"You're vegan? Why do you hate people?"
I get asked this question on a fairly regularly basis, and yet each time it catches me off-guard. I always have a hard time imagining a person's initial reaction to my plant-based diet and cruelty-free lifestyle will be anger and irritation. I'm never quite sure how to respond. The honest answer is that I don't hate people and actually, veganism harmonizes perfectly with a lot of very important human rights issues. My lifestyle philosophy is about uplifting the world -- not, as many believe, uplifting animals at the expense of the world.
Historically, the social justice movements that we find most vital are about empowering the disenfranchised. The cornerstone of the women's rights movement was gaining the right to vote. The goal was ultimately to influence issues important to women and therefore, important to everyone. The Civil Rights movement was about uplifting the black community. The aim was to recognize that all people should be treated equally, regardless of race or color. Similarly, the animal rights movement seeks to give voices to the voiceless -- the billions of animals cruelly housed, raised and eventually killed for our food and entertainment. Human rights issues intersect perfectly with animal rights issues because the underlying objective is the same: the betterment of society as a whole.
Many people don't realize that the animal rights movement is not just about the animals; there's much to gain for humans, as well. Animal agriculture is among the most dangerous industries worldwide. One Green Planet notes that just in the U.S., OSHA reported the death of 9,003 farm workers from work-related injuries between 1992 and 2009. Injuries can include everything from chronic pain to cardiovascular illness and death. Many of the workers are undocumented, leading to a situation in which they are fearful of reporting their illness or injury and therefore do not receive adequate treatment. The quality of life for these workers is often dismal due to the incredible emotional toll that comes from working within a slaughterhouse. Human Rights Watch says that worker conditions in factory farms constitute "systematic human rights abuses."
Aside from the direct impact on factory farm and slaughterhouse workers, animal agriculture is also inefficient from a world hunger perspective. According to a report done by the Humane Society entitled "The Impact of Industrialized Animal Agriculture On World Hunger," nearly 80 percent of the world's soybeans and up to 50 percent of the world's corn are fed to animals killed for meat instead of directly to humans. Because of this, the meat industry competes with humans for food. And it's not just food: Resources such as land and water are being wasted for the production of farmed animals. A meat-based diet uses up to 20 times more land than a vegan diet, contributes to deforestation and degrades the land it does use. Meat production also wastes water: Nearly 2,400 gallons of water go to produce one pound of meat, whereas only 25 gallons would be required to produce one pound of wheat.
The statistics on meat production's impact on climate change are astounding, as well. According to the United Nations, the livestock sector contributes 18 percent globally to greenhouse gas emissions.
For those unfamiliar to veganism, it can be to easy overlook that the compassion associated with helping animals is meant to extend to helping humans, as well. The beautiful thing about choosing a plant-based diet is that in one choice, you can start to help save the world. Literally.
Armed with this information, I can't imagine that someone would think sitting down to three meat-free meals a day would prevent me from caring about human causes. Woody Harrelson, a dedicated vegan, suggested that he had more energy from his plant-based lifestyle. For me, more energy means more time for everything -- including working toward the betterment of humans. In fact, I know quite a few vegans whose passion for compassion extends to all life. Californian Kath Rogers has been a vegetarian since she was a child and co-founded Animal Protection and Rescue League, an animal rights organization instrumental in California's ban on foie gras. Still active in animal advocacy, Kath is now also a program manager at California Against Slavery, a group whose stated mission is to strengthen laws against human trafficking. I wouldn't imagine many people would accuse Kath of not caring about people and they'd be right not to: She lives her life trying to help animals and help people, doing as much good as she can.
To some, being vegan implies just a dietary preference, but it's so much more than that: It's making a choice to institute positive change in this world that's desperate for it. Although there may be a lot to do, becoming vegan recognizes that just because we can't do it all doesn't mean we should stop trying to do something. Luckily, a plant-based diet and lifestyle uplifts us all, humans and animals alike.
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