Extending the Compassion


By Veronica Chavez

Photo courtesy of Fountain Posters.

The ideology behind veganism can be a difficult one to comprehend. While the dietary structure is pretty straightforward–no meat, dairy, or animal byproducts–the reason why anyone would choose to live without these common food staples is not always obvious.

This past month, I traded in my title as vegetarian (a title I’ve held for 12 years) for a new label: vegan.

During this transition period, the question I was asked most is, “Why?” Why give myself rules? Why deprive myself of such worldly pleasures as pizza and ice cream sundaes? Why isn’t being vegetarian enough?

While I have a list of reasons as to why I have decided to go vegan, I usually try to be as concise as possible. Some people who are activists of the lifestyle enjoy engaging in debate as to why the veganism is healthier, more moral, or what have you. I do not.

“I love animals” is what I say to most people.

While some seem satisfied with this response, nodding and going about their business once again, some are too curious for such a succinct answer.

“I love animals too!” many respond, not convinced that such a thing could be the sole driving force behind as drastic of a lifestyle shift as veganism.

This is where it gets kind of awkward.

I don’t doubt that many people who consume meat and animal byproducts also love animals. Many have dogs, cats, turtles, and rabbits. Some may even have family members who own farms in a rural countryside.

Their love for animals simply doesn’t encompass the entire animal kingdom. Their love is reserved for the animals closest to their homes and hearts.

We consider canine pets our lifetime companions. We shed a tear during March of the Penguins when a newborn chick struggles to survive. We shake our heads after hearing that there is but a handful of white rhinos left in existence.

But in this country, cows are not beloved in the same way puppies are. Cows are out of sight and out of mind. They moo loudly and don’t fit in your house. They’re not known for their cuddles, and they can’t learn how to sit and give you their hoof on command. There will most likely never be a movie about a cow that can play basketball.

Photo courtesy of Maciej Lewandowski.

I love cows though. They’re furry, cute, and you can tell that when a cow is laying down in the sun, it enjoys soaking in the warm rays as much as any other sentient creature on this planet.

That alone drives me to boycott the industries that treat cows–and any other animals for that matter–cruelly. Cows feel things. They enjoy lying in the sun and walking around, they show disheartening signs when separated from their offspring or when they’re milked for hours on end. And of course, they experience pain when they’re slaughtered without anesthesia.

While there are some people out there who proclaim unapologetically that meat is “tasty murder,” there are people that cringe when they’re faced with the reality of farming in today’s society. Understandably, many of these ugly thoughts are pushed away.

Even when documentaries such as Food Inc. and Vegucated are released and the cruelty of factory farming is brought to the forefront, people’s initial shock does not last long. In fact, it sometimes fades by the time they’re ready to eat their next meal.

I, however, cannot seem to compartmentalize in such a fashion. Ever since I discovered at 10-years-old that a hamburger was in fact cow’s flesh, it hasn’t left my mind.

But even I, for several years after, believed there was a true difference between the meat and dairy industry. After all, the meat industry takes the lives of animals for consumption. The dairy industry simply takes that which cows produce naturally to create delicious things like cheese.

Unfortunately, just as I stumbled upon the harsh facts of the meat industry, I soon learned that the dairy industry was not much different at all.

While it may be tempting to think that the milking of cows today occurs in a similar fashion to the way they show you on your elementary school trip to a farm, the reality of the matter is very different.

Because humans have genetically manipulated today’s dairy cows, they produce as much as 10 times more milk than they would naturally. Dairy cows are forcibly inseminated year after year in hopes of producing as much milk as possible from one cow before it dies.

This process of constant insemination, birth, and milking, is exhausting for cows, especially since there is often little space for them to lie down and relax. To top it off, calves are separated from their mothers mere minutes after they are born. The offspring are taken to a different part of the facility where they receive artificial milk while humans take the natural milk that was intended for them.

While imagining this entire situation happening is enough to discourage me from consuming dairy, there are a number of other reasons that drove me to go fully vegan.

For one, dairy is not as valuable to our diets as the media has led us to believe. In fact, cheese is one of the largest sources of saturated fat in the American diet.

Producing meat and dairy is also terribly destructive for our environment. In addition to the huge amount of food that is fed to animals instead of given to hungry people, the water usage within the dairy industry is equally astronomical.

Water is required to hydrate cows as well as clean parlor floors, walls, and milking equipment. Nineteen percent of the global water footprint of agriculture is related to dairy cows.

Between my love for animals and my love for the environment, it didn’t make sense for me to continue consuming dairy products guilt-free.

I now follow a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, as well as mock meats and cheeses, and meals from a large variety of vegan restaurants in New York to satisfy any craving.

It may be difficult for some people to imagine a life without meat or dairy, and many even feel bad for me, quick to assume that my diet is bland and flavorless.

But I assure all who I encounter that this is far from the truth. Veganism is not about only limiting foods. It’s about learning about new foods.

And what I lose in convenience, I gain in compassion, and honestly, I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.