By Henry Hirschfeld, IV Form
A Vegan’s Manifesto
“Are you sure you’re getting enough protein?” and “Humans were designed to be omnivores” are common reactions when I tell people I eat vegan. A vegan diet is where one must abstain from all animal products, including meat, dairy products, eggs, and even honey. I became a vegan after working at an organic farm for the first time in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Working in the soil and taking care of the vegetables every day showed me the tremendous amount of work it takes to feed people. At farmer’s markets on the weekends, I was fortunate enough to interact with my customers, and I witnessed first-hand how much they appreciate fresh produce. Mary, my mentor on the farm, helped me realize that 75% of today’s farms are polluted with harmful chemicals which affect the soil quality as well as the health of the animals and the consumers. While working on the farm, I stayed with my uncle and aunt up the road, who own a dairy farm. My uncle Sandy obtains around eighty cows every spring and pastures them on his property through the fall. He informed me about the constant mistreatment of cattle in slaughterhouses and dairy farms across the country. My work in Vermont these past summers inspired me to divest in animal cruelty and environmental pollution by adopting a vegan diet.
Eating vegan can improve one’s health. The US is the second most obese nation in the world (Mexico being the most) with nearly 35% of adults affected by the epidemic (Center for Disease Control, 2014). A typical American diet is high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. At the supermarket, we are unfortunately tempted with cheaper, unhealthy choices that are high in these ingredients. On the other hand, vegans intake smaller amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal hormones, reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. Many people think that vegans lack many nutrients, such as protein and calcium. Vegans can obtain protein from legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts, nut butter, and non dairy milk. They can obtain calcium from tofu, soy milk, kale, and broccoli, to name a few. The only nutrient that vegans may lack is Vitamin D, which is easily obtained from sunlight or supplements. Since I became a vegan, I have noticed that I have more energy, I perform better in school and in sports, and I am happier.
Eating vegan can help end animal cruelty. 99% percent of farm animals are raised in CAFOs, which stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding System (Farm Forward). We all heard about the harms of factory farming from Gene Baur (one of my many all-time idols) in December, and I would like to stress some of the dangers that he only briefly mentioned. Inside these massive factory farms, up to 125,000 animals live without necessary pasture or sunlight, which often leads to the spread of pathogenic bacteria such as E. Coli, salmonella, and antibiotic resistant bacteria, all of which can be responsible for many deadly diseases such as cancer (EcoWatch). These bacteria not only pollute our meat, but they also permanently contaminate our drinking water, soil, and oceans through manure: scary! Another harm of CAFOs is the use of limited resources. CAFOs require a tremendous amount of water and fuel for tractors and supply transportation. More than 50% of the wheat grown in this country is to feed livestock, which is not only unsustainable but also unnatural as animals were meant to eat grass (Cornell Chronicle). Overall, CAFOs are inhumane, unsustainable, and unnatural. Because so much of the meat produced in the US comes from CAFOs, I decided to become a vegan so that I could provide food, land, and water security for my grandchildren.
“But,” you are asking, “there must be a better way to produce meat!” Well, there is! Many modern farmers and scientists have devised better, more sustainable and humane ways for producing meat. A book I recently read called LOCAL: The New Face of Food and Farming in America highlights farmers who are initiating humane and sustainable ways of farming. Joel Salatin, for example, raises chickens and cattle on his farm in Virginia. Joel has created an ingenious system where he strategically places his chickens (biological pasture sanitizers) behind his cattle as they move pasture areas in order to create the best quality and most sustainable grass for his cows. This way of pasture management benefits the cows, chickens, and future farmers of the land to create the best pasture possible. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, has influenced many farms and slaughterhouses across the country to slaughter humanely. Temple, “an autistic activist” as many call her, believes that the calm mind of an animal is essential to a humane slaughter. Every person in the book poses important ideas about how best to raise meat, and until each meat/dairy/eggs producer in the country adopts these ideas, I will stray from supporting the meat industry entirely.
Vegan also tries to eat local. Another major problem with the American food system is our dependence on imported food as opposed to local produce. You may wonder when you enter a grocery store in January about where those perfectly red tomatoes come from, or those ripe bananas. Given that nearly 50% of fresh fruit and 20% of fresh vegetables are imported, the bananas are probably from Ecuador, and the tomatoes have most-likely traveled many miles from Californian field full of chemical-covered other tomatoes. This type of crop cultivation is called monoculture. Monoculture, as opposed to biodiversity, is a way to grow bigger crops faster and more efficiently. This type of food production, much like raising animals on CAFOs, is unsustainable and unnatural since it limits the natural growth of a variety of species and deprives the land of limit future use. Similar to the meat industry, many monocultured farms use harmful pesticides and herbicides that pollute our soil, water, and bodies. The main reason why these crops are sprayed with these chemicals is to preserve their freshness through distribution. Shipping those tomatoes across the country not only requires dangerous preservatives but also uses an enormous amount of fossil fuels. Fortunately, as with the meat industry, there are people that are busy with ideas to stop this process. Rick Knoll, another farmer mentioned in LOCAL, has a farm in California that supports the biodiversity of the land. His rosemary is growing directly aside from his cucumbers, immersed in many other crops. Rick’s crops are alive, fresh, and nutrient-dense, and his practices are sustainable and in sync with the Earth. Community supported agricultures (CSAs) are partnerships between a farmer and a consumer. At my farm in Vermont, we offered overflowing baskets of fresh produce every week to costumers who paid a few hundred dollars at the start of the season. The benefits of CSA are not limited to sustainable farming practices but extend to knowing and appreciating one’s farmer. Farmer’s markets are another way to procure local produce and support sustainable agriculture. All of these solutions avoid the harmful consequences of monocultured produce and distribution.
So, we know that eating vegan is more healthy for animals, the environment, and yourself, but how, you may be asking, can people possibly afford to be vegan? As we heard from Ashley Stanley (another of my all-time idols), around 50 million people in the US are food insecure. How can they afford to be vegan when they can barely get by from the cheaper and unfortunately unhealthier options? I would answer this by saying that by investing in quality, sustainable food, you avoiding countless “invisible food costs” as I like to call them: costs that come with eating the wrong food such as medication for diabetes, cardiac surgeries, or even gastric bypass surgery. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet related illnesses cost the US 120 billion dollars annually. In addition to omitting these and other medical expenses, by investing in sustainable food options you are also investing in the quality of life for following generations by providing them with automatic land fertility and food security. So, I think the visible costs of eating sustainably harvested food is much less than the invisible costs of major health problems and long term food production failure.
So, try it! I challenge you to adopt a vegan diet for a week, a day, or even a meal. Experience the taste of food that comes without cruelty, pollution, or harmful ingredients. Experience the feeling of vitality throughout your day, peak athletic performance, and a really good mood. I would love to hear about your journey.
Henry Hirschfeld is a IV Former living in Maple House from Concord, NH. He is an enthusiastic runner, farmer, singer, and eater.
“Adult Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.
“Factory Farming.” Farm Forward. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.
“Strengthening Oversight of Imported Foods.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.
“Factory Farming: Bad for People, Planet and Economy.” EcoWatch. N.p., 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.
“U.S. Could Feed 800 Million People with Grain That Livestock Eat, Cornell Ecologist Advises Animal Scientists.” Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.