Frequently Asked Questions
Won’t it take more land to grow plants to feed people?
No. Vegan diets use about a third of the land to produce food for the same number of people.
Won’t the animals just die anyway? And if we don’t eat the animals, won’t they overrun the world?
Animals are killed for food because consumers create demand for animal products: 60 billion land animals are farmed and killed for food each year, globally. If we refuse to buy animal products, producers will have no reason to continue breeding and slaughtering animals.
Won’t traditional farm animals become extinct if we stop eating them?
Perhaps, in the long term (hard to imagine today, when they outnumber humans many times over). But we’re more worried about the thousands of animal and plant species that are made extinct every year, often as a result, directly or indirectly, of the livestock industry through land- clearing and deforestation.
What about insects killed by pesticides or during harvest? Or small field animals (mice, snakes) killed by combine harvesters, for example?
While insect sentience is not yet well understood, and most people might value the life of a sheep more than that of an ant, our perspective is to avoid harm wherever it is unnecessary. Pesticides are an unfortunate reality of industrial crop farming, and even as a vegan it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid. However, eating plants directly does reduce this component of animal suffering, since animal-based diets use much more by way of crops, indirectly. Choosing organic where possible and supporting small-scale, local farms is another way you can reduce your impact.
Why not vegetarian?
Although the animals whose secretions (such as milk and eggs) are used by vegetarians are not overtly farmed for their flesh, they suffer immensely during their lifetimes and are eventually slaughtered in the same slaughterhouses as "meat"-producing animals, as soon as their production begins to decline. Their flesh is then used for "meat", for human consumption or for the pet-food industry. The meat, dairy, and egg industries are inextricably linked, and it is not possible to support one without buying into the others. According to a report from WWF-SA and the Green House, roughly half of the beef in South Africa comes from the dairy industry.
Why should I concern myself with nonhuman animal suffering when there are so many people suffering in the world?
While the problem of human suffering is serious, it is also complex and the solutions are not necessarily straightforward. The problem of farm animal suffering, on the other hand, has a simple solution: stop eating them. We have choices to make every time we sit down to eat: eat animals, or eat plants. That said, there’s nothing stopping us from being philanthropic towards other humans, as well as making ethical food choices. In fact many vegans are active humanitarians. As Peter Singer (considered by many to have kicked off the animal rights movement), puts it, “the idea that “humans come first” is more often used as an excuse for not doing anything about either human or nonhuman animals than as a genuine choice between incompatible alternatives... [W]hen non-vegetarians say that “human problems come first,” I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.”
What about free-range farms?
While free range farms might give the animals a bit more space than non-free range farms, most of the cruelty associated with farming animals still applies. To take some examples: the chickens still have their beaks “trimmed”; male calves are separated from their mothers and killed for veal and leather; male chicks are gassed or macerated the day they are born; and finally, all these animals, free- range or not, go to the same slaughterhouses to face the same grim, terrifying death. Free range animals are still viewed as objects that are to be used and fed to humans. In South Africa, there is no legislation to guide “free range” farming of animals; and the only guidelines that do exist are generated and monitored by the industry itself (e.g. the SA Poultry Association)—not by third-party independent groups.
What about kosher or halaal?
While the religious laws that describe how animals should be killed for food might have originated with good intentions, slaughter is still slaughter, and kosher and halaal slaughterhouses are guilty of animal cruelty and torture that is as bad as any others.
Why not change the laws?
With decades of animal welfare reforms, movements and campaigns behind us, we’ve yet to see significant changes. Factory farming is bigger and more cruel than ever. The only way to guarantee better lives for animals is to stop using them.
What about “organic”?
Just as with “free range” animals, “organic” animals suffer many of the same problems. In South Africa, “organic” egg farms obtain their laying hens from hatcheries that are owned by Nulaid (the largest egg producing company in the country), where they exterminate male chicks according to SA Poultry Association standards (gassing or maceration).
What about the large tracts of non-arable land, that would be wasted if not used for grazing animals?
That land would not be wasted if not used for grazing livestock, it would be returned to its natural state, with an ecosystem of plant and animal life that cohabit without human interference. We shouldn’t need to use that land for food, since plant-based diets require far less land to produce enough food for everyone.
What do you think about eating fish?
Fish are so very different from humans, that the common misconception is that they have a 15-second memory and don’t suffer. Recent research has, however, been disproving this. Fish are sentient, and they’re actually quite smart. They can feel pain and play games. Given this, we probably shouldn’t be giving them so little consideration.
How does consuming milk and other dairy products hurt cows?
Cows only lactate when they are pregnant or have just given birth. So, to keep the milk flowing, dairy farmers artificially inseminate the cows about once a year. Once a dairy cow gives birth, her calf is taken away from her after just a few days, since allowing him or her to suckle would leave less milk for humans. If the calf is a girl, she goes into the same milking system; if he’s a boy, he’ll be sent to a veal farm, or slaughtered for his soft skin. And of course, once the mother cows aren’t producing enough milk for the farmers’ wallets (usually when they are about 5 years old, despite having a natural lifespan of about 20 years), they go to slaughter as well, to become ground beef.
Do you think it is wrong to keep an animal for a pet?
While there doesn’t appear to be an official “vegan position” on this, it seems logical to avoid supporting the breeding of “pets”, when there are already thousands of dogs and cats that need homes. Since humans domesticated these animals so that they are now dependent on us, we have a responsibility to take care of them. If you are in a position to commit to them for the rest of their years, adopting a furry friend from a shelter is a win-win. On diet, dogs are omnivores and can thrive on a well-planned vegan diet, while cats are obligate carnivores and must be fed meat.
What about animal experimentation?
Sadly, many cosmetic companies still test their products (or the ingredients) on animals, however there are plenty of cruelty-free brands on the market nowadays. Unfortunately, however, experimentation on animals in the medical and pharmaceutical field is still widespread, and it is hard, if not impossible, to avoid using medical products or procedures that did use animals somewhere in the process.
Isn’t it hard to go vegan?
It depends on your personality and your particular context. Some find it really hard to give up particular foods and need to make more effort to rethink their dinner plates; others dive right in with no problem. Sometimes, having friends and family that are not willing to listen and understand your shift will make it a challenge emotionally —in this case, meeting other like-minded folk is important so that you don’t feel alone in your new outlook.
Isn’t being vegan expensive?
Nope, unless you’re eating lots of processed products and imported “superfoods”. Whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruit (which form the basis of a healthy vegan diet) are much, much cheaper than meat and dairy.
I want to be vegan, but how can I give up the taste of milk, cheese, and ice cream?
Don’t stress, we don’t live in the ‘70s any more. There are plenty of commercial vegan alternatives to dairy treats, and if you can’t find any, there are many recipes online that you could try, such as almond milk, cashew cheese and coconut milk ice cream.
Is vegan the same as raw?
No. Raw foodists do not heat their food above a certain temperature. While most tend to be vegan (or almost vegan), raw foodism doesn’t necessarily exclude animal foods such as honey, fish and even some other meats. A vegan ethic has nothing to do with how food should be cooked—only that food should come from plants, not animals.
What about honey?
While some people have differing opinions about this, honey is not strictly vegan since it is produced by bees, which are animals. There is a big spectrum of production practices with honey: smaller operations tend to be more ethical than industrial scale beekeeping, where the bees are trucked around the country (sometimes across continents) to pollinate orchards and fields, and their honey is removed to be sold to humans, and replaced with glucose water that provides the bees with none of the nutritional benefits of their own honey.
What about silk?
Silk is produced by silkworms, which spin cocoons for themselves before transforming into moths. To produce silk, humans interrupt this process by gassing or boiling the millions of silkworms inside their cocoons, and unspinning the fine silk threads, and re-spinning them into silk cloth for human use.
What about leather?
Leather is often thought of as simply a by-product of the meat industry, when in fact it is a very profitable endeavour, which has the effect of propping up the meat industry and making it more commercially viable. By boycotting leather, you are making the meat industry less profitable. Moreover, leather production is very destructive to the environment, particularly the tanning process, which makes use of very harsh chemicals. There are many alternatives to leather available nowadays, and the technology gets better every year.
What about wool?
Wool production is a huge industry that exploits millions of sheep. The selective breeding of these animals to grow more wool means that they grow great folds of skin, inviting flies to lay their eggs. Farmers cut off these folds of skin, without anaesthetic, a practice called “mulesing”. When the sheep’s wool productivity declines, they are slaughtered for meat. The fact is simply that wool- producing sheep are viewed as profit-generating commodities, not as sentient beings with interests of their own.
Is a vegan diet healthy?
A vegan diet can be very healthy indeed. Conversely, it’s not too difficult (nowadays at least) to be a junk-food vegan, what with all the processed vegan foods that are available in supermarkets. A whole-foods, vegan diet (which by default excludes highly processed foods) is certainly healthy, and eliminates the problem that saturated fats and dietary cholesterol pose, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
Can vegans build strong muscles?
For sure! There are loads of vegan athletes and bodybuilders out there. In fact, many athletes choose a plant-based diet to optimise their performance. Here are a few that you could look up online: Frank Medrano (body builder) Matt Danzig (mixed martial arts) Fiona Oakes (marathon runner) Rich Roll (ultraman) Carl Lewis (olympic sprinter) Madi Serpico (triathlete) Henry Akins (Ju Jitsu master) Scott Jurek (ultramarathon runner) Brendan Brazier (triathlete)
Isn’t soy bad?
No, soy is not “bad”. Unfortunately there are some interest groups (funded by animal industry in some cases) that have made it their mission to demonise soy, as it is often a default food for new vegetarians and vegans and therefore reduces the market share of meat and dairy. Soy has been consumed by humans for millennia, and has actually been shown to reduce the incidence of some cancers. The phytoestrogen (plant-based estrogen) that is found in soy is not the same as the estrogen that our bodies produce, so guys, you definitely shouldn’t be worried about getting “moobs”.