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This Vegan Dandy Sourcebook is an ever-expanding informational resource for all things vegan.

Whether you seek answers to questions about vegan ethics, food, or products, you'll find a wealth of information here.

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Vegan Ethics

Vegans go out of their way to consume only plant and mineral products, avoiding animal-derived ingredients as much as reasonably possible in food, clothing and other consumer products. People choose veganism for a variety of personal reasons, generally involving a high regard for animals, and sometimes including concern for our environment or personal well-being.

When people adopt a vegan lifestyle, they step away from the traditions and convenience that most of us are used to. It can be a difficult change to make, but most of us find it a rewarding experience, one which aligns our practices with our ideals and helps us to grow as people.

Compassion, knowledge and mindfulness are key qualities which inspire people to go vegan.

The primary beneficiaries of a vegan lifestyle are: animals, the environment and our health.

Compassion

Would you like to minimize suffering in the world?

Most people are compassionate when they observe a friend or family member suffering, but may not be as concerned about strangers, especially those who suffer out of sight (e.g., in other cities or countries) because they're busy and don't have time to think about such things. Highly compassionate and mindful people are concerned with minimizing suffering for all.

com·pas·sion [kuh m-pash-uh n]   noun
1. a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Vegetable farms and plant production, though not perfect, are much safer for workers who do not have to deal with agitated and violent animals or extremely dangerous machinery used for mutilation and killing (more on slaughterhouse workers here). For this reason, choosing a vegan* diet is better for workers, as it will help shift employment opportunities from dangerous and violent slaughterhouses to safer plant-food processing. Additionally, plant foods are more efficiently produced and therefore result in more food (for the same resources), which gives us the opportunity to feed more people.

For those of us who understand that animals are not mere automatons and can, like humans, experience pain and pleasure, then a little quiet thinking, along with some observation or research, should enable us to extend our compassion beyond our species to become concerned with their suffering as well. Choosing the vegan* lifestyle will avoid participation in industries which render sentient animals into mere commodities, subjecting them to stress, fear and pain, due to their routine imprisonment, dismemberment and slaughter (see Knowledge section for details).

Additionally, feminist minded people understand that females are not inherently inferior to males and that their worth is not determined by their reproductive faculties. We would never let a woman be used purely as a reproductive unit, or be attached to something called a "rape rack," nor would we kill a woman who is infertile or who has passed her reproductive prime. Is it really justified to do such things to female animals, simply because they had the misfortune to be born non-male (and non-human)? Choosing veganism* is a feminist act - one that respects the reproductive autonomy of females of all species.

Knowledge

Do you know the real story behind the things you consume?

Most people know that "meat" comes from dead animals, but few are aware of the full extent of the suffering inflicted on the living animals who are used and killed on our behalf (especially dairy cows and egg-laying chickens). Even when our intentions are good, if we're ignorant of the facts, we won't have the tools to make good decisions.

Here are some important facts about animals used for food:

  • Dairy (Milk / Eggs) = a mother's secretions for nourishing her babies, taken away for use by humans
    • "Dairy" Cows - female cows are continually impregnated so they will produce milk. Mother cows see their calves only briefly (usually less than 24 hours) before they are taken away forever, a traumatic event for both calves and mothers. When her reproductive organs begin to wear out and milk production slows (after 2-4 years), the mother is slaughtered. Female calves are fed substitute milk (not from cows) and raised for the same fate as their mothers - most of whom will be mutilated by de-horning and tail-docking standard industry practices. Male calves are generally raised for veal, or else other human purposes - all are slaughtered well before their natural lifespan. For more detail, see Cows Raised for Milk (F.E.P.)
      • Natural life expectancy for cattle would be 20-22 years.
    • Goats - female goats (does) are continually impregnated so they will produce milk. Mother goats see their kids only briefly (one feeding) before they are taken away forever, a traumatic event for both kids and mothers. When her reproductive organs begin to wear out (after a few years) and milk production slows, she is slaughtered. Baby goats typically have their horns burned off (no anaesthetic) and most are sent for "meat" production (those who are not designated for breeding or milk production) - all are slaughtered prematurely. For more detail, see Sheep & Goats (F.E.P.)
      • Natural life expectancy for goats would be 8-12 years.
    • "Layer" Hens - female chickens (hens) are genetically bred and environmentally manipulated to lay more than 275 eggs per year, rather than the 20-30 per year they would normally lay in nature. Since they are kept isolated from male chickens, most eggs are infertile, but when eggs are fertilized, the baby chickens (chicks) never even see their mothers, who in nature would've guarded, taught and protected them. After her over-taxed reproductive organs wear out (after a few years) and egg production slows, she is slaughtered. Male chicks produced by "layers" are generally sent for "disposal" which may involve being ground alive or thrown on a trash pile to suffocate in refuse. Female chicks are doomed to the same fate as their unseen mothers. All are slaughtered. For more detail, see Hens Raised for Eggs (F.E.P.)
      • Natural life expectancy for chickens would be 7-10 years.
  • Meat = eviscerated flesh (muscle, organs, fat) originally part of a living animal
    • "Beef" Cattle - bulls (male cows) are typically castrated at a few weeks old (because normal hormones "give bad taste to the meat") and often  "de-horned" (their horns burned off with a hot iron) at birth. After these routine mutilations, the "steers" (aka castratos) are weaned and then fed to "market weight", typically about 2 years old; those used in breeding (bulls and female cows) may be kept until 9 years old. These cattle are all slaughtered (with a sharp knife or bolt gun) long before their natural old age. For more detail, see Cows raised for "Meat" (F.E.P.).
      • Natural life expectancy for cattle would be 20-22 years.
    • Pigs - pregnant mother pigs are confined to 2-foot-wide crates, barely bigger than their bodies, with no room to turn around for the duration of their pregnancy. After 2-3 weeks, baby pigs are taken from their mothers and the mothers are quickly impregnated once again, and kept pregnant or nursing until the mother pig can give no more, at which point she is slaughtered (usually about 5 years).  The baby pigs generally have their tails cut off, their teeth chipped and ears clipped and then fed to "market weight", typically about 6 months. Pigs designated as "breeder" or "market" are all slaughtered (generally by electrocution) long before their natural old age. For more detail, see Pigs (F.E.P.).
      • Natural life expectancy for pigs would be 20 years or more.
    • "Broiler" Chickens - the lives of these gentle creatures on factory farms is like a modern horror movie: kept indoors in concrete structures, brightly lit at all hours to minimize sleeping, overcrowded, walking on layers of extrement and urine, only to be sent to the slaughterhouse at 6 weeks old, hung upside down on a conveyer built, where they are sequentially dipped in electrified water, brought to automated knives for throat cutting, then to the scalding tank.For more detail, see Chickens Raised for "Meat" (F.E.P.).
      • Natural life expectancy for chickens would be 7-10 years.
    • Turkeys - like other birds, they are kept in overcrowded conditions, genetically bred to grow too fast for their bodies to handle and killed prematurely by electric water and automated blades. Factory farm turkeys are debeaked, their toes amputated and the males have their snood (fleshy appendage above the beak) cut off, all without anaesthetic. Most turkeys are killed at 16-24 weeks of age (when they reach "market weight"). For more detail, see Turkeys (F.E.P.).
      • Natural life expectancy for turkeys would be 10 years.
    • Ducks - like other birds, they are kept in overcrowded conditions, genetically bred to grow too fast for their bodies to handle and killed prematurely by electric water and automated blades. Ducks are aquatic birds, but in factory farms, are kept unnaturally on wire or other hard surfaces which can damage their webbed feet, without any access to bodies of water and they are never allowed to fly. Some ducks are force-fed large quantities of food via metal pipe in order to produce "foie gras". Ducks are slaughtered at about 7 weeks of age. For more detail, see Ducks (F.E.P.)
      • Natural life expectancy for ducks would be 15-20 years.
    • Fish - it's hard to generalize across such a wide range of species, but we can say that fish, like other animals, can experience pain, stress and fear. Free-roaming fish which are hunted suffer slow and agonizing deaths when dragged by nets or hooks. Fish-hunting is often species-targeted, killing huge numbers of a single species in certain areas, disrupting the ecosystem and sometimes even endangering the future survival of the species. Fish raised in aquaculture suffer from overcrowding, captivity and unnatural diets (similar to land animals in factory farms) and of course are slaughtered as soon as they reach "market weight," not according to their natural lifespans. For more detail, see Fish (F.E.P.)
    • Aquatic Animals (non-fish) - underwater animals other than fish (e.g., crabs, lobsters, shrimps, shellfish) are killed in immense numbers, measured by volume, rather than by individuals. However, these aquatic animal, like land animals, enjoy their freedom and will experience pain and suffering when trapped and prematurely killed. For more detail, see Other Ocean Life (F.E.P.)

Of course, animals are used in myriad other ways (e.g., cows and deer for leather or sheep and goats for wool), but I wanted to cover the most common uses in food, which involve the highest numbers of animals used and killed. You may want to research online for other questions you have. Going vegan* is the best tool we have to exercise our compassion and minimize the suffering that these animals endure.

Mindfulness

Are you acting in accordance with your ethics, or are you sleepwalking?

Most people mean well, but they will act on habit or impulse, not considering the unseen ramifications of their actions. To be mindful is to be fully engaged with your life, your actions and their consequences, intended or unintended. This necessitates becoming fully aware of all options, even those which we have habitually ignored and consistently choosing the options which align with our best intentions.

An option that some people never consider is to not use animals at all; in the modern world, they are not required for human health, clothing or housing. Plant production is more efficient than animal agriculture, so the only real benefits are sensory pleasure, convenience and tradition. If the benefits of a particular potential purchase (e.g., cow-skin couch) are considered, with a fully open mind, against the suffering of animals used in their production, you may find you'll choose the plant option.

Considering how deeply the idea of animals-as-commodities has been integrated into human culture and manufacturing, it is not always easy to avoid consuming them as they are "hidden" in so much. And human social gatherings are often centered around food, which nearly always involve some ingredients derived from animals. However, it is possible to act mindfully, with determination and avoid consuming those things we know to contain animal suffering, such as flesh ("meat") and secretions (eggs, cow's milk).

Mindfulness is not a switch we flick on like a lightbulb, but is a life skill that must be developed and nurtured. We all make mistakes at times, but working to gain knowledge and to consistently act with integrity are both training for and mindfulness itself. Mindfulness requires determination, to keep on going in the face of difficulty, but it also requires an open mind, to consider and reconsider various angles and to learn to let go of our old selves, in favor of the new.

Mindfulness requires that we separate our actions from our sense of self. Actions can have good or bad consequences, often unintended consequences, but our actions are not us. Our past actions or customs must not determine our future path; our continual learning and evolution should guide our future self and our future self will guide our future actions. Most of us, when we go vegan*, will work on the basics first and will not be "perfect." Like in any other practice, perfection is not entirely achievable, but having an ideal to work towards (a world where animals are allowed self-determination and not treated as mere commodities) can be very inspiring. After all, without ideals, there would be no progress.

Animals & Awareness

Should sentient beings be treated as mere commodities?

Anyone who has ever interacted with an animal for extended amounts of time (e.g., pet or companion animal) will have realized that animals, though they do not share human language or human ways of thinking, have interests and desires, and unique personalities. For those who have observed animals only from afar (e.g., farms, zoos, research labs), you may be under the impression that the animals you observed in captivity are lackluster and uninteresting. Consider this - if you were kept captive, without the option to explore or pursue your own interests, kept from your natural and preferred environment, subject to the whims, torments or experiments of your captors, might you not feel a bit hopeless, even depressed? Most likely you would not exhibit vivacity or charm in such a situation either.

The fact is - animals are sentient beings, in that they have the experience of faring better or worse, feeling pleasure or pain, depending on circumstances. All animals experience the sensation of pain, which is a key criteria for animal life, our main survival instinct. Moreover, most animals will exhibit visible stress and fear when faced with severely uncomfortable or life-threatening situations. If you were to watch hidden camera videos of the slaughterhouses, you could see how passionately animals will fight to escape the ones who come to kill them. When we kill animals for food, clothing or other purposes, we undoubtedly harm the individual animals who are slaughtered.

Lest you get the wrong idea, let's be clear that animals who we use for their reproductive secretions (e.g., milk and eggs) suffer as much, if not more so, than the animals who we use primarily for their flesh. Cows and goats who are raised for milk are forcibly and repeatedly impregnated without consent and their babies are taken away quickly, without the mother having a chance to nurture and bond with her children. In addition to being constantly pregnant and milked by humans or machines, these bereft mothers, as well as egg-laying chickens, are all slaughtered after their reproductive organs are "spent." Just like animals raised for meat, those who are raised for dairy are treated as mere resources, not as the sentient creatures we know them to be.

In the modern world with refrigeration, storage, transportation and manufacturing technologies, it is not required for human survival to consume items that come from animals. We can function quite well on a vegan* lifestyle as hundreds of thousands of vegans (including me) can attest. So if consuming animals is not necessary for survival, why do we do it? The primary reasons for eating animals seem to be: tradition, culture, status, personal enjoyment or a mistaken belief in the health "benefits." Once you understand that a meat-and-dairy is no more healthy than a vegan* diet and consider the other reasons, none of them seem very substantial, especially when compared to the immense harm that will be done to numerous individual animals to on your behalf.

Tradition, culture and status have been used to justify all kinds of wrongs throughout human history, especially the oppression of one group by another group (e.g., women as "property" of their husbands) and it is not reasonable to tout tradition as a reason for perpetuating any kind of oppression. It should be acknowledged, however, that breaking tradition, going against culture or giving up status are all difficult things to deal with. Many of our social events are centered around consuming animals and opting out can create social challenges for us. However, with the right information and by practicing compassion and mindfulness, it is possible to break free of our habits and change for the better. Go vegan*.

Our Environment

Plant products work better for people & the planet

Growing plants for direct human consumption is much more efficient than animal agriculture in terms of land, energy, water and waste/pollution. Animal-feed crops are grown on land with materials, machinery and effort that could've been used for human-feed crops, but instead of being made into plant-based human foods, they are transported periodically to the location of the captive animals for feeding them (to "convert" the plant foods into animal foods).

Although the vast majority of captive animals are kept on factory farms, which use the minimal amount of space possible, their grounds still require significant land mass (by contrast, small family farms, which are perceived as "better" by many people actually far less efficient). Also, there is a lot of energy involved in the machinery and effort to "grow" the animals, extract and process their fluids (in the case of milk or eggs) and slaughter them (all), rendering their bodies into saleable "products" where possible and disposing of the rest.

Animals raised for food require significantly more water than growing plants, at a time when our global fresh water supply is declining to dangerous levels. Water is used for growing the plants fed to the animals, as well as hydration, cleaning, rendering and leather tanning. See Water Use & Privatization (F.E.P.) for details (with references).

Pollution is also a big problem with animal agriculture, not only from the excess transportation (transporting feed to the captive animals, transporting animals for slaughter, transporting their rendered flesh and fluids for processing), but also waste produced by the animals, as well as dangerous agrichemicals. See Pollution (Water, Air, Chemicals) - F.E.P. for details (with references).

The points above pertain to land animals used for food, who are almost all herbivores, but the fishing industry is also energy inefficient (as fish and other sea creatures must eat other animals or plants, rather than growing from sunlight and minerals) and detrimental to our environment. Commercial Fishing is devastating to our oceans, which are critical to life on earth, covering 2/3rds of the planet and home to phytoplankton who produce nearly half of the oxygen we breathe.

Note: many studies and groups talk about the environmental impacts of "eating meat," but the environmental impact of "non-meat" animals (e.g., cows raised for milk) is equally significant as all animals raised for food are less efficient than using those same resources for food plants.

The human population has grown to more than 7 billion people, almost 3 times what it was in the mid-20th century (about 2.5 billion) and is expected to keep growing (reference wikipedia world_population). Since arable land is, conversely, shrinking, more efficient food production is becoming imperative - we cannot afford to have so many humans relying on animal products. Eventually, the entire population will need to eat primarily plant-based foods, and you can help now by switching to a vegan* lifestyle.

Considering how much food you will consume in your future lifetime (more than any other type of product), going vegan* is the best way to minimize your impact on our environment (minimizing energy, land, transportation used in manufacturing your food items) and to encourage better food management for a growing global population.

Our Health

Plant Foods = Happy Hearts

Although it's not required to go vegan to be healthy, the common practice of regularly consuming animal products is dangerous to one's long-term health. The standard US diet, which includes large quantities animal products, increases the risk of heart disease and can contribute to diabetes (whereas eating vegan can prevent, mitigate and sometimes reverse both heart disease and diabetes). Some studies have linked high volumes of animal proteins to increased risk for a variety of cancers. See Meat Consumption and Cancer on PCRM and The China Study.

Some people think that only "red meat" has high cholesterol, but that is incorrect - all animal products, including fish, eggs, poultry and dairy, have cholesterol, many of them with levels near (or above) "red meat." Since the human body, like animal bodies, manufactures its own cholesterol, any cholesterol consumed in foods is more than is necessary and causes extra work for the body to deal with. See Cholesterol and Heart Disease on PCRM.

Some people think that consuming dairy is healthy, unaware that most human adults have lost their ability to fully digest milk products (i.e., they are lactose-intolerant) after weaning, as we would expect from other animals in nature. Also, neither milk consumption nor calcium intake are deciding factors in osteoporosis or bone loss. See Understanding Lactose Intolerance on PCRM.

In addition to the health impacts from animal materials themselves, there are health risks associated with the hormones and antibiotics routinely used by the animal products industry.

  • Due to crowded conditions, diseases can run rampant and to counter this, industry doses animals with antibiotics, which has the undesirable side effect of producing antibiotic-resistent diseases and super-bugs, some of which are transmittable to humans.
  • Many animals are given hormones so that they grow faster and produce more flesh ("meat") and secretions ("milk" and "eggs"). These hormones (which include progesterone, testosterone and synthetic hormones) can persist into the human food supply and these added hormones may contribute to early puberty in girls, increased risk of cancer and other health problems.

By all accounts, optimal health seems to require that we radically lower the amount of animal products we consume, so why not go vegan*? A well-balanced plant-based diet is healthy and will help keep your heart and circulation functioning optimally. Additionally, the vegan* diet helps with digestion and auto-immune functions.

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.… An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.”

Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets,”
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109, Issue 7, July 2009

  • See also my Nutrition section for important information about vegan nutrition.

And while we're talking about health, let's consider the health of your family, your friends, the planet and the human population at large. The best way to benefit the health of everyone, especially future generations, is to adopt a vegan* lifestyle and encourage others to do the same.  Plant-based lifestyles reduce our need for energy, land, and water resources while maximizing output for the growing human population - they are the only long-term sustainable option. Adopting a vegan* lifestyle will create more demand for plant-based products and inspire positive innovation in currently harmful industries as they seek to capture the attention of more ethically-minded consumers. And, of course, a vegan* lifestyle will benefit the health of sentient animals who will not be destroyed in the future, due to your compassionate decision.