"What is the difference between a vegan and vegetarian diet?" is a question I am often asked as a vegan.
My answer usually goes as follows: "vegan means no consumption of animal body parts or their excretions, whereas vegetarian means consumption of excretions, but no body parts." Maybe not the most conventional "food group" listing response, but I believe it to be more effective in communicating the reality of what it is, instead of fluffing our vernacular with euphemisms. Oh, euphemisms! That will need to be another post all together.
Without educating yourself on how modern day animal agriculture works, one would likely see the consumption of animal byproducts to be harmless, to be something that is produced naturally. Perhaps us as humans are doing the animals a favor by taking these probably unwanted "products" from them. By ethical means, why would one even go vegan when one can just be vegetarian?
How incredibly incorrect this thought process is, and how incredibly successful the meat and dairy industries have been at convincing the public otherwise. With brilliant marketing tactics, the public has been strategically brainwashed over the years to believe that dairy comes from happy cows in large pastures that just magically happen to produce endless supplies of milk for all the humans of the world. To add fuel to this fire, the dairy industry also pays big bucks to the government to insure they include it in "health" propaganda so we, as humans, also think we need it to have strong bones and survive and stuff.
*The production of eggs is of a similar nature, but for the sake of this post not becoming a novel, we will save that topic for another day.
Here's the truth. Just like any other mammal on Earth, cows must be pregnant to produce milk for their young. But if their young are being nourished by their mother's milk, how ever will humans get their cow's milk? Female cows are continually kept pregnant for their entire lives so that they are able to produce this milk...for us humans? No, for their baby calves, the ones that are painstakingly dragged from their mothers just hours after birth, causing them both tireless distress.
Male calves, seen as "byproducts" of the dairy industry, are typically sent off to barren, filthy feedlots to await slaughter. Others are sent to cramped veal crates where they are prevented from moving so that their flesh will remain tender. In order to keep a white-toned flesh appearance, they are fed a diet very low in iron with little nutritional value. This heinous treatment often makes them very ill, suffering from anemia, diarrhea and pneumonia. Terrified, sick and alone, these calves are killed after only a few months of this miserable existence to be sold as veal. Female calves will meet the same devastatingly exhaustive fate as their mothers.
Once the mother cows and calves are separated, the mother cows are then hooked up to milking machines 2-3 times per day. The modern day milking process has cows producing four times the amount they did in 1950 due to reproductive system exploitation through genetic selection, artificial insemination, and sometimes drugs that force them to secrete more milk, despite the negative effects to their health.
To meet the needs of our continually growing human population (that is still being convinced we need dairy), the mother cows are often injected with the growth hormone rBGH, which has contributed to increased cases of mastitis, or painful inflammation of the udder. This hormone is banned in Europe and Canada due to concerns of human health and animal welfare, but is still being used widely in the U.S.
Because of these traumatic demands on their bodies, female cows often only live for 5 years of their natural 20 year lifespan. A dairy industry study found that by the time they are killed, nearly 50 percent of cows are lame because of standing on concrete floors in filth and intensive confinement. Their bodies are often turned into soup, dog/cat food or ground beef because they are of too "spent" to be used for anything else. (peta.org)
In addition, dairy production lends itself to environmental degradation. Dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Poor handling of manure and fertilizers can degrade local water resources. Unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to the loss of ecologically important areas, such as prairies, wetlands, and forests. (worldwilflife.org)
If the inhumane nature and devastating environmental toll of dairy production is not enough, the consumption of dairy is also quite harmful to the human body. "Dairy intake is associated with increased risk of a wide-ranging group of ailments including accelerated aging, being overweight, canker sores, kidney stones, childhood asthma, constipation, prediabetes and diabetes, prostate and other cancers, heart disease, imbalanced hormones, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, rising blood pressure, skin wrinkling, sudden infant death syndrome, ulcerative colitis, bacterial vaginosis and multiple sclerosis."
"Dairy products are not only high in saturated fat, but they are low in a number of beneficial dietary components such as antioxidants and fiber, a nutrient that 97% of Americans are deficient in. Dairy products also contain cholesterol, trans fats, endotoxins, Neu5Gc and choline and may raise the risk of inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The hormones in dairy products (including skim milk) may promote acne and also contribute to risk of premature puberty, multiple pregnancies (which are riskier to both mother and children), breast cancer, prostate cancer, other hormone-dependent cancers, declining sperm counts, and heart disease." (nutritionfacts.org)
So now that you know the reality of dairy, you might be thinking "how will I ever go without cheese, milk, yogurt, ice cream, etc.? And the truth is, you don't have to! Today, non-dairy alternatives are better than ever. You would be mind-blown to find out these delicious products coming from soybeans, oats, rice, and nuts are no less creamy, rich and satisfyin. You'll come to find you won't be missing out on anything at all.
Here are some of my favorite brands!
Milks/creamers: So Delicious, Silk, Califia Farms, Forager
Cheese: Meltable - Chao, Daiya, Parmela; Spreadable - Miyokos, Treeline, Riverdel
Ice cream: Ben & Jerry's non-dairy, So Delicious, Nada Moo, Van Leeuwen
Yogurt: Forager, Kite Hill, Coyo, Daiya, So Delicious, Silk
Butter: Miyokos, Earth Balance
Cream cheese: Kite Hill, Daiya
Protein powder: Vega All-in-One Nutritional Shake, Vega Sport Performance Protein
I don't do dairy because exploiting and harming animals is against my ethical beliefs, the production negatively impacts the environment and it is highly unhealthy for my human body. I encourage you to do your own research on the dairy industry and therefore, make more informed consumer choices. After all, your dollar is your vote. Support change you wish to see in the world. Be the change.