Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Take on Veganism Part II: Why NOT do it?

In the first part of this series, I tackled what veganism is about and the good reasons for practicing it. 
The next question that needs to be explored is...

Why not go vegan?

I have considered this through every angle I can think of so far, as well as every angle critics use that I have seen. This list also goes through the different challenges that may come up in your head in considering the merit of this lifestyle. Let me take you through them one by one and assess them analytically.

Challenge # 1: The Circle of Life

Image from here.
Under 'Personal Health' in the previous post, I have cited that we are biologically herbivores. Behaviorally though, that is up to us. Practically since birth, we have been taught that humans are at the top of the food chain, since we have no predators. While that is true, we also have the capacity to choose whether we are behaviorally herbivores or omnivores. Since we are not biologically meant to eat meat, it is not true that cows, pigs, and chickens exist simply to be our food. They exist for themselves, and they supposedly have their natural place within the food chain as well. If through domestication, they no longer have their own predators as well (we may have killed off all the other possible predators to protect our food), I believe we can care for a sustainable population of them the same way we care for other domesticated animals, the dog and the cat.

Yes, this was all taught to us in school, by our parents, and may have been done by humans for thousands of years, but these are not reasons for us not to question the practice and make the choice for ourselves. The times are ever changing. The entire world once believed the earth was flat. In school, they taught us that Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent light (I googled this recently and my life has been a lie! Haha). Our reality now is what we will make it to be.

Challenge # 2: Christianity

Ah, religion. Seems we can't avoid the topic. There are two reasons for this, the question of the soul, and the actions of Jesus.

On animals not having souls like humans - I'd like to think that if humans did have souls, animals would also have souls that may not be equal to those of humans, but equally deserving of respect. Let's assume though that they do not have any sort of souls nor afterlife at all, which is more realistic. We are still taught to be compassionate, and that is not limited to humans. In biblical times, animals were eaten as a social norm that science at that time hadn't questioned yet. They had much less information and science to work with. With the minimal population of humans, the impact on the planet was not severe either. If we treat animals with cruelty and unnecessarily use them for food we do not need and any other use that we have alternatives for, what can then be said about our souls?

On Jesus eating meat - Jesus acted in accordance with the times that he lived in. Back then, eating animals was generally the only diet they were aware of in society. They did not have access to the science and the food that we have. Knowing the horrors that go in to an animal-based diet nowadays, as well as the relative ease of living on a plant-based diet, I find it hard to believe that God would not support a diet based on less cruelty and more compassion. There is certainly nothing in the bible against not eating meat, but there is plenty about care and compassion for animals and fellow humans.

If you'd like a scripture-based approach on this topic, here's a good article:

We should ask ourselves, though. Do we really need a bible verse to tell us what we should feel is the right thing to do?  Let's remember that the bible was written almost two millenia ago, so their morals and beliefs will not always reflect our own. For instance, during that time it was generally believed that the sun revolved around the earth. With recent scientific discoveries, we are learning how much other animals are so similar to us, especially in that they are sentient.

All things considered, with the values I have grown up with as a Catholic, I believe going vegan is the right thing to do. I'll also leave this tweet right here for you to think about...
Challenge # 3: Them Sensitive Plants

Image from here.
The usual quick counter to veganism is that plants have feelings too. Veganism generally values sentience, which is the capacity to think and feel, and in this case, the capacity to suffer. Plants simply do not have the nervous systems required in order to feel pain. Sure, they have receptors that aid them in particular reflexes, like our own makahiya. This does not however, translate to pain, and they do not have brains to process the supposed pain as well. In fact, some plants are dependent on animals for reproduction by being food for them in the first place. They depend on natural herbivores, like us.

On top of this, due to the sheer amount of plants needed to sustain and manufacture meat through farm animals, if we chose to live on a plant-based diet, we would still be killing vastly less plants than through eating meat.

Challenge # 4: Caring for Animals is Naive

Understandably, people have the predisposition to dismiss such ideologies as naive, especially since the choice of not wanting to harm animals is a decision an innocent 5 year old kid is more likely to make than an adult. It is assumed that those who believe in veganism have a naive outlook on life and are too "soft" to fully accept the notion that we are on top of the food chain and that animals have to die so that others can live.

Image from here.
Quite the contrary, however, those who choose to become vegans are very morally strong. It takes a lot of discipline and moral fiber to choose not to just 'go with the flow' or have a diet that society expects you to have. It seems naive because that is how children think, but vegans accept that there is a circle of life and death does have to naturally occur in nature. I am of the belief though that the way we humans live now, the way we utilize other animals, the way we breed and eat them to our own ends is anything but 'natural'. I am no saintly saint either. It's not that I don't want any animal to ever die. It's just that
  • Animals do not need to die for us. Whether or not you believe we are natural herbivores, we can definitely live off of a plant-based diet, and these days it is becoming more and more possible to do so. Veganism advocate Gary Yourofsky has said that we only still eat animals for four reasons: Habit, Tradition, Convenience, and Taste.
  • I respect and value innocent sentient life. I want to protect those without malice in their hearts and minds that are incapable of protecting themselves, and I think it would be selfish to limit that to just humans. It is our responsibility to make sure that they not only survive, but truly live. This, I believe, is why we have something in common with children. Children have an instinctive bond with animals before habit and society overwrite what we naturally tend to feel, and compassion gives way to culture once we become adults.
Isn't not rethinking our own habits and beliefs infinitely more naive than simply caring for animals?

Challenge # 5: If cows are bad for the environment, I should eat more beef!

The world doesn't work that way. The meat industry will not just let that happen. We cannot eat the cows or any other animal into extinction if they are already part of the meat industry. Eating more of them will lead to more of them to be killed, which will mean demand has increased, and more and more supply will be created. It may seem counter-intuitive, but killing and eating more cows will lead to more cows being artificially bred for the exact same purpose, destroying more of our environment. Let's remember that it is not the cows' fault for existing. Their number wouldn't reach unnatural highs at 1.4 billion in the world if we did not make it to be due to the business need.

The best thing to do for the environment is not to eat their meat. We do not need to worry about cows overpopulating the earth, so eating meat is no social service to the world.

Challenge # 6: Complete Nutrients

Protein is readily available through many foods like grains, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and other legumes. There are also some nutrients like B12 not available in our modern vegan diet, because herbivores get this from the soil that is on the plants eaten. If we prefer not to go full-natural and eat soil (which is my personal choice too!), supplements are very easy to come by. Some would say supplements are unnatural, but if you really think about it, it's not more unnatural than humans cooking and eating meat.

Challenge # 7: Livelihood

Yes, if we all turn vegan overnight, fishermen and butchers and meat and dairy farmers will all be out of jobs. It could never happen overnight. If the vegan way is shared and taken in, then the demand for animal-based food will be at a slow decline instead of disappearing instantaneously. This will give people a chance to find alternative livelihoods, which will be more difficult, but not impossible. It won't be easy, but if we do not make a change, we will be robbing our future descendants of livelihood as well, and a decent world to live in.

The biggest opponent of veganism will not be the innocent people whose livelihoods depend on animals. The biggest opponents will be the businessmen and the leaders of the meat, dairy, and egg industries worldwide. You can imagine how they will try to obscure this from the public through lies, and it has been done for years already. They will not benefit from this change unless they evolve out of the animal industry into something else that is profitable (risky option) or fight back against the vegan ideals either directly, or indirectly through spreading misinformation about the plant-based diet. This post of mine and all similar articles in the net will be most unwelcome to them.

Challenge # 8: Culture

Culture is a very difficult thing to change. I'm finding out our cuisine is very, very non-vegan. Our vegetable dishes also have either butter, shreds of meat/fish/shrimp, or patis. Who hasn't grown up eating hotdogs or tapsilog for breakfast? Who doesn't love going to Tagaytay for bulalo? Who doesn't celebrate small special moments with pizza, or having burgers with friends?

It has not just been a choice we have been making. It has been our way of life. In some ways, culture defines our very lives. We have all also been raised to be good, compassionate people who care for our family, who care for our country, and who care for the world. A lot of us are fierce dog-lovers or any sort of animal-lovers. Many of us strive to be good people with our own sense of right and wrong. We choose to do the right things, even if they are difficult or seemingly impossible.

With this information now at hand, it is time for us to open our eyes and realize that at this point, we have to define our culture through the choices we make. We can no longer truly be both meat-eaters and animal-lovers or a truly compassionate society, now that our ignorance is gone and we know the truth about what goes into our plates. From now on, once we know all this, we decide: are we a culture that has compassion for others and does the right thing, or are we a culture that simply enjoys a good sinigang? We choose, we define our culture.

This does not apply, of course, to the less fortunate who do not have the means to change their diet at all. If we do have the means though, we have the responsibility.

Challenge # 9: Money, money

It isn't necessarily more expensive to go vegan. I've actually spent less on food since changing my diet. There will be instances where I would have to turn down free food, and that's a shame, but eating mostly vegetables, beans, fruits, rice and nuts hasn't been as expensive as eating meat, dairy, and fish. I have been eating simpler though, and there is naturally less variety compared to when I ate everything. I also do not search out vegan restaurants, and I haven't tried any yet, actually. They seem more expensive than other restaurants right now since they are so rare. When eating out, I usually search out the vegan option in normal restaurants, like pasta (oil or tomato-based), salad, or veggies and rice. These are also usually cheaper than meat dishes.

Let's not expect everyone to go vegan though. Of course those who are less fortunate should not have to turn down free or cheaper/more readily available non-vegan food. We can just say that financially, if we can live on a plant-based diet, we should. If we financially can't, then we need not right now. With power, comes responsibility.

Challenge # 10: It will mean admitting I am wrong.

This will probably be an unspoken difficulty for most. The toughest part in entertaining the thought that veganism might be the right thing to do, is that it will mean that we have been doing something wrong all our lives. Even more than that, we will be admitting that what our parents taught us is wrong, and what our entire clan has been doing for the past hundreds of years is wrong. That is not easy to accept.

I personally regret being a very carnivorous person for the first 30 years of my life. I also regret the damage that has been done from what the whole human race has been doing. However I feel, I do not condemn nor blame my parents for how they or I have been living. Humanity is constantly evolving and as we gain wisdom and advance in the realm of science, we are learning new things every day. We cannot blame the actions of the past if it was done out of habit without knowing or really thinking about the moral and environmental impact of our actions.

Today, we know more than we ever have, and there are good people out there who are spreading the idea of this new way of living. If this is something we find ourselves believing, then we just need to accept that we believe our old habits in food are wrong. There's no shame in that, and there's no blame that needs to be thrown to those in the past. We simply move forward, because that is what matters.

Challenge # 11: Sarap eh!

There really is no denying how difficult the switch to plant-based food is. People have been saying that I got to switch easily because I don't love food as much as they do. That couldn't be further from the truth. I just get to follow through on my difficult choice because of the reasons I have for doing it. Truth be told, my own health wasn't as strong a reason for me in the past. When my only dietary goal was staying healthy, I would mostly cut down on quantity but still occasionally eat 10 slices of pizza (not an exaggeration) or come back from Vikings or Saisaki at least 5 pounds heavier. Hell, this very blog is a testament to a mere fraction of how much I have eaten in the past.

I only truly found the will to do this for good (though it's only been a month and a half) once my reason became compassion. Once I realized what was really going on, I decided I no longer wanted to be a part of that, even if it meant I would end up with less variety in my diet or less delicious food. Sadly my favourite food ever used to be sashimi, pizza, and steak. I absolutely loved anything with cheese on it. Knowing the truth changed all that. I couldn't enjoy my food anymore knowing it comes at the expense of another. The environment also something I consider, but I already had the reason I needed in animal equality and compassion.

It doesn't have to be just salad!
Image from here.
Going vegan is not the equivalent of amputating your tastebuds, not nearly. It just entails saying goodbye to all or most of the delicious food you know and love and getting introduced to all new favourite food in your new diet to take their place. It's only been a short while, but there are several snacks and dishes I have really enjoyed, like vegetable curry, hummus, beans and rice, Vitamilk and Starbucks' soy latte. I know there is so much more out there that I cannot wait to try. A lot of junkfood, like Oreos, is actually vegan, but I stay away for health reasons. Being a junkfood vegan isn't sustainable either!

Challenge # 12: It won't make a difference.

Undertaking the lifestyle change of going vegan while the rest of the world stays the same might naturally feel futile. Rather than focusing on how much you won't affect the world, you can focus on how much you will. Sure, your own consumption will not matter greatly to the world, but will it not mean the world to your own health, your own conscience, and every innocent animal that does not have to be raised and killed in suffering as a result?

Your decision will sure matter to this guy.
Image from here.
You will not be able to change the world directly, but you will be part of a grander revolution in humans rethinking the way we eat. Your decision could easily inspire others and cause more good than you can imagine. You have the potential to teach your kids to value compassion in everything they do, and to know the cost of what goes into the food we eat. There are so many possibilities. You have the power to leave the world a better place than it would have been.

Challenge # 13: I can't go all the way!

Let's say you appreciate what vegans try to do, but can't quite imagine yourself doing it. Don't worry. We shouldn't think in extremes. While every step you take towards veganism will be better for the animals, the planet and yourself, the moment of weakness where you slip back into old habits does not undo all the good you have done. If you believe in it, then aim to do as much as reasonably possible for yourself. If you can remove just meat, then do that. If you feel you can't let go of fish, then try to let go of everything else first. It is better to try and fail than to give up before you begin. You can always try again. Try it out for a week, a month, a year, and if it feels good, a lifetime.

Not being able to do everything is no excuse for not doing everything you can.

Challenge # 14: I don't care.

If you do not care about animals, yourself, your family, the world and its future, the world your grandchildren will live in, then there's nothing anyone can say or do to get you to consider veganism.

I just pose one question though, if the previous sentence applies to you: What do you live for? You probably live for pleasure or success or live in apathy (as I have before), or many different possible things. You might want to rethink that. It's possible that living for something bigger than yourself, living for the world and those who live in it with us might be a bit more fulfilling.

In summary...

That is everything I have encountered so far. Are there other challenges or counter-arguments you've heard or felt about veganism? Let me know by commenting below, e-mailing me at, or tweeting me!

In the last part, I talk about how one would begin transitioning into veganism.

PART III - How would I begin?


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