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As we begin our journey into the twenty-first century, society has turned to the Internet to find out what is going on with the world. With society searching for all the answers on their computers, we may soon be finding solutions to what and how we should be eating. Often, the articles read may be misleading and do not cover both sides of the issue. In recent years, several dietary movements have arisen from the objection to the inhumane treatment of animals. Medical evidence has linked these diets to many health benefits and risks. Dieting and the types of food that we consume have been shown to affect our lives in ways that we have been unaware of, such as cholesterol levels, heart disease, and colon cancer. These types of diseases in western societies are results of excess, rather than of deficiency. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have a lower risk for these diseases (http://envirolink.org/arrs/vo/ArgumentMedical.html). With medical arguments in favor of cutting meat out of one's diet, a more extreme vegetarian diet has gained attention. A vegan diet is considered a strict type of vegetarianism. In this article, I will define veganism and also outline the beneficial qualities and concerns of following this type of diet as research has shown.
What is Veganism?
Veganism is the strict following of a vegetarian diet in which no animal products are consumed. This diet excludes any meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Many vegans must take supplements to obtain the vitamins and minerals needed for one's health, which are missing from diet alone. Being vegan is not only following a scheduled diet, but also a complete lifestyle. The "perfect vegan" bans any type of animal products such as leather and animal-tested cosmetics from their life.
Veganism has its origins in the inhumane treatment of animals. Many vegans have done research into the livestock business and have found disturbing results. By witnessing institutionalized cruelty, vegans support their plight with this documentation and work together to promote their cause. Many vegans feel that it is not only a diet, but the embodiment of ahimsa-- the philosophy of non-violence towards and all-encompassing respect for all sentient beings (http://envirolink.org/arrs/vo/BeingVegan.html). Vegans are also concerned with the environment. A report issued by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior says that 1/3 of all raw materials consumed in the U.S. are involved in the production of our animal-based foods, as is over half of the water (http://envirolink.
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Society may wonder what the health benefits of veganism are and how they may improve one's own life. For one, heart disease is strongly correlated with high levels of cholesterol, which is an occurrence of animal products. Contamination from antibiotics, hormones, and other toxins that have accumulated in animal fat is another risk associated with meat eating. Other animal-related diseases include colon cancer and osteoporosis due excessive protein intake. By following a vegan diet, one decreases one's risk of these diseases. In the words of Michael Klaper, M.D., "Your body has absolutely no nutritional requirement for the flesh or milk of other animals" (http://envirolink.org/arrs/vo/ArgumentHealth.html).
Veganism in Our Society
In today's society, the convenience of living a vegan lifestyle versus a non-vegan lifestyle is most definitely unequal. For non-vegans, one can simply drive to the nearest fast food restaurant without worrying about the ingredients in their food order. One can shop at the local grocery store and find all of the items they need to consume a balanced diet without additional supplementation. Not only is the availability of food easily accessible, but also less costly. A ninety-nine cent cheeseburger is often more appealing to a hungry customer than the $3.99 salad. Vegans, on the other hand, must schedule meals to fulfill their daily intake of all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Most vegans prepare their own meals instead of eating out to cut down on the cost and the possibility of consuming any type of animal product. Most vegans also have to take other supplements along with their food to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Among these supplements, the most common one that is consumed is vitamin B12. With the pace of society, veganism is a difficult lifestyle to lead due to convenience and cost.
While most pro-vegans claim that their diet is nutritionally sound, I have found discrepancies and the essential need for supplementation. A well balanced vegan diet can provide all the essential nutrients you require and shares the same health advantages as a vegetarian diet (http://www.veg.org/veg/Orgs/VegSocUK/Info/veganutr.html). This statement for most individuals is not true. Most vegans take some type of vitamin or mineral supplementation. The B-vitamins are the most commonly used types of supplement because the deficiencies of B2, B6, and B12 are frequent. A study performed by the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand (1991) concluded that the B-vitamin status of any type of vegetarian should be checked regularly.
Other veganism concerns involve pregnant and lactating women and children. Pregnancy is a time when a woman must increase the amount of nutritional needs not only for herself, but also for her fetus. During her pregnancy, a woman must consume a higher recommendation of vitamins and minerals than usual. A series of studies [2,3] at the Farm, a community where vegan diets are part of a socially responsible lifestyle, have shown that vegans can have healthy pregnancies and that infants and children can safely follow a vegan diet (http://envirolink.org/arrs/VRG/vegan_pregnancy.html). In contradiction to these studies, many physicians have found vitamin deficiencies in not only the mothers, but their infants which suffer from various disorders. Because vegan mothers believe that their breast milk is best for their infant, these children suffer the risk of inadequate nutrients from their diet. "Sklar's laboratory data of a vegan mother's lethargic infant (1986) revealed macrocytic anemia and methylmalonic acid in the urine, consistent with vitamin B12 deficient anemia." Another study performed at University Children's Hospital Basel in Switzerland (1991) showed the effects of a vegan mother's breast-fed infant. The infant suffered from dystrophy, weakness, muscular atrophy, loss of tendon reflexes, psychomotor regression, and haematological abnormalities resulting from low concentrations of vitamin B12 in the infant and mother. These potential disorders in the infants of vegan mothers should be a concern for future pregnancies and proper supplements should be taken.
Another growing concern is the number of vegan children. While there are many concerns with children, diet must be a primary one. Making sure that children obtain enough of the nutritional vitamins and minerals that they need for growth and development is essential. Many studies concerning vegan children have shown potential obstacles that can be resolved.. Problems that have occurred with vegan diets include "limited volumetric capacity of the stomach of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; low-caloric-density foods eaten by vegans; limited food choices; and restriction of number of meals and snacks eaten by vegan children (Truesdell and Acosta, 1985)." Parents must take extra care when raising a child in a vegan lifestyle to ensure that they are following a healthy diet. If these pitfalls are avoided and supplementation provided, children can safely follow a vegan diet and maintain normal growth and developmental standards.
The vegan movement is solidly based on documented facts of inhumane treatment to animals. The vegan lifestyle is a very well-planned schedule that is to be followed to maintain a healthy existence among all animals. These vegan individuals are seeking to maintain a natural diet without any animal products, but have to consume various supplements to achieve a daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. The concept of a natural diet is misguided if one must keep a constant stock of supplements on hand to sustain one's own health. Throughout history and beginning with the hunter-gatherer societies, humans have depended on other animals for nutrition and survival. To completely disgard this way of life would be unnatural to human society.
Furthermore, this way of life is hardly convenient in today's society. Many restaurants have vegetarian plates, but do not serve strict vegan meals. The social-eating aspect of a vegan's life is quite limited. Unless a vegan lives in a community such as the Farm, life is regimented to the daily counting of vitamins and nutrients in one's meals and the constant checking of animal ingredients. However, the vegans feel so strongly about their foundation that they have created support groups, such as Vegan Outreach, to help those caught up with the frustrations that are faced each day. There are also many other resources, including cookbooks and new animal-free products, to ease the burden of vegan life in today's society. Overall, the vegan lifestyle has hardly been embraced by society. For the most part, this way of life will continue to be an uphill battle until its acceptance.
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