Can Vegans save the world?
I’d like to start this article, by saying that this is not an interview designed to convert planet earth to veganism. I myself am not vegan (I’m Envirotarian-I’ll explain what that is in another post ;), but I have a lot of respect for people who make the decision to be vegan. This article is a discussion about the topic, addressing some of the questions that many have, but few ask.
Here are a quick few facts about Veganism:
1. An estimated 550-950 million people are vegan.
2. Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, Russell Brand, Anthony Kiedis, Leona Lewis, Stevie Wonder, Pamela Anderson and Thom Yorke are a handful of the many celebrity vegans.
3. Vegans save 1,100 gallons of water each day (the meat industry uses one third of drinkable water)
4. Vegans spare the lives of about 30 animals each year.
5. The word vegan in its current form of use has only existed since 1994!
I met up with Tim Staat, the guitarist from German Krautrock band, Nö Danke, to ask him some tricky questions about his diet.
Fun facts about Tim Staat
# 1: A big fan has been my most important piece of gear for years (as used by Steve Vai, keepin' his/my hair out of his/my face).
# 2: I am sucker for any kind of gear porn... mics, cars, cables, cpus, speakers, hoovers, lawn mowers, batteries - you name it.
# 3: British language attracts me a lot. My mobile, navigational system and every other system you can think of - it's all set to British. I regularly look up words i actually know when writing texts in english hoping to find a "more British" alternative.
# 4: Favorite place in the world: well... iIlove almost every place where sound is created and recorded!
1. Why did you decide to become a vegan?
Like many others I became a vegetarian first. That was when I was about 14 years old and a rabbit we had died. Of course I was very sad. Therefore I puzzled over why I was sad when one animal dies, but could happily eat others without thinking even a second over what that means. That resulted in not eating meat for a whole week until my mum made lasagna for dinner - who am I to withstand that delicious temptation? After just one or two bites I felt so sick (which, I swear, has nothing to do with her cooking skills!) that from that day on, I could never eat meat again.
Later on I developed food allergies and intolerance, the worst was against milk and eggs. Trying to sell that (first of all to myself) as something rather cool than an impairment I found PETA2 and musicians like Rise Against and Heaven Shall Burn being vegans for ethical reasons. They represented something I could look up to, making it a lot easier to cope with my allergies/intolerance. This was also my first contact with the term "vegan". For days I literally absorbed everything about this topic and consequently became a super convinced vegan.
2. What do you think about vegetarianism?
I don't really get people being vegetarians for ethical reasons. It's just some minutes of research to see that vegetarianism doesn’t really solve that many problems (especially if you replace meat in your diet with vegetarian products containing milk/eggs) and at least today in most parts of Germany it ain't that hard to be a vegan. I don't want to be judgemental, there are thousands of other reasons other than ethical ones to become a vegetarian and no doubt it is a bit harder to go vegan than to go vegetarian. But generally vegetarianism feels to me like a step on your way to eventually becoming a vegan ;-).
I don't consider not-killing-animals as actually doing something better and eating animals as ordinary. It's quite the opposite: every time you contribute to a cruelty against an animal, you are doing something bad; not doing so is only "normal". Following that thought, vegetarians are only less-bad than carnivores. Yeah, some might call me an extremist there, I know.
Samuel and I recently had a brief talk about why people choose vegetarianism/veganism, and he stressed on the ecological impact. This is an important aspect for me too and I also use it regularly in discussions about veganism in general. The latest studies suggest that nutrition is a very big aspect of our ecological footprint and veganism performs greatly in terms of reducing the emission of co2 and other climate emissions. Vegetarian nutrition does not perform as well if it contains lots of dairy products, as cows emit lots of methane.
3. What do you think about eating animals that are already dead (road kill, aged etc)?
I don't see any problems with that. Personally I don't think of meat as some kind of food, but as a piece of a corpse. So the thought of eating it disgusts me. But if others don't feel like that, please go ahead. There is even a name for cooking non-human animals killed on the street: roadkill cuisine. As long as it is not consumed additionally to the ordinary meat this leads to less animals being killed, so: good. Anyways, animals that died of age probably won't taste that good, I guess.
4. Aren’t plants also living beings?
Uugh, a tough one. I'm neither a biologist nor expert in neuroscience, but fortunately this hasn't ever held me off from amateurishly telling factoids ... As far as I know, most animals (at least mammals) do have central nervous systems which makes them "sentient beings", something plants do lack. It's hard to draw the line, which animals/beings do have a conscious life. I do like the approach of Jeremy Bentham who (simplified) said, that every being who is able to suffer deserves to be granted several rights. Unlike him I don't think it is acceptable to kill animals for food and would add the right to live to those compulsorily granted rights.
If you look at Arthur Schopenhaurs beliefs about animal welfare - he had a great impact on how I look on non-human animals in my early vegan days since I learned about him for some presentation in school - all animals (including humans) are made of the same "will". Therefore non-human animals share legitimate desires/interests with us humans, most important the desire to live. Compassion with all animals was his most important moral rule. I consider plants non-conscious beings and therefore not as living beings regarding moral rights. Either way, even if you consider plants living beings having inherent rights, as a vegan you cause the "death" of a lot less plants than a usual carnivore/vegetarian.
Going any deeper into this question probably deserves a whole interview/discussion on it's own!
5. Some claim that growing plants causes as many animal deaths due to the use of pesticides and habitat destruction (soy bean rain forest clearings etc), what’s your opinion?
Sure, being a vegan does not prevent 100% of kills, but at least you try to prevent as many deaths as possible. How can someone really believe vegans do cause the same amount of deaths (or even more as suggested by several "quality online journalists"? Obviously animals need to be fed as well, and you need a lot more plants to get the same amount of calories and nutrients out of animal products instead of eating the plants directly. So as a carnivore not only your direct body count is much higher, also counting the deaths derived from side effects (pesticides, habitat destruction, ...) of the production of your food is likely to sum up to much higher numbers.
As a consumer you do have the control of where the plants you buy come from (at least there is a hint on the label) whereas you do have no control of where the plants the animals are fed come from when you buy any animal products. Especially soy beans causing rain forest clearings are mostly needed as food for animals. The tofu I buy consists of all-European soy beans hence it cannot contribute that much to rain forest clearings. Actually a lot of tofu being sold in Germany comes from European soy beans.
One of my favourite pseudo-arguments is that for avocados you need a lot of space and it's true, they cause a lot of rain forest clearings. What people tend to forget is the fact, that avocado neither are consumed exclusively by vegans nor do all vegans eat avocados and nothing else than avocados.
6. Should a pet dog, cat etc be on a vegan diet?
Another tough one. As long as the pet does not suffer and accepts the vegan nutrition and are under regular supervision by a qualified veterinarian, I encourage people to do this. When the pet won't accept it, don't torture him/her; instead give him/her what he/she needs.
7. What do you do when you eat out and you can’t find a vegan option?
Usually I'm pretty well prepared and know exactly where to go to find a vegan option. I'm not afraid of just not going out if I know in advance there will be no vegan option. If I am somewhere where no vegan options are advised I kindly ask whether there is the possibility to make a vegan happy by getting special treatment. If there is really no chance at all to get something vegan, I just starve for an hour or two and get something vegan anywhere else afterwards. Worst case: any petrol station will have some "accidentally vegan" lifesaver foods.
8. What do you do when a mosquito goes for you, or if you have insects eating your fruits/vegetables?
Well, what helps best against insects eating fruits/vegetables is simply prevention. Eat your food before it attracts many insects. Many insects can be exiled. Ants for example hate cinnamon and black pepper. We once had many ants who found something to eat in our room, so I simply littered lots (and by lots I really mean plenty, don't you dare to be a cheap-ass here!) of pepper and cinnamon on them and removed their traces with vinegar essence, so they couldn't follow them back. I repeated that procedure once, and after 30 minutes we were ant-free without even harming one of them.
What to do, when you have a salad full of insects or a really dogged mosquito is after you? Well the salad I usually just throw away, hoping that the inhabitants leave before it's too late. The mosquito - try to get it out of your room when you're inside. Try to change the spot you're at when you're outside. I never had a situation where that didn’t work. Actually I don't like the idea of killing a mosquito just because it annoys me.
9. Do you have any tips for anyone who’s considering going vegan?
Don't make yourself unhappy by trying to get everything right at once. I'm afraid 100% veganism is not possible at all as animal pieces can be in literally anything, like for example the glue that keeps together the packaging of products. You will find your way, what is acceptable or a necessary evil in order to have time for other things other than researching whether a certain product is all-vegan. Go step by step and after a few days you will have covered your basic needs as a vegan.
Still today after being a vegan for more than six years I frequently use the peta/peta2 website which gives really helpful tips. Also don't hesitate to use the search engine of your choice by typing the word "vegan" and the thing you are looking for. For almost anything you will find a vegan replacement. But be aware! Just because something is advertised as vegan by the manufacturer, this does not mean it is healthy, environmentally sustainable or even cruelty free (think of child labour for example).