s start at the beginning…what is it? The word is used more and more these days, but it means living without using animal products. I don’t consume meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or any by-products that come from animals. I’ve been vegan for 10 years and was vegetarian for 9 years before becoming vegan. Living this way can also extend to your clothing and entertainment choices. But let’s focus on food, since that’s what most people and athletes can relate to. You’re probably thinking ‘why would you choose this?’
It’s best to ask someone individually why he or she is vegan. For me, animals should be treated with respect…all of them, big, small, hairy, or scaly, whether they are pets or if they live in the wild. Growing up, I gave no thought to what exactly a hamburger was or where pork came from. Modern life has separated us from thinking deeply about where these things “come from.” But after college, I decided I should know about this if I was eating it, and what I found out was that the amount of suffering animals go through to end up on a plate is unthinkable. The only more unbelievable thing about this is how massive the suffering is – – over 10 BILLION land animals are killed for consumption in the U.S. alone each year (that’s each YEAR and ONLY land animals). There is a reason to take children to pick apples and blueberries and not to a slaughterhouse. If you’ve had the chance to see footage from slaughterhouses or animal operations and thought “I can’t watch this” or “this is too graphic,” imagine if you were that animal?! Whether it’s your dog or cat or a pig or goat, all animals feel pain – why is it OK to eat a cow but not your dog? I decided it wasn’t OK. In fact, it was an easy decision to make and, overnight, I became vegetarian. For a long time, I also thought eating eggs and dairy didn’t contribute to suffering because no animals die for eggs and diary, right? WRONG. In 2006, I read more about how horrifically cruel the egg and dairy industries are and decided they too must go. It took me a year to transition to fully vegan, as learning to purchase and prepare the right foods takes time, as did learning new ways to cook, but it is the best decision I’ve made in my entire life.
Furthermore, in a world of climate change, starvation, and a global population approaching 8 billion people, there simply isn’t enough land or resources to sustain modern society’s animal-centered diets. 70% of the grain produced in the U.S. is used to feed livestock – imagine how many people could be fed if feeding animals wasn’t the main goal of crop production? It’s estimated that animal production is responsible for 90% of rainforest destruction. That’s tough to swallow if you’re trying to be environmentally conscious but still eat meat. In fact, if you care about your carbon impact, it’s best to go vegetarian or vegan because the carbon footprint of animal agriculture surpasses that of all automobiles. This sounds unbelievable, but many studies have been done in this area. Check out this comprehensive animal agriculture facts resource, complete with links to in-depth articles.
But vegans can’t be athletes, right? WRONG AGAIN. In fact, some the best-performing athletes are vegan. Think Carl Lewis (Olympic gold medalist track athlete). The best thing is, adopting a well-balanced vegan diet is much healthier than an animal products-based diet. This is proven time and time again, study after study: humans DO NOT need to eat animals to get all the nutrients required for good health. Studies show people who consume diets based on animal products are at higher risk of getting diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancers. I won’t go into all the nutrition benefits from consuming a vegan diet, as there are whole books written about this–check out some of the resources below to learn more.