Bart Och - Travel Journalist

So why am I vegan? I get asked this question a lot. Although it’s not obvious that I’m vegan, and it certainly isn’t displayed upon my face, my dietary choices continue to interest, fascinate and sometimes even offend other people. And I get that. Statistically, vegans are a minority of the human population, and it can make other people who suffice with typical omnivorous diet a bit curious, threatened or uneasy.

But the fact remains that veganism is becoming widely popular and the word itself is rarely being unheard of anymore. It’s worth pointing out, before I get to the core of my thought, that I haven’t always been vegan; I spent the majority of my life eating meat and animal products. I used to love meat and, still, the look or smell of it does not repulse me.

So why did I go vegan? Even though the thought of meat as a product doesn’t make me feel physically sick, I don’t agree with the way the meat industry works. I also don’t agree with anyone who tells me that I need to eat meat to live and be healthy and those who think that humans are superior to other living beings. Unlike 2/3 of the whole human population, we live in places that are abundant in countless food choices including meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. And because I know that animal products are not necessary for a healthy and balanced diet, I choose to eat plants, which in the result is better for the environment, my pocket and, arguably, my health, too. I do, however, think that people who live in places that are scarce in fruit and vegetables should eat meat because that is the only source of nutrition they can get. But what if the demand for meat in developed countries, that is largely based on a shaky foundation of taste, tradition and pleasure, was replaced with the knowledge and truth about how our economy and this industry thrive? Perhaps we wouldn’t breed so many animals to satisfy our ‘needs’.

Why should you care and how does it help anyone else besides cows, chickens, sheep and fish? Well, the less meat we consume, the fewer animals we need to breed and raise, and the fewer crops we grow we must feed to them. This means we could instead easily deal with the issue of hunger in the less developed countries that desperately need food and water. Large acres of forests are cut down every day in order to accommodate more kettle and more crop plantations.

I often get told that plants can feel pain too and that eating them is just as bad and cruel. That may be true; however, we don’t know for sure whether and if plants have such receptors and, with that, the ability to feel pain. What we do know for sure is that animals, just like us, have a very complex nervous system which means they most definitely don’t like being cooked in the oven. Besides, pointing to my previous paragraph, by consuming less meat, we could save a lot more plants, trees and species of animals that we ought to think belong on our plates.

The many ways to cut costs in order to make the most profit show that if we only think of economic as what drives us in food production, we produce economically efficient food. But the question is, “at what cost.” It’s convenient to think of a living, breathing animal as a walking sandwich, and it makes for a lot of snarky jokes you could present to vegans. But this kind of convenience only works if you turn animals into abstraction from the safety of your home. And that’s not right because animals aren’t an abstraction. Animals live, they breathe, they have relationships and they have feelings. Millions of animals right now spend their lives in cages with their beaks torn off, living in hostile situations, unable to stand from the weight of their own bodies they have been bred into. And this is not about placing human rights onto the lives of animals – because “that’s what crazy vegans do.” I’m making an argument that our obsession with what’s most efficient is causing us to objectify other living beings and not just animals.

Unfortunately, animals can’t speak for themselves and most of us grew up believing that some of them belong in pet shops, zoos, and some on a barbeque. I can’t pretend I have never thought the same, and it wasn’t long ago before I realised that maybe not everything we know is the way it’s supposed to be. Just because we are used to doing certain things, celebrating certain occasions or consuming certain foods, it doesn’t mean we should. Just about 200 years ago slavery was not only common but also very much accepted. Being of a different sexual orientation was and sometimes still is a crime and many people are being killed for wanting to love and be with someone they feel attracted to. Albinos to this day are murdered for their bones in some places in Africa because it’s still believed by some that they possess magical properties.

Our traditions, behaviours and beliefs are always subjects to change, and what is right and what is wrong is kind of up to you. But at the end of the day, humans were blessed with amazing capabilities many of which we share with other animals: the ability to love, fear, suffer, bond and create. So who are we to take their lives away in ways that are humane or inhumane? Is it humane to kill and exploit? I like to think of myself as someone who cares, and even if what I do doesn’t mean or do anything to change this world, at least I will be able to say that I tried.

I understand that it’s not easy to think about these things, and I can’t make you. My hope is that someday we will get closer to a healthier and more ethical balance for all. Until then, I’m vegan.

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