Why I am a Vegan
By David Ogilvie
When I was 18 (in 1987), out of the blue I suddenly decided that I could no longer justify animals being killed simply because I liked to eat meat.
I really don’t know where that decision came from, it was just a realisation I had at the time.
A few months later, under protest from my family, I became vegetarian.
For me, it just felt right.
Over the following few years I became more aware of the way animals are raised for food and gained more conviction that I had made the right decision.
As well as avoiding meat I also stopped eating gelatine, animal fats, cheese with animal rennet etc., basically anything that an animal had to be killed to provide. I also stopped buying and wearing leather.
It wasn’t until around 1991, four years later, that I had developed a firm realisation that animals also suffer and are killed, both directly and indirectly, to provide us with eggs and dairy products.
I then chose to become vegan. I decided to remove animal products from my whole lifestyle.
I do not pretend that veganism is perfect, and many people will not agree with the reasons I outline below for why I am vegan, but for me, I feel it is the right way to live.
And I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am an idealist. I would love to live in a truly compassionate world where unnecessary suffering is prevented. (Why wouldn’t I?! What a fantastic place that would be!)
Why I don’t eat dairy products
Most people think it is completely natural for humans to drink cow’s milk. But when one really thinks about it, it is more natural to actually continue drinking our own mother’s milk beyond infancy and throughout our entire lives.
But how many people would think it natural for grown adults to still suckle from their mother!
Humans are the only species that continues to consume milk products beyond weaning.
And adding to that, we do not even consume our own milk products, we get them from other species, i.e. cows, goats and sheep. Cow’s milk is for calves, goat’s milk is for kids, and sheep’s milk is for lambs.
It is no more natural for humans to drink these milks than dog’s milk or giraffe’s milk!
And although cow’s milk is a source of calcium, mammals, including humans, that are beyond weaning can obtain all the calcium they require from food.
“Naturalness” aside, to keep cows producing milk continuously, and in the quantities that humans demand, they are impregnated once a year.
Otherwise their milk production declines. Some of the resultant female calves from these pregnancies are kept to re-stock the herd. (As the milk production of older cows slows with age they are sent to slaughter due to them being economically unviable.)
The rest of the female calves and most male calves end up being sold and slaughtered for veal, with many being only a few days old when they are killed.
Because humans want to drink the cow’s milk, a calf is generally taken away from its mother after only a few days.
This is quite distressing and traumatic for both cows and their calves and they often bellow for each other for days afterwards.
So although we don’t kill cows directly to get their milk, the by-products of dairy production – almost 600,000 calves in Victoria alone – have brief, miserable lives in order to keep the milk flowing.
Why I don’t eat eggs
Eggs are obviously only laid by female chickens.
Half of the chicks that are hatched to provide laying chickens are inevitably male, and are therefore unwanted (they don’t lay eggs).
These chicks are generally killed a few days after hatching, as soon as their sex can be determined; they are basically of no use so they are disposed of.
Although some free-range egg farms are a vast improvement for chickens over battery farms, this fact still remains: half of the chickens bred for egg laying are male and are therefore killed.
Also, most farms, free-range or not, send older chickens to slaughter once their egg production starts to decline.
For ethical reasons I am opposed to both of these aspects of the egg industry and therefore don’t eat eggs. And eggs are not an essential part of the diet anyway.
(If people want to consume eggs I recommend they consider buying a few end-of-lay chickens (which still lay eggs and only cost about $1 per bird) and keep them in their back yard.
That way they know they are being well looked after. They would also be giving a few hens a good home that would otherwise be slaughtered.
Otherwise I recommend they buy free range eggs from small producers who are better able to provide adequate care for their chickens and are more inclined to give them a better and more natural life than the large producers are.
Most of these small producers only sell their eggs through health food shops.)
Why I don’t wear wool
I find it almost ludicrous that so many people in Australia despise the introduced rabbit because of its impact on the environment.
I agree that rabbits (and foxes) are a big problem, but introduced sheep and cattle, with their hard hooves and the vast expanses of native vegetation and wildlife habitat that have been cleared for them, have had, and do have, a much, much greater impact on the Australian environment!
They are by far the biggest introduced animal problem!
I do acknowledge that sheep and cattle are ingrained into our culture, and that the livestock industry is a huge primary industry in Australia, and there are many other issues involved here, but basically I have made a personal choice not to support these industries in any way if I can avoid it.
So that’s why I don’t wear wool..And due to the many alternatives to wool available in our modern society I do not need to.
I also avoid wool on animal welfare grounds.
Although sheep are not directly killed for wool, all sheep are ultimately sent to slaughter.
I am also opposed to procedures such as mulesing, where an area the size of a plate is cut from around the rear end of some breeds of sheep to prevent flystrike in the excessive folds of skin in this area.
This skin is cut off without any anaesthetic and is extremely painful.
This is the industry’s solution for a problem caused by selectively breeding sheep to have excessive skin so they produce more wool.
Although mulesing does prevent flystrike, which is a very miserable condition, it would be better if the industry simply bred sheep that didn’t have this excessive skin in the first place.
Why I don’t wear leather
The main reason why I choose not to wear leather is obviously because an animal needs to be killed to provide it.
But I also avoid it because it is an intrinsic aspect of the meat industry, an industry which I do not wish to contribute to at all.
Supporting the leather industry would mean supporting the meat industry.
Estimates are that 10% of an animal’s worth at an abattoir is in the skin.
Many people have questioned me about leather and state that the manufacture of microfibre and plastics (i.e. leather alternatives) have more impact on the environment than leather does.
But when the various chemicals used for processing, tanning and dying leather are put into the equation this is questionable.
These chemicals include volatile organic solvents, formaldehyde, fungicides, coal tar, azo dyes (possibly carcinogenic), chromium (VI), cyanide containing finishes etc., all of which are very toxic.
And this is without considering the habitat destruction and vegetation clearance to provide the grazing land for the cattle in the first place.
Why I avoid other animal products
Over the years I have developed a deep respect and reverence for all life.
Therefore, as well as purchasing products that are free of animal products where possible, I also avoid buying household products, toiletries etc. that are tested on animals.
The testing of consumer products on animals is horrifically cruel and is not something I wish to contribute to.
There is a wide range of alternative products available that contain less harsh chemicals, are better for the body, and more environmentally-friendly so I purchase these instead.
For a list of products that are not tested on animals, refer to the Choose Cruelty Free website.
My general philosophy
Unfortunately, in the society we currently live in, animal products are everywhere and it is virtually impossible to live 100% animal-free.
For example, animal products are used in motor vehicles, dyes in clothes have been tested on animals, and there are traces of egg and dairy products in many otherwise vegan products.
For many years I lived a very miserable and obsessive existence trying to be a 100% completely consistent vegan and it is not really somewhere I would like to be again (as I said, it is virtually impossible to do so in our current society).
If you are considering becoming vegan I recommend that you focus on the bigger picture and not get hung up about technicalities that are like drops in the ocean.
Go as far as you are prepared to and do only what you are ready for.
This means different things to different people and that is ok – everyone draws the line at a different place. (If you get hassled by the ‘vegan police’ just ignore them!)
In conclusion, my general philosophy that has developed over the years, and to which
I live by now, is to live as full a life as possible while at the same time minimising the suffering and impact on other people and animals that my life causes, and to also minimise my impact on the environment.
To me, that’s what I see as the essence of the vegan lifestyle.