A brief introduction to veganism for non-vegans

So why would anyone want to be a vegan anyway?

People choose to be vegan for various reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • Animal welfare concerns
  • The high environmental impact of producing animal products
  • To choose a healthy diet
  • Moral objections to creating and killing living creatures
  • Because of allergies
  • Concerns about the increasing intensification of farming
  • Through belief that animals are not the property of humans to be used
  • Concerns over antibiotics and hormones sometimes found in animal products
  • For religious reasons

The decision to become vegan is generally made for wider reasons than just food itself, such as not liking the taste or texture of animal products.

What good does being vegan do?

  • Vegan diets produce much lower 'eco-footprints' than omnivorous ones, because they require a much smaller amount of land, water and crops
  • Causes fewer environmental problems such as deforestation, water pollution (from slurry run-off) and greenhouse gases (globally, livestock production produces a greater amount of greenhouse gases than transport)
  • Doesn't contribute to the increasing intensification of food animal production, driven by global demand for more animal products and consumer and supermarket pressure for cheaper prices, which has led to very poor welfare standards for many animals
  • Often corresponds to a healthier diet, as a balanced vegan diet based on vegetables, wholegrains, fruits and pulses is high in vitamins, minerals and fibre and low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar and excess protein

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What does "being vegan" actually mean?

The Vegan Society defines vegan lifestyles as "ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose".

The basic "requirement" for being a vegan is to avoid consuming any food animal products. This is sometimes referred to as "dietary veganism". Many vegans also try to avoid the use of non-food animal products, such as leather clothing or cosmetics which have been tested on animals.

As many people become vegan out of concern for the environment, the lifestyle can also lead to an increased awareness of ways to reduce our environmental impact in other areas of life, such as recycling, using eco-friendly cleaning products or buying locally produced in-season fruit and vegetables.

However, the vegan lifestyle isn't about a whole list of things to give up or deprive ourselves of. It's about choosing alternative - not inferior - ways of eating and living.

But why bother?

It is perfectly possible, and nowadays increasingly easy, to live a healthy and happy life without the use of animal products, particularly in countries such as the UK where we have a plentiful and varied supply of food and we don't need to wear clothing made from animals to protect us from extreme cold. Therefore many vegans decide that it is preferable to avoid this unnecessary use of animal products than to participate in situations with which they do not agree, such as animal cruelty or environmental damage. With such a wide variety of food choices in shops, vegan options in restaurants and an ever-increasing variety of non-food products such as cruelty-free cosmetics and animal-free footwear, living a vegan lifestyle is no longer 'difficult' or 'challenging' but on the whole a pleasureable way of life.