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A Fourteen Year Old's Philosophy of Life
By Natalya Gryson
Originally published in 2000 when she was 14 years old on Animal Rights Online.
Natalya Gryson is a 14-year-old vegan who lives in North Carolina. Currently a 9th grader, Natalya became a vegetarian in December of her 8th grade year. In November of 1999, Natalya decided to try being vegan. Natalya says she made the decision to go vegan for the same reason she became a vegetarian: "I think what the animals have to go through for our enjoyment is awful. I can enjoy life without consuming and using animal products, so why not cut them out?"
She expected the change in lifestyle and diet to be extremely hard, "especially to give up milk chocolate!" But she found it easier than she thought.
Last semester Natalya's English teacher assigned everyone in her class a research paper on a topic of their own choosing. Natalya chose Veganism. Here is Natalya's paper -- which earned her an "A."
English 9 Honors
Most people spend a fair amount of time preparing and consuming food. How many of these people actually take time to think about what they are putting into their mouths and what repercussions their diet has? Few Americans realize that their dietary choices have an effect on the lives of innocent animals, our deteriorating environment, and the "have not's" of the world who do not even have enough food to properly nourish their bodies. If the human race adopted a vegan lifestyle these problems would be virtually obsolete. Veganism is environmentally sound, promotes animal rights, conserves resources, and is a healthy way to live.
A vegan is someone who completely avoids animal based products, edible and nonedible, and lives solely on a plant based diet. Not only do vegans not consume food that contains animal derivatives, they do not use or wear any products, clothing, cosmetics etc. that are tested on animals or have animal derivatives in them. But veganism encompasses far more than just avoiding animal products, it is a belief system. Vegans believe in Ahimsa, a Sanskrit word which means "dynamic harmlessness." Not only are vegans obliged to do the least harm, they strive to do the most good. Vegans often take part in beneficial acts, whether they may be supporting an animal rights organization or participating in a protest for world peace (Stepaniak "Being Vegan" 1-3). In other words, veganism is the practice of compassionate living.
"Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk, and it's derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or n part from animals," according to the Vegan Society in England (Stepaniak "What is Veganism?" 1-2).
In today's society it is impossible to be totally "free" from animal products. Steel, vinyl, plastics, and rubber all contain animal derivatives. Film, videotapes, musical instruments, and computers all contain some sort of animal product also (Stepaniak "What is Veganism?" 1-2).
Veganism originated in England. The word "vegan" was first used by Donald Watson in 1944. It came from the word "vegetarian" by using the last two letters (an) and the first three letters (veg). Watson's reasoning behind this was that veganism starts with vegeterianism and carries it through to its logical ending. Watson, among other members of the Vegetarian Society, wanted to start a group of non-dairy vegetarians. When their proposal was turned down by the society, Watson and his followers decided to start their own organization (Stepaniak "Being Vegan" 1-3).
One of the largest contributors to the desecration of the environment is animal-based agriculture. Covering less than two percent of the Earth's surface, tropical rainforests are home to over fifty percent of all living organisms. But, 31.57 million hectares are destroyed each year. One of the reasons they are destroyed is to ranch cows. One hectare of Peruvian Amazonian rainforest, if harvested for fruit, latex, and timber, has an estimated economic value of $6820 per year. On the other hand, if it is cleared for cow pastures, it would be worth $148 (Why Vegan? "The Environment" 1). Fifty-four square feet of the rain forest are being destroyed for every quarter pound of beef. If the meat industry would stop using rainforest for meat grazing, approximately 1,000 species could be saved from extinction per year (Lappe 60). Another problem grazing animals contribute to is soil imbalance and erosion. Because of this, the soil is compacted at the surface, and many tree seedlings are devoured (Why Vegan? "The Environment" 1).
The agricultural water pollution mishaps in 1996 made up ten percent of the total reported. Most of the incidents were caused by the effects of cattle slurry (Why Vegan? "The Environment" 2). The number of animals raised for slaughter is on the rise, and so is the amount of animal manure. Each year more than twenty million tons of poultry manure is produced. It contains phosphorus and nitrogen which is extremely harmful to waterways; the manure causes excess algae, the degradation of aquatic ecosystems, and oxygen depletion. Every working day, slaughterhouses slice the necks of two million birds or more, using twelve million gallons or more of water, in order to get rid of over 1,600 tons of chicken heads, guts, featers, fat globules, and blood ("Poultry.Org." 1-2).
Contrary to popular belief, our meat industry is not "the upmost in humane care" ("National Cattlemen's Beef Association"). More than eight billion animals are raised, transported, and killed under unfathomable inhumane conditions. While fully conscious, they are stuffed into undersized crates, chained and dragged to auctions, and massacred. Each of these practices are looked upon as "normal" and, sadly, have become "business as usual" in a system with one goal in mind: to make a profit ("Food Animal Info." 1).
Each year, hundreds of thousands of animals collapse because of the cruel conditions they are forced to endure. Every day over two hundred and fifty hogs show up at packing plants dead. According to the hog idustry, a pig needs only twelve minutes of human care during its four months in a confinement operation. Pigs are kept in crates only six feet long and two feet wide. Milk cows are forced to produce up to ten times more milk than they would naturally. Laying hens have their beaks cut off in order to cut down on pecking, which is a result of overcrowding. Behavioral and neurophysiological observations give indirect signs that the beak-trimming of pullets brings on pain which persists for weeks or possibly even months. The birds are also forced to molt at the end of their laying cycles in order to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. Starving hens for up to eighteen days, denying them water, and forcing them to stay in the dark are all involved in this process. Commonly, between five and ten percent of the birds die and the birds may loose twenty-five percent or more of their body weight during this cycle ("Food Animal Info." 1-3).
Poultry, which makes up over ninety percent of "food animals," do not legally have to be stunned prior to their slaughter. Even when stunning is used, the failure rate is high. If cardiac electrical stunning, one of the methods used to stun animals, fails, the result is a paralyzed animal that feels everything. About half of the calf slaughterhouses in the United States shackle the baby cows before killing them. This is illegal. Often times a chain is tied around one of the animals rear legs, and it is lifted into the air; during this procedure the conscious, frightened animal is thrashing and kicking. Another procedure used in some plants is suspending the animal's head and restraining it with a nose tong. This stretches the neck by yanking on the nose and is extremely painful ("Food Animal Info." 3-4). In addition, animals are fed cheap grain, often containing sawdust full of chemicals and antibiotics ("Vegetarian News").
These cruel procedures described above are part of the everyday lives of animals that are raised for human consumption. What is an everyday occurrence for them, we only experience in nightmares. The saddest part of this reality is that all these procedures and treatments are legal and accepted ("Food Animal Info." 1-4). By adopting a vegan lifestyle, these realities would slowly disappear and so-called "food animals" could be on their way to a life without fear or suffering.
The world population is around six billion; every day malnutrition and/or disease cause about 40,000 children to die. Our resources are being depleted at a fast rate. A vegan lifestyle encourages a more effective use of our resources. By embracing a vegan lifestyle, we will be able to more-efficiently feed our growing population ("Why Vegan? Resource Use" 1-2).
A good portion of the worlds population is malnourished because of a distorted distribution of food. Research shows that a diet of vegetables, beans, and grains will efficiently feed twenty times more people than a diet of meat (Toffler). Livestock consumes ninty-five percent of the oats and eighty percent of the corn grown in the U.S. To produce one pound of beef, many pounds of vegetables are required; therefore this is a very inefficient use of our already limited supply of resources. By cycling grain through livestock, approximatly ninety percent of the protein is wasted (Lappe 108-109). Rather than wastefully passing plant protein through farm animals for transformation into meat, the plant protein should be consumed directly by us. Out of our worldwide cropland, approximately one-fourth of it is used solely for growing grains and other feed stuffs for farm animals; thirty-eight percent of all the grain in the world is used to feed livestock. About half of the Earths land area is grazed and degraded by ruminant livestock (mostly cows and sheep). Instead of fattening up food animals on our land, we should be raising crops to feed the undernourished of the world; instead of feeding the grains we produce to animals, we should feed them to our starving population ("Why Vegan? Resource Use" 1).
In the last twenty years, our worldwide demand for water has tripled. The production of foods derived from animals is extremely water intensive; however, the production of most plant foods are not. A cow must consume up to one hundred liters of water a day in order to produce about thirty-five liters of milk (the amount of water increases in hot conditions). "The total amount of water (liters) needed (for drinking, cleaning, irrigation, etc.) to bring one kilogram of the following to the dinner table is: chicked-3,500; beef-100,000; potatoes-500; wheat-900; maize-1,400; rice-1,900; soya beans-2,000" ("Why Vegan? Resource Use" 1-2). With our increasing shortage of pure water, we need to use this precious resource as efficiently as possible, even if this means cutting meat out of our diets ("Why Vegan? Resource Use" 1-2).
During his research in "The China Project," T. Colin Cambell found a pure vegetarian (i.e. vegan) diet to be healthier than any other diet. Research shows that animal 'foods' actually detract from health, while plant foods improve it ("Factory Farming.Com." 1). In addition, for twenty-five years, Americans have been warned repeatedly be the federal government that we consume too much protein, salt, and animal fat; most of which we get from meat (Chopra 258).
Scientific studies show that the high protein, high fat, Standard American Diet is damaging to our health. On the other hand, a mostly plant based, whole food, low fat diet is "preventative medicine at its finest" (Northrup 587). To this date, the most comprehensive study involving the relationship between human health and diet discovered that eating food derived from animals was connected with diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Eighty to ninety percent of all cardiovascular illnesses, cancers, and other degenerative disease can be prevented by adopting a plant based diet; or at least until very old age ("Factory Farming.Com." 1). A plant based diet may help decrease cholesterol, prevent cancer, and lower the risk of heart-failure. People who avoid meat have a smaller chance of being obese, of getting lung cancer, atonic constipation, and alcoholism ("Vegetarian News"). A meatless diet lessens your chance of heart attack. It has been documented by nutritionists that people with plant based diets have excellent blood pressure (eighteen percent lower than average) and their risk of heart disease is low (Chopra 258).
People may wonder if a vegan can get all the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins on a daily basis. There is not one vitamin or mineral that can only be provided by a meat based diet. Our body does not care whether we get, say iron, from an animal source or a plant source; as long as we get it. All requirements to maintain good health can be obtained through a vegan diet; you just have to know where to look (Stepaniak "Are Humans Meant to Eat Meat?" 2).
A connection between food, behavior, and mood have been documented during a number of studies. Religious orders, especially in Asia, have said that eating red meat promotes more aggressive behavior, while plant based diets encourage inward spiritual awareness. Many scientific studies show a connection between triylyceridies, high dietary cholesterol, and violence; meat consumption being the most common source of high levels in dietary fat. Many are prone to having anxious feelings and violent dreams after red meat consumption. On the other hand, while eating a diet based on beans, vegetables, and grains, they feel calmer (Northrup 586).
The question of whether or not humans are meant to eat meat has been arising lately. The fact is that the human body does not fit into any of the three major classifications: omnivorous, herbivorous, or carnivorous. We have traits from all of these categories. However, the majority of our characteristics are that of a herbivore. We have a jaw that is able to grind sideways, rather than a hinged one for ripping apart flesh. Our digestive system is longer in order for us to better get the nutrients from our foods, as opposed to allowing us to pass meat through our bodies before it becomes spoiled, as does the shorter tract of a carnivore. We do not possess talons or claws for tearing flesh. The enzymes in our saliva that break down the food in the early part of our digestive system and in our mouth are not of a high acid content, like in carnivores, but contain little acid and are in alignment with a plant based diet. Some say that we have incisors for tearing flesh, but many think that these are for grinding the harder vegetables (Stepaniak "Are Humans Meant to Eat Meat?" 1).
Humans, unlike most other animals have the ability to choose what they eat. However, we are the only species who seem to have no idea what to include in our diet. Our bad choices in the past have destroyed our land, inflicted immeasurable suffering, pain, and torture upon other species, polluted our waterways and air, and, even ruined our own health. On top of that, the food we do have is not distributed equally; in one country we have people dying from the diseases of obesity, while half way across the world people are starving to death. The number of vegans in the U.S. was estimated between one-half and two million in a 1997 Roper Poll ("Vegan Outreach" 1). Whether it is external, internal, or spiritual, when people strive for peace they are less likely to do harm or take part in actions that would do harm to others (Stepaniak "Feeding the Heart" 2). "It is time for our species to behave responsibly and select those foods that best sustain the Earth, the animals, and ourselves. Only then can we truly say that humans have evolved in body, spirit, and wisdom" (Stepaniak "Are Humans Meant to Eat Meat?" 2).
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