I will preface this article by stating the following: I love steak. I love chicken. I love fish. I love eggs and cheese and honey and just about anything derived from animals. Animal products have played an enormous role in my diet since the day I was born. But not anymore. Why?
Shouldn’t I be saying that I used to love steak, chicken, fish, and all the rest? No. Hypothetically, I still love those things. I won’t deny that a perfectly grilled steak tastes delicious. I won’t lie and say that I’m totally over fried chicken. I’m not. Those things are great, and there’s a reason man loves to eat the flesh of animals: It tastes good and leaves you feeling full and satisfied.
So, what’s the problem, then? Why stop? Why not eat meat? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those questions since I started eating a plant-based diet. And to be honest, I can’t tell you how many different answers I’ve given. They’ve ranged from “I’m doing it because I care about the environment” to “I’m doing it because I think the ethics of factory farming are horrible and I would rather not ingest meat that has been tainted with hormones, antibiotics, and a slew of God-knows what else.” Other answers include “I don’t eat cheese or drink milk because, while I think milk is good for you if you’re a baby cow, I don’t see it benefiting man in any way that other plant-based options can’t.”
Notice here how animal rights or their feelings aren’t factoring in very high, if at all. Do I think man has an inherent desire and predisposition to eat animals? No doubt about it. Some vegans will deny this, but they must be kidding themselves. Personally, I have to look no further than a mirror to know I was designed to eat meat. Sharp teeth, strong legs, and a big brain played a large role in allowing us to hunt down and eat large (and small) animals of all kinds. Moreover, the smell of a barbecue in the distance makes me salivate. Why is that? Is it because I was conditioned in this life to like meat? Or is it because something has been passed down through the generations that makes me seek out a steak cooked medium rare? I’d argue it’s the latter. When our ancestors were starving in the bush, they looked to the animal kingdom for cues. And what is it that they saw? Animals eating other animals, all day long. But those same animals also ate grasses, vegetables, fruits and everything else the plant kingdom had to offer.
You’ll notice earlier I mentioned animal rights and their feelings. As the apex predator on this planet, I believe man can (and will) do as he wants. That doesn’t mean he should. If I lived in the woods 15,000 years ago and was getting tired of eating berries, I’d probably hunt down a rabbit or deer and really enjoy that meal. I don’t have a problem with that. But today, sitting around in our homes and offices all day and coming home to a meal of factory farmed meat as we do, I can’t help but be conscious of the enormous disconnect that exists between our bodies and the natural environment. Add to this the fact that factory farmed meat is derived from animals that live in squalid conditions, hardly see daylight, and are pumped full of chemicals their entire lives, I find it increasingly more difficult to allow myself to believe their meat could be considered “healthy” in any way. Visit a factory farm if you can. Look one up online if you can’t. They are dirty. The animals are stressed. Many of them are sick. They subsist on diets not meant for their digestive systems in the wild. In fact, many of these animals eat their own fecal matter, and worse, each other. I care about my health. Eating a sad, stressed, dirty animal just doesn’t seem right to me, no matter how delicious that poor creature’s meat may taste. (Try reading Mad Cowboy, authored by a cattle rancher turned vegan who has firsthand knowledge of all these claims and much, much more).
Now, if I had the heart to raise and slaughter my own animals, I might still eat meat. For the time being, I don’t see that happening. But, even if I did have the heart to kill animals myself and eat their meat, is it really necessary for my survival? My whole life I have been led to believe that a diet without animal protein would make you weak, gaunt, pale and ugly. Strong people eat meat and drink milk. Everyone knows that, right? Well, I’ll be the first to say that I was wrong. Through the research and findings of individuals like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (who used to be a dairy farmer, by the way), I discovered that not only can you survive without meat and dairy, but that you can thrive. But it gets better, because not only can you thrive without meat and dairy, you can dramatically decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke by cutting those things out of your diet. It sounds ridiculous, but the research is there to back it all up.
Say the research is wrong. Pretend the amount of water that goes into factory-farming is negligible. And never mind the ethical question of raising billions of animals in horrible conditions only to slaughter them through methods that are often painful and inhumane. Look past the fact that we are depleting the world's natural fisheries, often killing "good" animals like dolphins and seals in the process. Say none of that factored in. Would it change my approach to a plant-based diet?
I can only speak from personal experience, but ever since dropping meat, I have actually gained muscle mass and weight - something that even surprised me. I can lift heavier at the gym, I feel better, I have more energy, and my recent blood tests indicate a significant drop in my cholesterol levels. Overall, and my medical results prove it, I am doing better from a health-oriented perspective. More importantly, I feel like I am doing something good - not just for me, but for the planet. When I became a father, I realized that the time for pointing fingers for all of the world's problems was over. I had to do my part. I had to be responsible for playing a role in creating the kind of world I want to leave for my children. If giving up meat and dairy allows me to live longer and not contribute to a system that wrecks our land and waters, makes people sick, and plays with genetics and chemicals for an end goal that has little to do with health and more to do with corporate profit, greed, and short-sightedness, then I am all for it.
That's why I'm a vegan.