Veganism. History, myths and facts

The ever-increasing knowledge about the functioning of the livestock farming industry, the situation that billions of animals live in some of its facilities and its environmental impact have activated the morale of many people. Today, tens of millions of people have decided to stop collaborating with this industry because of the scenes of torture and mistreatment to animals that occasionally occur. To this end, they have brought about a radical and revolutionary change in their way of life and have decided to abandon the consumption of meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, fish, etc. for the sake of vegan philosophy. However, there are still too many doubts about what veganism is, what its objectives and premises are and what its arguments are. In Periérgeia we reveal the keys of a movement that seeks to change the world for the better

More and more people are vegan or vegetarian. A simple glance at our social circle or at the television quickly proves it: Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, David Duchovny, Alissa White-Gluz, Jane Goodall, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart… All of them are well-known names that to a greater or lesser extent follow or have followed these movements. But although we may have heard the word “vegan” or “veganism” sometimes, many people are unsure about what they are referring to. Therefore, the question is obvious: What is veganism?

Veganism is a social movement (that is, according to the definition provided by the Italian sociologist Alberto Melucci, a form of collective and solidary action against a particular conflict that breaks the limits of the social system in which it develops) whose main interest is to ensure the welfare of animals exploited and subjected to our designs. To this end, the people who defend veganism, that is, the vegans, have taken a series of measures that are reflected in important changes in their way of life. The most notable changes are in the diet that these people now follow: focusing on strict vegans, they do not eat animals (neither meat nor fish) or any product coming from them (eggs, dairy products, honey). On the other hand, in order to distinguish them from vegetarians, the latter can consume derived products, such as eggs or milk or both (ovo-lacto-vegetarians). Likewise, strict vegans avoid wearing garments, accessories or make-up whose manufacture has involved the animal exploitation. If we turn to the institution that is at the origin of this movement, The Vegan Society, the definition of veganism would be, as reflected in one of its memoranda (we will see later that it is not the only one):

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Therefore, it is also included among the objectives of veganism to achieve an environmental improvement through these practices and health itself. Many of its militants often consider veganism as the only way to ensure the welfare of animals. Veganism, unlike classical social movements that seek legislative and/or political metamorphoses, is fundamentally about achieving and maintaining a daily change in personal lifestyle that leads to less animal suffering. It is true that this definition does not include all practitioners of veganism, as there are different degrees and cases in which, for example, certain animal products are included according to personal and individual definitions of what it is to be vegan. These variants and alternatives to strict veganism have led to internecine wars within the movement practically from its origins and, as we will see below, these clashes have largely determined the veganism of our day.

The controversial origins of veganism

Jain shield. Religiones de todos

Although the description of veganism that we have provided is very recent, it is possible to find ancestral philosophies and beliefs that converge in certain aspects with current veganism. This is the case of Jainism, an ancient Hindu religion. Its followers practice the principle of non-violence or ahimsa and an extreme respect towards every living being, practices that they consider essential to achieve liberation and perfection of the soul. Jains consider that killing any form of life adds karma to the soul, as if it were a kind of prison that makes it difficult for the soul to return to its true home. Jains go even further than vegans, because in their concern for everything that is alive or contains a soul they also include plants. It is practiced by about 4 million people in India and in many curious ways. For example, many of their monks roam the streets completely naked; they reject any garment because it is of animal or vegetable origin.

Many of them also usually cover their mouths with a cloth to avoid accidentally ingesting insects and even take with them a broom to sweep the road they are going to pass and thus clear this of insects to avoid stepping on them. Obviously, in one way or another they end up killing a living being to feed and subsist, although it is also true that it is a religion that has a large number of ascetics who feed as little as possible. Some practitioners even use a cloth as a filter when drinking water so as not to ingest microscopic beings.

Jain monks with their unique ways of protecting life. En Buenas Manos

As we can see, vegetarian and vegan philosophies are closely linked to spirituality. However, they also have an extremely interesting link to esoteric spirituality. In fact, some of the most ardent defenders of these movements, as well as of environmentalism and the defense of nature, were theosophists. Theosophy is a philosophical-religious reformist movement that sought to break with the excessive materialism and rationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by recovering spiritual traditions (many of Eastern origin) to integrate them with materialistic science. Its founders were Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, better known as Madame Blavatsky, a woman with a surprising and extremely curious biography, and by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. Theosophy, which has clear Masonic influences, had such fame and power of attraction that personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Eddison were part of its ranks. Well, some of these theosophists carried out a series of pilot projects of alternative societies with features very similar to those that decades later would be supported by the acolytes of the counterculture and the New Age. They consisted in the creation of a kind of idyllic communes installed in places far from the modern world, such as the one founded at the end of the 1880s on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in Ascona, Switzerland, and known as Fraternitas, with the aim of vindicating the possibility of a more spiritual alternative society that would return to an ancestral and magical contact with nature. The acquisition of vegetarian habits, which were often accompanied by a profound rejection of vivisection and, consequently, by the defence of animals (perhaps this is the seed of contemporary animalism, an esoteric origin) would form part of this philosophy that wanted to break with materialism.

However, the vegan movement as such began in 1944. In that year the seed of the aforementioned The Vegan Society, the world’s first vegan organization, came into being. The father and main promoter of this initiative was the British Donald Watson (1910 – 2005), born in South Yorkshire, who together with his wife Dorothy were the inventors of the neologism “vegan”, which comes from the shortening of the word “VEGetariAN”. The idea came to them after a proposal by two of the first members of the organization, G. A. Henderson and Fay K. Henderson, who proposed naming the newborn organization and its quarterly magazine Allvega and Allvegan respectively.

Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society, the first vegan organization of the world. The Vegan Society

The embryo of this organization can be found in a petition that Watson sent to Vegetarian Messenger, the weekly publication of the British Vegetarian Society, urging vegetarians to go a step further and, in addition to meat, also abandon eggs, dairy products and derivatives. The group disavowed that proposition but offered to publicise and disseminate Watson’s manuscripts and even invited him to found a new group. Watson began to publish a humble newsletter. It was in the second edition that he proposed to its subscribers to found a new group based on the principles of veganism.

Watson’s request to the British Vegetarian Society to go a step further and avoid the consumption of animal products. Vegan Society Today

In 1945 Watson chaired a small committee that met in London in which the name of the organization was decided and the first manifesto was published. In that manifesto the purposes of The Vegan Society were established, which broadly speaking are the following: to exclude any animal or product derived from diet and to promote the use of goods that are not of animal origin. In other words, in its beginnings the vegan movement was concerned exclusively about the welfare of animals, and particularly their consumption rather than their treatment (something that would change over time). In fact, Watson became vegan not only because of the avoidance of animal exploitation but also because of the resulting health benefits. Both he and Dugald Semple, another important figure in the history of veganism (he co-founded the organization along with Watson), claimed that improved health was another of the benefits of converting to veganism. Environmental concern would be coined by some vegans later, as can be seen in later manifestos.

In 1945 Watson chaired a small committee that met in London in which the name of the organization was decided and the first manifesto was published. In that manifesto the purposes of The Vegan Society were established, which broadly speaking are the following: to exclude any animal or product derived from diet and to promote the use of goods that are not of animal origin. In other words, in its beginnings the vegan movement was concerned exclusively about the welfare of animals, and particularly their consumption rather than their treatment (something that would change over time). In fact, Watson became vegan not only because of the avoidance of animal exploitation but also because of the resulting health benefits. Both he and Dugald Semple, another important figure in the history of veganism (he co-founded the organization along with Watson), claimed that improved health was another of the benefits of converting to veganism. Environmental concern would be coined by some vegans later, as can be seen in later manifestos.

Watson was an interesting character. He claimed that he had been strictly vegan since 1924, that is, he spent 81 years without eating anything that came from an animal always according to his testimony. As he commented in several interviews, he made the decision to follow a vegan diet after an event that he lived in his childhood and that marked him forever. It happened during a vacation on his uncle George’s farm. He felt a certain appreciation for his uncle’s pigs because they were happy when they saw him. Therefore, we must assume that when his uncle sacrificed one of the pigs, his impressionable childish mind was tremendously shocked, and that the blood and screams of the animal ended up engraved on fire in his memory.

However, although a term was coined for the newly created movement, it lacked a definition… until 1949. That year, the organization’s vice president, Leslie J. Cross, described veganism as:

“The principle of emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”.

Interestingly, at first there were disagreements about how to define veganism, specifically between Cross and Watson. While the latter defined veganism in a more moderate way (more similar to the definition given above), Cross argued that The Vegan Society should be transformed into an organization that ensured animal rights, which should therefore include opposition to all activities that include the mistreatment or subjugation of animals (e.g. fishing, bullfighting, hunting, cockfighting, dog fighting, vivisection…). In fact, Cross, who has been defined as purist and radical, argued that whoever wanted to be part of the organisation would be obliged to accept these requirements. Otherwise, their application for membership would be denied. And this second part, this imposition, is what caused the rejection of Watson and the rest of the founding members. It must be taken into account that Watson and his collaborators only asked for a basic requirement to be part of their organization that was expressed in the second edition of their bulletin:

“I desire to be enrolled as a Member of The Vegan Society, and during my period of membership I promise not to partake of fish, flesh, fowl, eggs, animals’ milk or any of its products, and also that I will not consciously use foods in any of the above are included. In their place I will use the wholesome products of the vegetable kingdom.”

This was the only obligation that had to be fulfilled if a person wanted to be part of The Vegan Society. In all other matters, such as wearing clothing or accessories from animals, the leaders of the society were more permissive, that is, they did not prohibit them although they encouraged to avoid them (this trait was inherited from the Vegetarian Society). However, it seems that this opposition to Cross’s wishes played against him, as in 1948 Watson left the leadership of the organisation, according to some historians, under pressure from Cross’ followers. Still, he and the founding members received honorary titles for life, recognizing his invaluable contributions to the movement. That same year Leslie Cross became part of the board of directors. In 1950, Cross was able to carry out his ruse by bringing into the organization a large number of animal rights advocates followers of his doctrine, so that he managed to control the organization’s votes and reach leadership. It was then that Cross took the opportunity to discredit as much as possible all those who had initially opposed his ideals, including the founder of the organization himself, replacing them with people he trusted and revoking their honorary titles. He also took the opportunity to modify the constitution of the organization and the definition of veganism, adjusting it to his initial proposals on animal rights. In later communiqués, Leslie Cross established that those self-proclaimed vegans who did not follow their vegan conception could not be considered as such, generating a kind of Apartheid within the vegan movement (his conception really permeated this movement, since today one can observe how the most recalcitrant sectors of veganism and animalism ignore all those people who do not follow his way of seeing the world). In later publications he also went so far as to state that he was the true founder of veganism and of the world’s first vegan organization and that Watson was not a true vegan at the time the organization was conceived, so it was not licit to consider him as the founder of the movement. It seems that his vision of veganism got annoying within the organization and several members abandoned their support, leaving Cross at the head of a decimated and economically impoverished organization. Leslie Cross eventually abandoned his leadership in 1957 and his precepts were replaced by a concept of veganism more in keeping with the more moderate version initially proposed by Donald Watson. The latter only appeared once again by the organization, in 1988, when the committee decided to restore its honorary title shortly after Cross’ death.

Currently, The Vegan Society defines veganism in a similar way to the one showed at the beginning of this article. As can be seen, it is a definition that is open to interpretation and that stresses the personal situation of each person. Veganism is defined as a personal search in order to avoid animal exploitation, but always to the extent of each person’s possibilities. That is to say, anyone who participates in this search is vegan according to this conception, therefore, these epistemological quarrels, sometimes disrespectful, about who can be vegan and who cannot, do not make much sense.

Clearly the origins and development of veganism were quite conflictive, something that did nothing but hinder the advance of the movement and the brotherhood between its followers. These clashes between the two factions of vegans (the Watson followers and the Cross followers, factions that have spread all over the world) have continued to occur constantly, so that the organization has fallen into the hands of some and others and suffering the relevant modifications (e.g., the definition of veganism has been modified 13 times). The truth is that it is wasted energy that could be used for a more effective dissemination of veganism to a wider public. However, regardless of the conflicts at The Vegan Society, this has not prevented veganism from expanding and an increasing number of people from opting for vegan activism.

The motivations of vegans

Veganism together with vegetarianism are movements that have been gaining followers for some time now. For example, according to a Gallup survey carried out in 1990, since 1988 the number of people following these philosophies has increased by 23%. In another survey, carried out this time by the company MORI, the opinion of 1997 was collected from people of 18 years and people over that age. Of the sample, 3% stated that they were vegetarian and 2% that they had been. After being asked about their motivations, 58% expressed reticence about the use of animals for food, 61% refused intensive animal husbandry, 49% were concerned about health problems arising from meat consumption (as a result of hormones and added chemicals) and only 8% were concerned about the high prices of animal products. Therefore, it seems that what motivates the majority of people who follow this way of life is animal welfare. Another more recent survey (2006) conducted in the United States estimated that approximately 8 million adults were vegetarians, of which 3.7 million were vegans. That is to say, we are facing a movement in clear growth and with more and more followers all over the world, which is also palpable in the sale of vegan and vegetarian alternatives in more and more establishments (restaurants, supermarkets, etc.).

It is worth dedicating a few lines to the reasons why an omnivorous person decides to follow one of these movements. The researchers Beardsworth and Keil, based on a survey realized to 76 British people included in two ranges of ages (26-30 and 31-35), established two paths of conversion: one gradual and another abrupt, although it is true that the motivation of each individual was practically unique. It seems that when it comes to taking the first route, the influence that people from our social environment can exert on us plays an important role. On the other hand, the knowledge of certain inhuman and cruel practices that can occur in animal husbandry and cattle ranching is the most remarkable factor that induces to take the abrupt path. The programmes and documentaries that show these aberrations have a lot to do with it, for example. It seems that the beginning of these practices begins after the independence of the parental control, since the parents tend to repress these behaviors. It is also interesting that a significant number of people who have followed the path of veganism (or vegetarianism) end up abandoning it after a certain period of time. Experts argue that those who experience some sort of “epiphany” or revelation are the ones who persevere the most.

According to different surveys conducted among vegetarian and vegan audiences, the main reason why people change their lifestyle towards a vegan or vegetarian way is their own health and ethical treatment of animals. Pixabay

Similar conclusions were reached by Nick Fox and Katie Ward, researchers at the University of Sheffield, in a survey of 33 people from the US, Canada and the UK, although in this case they were trying to understand the motivations for being vegetarian. Again, personal health and the ethical treatment of animals were the main motivations, followed by concern for the environment. A clear link between these movements and animalism can be observed.

Facts and myths of veganism

Like any ideology, veganism survives thanks to its followers and its aim is to attract more people. Logically, this has led to the creation of a set of arguments that is constantly repeated to emphasize the benefits of this movement. In general, it can be appreciated a series of points that appear repeatedly in pamphlets, conferences, Internet and social networks, and in Periérgeia we have taken charge of compiling some to analyze them and discern if everything that is poured on veganism is true or if there is no evidence about it. Below we present the analysis of a series of statements made by vegans and critics against veganism that are often repeated on social networks, blogs, etc., and that the reader can easily find by doing a simple web search.

  • Vegans continue to kill animals (source).

This statement is often used by non-vegan people in their discussions with vegans. However, it is absolutely true. It is estimated that each person consumes between half a kilo and one kilo of arthropods (mainly insects and arachnids, although fragments of their exoskeletons are also included) that are imperceptibly found in food. And this fact is even more feasible in organic plant products that have barely been treated with pesticides. It is so complicated, if not impossible, to prevent the existence of animals or their remains on a vegetable that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the institution responsible for regulating food and drug safety in the US, requires not to exceed a series of limit amounts of insects or insect remains on food. For example, broccoli should not contain more than 60 aphids per 100 grams.

It is impossible to remove arthropods or arthropod remains from our food. Mexico News Daily
According to ecologists, soya crops have caused significant damage to the environment. Are they really vegan? Diario San Rafael

In addition, there are many ways in which an individual kills animals leaving aside the consumption of meat. The mere fact of circulating with a vehicle entails the death of a multitude of invertebrates by impact and of vertebrates by accident, or the simple fact of walking entails the crushing of insects and other invertebrates. Nor can we ignore that the diet of vegans depends primarily on agriculture, which has various negative impacts on the environment (some types of agriculture more than others) such as deforestation, desertification or the emission of waste and residues. All this inherently entails a negative impact on biodiversity, as it is displaced by the loss of its habitat and is often doomed to extinction. A paradigmatic case is that of the soya industry, a vegetable whose traces can be followed up to a great diversity of foods that are usually found in the diets of vegan people (tofu, soya milk, chocolates, nutritious bars, soya bread). It should be borne in mind that it is one of the main sources of vegetable protein worldwide, although between 80-90% of crops are destined for livestock and the rest for human consumption. The main problem warned by ecologists is that soy monocultures are gaining ground to the rainforest in areas such as the Brazilian Amazon, causing significant damage to the environment. It is necessary more involvement of local governments to stop this damages and the adoption of measures so that soy cultivation is based on techniques more respectful with nature. Therefore, it should be debated if the consumption of this food and its derivatives, main food sources for many vegans, is really an ecological and vegan alternative.

  • It is scientifically proven that we do not need to consume products of animal origin to have good health (source). Eating is a necessity but eating animals is not (source).

This is relatively true, although it is necessary to qualify. Following a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet a person can dispense with animal products and enjoy good health. However, this is an obvious condition for anyone, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, if you want to keep nutrient levels within healthy ranges. These diets can be followed at any stage of a person’s life cycle according to the American Dietetic Association, with special caution in the most sensitive phases, as there have already been cases of infant deaths due to the negligence and unconsciousness of their parents (news).

It is necessary to clarify a confusion that usually appears in the vegan arguments in this regard, and is that being vegan does not mean being healthier. Many companies have taken advantage of the vegan boom to bring out their vegan products even though on the other hand they continue with their non-vegan activity. It is curious to see, for example, how Campofrío, a famous meat sausage company, began to offer the Vegalia brand of vegan sausages, or how La Piara offers vegan spreadable products, or how recently the Magnum ice cream company has just launched its Magnum Vegan. It’s like these companies are playing both sides, because obviously these and other companies continue with their previous activity in which animals continue to die and be exploited. It would therefore be interesting to discuss whether it really is vegan or not to fund these companies through their vegan products. However, what we want to emphasize is that many of the new vegan products available in the markets are processed and are loaded with additives, sugars, hydrogenated fats, refined oils, and so on. That is to say, they possess those same components that many people who decide to become vegans to improve the quality of their feeding avoided in their previous omnivorous diet because they considered that they were harmful. Consequently, vegans also need to make an insightful analysis of the food they eat and not be fooled by the labels on the packaging.

The new Magnum Vegan. Are they a real vegan alternative? Livekindly

On the other hand, it is true that by following a correctly balanced vegan diet a significant amount of benefits can be obtained. For example, these diets have been linked to lower risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, hypertension and certain types of cancer, such as colorectal and prostate cancer. It is also true that some research has found that in certain regions (such as China) the bone density of vegans is lower than that of ovo-lacto-vegetarians and omnivores due to insufficient intake of calcium and certain proteins, leading to an increased risk of bone fractures. This is possibly due to an unbalanced vegan diet, as in other cases there may be a lack of iron or certain essential amino acids. We therefore insist on the importance of a balanced and varied diet of vegan products to ensure good health.

  • Vegans can acquire the necessary amount of nutrients with their diet.

For all those who wonder if a vegan person can carry out a healthy and balanced diet and integrate all the necessary nutrients, the answer is yes. For example, by means of a balanced vegan diet an individual can acquire all the necessary proteins on a daily basis. In this respect there are many myths related to the lack of protein or amino acids in the vegan diet or the difference between animal and vegetable proteins. It is often argued that vegetable proteins are “incomplete”, that is, they lack the essential amino acids, which are those that our body is unable to synthesize. But the truth is that by making the right and varied combination of vegetables can meet the need for protein and acquire the same amino acids and proteins that if you were eating meat. There are also myths that vegans do not acquire the necessary amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and the vitamin B12. In the first case, it is true that it is difficult to get the right amounts of omega 3 if fish or eggs are not in the diet, but currently there are supplements and fortified foods with these fatty acids, in addition to algae, which are also rich in this nutrient. Something similar happens with vitamin B12. This vitamin is found mainly in meat, milk and eggs. One might therefore think that vegans lack this nutrient. Nothing could be further from the truth, as there are supplements and fortified foods that already include this vitamin (soy derivatives or rice drinks). And the same could be said of calcium, iron and so many other nutrients. Therefore, we could conclude that carrying out a balanced diet, taking into account the nutritional deficiencies that can occur and knowing the supplements and fortified foods adequate to solve them should not occur any major health problems. Although it must always be borne in mind that each organism is a world, so it never hurts the advice of an expert nutritionist.

  • Milk and dairy products are totally unnecessary and unhealthy. They produce obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, cancers, etc. They carry antibiotics, growth hormones and pus (Barwick, 2014). Eggs and meat are also unnecessary and harmful to health (source).

Many biologists and nutritionists agree that a kind of fashion has emerged which has discredited milk and dairy products to the point of absurdity, attributing to them harmful health effects which have not yet been proven or are in doubt. It is common in the vegan community to defend the non consumption of milk and dairy products alleging that it is an unnatural human practice to consume these products after the breastfeeding period. This is strictly true, but it is as unnatural as we are the only species that eats lentils with chorizo, salads or chips.

There is currently a great diversity of vegetable “milks” that are used as an alternative and have been labelled as healthier (since 2017 the Court of Justice of the European Union has obliged not to call these drinks “milk” in order to differentiate them from the real ones). However, we are forced to qualify, because some of these products carry a not inconsiderable amount of sugar. The truth is that human beings are genetically adapted for the consumption of milk and its demonised ingredient, lactose, the sugar that predominates in milk. However, it is also true that some people digest lactose better than others. The latter are lactose intolerants, which is not an allergy at all, but an inability to fully digest this sugar that leads to temporary digestive problems and whose causes may be genetic or reversible intestinal damage. Lactose intolerance is one of the main arguments used by people who oppose the consumption of milk, although vegans also maintain as their main argument the injustice of stealing the milk destined for a calf to consume it ourselves.

vegetable drinks-milk-dairy products
Vegetable “milks” have boomed in recent years. However, they are not as “miraculous” as they have been sold. Foodretail

Actually, milk is not as harmful as it has been spread. In addition to lactose, it has also been discredited for the saturated fats it contains. However, milk does not exactly stand out for an inordinate amount of saturated fat: in general, whole milk has 2.2 g of saturated fat per 100 mL, while semi-skimmed milk usually contains 1.1 g per 100 mL, very small amounts. And this factor is precisely what has been used to sell vegetable drinks as more beneficial, because the main change that has been introduced in these drinks is the reduction in the amount of saturated fat. However, if we compare the rest of the nutrients, the presumed benefits of vegetable drinks begin to diminish. For example, with the exception of soy drinks, oat, almond, rice or coconut “milks” among others have considerably less protein than whole or semi-skimmed milk, but all of them have added sugars and some of them, such as rice “milk”, have more carbohydrates. It is also important to note that the calcium present in vegetable drinks is not natural of these vegetables, but is mostly added, and that its intestinal absorption is ineffective, since some of these drinks do not have vitamin D, which helps the absorption of calcium. In fact, to remedy this failure and to equalize the nutritional value of milk, producers have been forced to add some vitamins. Therefore, there is a fashion of trying to replace cow’s milk by a drink that tries to resemble milk but to which it has been necessary to add components that the milk already carries… (we exclude vegans from this fashion because their motivations to avoid milk are mainly the exploitation of cows, goats, sheep, etc.). Therefore, it can be thought that the rise of vegetable drinks has not been due to the health benefits they supposedly bring but because the marketing strategies have had a better effect than desired.

Nor it has been demonstrated that many of the pathologies that have been associated with the consumption of milk and dairy products are really a consequence of this consumption. In other words, many of these studies have found a relationship between both factors (consuming milk or dairy products and acquiring a certain disease), but not a causal relationship (cause-effect). This is the case of milk and cancer, the typical evil that is always used to discredit something. As the British NGO Cancer Research UK states, the relationship between milk and dairy products and certain types of cancer is far from clear; more studies are needed to get concise results. Because, again, what has been found so far are correlations, and not all studies have found them, because sometimes the opposite or neutral results are obtained. For example, it is often mentioned that diets rich in calcium cause prostate cancer. However, if we turn to the World Cancer Research Fund International or the American Institute for Cancer Research, we could speak in the best-case scenario of a “probable association” between the two factors. Even so, malpractice seems to predominate in reporting on these issues, because just as these negative correlations between dairy and cancer are mentioned, the correlations that have been found between dairy and a lower risk of colorectal cancer or bladder cancer should also be put on the table (although, we insist, more studies are needed).

In the above statement we can see that dairy and milk consumption are also linked to obesity. However, an interesting review study signed by Lisa A. Spence of the American Dietetic Association concludes the opposite: that the consumption of dairy and milk is related to multiple health benefits. In fact, the studies they review have inverse associations (e.g., lower dairy consumption is related to greater obesity or body weight) or neutrals. The same goes for dairy and osteoporosis, which are fallaciously related to each other. Again, if we look at science we will see the opposite. A 2000 review of 139 studies concludes that consumption of dairy products (and the calcium they carry) is related to bone strengthening even in old age. Regarding diabetes, its relationship with dairy is still controversial, although a review and meta-analysis led by cardiologist Dengfeng Gao suggest that consumption of low-fat dairy may help prevent Type II diabetes.

However, some milk additives such as antibiotic residues can pose a health risk. Livestock are now forced to consume antibiotics for three main purposes: prophylaxis (i.e. preventing disease), therapeutic treatment (mainly against mastitis and pneumonia) and growth promotion. In fact, several experts, such as the team of Professor Salim Máttar, from the Faculty of Medicine, Veterinary and Zootechnics of the University of Córdoba (Colombia), have sounded the alarm at the significant content of antibiotics in milk because of their indiscriminate use and the absence of health controls in that country. As in other areas, these controls are more effective in some regions than in others (in the European Union it is regulated, as can be seen here) although the high presence of antibiotics in milk (whether from cows, goats or sheep) is a worldwide problem. These traces of antibiotics can cause allergies, alteration of the intestinal flora or the very dangerous microbial resistance. It is also true that milk and dairy products have a striking quantity and diversity of hormones that are either included in the diet of cattle, goats and sheep and that sometimes end up in these foods by diffusion, or are synthesized by the animals themselves. We could highlight prolactin, several androgens, estrogens, corticoids or the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Well, correlations have been found between some of these hormones, such as estrogen and IGF-1, and an increased risk of breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer. However, it is not yet conclusive how much of these hormones our intestine is able to absorb or whether these concentrations really produce a significant effect on the body. On the other hand, it is known that some hormones, such as steroids, can cause important effects in the body even if they are found in low concentrations.

The uncontrolled use of antibiotics in the livestock farming industry has led to antibiotics reaching our bodies, causing disruption and negative reactions. Vacuno de élite

Regarding eggs, if they have been so demonized it is because of the cholesterol content contained in the yolk, which almost surpasses the daily limit that we are recommended to consume. However, and this may surprise many, today there is no consensus among experts on cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease, because while in some studies are found relationships in others not, as in the previous case of milk and certain types of cancer. Although we will dedicate an article exclusively to cholesterol, here we will only emphasize that cardiovascular diseases have different causes (genetic, presence of other diseases such as diabetes, obesity…) and that cholesterol could be involved in the appearance of cardiovascular diseases when some of these factors are already present. In this case we find again a malpractice, because as there is much momentum when it comes to defaming eggs there is also little interest in disclosing that the egg is an excellent food and beneficial to the functioning of the body since it contains choline, vitamins A, D, B12, B2, carotenoids, etc.

Meat is a different matter. A few years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decided to include processed meat (meat that has been modified to improve its organoleptic properties) in the list of substances that are kown for sure that cause cancer (Group 1), and red meat was included in Group 2A, that is to say, in the list of substances for which there is limited evidence of their carcinogenic potential (substances very suspicious of being carcinogenic). However, it is necessary to qualify, because from this point it is easy to create yellowish headlines. Many people were surprised that processed meat was included in the same list as asbestos, radiation or tobacco. But sharing space with these substances does not mean that meat has the same carcinogenic potential and is just as dangerous. In fact, it is not. So that tobacco or radioactivity cause cancer, low concentrations of these substances are needed, but to suffer from cancer due to the consumption of processed meat, significant consumption is needed, a habit against which experts have been warning since long before the WHO. Consequently, a moderate consumption of these foods does not have to cause cancer (these foods are accused of causing colorectal cancer fundamentally, and there is no definitive evidence that they cause other types of cancer). However, care must be taken with these foods, since according to the WHO, nearly 34,000 deaths per year from cancer can be attributed to the excessive consumption of processed meats.

  • All animals suffer (Barwick, 2014).
Phylogenetic tree of the metazoans or animals based on morphological and molecular characters. Clearly there is much greater diversity of animals than comes to mind. Personal archive

Before any discussion, it is necessary to clarify an important fact. When it is said that animals suffer, one tends to think of a few groups of animals, specifically vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) and from time to time of some invertebrates, mainly crustaceans. However, the biodiversity of animals is much broader, to such an extent that today animals have been divided into almost 40 large groups or phyla.

Clarified this: Do all animals really suffer, that is, from sea sponges through earthworms to a dog or a cow? The answer contradicts the one that is usually promoted by vegans and animalists: at present it is not known that all animals suffer. Moreover, this issue is not as simple as it might seem, since pain and suffering are not the same thing. Let us first focus on what pain is. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is:

“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.

Therefore, pain is a sensation that not only manifests itself physically but also emotionally, therefore and in certain circumstances we may feel anxiety or fear. However, in order to experience pain, it is first necessary to perceive the stimulus that triggers the pain. This harmful stimulus (that which produces damage to a tissue) that ends up translating into pain is perceived by modified neurons known as nociceptors. These neurons are capable of detecting thermal, chemical and mechanical stimuli (a blow for example). The nociceptors are in turn connected to other neurons and these in turn connect to the spinal cord. Once the stimulus reaches this organ, it ascends through it to the thalamus and finally reaches the cerebral cortex, which is where the stimulus is processed. Also, there are some neurons in the spinal cord, called motor neurons, which quickly transform the stimulus into a reflex movement that involves the rapid withdrawal of the organ or body structure of the painful stimulus so that the damage does not go any further. These mechanisms are present in most animal groups, suggesting an early onset in evolution. However, it is precisely in the cortex where that stimulus becomes or translates into pain as we experience it, and this capacity is already more restricted to a few animal groups by what we know so far.

Diagram of the pathways that follow nociceptive stimuli to the brain, where they are translated into pain. Farmacología veterinaria

Consequently we have to distinguish between nociception, which is only the reception of a harmful stimulus, its transport to the cortex and its transformation into a simple reflex act, and pain. Therefore, it has been suggested that for other animals to perceive pain as we humans perceive it, a cortex and other brain structures sufficiently developed, functional and similar to ours are necessary. This from a physiological point of view, but we also consider that an animal feels pain if it manifests itself in a similar way to us, that is to say, if the painful stimulus is accompanied by moans, groans, twists, etc. (it is certainly an anthropocentric vision). Even so, there are interesting debates about whether these elements are sufficient to determine if other species feel pain or which element is more important, etc.

On the other hand, it is necessary to clarify briefly what suffering is and its implications, as this is what many people refer to when they mention what animals may feel. It could be described as a negative emotional sensation that occurs in response to pain or to a stressful situation that exceeds a minimum level. This implies that the pain has to exceed a threshold, i.e. a minor painful stimulus such as a needle stick does not cause suffering. However, if a “small” painful stimulus is prolonged over time, it can cause suffering, although more than the stimulus the culprit would be the associated stress, which would be above the minimum threshold. It would be the same case where a person is in a situation of terror or anxiety, in which there is no physical pain but strong emotional stress. A more complex debate is the one that tries to solve if consciousness is necessary to feel suffering. Although this is a subject for another article, it is worth noting what happens to people who have undergone a lobotomy of the prefrontal section of the brain. This region is responsible, among other functions, for the expression of emotions. It has been observed that people without some parts of this region are able to feel pain but somehow do not feel concern about it. That is to say, they can observe how a sharp object gets stuck in their flesh without feeling stress. Could it be said that these individuals really suffer or only have a basic sensory system? Therefore, the prefrontal cortex and its cerebral elements play an important role in the sensation of suffering, and depending on their development in the different species of animals it could be established who suffers and who does not, although this is another much debated topic.

Do animals suffer like us? In some vertebrates it is more or less clear, but scientists still have a lot to say. Marcianos

These concepts are important, as they often determine the morale of many people in giving more or less importance to a living being based on its ability to suffer. In fact, until not many years ago experts considered that anxiety (which, as we have already mentioned, is strongly related to suffering) was exclusive to Homo sapiens. However, physiological responses to anxiety have also been observed in a bunch of mammals and birds (sweating, tremors, increased heart rate, vocalizations…) (it is necessary to clarify that when reference is made to these groups of animals, both experts and ourselves are making a generalization, as these observations have not been made in all species). Another common experiment to test the sensation of suffering in animals is to use drugs that stimulate or inhibit that sensation. It seems that the effects of those drugs in mammals are similar to those that occur in humans.

Experts agree more or less that mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish feel pain. In general, vertebrates avoid and learn to avoid such painful stimuli, although experiments on fish and amphibians are scarce and few species have been used, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. It is also true that it has been observed in some cases, mainly in mammals, that injured animals try to protect the damaged area or organ from painful stimulation. This could be another trait that may make it possible to discern whether or not they suffer. In this case, in very few invertebrates have been observed this, as in hermit crabs and some spiders (in this case is related to autotomy, that is, the ability to detach from a part of the body because it is damaged). Even so, there are also opposite cases. For example, many insects that have suffered the breakage of one of their legs continue to use it or those that have suffered the dissection of some part of the body also continue to behave normally. It has even been observed how aphids continue to feed normally even though a ladybug is devouring them.

Another reason why the experimentation of pain is attributed to some species is, as we have already mentioned, for their ability to learn and memorize long-term harmful stimuli in order to avoid them in the future. This trait has been observed in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), which learn to avoid a harmful stimulus for 24 hours after several exposures to it, and in some crabs. Pain has also been associated with elevated cognitive ability and the need for awareness of what is happening, although these are matters for another entry…

Being strictly rationalists, nociception, pain and suffering are adaptations that facilitate the maintenance of the organism and its organs, i.e., they are mechanisms of survival. The difference is that pain and suffering are more sophisticated mechanisms, since they allow us to keep a long-term memory of harmful stimuli so that we can avoid them over time and in which emotional intelligence would also be involved, while nociception is more limited and punctual, based on momentary reflex movements. It is interesting how these aspects in particular have strongly determined our ethics towards animals and, on the other hand, how the same has not happened with other traits. With all that said, we can conclude that we are still not very clear on how to determine whether a non-human animal feels pain and suffering. There is a great diversity of criteria much debated and each author lean towards more by some than by others. It seems that the capacity to suffer is more or less clear in vertebrates (mainly in birds and mammals) and with respect to some invertebrates the experts are already beginning to manifest (especially about crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs), but for the vast majority of animals these characteristics are unknown. Therefore, the assertion that animals suffer has to be qualified.

To conclude with this issue, it is interesting to put on the table the opinion of many critics of veganism. This concern that many vegans profess exclusively towards animals because of their capacity to suffer has served to accuse them of speciesist. Speciesism is a type of discrimination directed against other species of living beings by considering them inferior in certain aspects. In this case and according to the critics, the vegans would be speciesists by leaving aside all those species that do not feel pain, such as plants or fungi. That the reader draw his own conclusions…

Speciesism is a type of discrimination that consists of considering other species as inferior. Critics against veganism claim that vegans are speciesist by downplaying the importance of all living beings that do not suffer. El guardián de los cristales
  • If the world becomes vegan, world hunger would be ended, as 80-90% of the crops used to maintain cattle would be used to satisfy human hunger (Barwick, 2014).

Thinking of a completely vegan world is still a utopia (of “ou” and “topos”, a place that does not exist). It should be borne in mind that this would require the eradication of livestock farming, an industry that employs 1300 million people (about 18% of the world’s population) and that, although the vegan discourse does not usually mention it, is estimated to create subsistence resources for one billion people in developing countries. In addition, livestock farming is considered a sector that will inevitably tend to grow significantly due to population growth.

Perhaps the solution to reducing the ills we cause to our home is not to pursue the impossible, but to seek plausible solutions that can be carried out in a short period of time (as we do not seem to have much to reach the point of no return), such as significantly reducing global meat consumption. Furthermore, it is incorrect to assume that all regions of the world enjoy the same relatively beneficial socio-economic situation as we do in the first world countries. If we can opt for different dietary pathways it is because we have our basic primary needs met and we have the optimal means. But if we imagine any developing country, even with water scarcity or subject to some warlike conflict, it is obvious that the environmental and ethical issues related to veganism are in the background, because the first thing is basic survival. Therefore, we can highlight a number of points according to which the world can hardly be vegan in its entirety: Not everyone has the same will or the same sensitivity towards the planet and animals; not everyone is in the same socio-economic circumstances as the regions where veganism is most prevalent (which are precisely the developed countries); many people are unable to abandon meat or other products derived from animals for the pleasure their consumption produces; not everyone shares the same philosophy and way of thinking and not everyone thinks the vegan way of life is right; many people who have converted to veganism, after a while and for different reasons, end up abandoning it for their previous omnivorous diet; livestock farming is one of the most important economic sectors in the world, to such an extent that for many people it is their only means of subsistence, where large amounts of money are moved and where billions of people have a job that they need to survive with their families, so it is unlikely that both workers and business owners will abandon their means of subsistence to defend veganism.

On the other hand, the fact that there are millions of people without something to put in their mouths is not the fault of the livestock industry alone. The unequal distribution of resources may have more influence. In the unlikely event that livestock farming ceased to exist, it would still be necessary to change the system for the distribution of global resources. Regarding the extermination of animals, it would probably be reduced, although there would continue to be human activities that would continue to cause it. For example, if we were to live in a world dominated exclusively by agriculture and crops, we would have to continue destroying habitat and annihilating species in order to feed an ever-increasing number of human beings. All of this is speculation on a scenario that is today impalpable, although it incites intense debate on this issue.

  • How many animals are saved by a vegan?

There are many more or less well-founded figures that have tried to calculate the number of animals a vegan/vegetarian saves annually by not consuming their meat. The animal rights association PETA has estimated that each vegan would save more than 100 animals a year (it does not specify whether in the U.S. alone or worldwide). In principle, these calculations are based on an inaccurate mathematical equality according to which a person who avoids eating animals would save a similar number of animals that are killed for a person who eats meat. This calculation is not correct because, firstly, each omnivorous person consumes different amounts of meat and secondly because animals that have died from other causes in the livestock industry are not taken into account. Let us also remember that the consumption of certain vegan products such as soya derives profits to the livestock industry and the subsequent slavery and murder of animals. Another calculation that has been disseminated by a multitude of websites of animalists and promoters of veganism was made by the administrators of the website Counting Animals and is as follows:


To calculate the number of animals saved in this case by a vegetarian annually, they have divided the total number of animals killed in the United States for consumption in a given year by the population size of that country in that same year. They have also added an expression to correct the equation and add the factors that can modify the result (1.0 – v) in which v would include the number of vegetarian/vegan people in the United States and the number of animals that die from other causes (injuries, infections, diseases). In this way and always according to these calculations, a vegetarian person would save between 371 and 582 animals each year, including both terrestrial and aquatic animals. However, this result is not accurate, in fact the authors of these calculations state on several occasions that some of the data they use are estimates. Even so, the collectives that promote these movements tend to disseminate in their websites and social networks the highest figures (e.g. in the Igualdad Animal website is provided the figure of 575), which always impress more than the most moderate figures.

Number of animals that a vegan or vegetarian would save by not consuming meat, always according to PETA. Many other figures have been given by different places in the network. PETA

The reader will be able to make a quick check on the Internet that there really isn’t a consensus on how many animals a vegan or vegetarian person saves annually. There are even online calculators to calculate these values. In the end, each source provides a different figure, so it is wise to take all these data with a pinch of salt. However, even though we don’t know exactly how many animals don’t end up on a vegetarian/vegan’s plate, it is logical to think that reducing animal consumption to zero has a positive impact on the number of animals that die for our consumption.

  • Eating meat is a “social” adaptation. We are not biologically adapted to eat meat, we differ from omnivores and carnivores in many ways, such as in dentition, intestinal length and flora, production of urate oxidase and other key enzymes, pH and microbial tolerance (Barwick, 2014).

This is claimed by the vegan activist Emily Moran Barwick, although it is often found in the arguments of many vegans, implying that human beings are by nature herbivorous or vegan. But is it true? It seems that it is also common to support this assertion in the comparison of Homo sapiens with our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, alleging that the diet of a chimpanzee (or other non-human primates according to other examples) is herbivorous. But this is not true. In fact primatologists have observed on numerous occasions since the last century how chimpanzees conduct well-organized hunting parties to catch red colobus or antelope offspring and then eat them, or how mothers teach their offspring to use sticks to catch termites, an important nutritional source for these animals. It is true that the diet of large anthropomorphs (i.e., orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees) is mainly vegetarian, with stems, shoots, leaves, etc. predominating, but in many of them animal protein plays an important role.

Another argument often used to defend our presumed natural vegetarianism is the size and shape of our canines. Indeed, compared to any carnivore or omnivore such as the bear, our canines are a trifle. On the other hand, the canines of anthropomorphs, whose diet is mainly vegetarian, are also large compared to ours. But what if we were missing something? What if, in the case of humans and anthropomorphs, canines were an adaptation for something else and not for food? In general and focusing on gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees, males tend to have more developed canines than females. And this makes sense if we take into account the social role played by the males of these species: they are the ones defending the group from other males and potential dangers and, certainly, developed and threatening canines help to win those fights. Therefore, in these species canines have a defensive rather than a food role. And it would make sense to assume that in our species the size of the canines has been reduced because there is no longer such strong competition between males (on the contrary, we are a very collaborative species) and we have developed technologies to defend ourselves. In fact, this reduction in canines already appears in Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid prior even to the australopithecus, so it is a very old trait. However, to determine our type of diet it is best to look at the molars and premolars. Our ancestors of the genus Australopithecus sp. had molars and premolars with an important surface, of great size and with a thick dental enamel (all this is known as postcanine megadontia). They also have very robust jaws. These are characteristics indicative of a diet adapted to a more or less arid environment in which hard plant products predominate. However, already in Homo habilis, the first representative of the genus Homo sp., there is a reduction in the robustness of the jaw and in the size of the molars and premolars. That is to say, the dietary specialization that our ancestors had ends up being diluted. Our teeth are not really specialized in any type of diet, neither carnivorous nor herbivorous, instead they have the necessary elements that allow us to carry out the pre-digestion of both vegetable and animal foods.

paleontology-dentition-megadontia-australopithecus-homo habilis-diet-herbivore-omnivore
Comparison of the skulls, jaws and dentition of three hominids: Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis. It can be observed that the jaw of H. habilis is lighter and thinner than that of its ancestors, without postcanine megadontia. Research Gate

Another evidence that proves that we are adapted to eating meat is the size of the brain and the length of our digestive system. It is said that the increase in the size of our brain (an indispensable factor that made us humans) is related to our change of diet to a diet that included meat, something that happened approximately 2.5 million years ago with Homo habilis. Actually, it was the anthropologist and anatomist Sir Arthur Keith who in 1891 raised an issue that has a lot to do with. The scientist warned that in primates, the greater the length or size of the digestive system, the smaller the size of the brain, that is, there is an inversely proportional correlation. Although he could not give an explanation at the time, it was Leslie Aillo and Peter Wheeler who in 1995 tried to give one. Bearing in mind that the brain is an organ that, although smaller than others, consumes much more energy (it is estimated to consume an impressive 16% of the body’s metabolic rate), it makes sense that if its size grows (and consequently the body energy it consumes also does) it is necessary to save energy from other organs so that the system does not collapse. And from where can energy be saved without damage the body? Obviously you can not modify the most vital organs such as the heart or liver, but others as is the case of the digestive system, but as long as you provide the necessary nutrients to that the new design runs. This is what would have happened in our evolution according to Aillo and Wheeler, and what would also have caused a decrease in the size of the chewing apparatus. It should also be borne in mind that the length of the digestive system is closely related to the type of food. The system of the herbivores is characterized for being very long, since the more length more microorganisms can lodge to be able to digest and assimilate the components of the vegetables difficult to metabolize, like the cellulose. If herbivores did not have this high-performance system of nutrient extraction, they would not be able to acquire the necessary nutrients from plants to maintain the proper functioning of their organisms. On the contrary, the digestive system of carnivores is short, because meat is more easily assimilated. And what happens to ours? Our digestive system has an intermediate length, with components that help digest meat and vegetables. In fact, one proof that we are not strict herbivores is that we lack the microorganisms needed to process cellulose. Moreover, research published in the prestigious journal Science in 2008 concluded that the intestinal microbiota of today’s humans (i.e. the population of microorganisms that inhabit our intestines) is typical of omnivorous primates.

dentition-physiology-enzymes-diet-herbivore-omnivore-frugivore-primates-vegetarian-human being
Scheme in which it is assured that, due to our physiological and anatomical characteristics, we are by nature herbivores, specifically frugivores. However, it is false. Science has given enough arguments to establish that we are by nature omnivorous. Yet this image has become viral on the Internet. Creation is Love

All this should serve as evidence that the human being, since millions of years, is an omnivorous species by nature (and not by “society”) and that Barwick’s claims are fallacies. In fact, another error into which the activist falls is to affirm that we are vegetarian by nature because we possess a series of “key enzymes” that only herbivores are supposed to possess. In this respect she forgets to mention that we also have proteases (enzymes responsible for the digestion of proteins) characteristic of carnivores.

  • There is a waste of resources by using animals as food, since a multitude of plant foods, water, land, etc. have to be used to feed them, as well as a greater use of energy. The use of some of these resources (e.g. land) has a serious impact on natural spaces, which are suppressed or devastated (source).

The livestock industry causes serious environmental problems, something that several supranational institutions are increasingly aware of. For several years these institutions and scientific collectives have been warning of the environmental impacts that livestock farming causes. For example, it is estimated that the 70% (and not 90%, a figure that is often used) of the world’s cultivated land are used to feed livestock (between 20-30% of these lands are used for grazing and the rest for obtaining fodder for animals). Logically, this fierce expansion also affects the lungs of the planet, with livestock being considered a key factor in global deforestation. In fact, 70% of the Amazon is currently occupied by pastures.

The Amazon, considered one of the lungs of the Earth, is being decimated and its forests are being replaced by crops, of which an alarming percentage is destined for livestock. Esmateria – El País

Livestock are also responsible for 24% of emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere along with agriculture and other land uses (and their consequences, such as deforestation), even surpassing emissions from transport. Livestock is therefore one of the main keys to climate change. A realistic solution would therefore be to replace this malpractice with more environmentally friendly systems. On this point, a series of changes have been taking place in recent years in the species that are mainly used in livestock farming, with pig and poultry farming gaining ground to the detriment of cattle farming, as well as in the type of livestock farming, with a reduction in extensive grazing, which occupies extensive areas leading to greater amplitude in soil degradation and deforestation and atmospheric pollution that is also more widely distributed, by more intensive, industrial and localised livestock farming, which allows a concentration and less expansion of these environmental damages. However, much remains to be done.

In this context, we could discuss another of the arguments most often used by vegetarians and vegans: that eating meat (meaning any kind of meat, from fish to beef) is harmful to the environment, not only because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the entire production process, but also because of the amount of resources needed to feed the animals. As in all generalizations, it is necessary to be cautious, because generalization is the favorite tool of those who know little and those who try to manipulate and convince with scarce means.

For example, let’s focus on the amount of water needed to produce meat. Not all the livestock have the same water needs, and the following image shows this:

This figure shows the liters of water needed to produce 1 Kg of these foods. Cunningham y Cunningham (2009)

As we can see, red meat (mainly beef) generates the largest water footprint, followed by pork, chicken and, finally, goat. The efficiency of the energy use that these animals make of the food they consume and the diversity of foods that make up their diets largely explain the differences in their hydric impacts. This graph is interesting because it uses very specific cases, unlike many that can be found on the Internet, which in each case include several groups of “similar” animals, thus inflating the water footprint and making the comparison less realistic.

However, let’s note that there are animal source foods whose hydric impact is less than several foods of vegetable food items that are frequent in vegan and vegetarian diets. For example, to produce 1 Kg of goat meat, about 1000 l of water are needed, the same as for 1 Kg of corn or potatoes, but to produce 1 Kg of soybean or rice, almost 2000 and 4000 l of water are needed, respectively. Likewise, there is hardly any difference in the water consumed to produce 1 Kg of rice or 1 Kg of pork or chicken. Rice crops require a lot of water, almost 4 times more than any of the vegetables considered here, although the water footprint of soybeans is not negligible when compared to other classic vegetable foods either. And what can we say about chocolate, a delicacy for many ovo-lacto-vegetarians and vegans (in the case of pure chocolate) and whose complex processing needs more than 27000 l to produce just 1 kg…

As we have already seen, the ecological impact of food is different based on the index we use (air pollution, desertification, water footprint, etc.), but what we want to make clear is that neither the foods defended by vegans are so innocent nor meats are so bad. Let’s avoid generalizations and embrace the critical sense.

  • Veganism is the only way to save the planet (source).

This claim implicitly brings with it the assertion that the consumption of meat and animal products and, consequently, livestock farming is solely responsible for the planet’s ills. Objectively and as we have already mentioned, livestock is one of the keys to climate change and pollution, but not the only one. There are many players with strong influences in this game. To give just a few examples, we could mention the plastics industry, the hydrocarbons industry, the wood industry, the chemical industries… Although the main culprit would be the disproportionate consumption of our society. Therefore, a more widespread veganism, even if it had a positive impact, would not be enough if our consumption habits in the rest of the areas continued to be exacerbated. It is true that experts recommend reducing our consumption of meat globally, but also reducing the use of single-use plastic objects, producing less garbage, throwing away less food, saving on electricity consumption …


Radicalism and the imposition of beliefs do not lead to anything (and Leslie Cross’ behaviour was proof of this). As we have seen at the beginning, the creators of veganism have already published 13 definitions that respond to the interests of those who governed the organization in each particular moment, that is to say, there is no an unitary visión about what is veganism. In fact, there are vegans who only care about animal welfare, others give more importance to the environment, and others try to bring the two concerns together. This is a clear indication that one conception has no more validity than another and that many of the debates about who is vegan and who are not are fruitless and undermine the credibility of the movement.

Different definitions of veganism. The absence of consensus in the early years of veganism can be blamed on the internal clashes of The Vegan Society. Vegan Society Today

Vegans will continue to face ethical and moral dilemmas as new data are released and disseminated. For example, the BBC’s programme Quite Interesting recently questioned whether eating avocados or almonds is a vegan activity, since in certain regions farmers take advantage of bees to pollinate these crops. In those regions where the density of these hymenoptera is scarce, it is necessary to use migratory beekeeping, which is nothing more than moving a multitude of hives in trucks to the specific crops and once they have been pollinated, moving those hives to other crops and so on. The strictest could speak of immorality in participating in the exploitation of bees, but as we have already mentioned there is a diversity of vegan ethics. Although there will always be the typical people rejecting all those who do not follow their ethics.

Veganism cannot be considered the universal panacea that will solve all our ills. Even so, it is a viable alternative for reducing the individual environmental impact and suffering of our fellow animals. Possibly, when an increasing number of people follow these movements the effects will be seen on a planetary scale. We can conclude that veganism (and vegetarianism) is a movement of struggle against the established, against what has been imposed as politically correct. In a way it is also a form of sacrifice, because it is not always easy to alienate the pleasures of food or aesthetics and more if it is for the noble goal of helping. Therefore, veganism is a way of life to take into account and it is hopeful that tens of millions of people have abandoned to a greater or lesser extent their privileges for the sake of the welfare of animals (human and/or non-human) and/or the planet.

However, as Ginny Messina, a vegan nutritionist and activist, wisely points out, the spreading of myths and pseudoscience does the movement a disservice, rather it undermines it and makes it less serious. Documentaries such as What the Health, in which scientific incongruities and data manipulated with interest predominate, or the half-truths we have analyzed in this entry should not be used to attract more people, because when they discover that some of these almost miraculous promises are not fulfilled, they can become suspicious of the movement and reject it. The truth is that there are already too many critics who try by all means (also employing pseudoscience) to defame veganism, so it is not worth inflating their cause and helping them from within. Vegans should proclaim their ideals without spreading fallacies, carrying humility and science as a banner and recognizing the limitations of the movement. Because if mistakes are not recognized, it will be destined to repeat them constantly… and to spread them.


I would like to thank the co-administrator of this blog, Carol Martínez, for her help with the bibliography search and for designing the cover image for this post. I would also like to thank the Facebook users who bothered to divulge the request I made to gather information about the claimes that are poured into the network regarding veganism.


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