As you have probably gathered by now, I am a vegan. And no, I haven’t always been this way. In fact, if you knew me in high school and had the experience of watching me eat breakfast, you would know that I went through bowl after bowl of cereal with milk. That’s right, full-on dairy multiple times per day. At that point in my life, I would also eat meat on occasion–telling myself that I might as well because the animal had already been killed and it would be a waste if I didn’t.
Besides the ethical issues at hand (of which I’m sure you have seen me elaborate on through my social media accounts), there were many personal health considerations that I was simply ignoring. Things that I attributed to school stress, puberty, and other events. Even when I entered college I wasn’t vegan (or again, strictly vegetarian) and there was a series of events that led me to commit to veganism in April of 2016.
Like many people, I ate dairy and meat products without much thought. I remember that Costco had cupcakes that were literally the size of my head and that contained more dairy than I can even think about. I would eat those, cakes at birthday parties, milkshakes after long summer days. All without much thought. Milk was normal. So were eggs. Cheese. All of the things that now seem so abnormal to me as I browse the grocery store shelves.
So, what changed? Well I didn’t notice the consistent problems that I had been having until I stopped consuming dairy. That being said, however, when I was a senior in high school I started to notice a change. Instead of being happy after eating a big ice cream cone or slice of cake, I was extremely nauseous. My stomach would feel like I had eaten both a large brick as well as a bunch of air. You know the bird, Kevin, in the movie Up? When it swallowed all of the balloons on top of the house? That’s basically what I felt like.
Despite feeling this way, I was hesitant to give up dairy. I mean, it is in so many things! How was I just supposed to give it up? This was the attitude that I maintained for the majority of my senior year, not changing my dietary habits. If anything, I started eating more dairy in an effort to improve my overall fitness. I would eat greek yogurts, protein powders, and even eggs in an effort to get in shape and maintain my fitness. These are all of the things that I had heard were the best way to get fit, through commercials, the internet, and from fitness centers.
I saw little improvement over the year in terms of the symptoms that I had been experiencing, and finally decided to look up the symptoms for a sensitivity to dairy. I had all of them. All of a sudden, it started to make perfect sense. Not only what I had experienced that year, but also what I had been experiencing for years.
Fast forward to now, the documentary What the Health was just released on Netflix. I decided to give it a watch this past weekend, excited because it was produced by the same people who made the film Cowspiracy. As soon as the film started, I knew that it was going to be groundbreaking.
Veganism has many aspects to it. Animal rights, human rights, environmental rights/protections, and health. This final aspect is the one that many people don’t consider when they think about going vegan. People are under the impression that unless you cannot eat meat and/or dairy products, it is healthier for you to eat meat and dairy. In other words, Veganism is often perceived as something that is only for those who care about animal rights and protections.
Even though I had heard about many of the health issues involved in the consumption of meat and dairy products, I was unaware of the extreme connections between health associations in the United States and meat/dairy producers. The level of interconnectedness was shocking to me, as was their resistance to answering honest questions about their health suggestions for those diagnosed with heart conditions and diabetes.
As I grew older, I started to question what I had heard about the health benefits of meat and dairy. It seemed, to me, there was no way that something produced in such mass quantities and in such terrible conditions could be good for your health.
When I was in 8th grade I did my first research project on factory farming. This was the first time in which I started to take an interest in the effects of animal agriculture on the world, and what I learned was shocking. As I watched this documentary, I felt the same shock that I had when I first delved into research on factory farm policies, ethics, and their impact.
Factory farming is an issue that expands beyond veganism and animal rights. Here are some of the facts explored in What the Health (all facts are bolded and in all caps, and can be found here with their respective sources).
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORT HAS CLASSIFIED BACON & SAUSAGE AS CARCINOGENIC TO HUMANS
Which leads into the next fact:
AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY ENCOURAGES EATING PROCESSED TURKEY AND CANNED MEATS
I found this next fact interesting, especially given that most people consider ‘white’ meat to be a healthier alternative:
THE LEADING SOURCE OF SODIUM IN THE AMERICAN DIET FOR ADULTS IS CHICKEN
I also found the following quite interesting, given that eggs are considered a staple in many vegetarian diets:
EATING 1 EGG PER DAY IS JUST AS BAD AS SMOKING 5 CIGARETTES PER DAY FOR LIFE EXPECTANCY and THE USDA ADMITTED THAT EGGS CANNOT LEGALLY BE LABELED: NUTRITIOUS, LOW FAT, PART OF A BALANCED DIET, LOW CALORIE, HEALTHFUL, HEALTHY, GOOD FOR YOU, OR SAFE
How can this be? Haven’t we always been told that these foods are good for us? Well I remember learning about “pseudoscience,” a.k.a scientific reports that make themselves look as though they have legitimate findings through sound scientific practices. In reality, however, these reports often tell the truth in their fine print and are frequently funded by the industries in question themselves.
THE EGG INDUSTRY FUNDS STUDIES THAT CONFUSE CONSUMERS
In other words,
THE STRATEGY OF THE MEAT, DAIRY & EGG INDUSTRY IS TO CONFUSE THE PUBLIC, TO INTRODUCE DOUBT NOT UNLIKE THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY
Another fact that I found really interesting, especially given my seemingly ‘rare’ intolerance to dairy, is the following:
MOST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD ARE LACTOSE INTOLERANT
Along the same line of thinking with pseudoscientific reports, the dairy industry thrives on the idea that dairy products have calcium that supports strong bone growth. This is, in fact, often an inverse relationship:
COUNTRIES WITH THE HIGHEST RATES OF DAIRY CONSUMPTION HAVE THE HIGHEST RATES OF OSTEOPOROSIS
In another demonstration of the relationship between brands and health industries, the Susan G. Komen ribbons can be found on yogurt containers and other dairy products. However, it has been shown that
DAIRY PRODUCTS INCREASE THE RISK OF CANCERS RELATED TO YOUR HORMONES
And another relationship that I had not previously considered: that between the pharmaceutical industry and the animal agriculture industry. It is well-known that these animals have to be fed antibiotics due to their confinement to ensure that they live long enough to reach prime profit-bearing stages of growth. However, the degree of interdependence between these two industries is astounding:
PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY SELLS 80% OF ALL ANTIBIOTICS MADE IN THE UNITED STATES TO ANIMAL AGRICULTURE and THERE ARE AT LEAST 450 DRUGS THAT ARE ADMINISTERED TO ANIMALS
As many of you know, I go to college in Iowa. As a result, I am no stranger to the eye-watering manure spray that passes by when the wind blows (which is often). My college is at least a few miles away from these industrial farms, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be right next to them. This is a reality that many live each day, and not only that but
THERE IS A DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF HOG FACILITIES LOCATED NEAR COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AND LOW INCOME COMMUNITIES
As if that wasn’t enough of an issue, on a global scale
RAISING ANIMALS FOR FOOD IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION, SPECIES EXTINCTION, OCEAN DEAD ZONES AND FRESH WATER CONSUMPTION
What’s difficult about these realities is that there are laws in place to ensure that what happens behind closed doors stays there. This went as far as bringing a woman to trial after she gave severely dehydrated pigs water as they arrived in trucks for slaughter. She was not pressed with charges, but this one case lasted for months. But what happens when workers abuse the animals already being sent to an inhumane and abusive slaughter? Absolutely nothing, in most cases.
AG-GAG LAWS CRIMINALIZE WHISTLE-BLOWERS WHO PHOTO-DOCUMENT ABUSES BY THE ANIMAL AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY
As someone who is vegan, and has been for a year now, you can imagine how often I get the following question: “but where do you get your protein?” or even the statement “you’re definitely not getting enough protein”. The following facts in the documentary made me rejoice with relief:
ALL PROTEIN IS INITIALLY MADE BY PLANTS and PLANTS ARE LOADED WITH PROTEIN, in fact MOST AMERICANS GET ABOUT TWICE THE PROTEIN THEY NEED
Since going vegan, I think I am actually getting more protein. How? I am making much healthier eating and lifestyle choices overall and eating many more whole plant foods on a daily basis. I have grown more muscle mass, eliminated excess fat, and generally feel a million times better on a daily basis than I did when I wasn’t vegan.
Vegan food isn’t hard to come by, and often isn’t more expensive. I recently tried the Hampton Creek Just Mayo Vegan Eggless Soy-Free Kosher Mayonnaise and I am a bit obsessed with it! It was affordable and oh so good! (It also got raving reviews from non vegans). In fact, I’m not alone in how much I love this brand!
THE AMERICAN EGG BOARD CONSIDERS EGG-ALTERNATIVE HAMPTON CREEK A “CRISIS AND MAJOR THREAT” TO THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN EGG INDUSTRY
This documentary resonated with so many things that I already knew, but it also managed to shock me about the interdependence of industries. Are you interested in learning more? I highly suggest that you give What the Health a watch! (You can find it on Netflix!)
Have you watched it? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2017 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
As I drove past crop fields and rolling hills in the Iowa countryside, my thoughts drifted to how I started my vegan journey and found this calling. Within the past year I have experienced the ups and downs of a vegan lifestyle, especially with how it fits in a college setting. It was a steep learning curve, but I feel as though I’ve become more aware about what I am putting both in and on my body.
A few months ago I found a recommended account on my Instagram feed for an Iowa Farm Sanctuary. I had heard of farm sanctuaries around the country, and was immediately intrigued! I found out that it wasn’t far, and knew that I had to schedule a visit!
Prior to this visit I didn’t have many experiences with the animals that inspired me to adopt this lifestyle, and I was beyond excited to finally get that chance. Those of you who have known me for a while know that I am a bit obsessed with pigs. Ever since I was little they have been one of my favorite animals, and yes, it was on my bucket list to meet a pig in person! My dream came true last week, and I couldn’t wait to start writing about this wonderful organization!
I have always been an animal lover, and I spent much of my childhood on a farm when I started horseback riding. I was so excited to reconnect with this passion of mine, and my heart was filled with pure joy the entire time I was at the sanctuary!
The first animal that I got to meet was Bennie, an adorable goat who came to the sanctuary as a runt. He was the sweetest thing, and full of boundless energy and love! He was roaming and eating with Carl (a calf) and Hope (a pig) in the pasture.
I then met Carl and Hope, who also melted my heart with their affectionate dispositions and incredible stories. Carl was a calf that was very ill when he was brought to the farm. He was nursed back to health, and is now full of love and joy! He loved eating the pumpkins in the pasture, and basking in the sun with Hope and Bennie.
Hope was brought to the sanctuary as a runt who had a broken foot and leg. She was nursed back to health and now loves to dig in the dirt and bound across the pasture! She was the first pig that I have met, and I will always remember the moment when she touched her nose to my outstretched hand.
There are other pigs at the sanctuary as well, and hearing their stories grounded me in why I had started on this journey in the first place. Quite a few animals fall of transportation trucks on the highway when being taken to feed lots or slaughterhouses, especially due to the cramped conditions and the uneven floorboards. Getting to interact with these sweet animals in person made me realize that I, even as just one person, could make a difference in the lives of farm animals. I couldn’t help but laugh with joy as their ears bobbed up and down when they ran across the pasture! 🙂
The sanctuary is also home to a number of chickens and ducks, some of whom were rescued as chicks/ducklings. They have found a wonderful home at the sanctuary. I got to meet one of the hens, Piper, who has a clipped beak (most likely from the farm she came from, which is a common practice on factory farms). She was nursed back to health, and now enjoys a life of love at the sanctuary.
I also met Otis the ram, who had the softest fur imaginable! He is older (eight or nine), and came to the sanctuary when he was found roaming around after escaping from his property.
I had the chance to meet three goats in the barn, a mom and two babies. Though they were timid at first, they loved affection! They especially loved the hay and alfalfa in the barn, and running around together!
As I met all of the animals living together in harmony, I felt aligned with my vegan journey in a way that I haven’t been before. I have met the animals that my heart aches for, and it was a truly transformative experience. Though my academic study is in Religion and Politics, one of my other passions has always been animal welfare. After seeing this sanctuary, I feel inspired to get involved in every way that I can and to potentially start a sanctuary of my own in the future.
I left the farm (as Bennie, Carl, and Hope ran to the fence to say goodbye!) feeling inspired and spiritually aligned with my true self and my passions. Being vegan definitely hasn’t been easy, but I would choose this path again in a heartbeat. I’ve been looking forward to sharing this experience with you, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about this wonderful organization! You can learn more about them on their website as well as on their Instagram (which I highly recommend, because who doesn’t love to see amazing pictures of adorable farm animals??)!
©2016 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.