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VegWeb Guide to Going Vegan

Taking the leap into the vegan lifestyle can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Here's the hows, whats, and whys of becoming an awesome vegan.

Do it for your health
The first question vegetarians were once predictably asked by curious omnivores was, “Where do you get your protein?” Thankfully, it’s widely acknowledged that meeting your optimal health needs on a veg diet is easy as pie and that, in fact, most Americans consume too much protein. So many plant foods in regular circulation at your local grocery store or farmers’ market are loaded with protein, including corn, potatoes, bananas, avocados, rice, and peanuts. Other popular veg-nutrition-related myths have been laid to rest by leading health experts, so we no longer need fear such things as calcium, iron, B12, or omega 3 deficiencies. With a balanced diet rich in vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, and seeds, veganism is a healthy lifestyle choice for everyone.

It’s a fact that vegans have a lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, certain cancers, kidney disease, and gallstones than their carnivorous counterparts, and because animal products are the only sources of dietary cholesterol, plant-based diets are naturally heart-healthy. Vegans’ blood cholesterol levels are typically 35 percent lower than those of omnivores, and by eschewing animal protein, you won’t need to worry about calcium loss that’s attributable to high-protein diets.

Weight watchers will be glad to learn that vegans have a lower body-mass index (BMI) than omnivores, and a common experience among people transitioning to veganism is that they immediately shed a few pounds, have more energy and stamina, and generally feel better having made the leap from meaty to meat-free. Best of all, perhaps, is that vegans live, on average, six to 10 years longer than meat-eaters, which gives us more time to have fun with our friends and families, eat amazing food, and continue work that’s important to us. And did we mention we’ll have more time for enjoying vegan ice cream?

Do it for the environment
Carbon offsetting is de rigueur among today’s eco set, but if you’re already veg, there’s no need to buy into the notion of extenuating your personal greenhouse gas emissions by paying for pricy carbon credits. By merely eliminating meat and dairy from your diet, you’re already doing more for the environment than if you were to exchange your gas-guzzling SUV for an eco-friendly hybrid. 

When the UN released its 2007 environmental report, many were shocked to learn that industrialized animal-agriculture, commonly referred to as factory farming, is responsible for more greenhouse-gas pollution than all the world’s automobile emissions. Livestock production also accounts for more than eight percent of global water use, and is the number one cause of water pollution worldwide. When you consider that 64 percent of the world is expected to feel the stress of water shortages by 2025, going veg just makes sense.

As countries around the globe continue to industrialize and develop, the demand for meat increases. Sadly, 70 percent of what was once Amazon rainforest is now used for grazing animals, and with each tree that disappears, the earth’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air diminishes, placing a higher environmental toll on our already-burdened planet. A close examination of the big environmental picture and the role that animal agriculture plays in global warming will have you swapping that hamburger for a soy dog in no time.

Do it for the animals
If you love animals, adopting a veg lifestyle is the most profound way to align your actions with your ethics. Just like dogs and cats, the 10 billion pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, cows, goats, and other animals slaughtered for food each year in the United States are sentient beings who deserve to live their lives free from pain and suffering. Today’s factory-farming methods, however, don’t allow them even these basic rights.

In the United States, the federal Humane Slaughter Act stipulates that cows should be killed humanely by being stunned by a mechanical blow to the head to render them unconscious before being strung up, yet assembly lines often process 400 cows per hour, resulting in live cows being dismembered, which is definitely not humane. The grim trend continues for chickens.

Ninety-eight percent of egg-laying hens in the United States exist in overcrowded wire battery cages, where they can’t preen themselves, perch, flap their wings, or even walk. New legislation is being introduced in several US states to allow our feathered friends some basic rights, but there really is no such thing as a “cruelty-free” egg or “humanely-raised” chicken.

The road to vegetarianism is often taken in baby steps, and eliminating fish from your diet might be the final phase before going flesh-free for good. Fish feel pain, too, and deserve our consideration. They have complex social structures and can even recognize specific shoal mates. Some fish will eavesdrop on their neighbors, and others employ tools—such as the South African fish who carry their eggs to a safe spot using leaves. If saying goodbye to your beloved tuna-salad sandwiches brings a tear to your eye, cry no more: Faux fish—yes, even tuna—awaits you at the nearest well-stocked natural-foods store.