September 21, 2007

Human Concerns Are Also Reasons for Veganism

Posted in environment, vegan, veganism at 5:36 pm by nevavegan

Sometimes people will tell me that they think veganism is a good idea, but they’re more concerned with helping people. Of course I’m concerned with helping people too, and have volunteered and donated through the years to many human causes as well.

But I resent the idea that veganism is all about helping animals at the expense of people. Instead I see it as holistic, an approach to life that helps animals and people.

When I first became vegan I was motivated by concern over animal cruelty, animal use, and the environment. But I also made the change because I believe that it’s easier for us to feed the world when we concentrate on a plant-based diet. With an unprecedented human population we need to start thinking seriously about how we utilize our food and water resources.

I was in late elementary school when we were bombarded by TV images of a famine in Ethiopia. There are few things sadder to witness than footage of starving babies, who are so innocent and helpless. When I saw these images I thought famine must be a huge problem that’s almost impossible to solve. Then I learned how simple the needs of these people were. They wanted grain, any grain would do. Wheat or corn would be nice, but hominy grits could keep them alive. They wanted dried beans, and they needed clean water. How could people be dying of hunger when it would take so little to save them?

Yet, year after year the location may have changed, but we still saw babies starving, or lying dead next to their emaciated mothers. We saw lines of starving people marching away from their homes, sometimes trying to carry others who were too weak to walk, sometimes forced to abandon loved ones because they themselves were too weak to help them. We saw the people who lived so simply that they hardly harmed the environment at all destroyed by starvation while people in the US struggled with an epidemic of obesity.

I later learned that while people starved worldwide, the US feeds most of the grain and soybeans we grow to livestock to fatten them up, and because we want to eat more animals than we have grazing lands to feed them. We use much of our clean water to water these animals and to periodically clean out their housing. In addition many people lack access to clean water because the water is being polluted with animal waste from farming or ranching.

Even more shocking, our government subsidizes meat with our tax money to keep it cheap, while people elsewhere starve, while even some children in the US go hungry, and while so many people in our country lack basic health care. So the poor can afford burgers, but they can’t afford greens or dental care. This sadly means that we don’t see the true price of animal products, but we pay these intensive farmers to pollute and over-consume resources.

Growing up in a sparsely populated area, where our chickens pecked at bugs and spent all day outdoors, and cows from neighboring farms sometimes went feral and hid in our woods, I never knew what it took to create the huge amounts of meat Americans ate. It was a stunning revelation. I thought that if we continued to grow grain and soy in the same amounts as before, but ate it ourselves and exported the remainder (rather than feeding it to farm animals) nobody would ever have to starve again.

Of course as I got older and made friends with people who’d survived the Ethiopian famine, I learned more about political systems and came to understand that world hunger is a more complex problem, often fueled by war and political unrest. Still I think cutting down on the wasteful process of feeding most of our plant-based foods to animals bred for food is a big step in the right direction. We need both, more available food and a more peaceful world. One of those things I hope to affect primarily via the voting booth and letter writing, but the other I support every day through what I choose to put on my plate.

Also, let’s not forget that the environmental crisis is about to become a human crisis as well. Changing climate will produce more famines world wide. Rising ocean waters threaten unique human cultures. The poorest people in the world will bear the brunt of global warming, but none of us will be immune from it. When the UN says that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming, and we know global warming is already killing people across the world, we have an obligation to change.

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3 Comments »

  1. Colleen said,

    I have had many people ask me the very question you pondered here: “how can you care about animals so much when there are so many people suffering?”

    It’s a terrible assumption that people make, that because you care about animals, you don’t care about people. That assumption could not be further from the truth. I care (and I would say this is true for most vegans!) just as deeply for human suffering.

    I see animal suffering as directly connected to the human plight. Your summation of the connections between eating/using animals and world hunger and the degradation of our planet are exactly why I feel so strongly about veganism. It is a human rights issue, as much as it is an animal rights issue.

  2. Canaduck said,

    Okay, so you’re alerady well aware of the poor plant-to-meat conversion rate. This was a great post–I like that you point out that hunger isn’t entirely the fault of meat, but that they’re clearly connected.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Colleen,

    I guess many people think there is a limit to the amount we can care and that caring about one thing automatically diminishes other areas. I find it’s the opposite and the more apathetic we are about any suffering the more we can just ignore all suffering.

    Thank you Canaduck, I don’t want to make false claims but clearly the issues are connected.


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