Is vegetarianism an animal-friendly diet?

I want to tread carefully here in attempting to shed more light on a durable and damaging myth. It is the myth that vegetarianism is a compassionate, animal-friendly way to eat. There are many who also think that vegetarianism and veganism are similar. Neither is true.

A vegetarian diet is often a point along the path to going vegan. It was for me. But I meet people every once in a while who have been vegetarian for years, and in some cases for a dozen years or more. I always wonder how that can be possible with all the information that is so much more readily available today. And that leads me to the inspiration for this article.

I often see and hear people talking about vegetarians and vegans in the same breath, as though they’re all but one and the same, with only trifling differences. I even hear the terms occasionally used interchangeably. While neither vegetarians nor vegans eat animal meat, that’s typically where the similarity ends. It’s not an easy reality to face when you’ve made the effort to go vegetarian, but the myth of humane dairy and eggs — just like the myth of humane animal meat — is one of the most persistent and successful lies told by the animal exploitation industries.

This all hits me where I live because I went vegetarian for about six months many years ago and did it completely wrong. I stopped eating animal flesh and started eating more cheese, bread, pasta, ice cream and other things in its place — and not nearly enough vegetables, fruits and other whole, plant-based foods. Needless to say, I gained a lot of weight — hitting my all time high — and felt terrible. Given where I was in life at the time, I just gave up vegetarianism rather than educate myself on how to do it right or, better by far, going vegan. I don’t even recall exactly why I decided to go vegetarian in the first place, but I know I didn’t do my research and learn about the horrors of the dairy, egg and animal meat industries. What I’d give for a time machine to go back and have another chance to do it right!

I’ve tried various diets, from pescatarian to vegetarian to plant-based. I’ve spent far more years of my life consuming animal flesh and animal secretions than not doing so. I grew up in a small agricultural town in a home with very little means. My dad grew up on a farm, milking cows and taking eggs from the chickens, all for his family’s own consumption. I believe he slaughtered chickens, as well; I know he was at least present because he told stories about what he saw. Growing up on a rural farm, I doubt he or his family ever met a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. I don’t think it would have occurred to them to not turn animals into units of production, using them for their secretions before killing and eating them.

In his excellent book, The World Peace Diet, Will Tuttle, PhD has the following to say about the world we’re born into:

“None of us ever consciously and freely chose to eat animals. We have all inherited this from our culture and upbringing. Going into the baby food department of any grocery store today, we see it immediately: beef-flavored baby food, chicken, veal, and lamb baby food, and even cheese lasagna baby food. Well-meaning parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors have forced the flesh and secretions of animals upon us from before we can remember. As infants, we have no idea what “veal,” “turkey,” “egg,” or “beef” actually are, or where they come from. We don’t know what horror is visited upon helpless creatures in order to create the easily available concoctions being spooned into our little teething mouths. We find out slowly, and by the time we do, the cruelty and perversity involved seem natural and normal to us…” Will Tuttle PhD., The World Peace Diet (pp. 10-11)

When I ate a vegetarian diet for six months or so, I tried to consume only organic, free range chickens’ eggs and organic animals’ milk, yogurt and cheese from “happy” cows. I believed that by doing this and removing animal flesh from my diet, I was no longer participating in the exploitation, torture and killing of animals. I now know that, in fact, I was simply buying into the endless, highly effective propaganda put out by the animal exploitation industries and the government agencies and officials they pay off.

The truth is that, even on the smallest of dairy and poultry farms, even so-called free-range chickens, cows, goats and their offspring suffer horrible cruelty, lead miserable lives and die early and often painful deaths. Even those vegetarians with the best of intentions who have given up animal flesh for ethical reasons therefore continue to unknowingly participate in the horrific treatment of the animals from whom are taken the eggs and dairy they consume. What I found most shocking was the fact that roughly “21,000,000 dairy calves are slaughtered for veal or cheap beef every year globally.” Where do these young calves come from?

The following is a summary of a presentation on the realities of dairy from

In order to maintain uninterrupted milk production, cows are forced year after year to go through an endless cycle of pregnancy and birth, only to have their calves immediately taken from them. Cows and calves cry out for each other as they are separated.

All forms of dairy farming involve forcibly impregnating cows. This involves a person inserting his arm far into the cow’s rectum in order to position the uterus, and then forcing an instrument into her vagina. The restraining apparatus used is commonly called a “rape rack.”

Half of all calves born are male. Of no use in milk production, they are sent to veal-producing operations or directly to auctions where they are sold and slaughtered when they are just a few days old. Male calves used for veal production suffer a crude castration process and are killed after 4 months spent in small crates or pens.

After just 4 to 6 years, dairy cows are “spent” from being forced to continuously produce milk. Often weak and ill, they endure transport to auction and slaughter, both of which are traumatic for these gentle animals. If allowed to exist free of exploitation and slaughter, cows can live 25 years or more.

And as with all claims of a humane way to go about things, there isn’t one when it comes to stealing a newborn baby from his mother and then killing him shortly thereafter:

“On so-called humane dairy farms, [calves] are often taken within the first hour of birth as separation of mother and calf is considered less stressful when they have not been allowed to bond.” – 10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, Free From Harm

Most of the world now understands the horrors of factory farmed chickens for eggs and their flesh, but what about cage-free, happy chickens?

Hens used for egg production come from hatcheries, where male chicks (none of which can lay eggs) are killed immediately after hatching. Each year, hundreds of millions of these vulnerable beings are suffocated or ground up alive to produce fertilizer or feed.

Chickens used to produce eggs, including eggs labeled “cage-free,” have their beaks forcibly mutilated to minimize the damage they cause each other when crowded together.

At all farms, large-scale and small-scale, laying hens are killed when their production declines, typically within two years, as feeding these worn-out individuals cuts directly into profits. Often the bodies of “spent” hens are so ravaged that no one will buy them, and they are ground into fertilizer or just sent to a landfill.

If allowed to live free of exploitation and slaughter, chickens can live ten years or more. They protect, feed, and nurture their young, just like other animals.

Worth noting here is the fact that a common condition of “spent” hens is a prolapsed uterus, where the incredibly painful result of unnaturally high volume of egg production results in the uterus collapsing into their vagina.

From Farm Sanctuary’s website:

Today’s hen, selectively bred and artificially induced to yield high egg production, will produce more than 250 eggs annually, compared to 100 eggs annually a century ago. In order to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle when production declines, hens are sometimes starved and denied any food for up to two weeks — a process known as “force molting.”

When I started moving toward a plant-based diet a few years ago, I stopped eating land animals first. After a brief stint as a ‘pescatarian’ (eating water creatures, but no land animals), I went on to cut out water creatures, too, and became a vegetarian. In addition to contributing to all the atrocities listed above, I was also still wearing animal skins (leather) and using products made from them, as well as using and wearing things made from wool and other products of animal exploitation, suffering and death. And the effects on my health? Just plain scary. Check out these 12 Frightening Facts About Milk by T. Colin Campbell, MD, as well as the The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Health Concerns about Dairy Products.

No one will argue that being a vegetarian in our society is far easier than being vegan. But if you’re looking to avoid participating in animal cruelty, exploitation and killing, a vegan diet is the only way to go.

One Reply to “Is vegetarianism an animal-friendly diet?”

  1. This is a wonderful telling of a journey many vegans and vegetarians have gone through. It can be a difficult path, filled with confusing messages and untruths. I respect you sharing your own story, it’s many obstacles, and finally how you came to see the larger picture, without judgement for those still somewhere in the middle of the road. This is instrumental for bridging the gap between vegetarians and vegans.

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