Veganism is Really Friendly to all Animals?

Jennifer Timmons

If I had a dollar for every time that I’m told that I’m not a real animal lover because I eat meat and drink dairy, I would be able to pay for all my law textbooks. In reality, the world has very few options for people who wish to do no harm to any animals through their food habits. Veganism is not one of those options, or at least not a perfect option. Let’s look at all the meat and dairy substitutes and break down how they hurt animals. The most popular substitutes are almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, coconut milk, processed foods (the ones supposedly completely made up of chemicals like those chocolate cookies with white cream sandwiched between them), and impossible meat.

Almond milk is considered one of the standard dairy substitutes. Most of the almonds that go into almond milk are gown in California, a water-strapped region plagued by droughts and fires.  Water is taken from rivers and the delta and moved around the state to irrigate central valley farms. It’s not hard to see the conflict between farmers growing almonds and aquatic ecosystems. One of the most famous instances of farmers and wildlife conflicts is the Natural Resource Counsel’s case involving the listing of Delta Smelt to the endangered species list. On top of the loss of water, a report by the University of San Francisco quoted Forbes saying, “23,000 acres of natural lands have been converted to almond farms. 16,000 of those acres were land previously classified as wetlands. Additionally, some agricultural land has been converted from lower-water crops to almonds.” https://sustainability.ucsf.edu/1.713 Unless you don’t count fish and wetland birds as animals, the harm caused by almond production in California to wildlife is very real.

Soy and oat milk share similar issues as almonds. The conversion of wetlands to farm production (especially for soy) is extensive. Soy is a land consumer and a vast swath of the Amazon has been cleared to grow soybean. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/04/brazil-soy-trade-linked-to-widespread-deforestation-carbon-emissions/ Another problem with both is the amount of pesticide used in these massive monoculture productions. For oats, Well and Good magazine quoted “the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program reports to have found seven different pesticide residues in them [oats]” “In addition, these pesticides in oats are impacting the health and well-being of honeybee[s] ***.” https://www.wellandgood.com/is-oat-milk-healthy/#:~:text=2.,and%20they’re%20not%20pretty. Soybeans are considered “Round-Up Ready” which means they can withstand large amounts of herbicides. Soy and oat pesticides make their way into the water system killing fish, amphibians, and creating dead zones.

Coconut milk and processed foods share the same disasters for animals. First, almost all processed foods and many non-food products contain palm oil. Palm oil makes the food last longer, tastes better, and can keep a semi solid state at room temperature. It’s cheap and easy for food processors to work. Both coconuts and palm oil have been criticized for deforestation of the rainforest. Orangutangs, pigmy elephants, and many other iconic rainforest species of Indonesia, India, and the Philippines are killed to keep them from destroying crops and move them off land that will be turned into palm plantations. Coconuts and palm oil are some of the most hotly contested and visible killers of animals and can be found in almost every consumer product. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/28/what-plant-milk-should-i-drink-almond-killing-bees-aoe , https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/which-everyday-products-contain-palm-oil

              Impossible meat is the trendy alternative to meat products. Well, surprise it’s mostly made from soybeans and oils like coconut oil. https://faq.impossiblefoods.com/hc/en-us/articles/360018937494-What-are-the-ingredients-  As stated above soy is problematic for fish, bees, and wetland wildlife, while coconut is a hazard to rainforest wildlife. The trendy meat is highly processed and created with lab formed “heme”, an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal and makes the impossible meat taste like meat.

To sum it all up, choosing what you eat is a personal choice and no matter which choice is chosen, it will have some sort of negative effect on animals. When money is involved, the voiceless are often victimized and wildlife is the primary target. They don’t pay taxes, can’t vote, and don’t show up to city hall with a grudge. Being vegan does not automatically mean that no animals will be harmed by consumptive habits. It is much more complicated than simply saying a person is not going to eat meat and only consume substitutes instead.

One Response

  1. Veganism is about reducing harm. As you mentioned, there is no way to not kill any animal ever – and I don’t think any (well informed) vegan thinks they never take a life or impact the environment.

    Also, by outlining some vegan ambassador foods to call veganism out you’re doing the same thing you’re accusing vegans of – simplifying a complex subject. Additionally, oat and soy do not even belong in the same sentence. No one is mowing down forests for oats. It’s is the least resource intensive and economical milk out there. You’re on point with the other products. And, while I agree almond milk is very problematic and coconut milk has a huge carbon footprint – so does dairy and with higher loss of life, your critique failed to mention that a whole food vegan diet does cause the least harm – which is the goal. And, outside of food deserts, is affordable, healthy, decreases loss of life, and accessible.

    And, even with nut milk issues, dairy is ditching dairy due to their increased consumption. It makes a difference. Instead of poo-pooing on foods that folks use to transition to healthy diet or that (mostly) non-vegans use to try to be a bit more healthier, let’s continue to educate, educate, and advocate for better products – and admit you just want to eat whatever it is you eat because you like it. We’ll respect you more.

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