Many people have heard the word "vegan" but don't know exactly what it means, how being a vegan is different from being a vegetarian, or why a person might choose to live a vegan lifestyle.
Vegans, like vegetarians, do not eat meat. Vegans and vegetarians do not consume meat from any animals - including cows, pigs, chickens, deer, fish, clams, or any other creature that was once living. This decision may be based on concerns about the person's own health or the inhumane treatment of animals or both.
The vegan diet goes beyond the vegetarian diet by eliminating all other animal-derived products. Vegans do not eat eggs, dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.), or honey, since all of these come from animals. Because egg and dairy products have been linked to health problems and allergies in humans, the decision to maintain a vegan diet may be as much about health issues as animal welfare issues.
Animal farming also has tremendous consequences for the environment, and many people choose a vegan lifestyle in order to reduce their personal negative impact on the earth. In fact, some argue that becoming vegan does much more to help the environment than driving a hybrid electric car!
The vegetarian stance proclaims that animal-derived products such as eggs and dairy are acceptable to eat since animals are not killed in order to procure them. While this seems true on the surface, a little research reveals that animals are, in fact, killed as a direct result of the egg and dairy industries.
In addition, animals that are farmed (even for products other than meat) are subjected to horrific living conditions. Some of these practices are constant forced pregnancies for dairy cows, separating mother cows from their newborn babies, debeaking chickens without anesthetic, and cramming birds into cages without sufficient room to move.
Sadly, free-range and cage-free farms offer hardly anything in terms of improved living conditions for farm animals. And at the end of their milk- or egg-producing lives, they are roughly forced onto trucks and taken to the slaughterhouse, just like their counterparts on farms that are not free-range or cage-free. Without going into gory details, it is sufficient to say that very few of us could stomach the conditions at the slaughterhouse.
Veganism is not simply about maintaining an animal-free diet. The goal of veganism is to eliminate, as much as possible, the exploitation of animals for the benefit of humans. Vegans choose household and personal care items that do not contain animal ingredients and that are not tested on animals. They do not use wool, leather, fur or other products derived from animals. Nor do they exploit animals for entertainment, considering zoos, rodeos, and animal circuses to be sources of animal cruelty.
Being vegan means making choices to reduce animal suffering. However, there are animal-derived materials in so many products in our modern society that it would be impossible to live a completely vegan lifestyle. Animals' bodies are used in plastic bags, car tires, a number of medicines, brake fluid, concrete, cardboard, and paper - to name just a few products!
Given this reality, vegans strive to do their best in their own lives, doing what they feel they are able to do in order to reduce animal exploitation. In the process, they positively impact the earth's environment and also improve their own personal health.
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If you are interested in improving your health, helping the environment, and standing against animal cruelty, please visit the author's website for more information about various aspects of vegan living: Vegan Journey.