MalaysianVegan.com featured in the New Strait Times.

In conjunction with the worldwide celebration of World Vegan Day, New Straits Times writer Kerry-Ann Augustin writes on Veganism and also on the views of three Malaysian Vegans. Below is the full article.


Food for thought

Can going vegan change the fate of our planet? Wonders Kerry-Ann Augustin.


IN March 2012, Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, walked up to the podium at the Affordable World Security Conference in Washington D.C. and addressed the delegates with a shocking revelation: War is not the biggest threat to our security. The food crisis is.


In just 40 years, your children and your future grandchildren may be in the heart of a reality we Malaysians cannot even begin to fathom - a world ravaged by famine. By 2050, the world's population will swell to 9.6billion people and we will need to produce 70 per cent more food to feed them. As it stands, global temperatures are rising and water levels are dropping at alarming rates.


There is, however, a silver lining in this dark cloud of doom - the term veganism carries the same meaning it did when it was first coined 70 years ago, but today - on World Vegan Day - it translates to a paradigm shift that could very well save us.


WAY OF THE VEGANS

At the stroke of midnight in 1924, a 14-year-old Donald Watson made a New Year's resolution to stop eating meat. As a child, he spent time on his uncle's farm in Yorkshire and learnt every animal was reared for the sole purpose of human consumption (in his latter years, he would refer to farms as a "death row" for animals).


His early brushes with pigs squealing in agony as they were forced into slaughterhouses and watching chickens suffocate to death before being de-feathered changed his mindset on meat forever. By 1944, Watson started The Vegan Society and for years, he single-handedly produced the society's newsletter, corresponding with the few but increasing numbers of people adopting a meat and dairy-free diet.


Today, the term "vegan" which Watson conceived, has become part of our culinary vocabulary. In a recent report by Public Radio International, over 50 million people in China are now vegans. In the United Kingdom, home of The Vegan Society, there are 150,000 vegans and thousands more who are starting to consider the diet every year.


A lot of people today are somewhat aware of the damage we human beings are doing to the planet, and to ourselves,

says Ratnasingam, a freelance programmer who kick-started MalaysianVegan.com and the Facebook page of the same name.

People go vegan because they disagree with exploitation; others do it because it's not healthy to consume meat, especially considering the way animals in farms are raised these days.

Ratnasingam, who was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for five years before becoming a vegan in 2009, confides that for him, being vegan was an ethical choice.

I have always asked myself: how can I be a responsible human being while taking into consideration that there are other living beings in this world that want happiness and freedom as much as I do? Currently, we're denying them these fundamental rights.

FREEDOM TO LIVE

The increase in people opting for a vegan lifestyle is, perhaps, a good sign that we are becoming more aware of what we eat.


A multitude of documentaries have surfaced online - from the revolutionary Food Inc. to lesser-known films like Wegman's Cruelty, Farm to Fridge, My Life as a Turkey and Peaceable Kingdom, among the many, expose and explore the subject of food in relation to climate change and the ethical treatment of farmed animals.


For me, the most important aspect of choosing to go vegan, is the realisation that consuming meat is systemised cruelty on massive scales - everyone participates without questioning,

says Pei-Lin Liew, a copywriter from Cheras who adopted veganism in January this year.

Animals deserve to be seen and respected as individuals with dignity, unique personal traits, and so forth, just like your beloved dog, cat, rabbit or hamster. Why would you eat chickens, cows, goats, and pigs but not dogs and cats?

she added.


Liew's sentiments are shared by Tan Xue Li, a student at the Sultan Idris University of Education (Upsi).


Tan, who has chosen to eat meat-free meals since the age of 15, feels strongly that being vegan is a human responsibility which encompasses kindness and compassion to all living beings.

Animal cruelty is not confined to farming, it also includes animal-testing in the things we purchase on a regular basis like shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers for instance,

she says, adding that she has started switching to buying products which are only free of animal-testing.


BEYOND EARTHLINGS

Sentiments like Liew's, Tan's and Ratnasingam's are the kind which first captured the spirit of veganism Watson stood for. But in recent years, the animal-free diet has become more than just about caring for the feelings of fellow sentient creatures.


The only way to make the greatest positive impact on the environment is going plant-based,

argues Liew, citing consequences of meat-rich diets in our society like the 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions which are derive from animal agriculture. In fact, this figure forms a string of frightening numbers associated with the consumption of meat.


The United Nations Environment Programme's (Unep) international panel issued a report in 2010 which revealed that the industry also accounts for 70 per cent of the global freshwater consumption and 38 per cent of land use in total. The message here is glaring: we need to reduce our meat and dairy consumption by a significant amount if we want to avoid slipping further into an environmental catastrophe.


ONE BITE AT A TIME

But can the effects of global warming be reversed if we all go vegan? The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency studied this possibility and found that universal veganism would mean a reduction in carbon emissions by 17 per cent, resulting in the lessening of greenhouse gas emissions in big numbers by 2050.


Universal eschewal of meat wouldn't single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change,

says L.V Anderson of Slate Magazine's food and drink section of the 2009 study.


In an interview before his death at the age of 95, Watson was asked what his greatest achievement was:

Achieving what I set out to do: to feel that I was instrumental in starting a great new movement which could not only change the course of things for Humanity and the rest of Creation but alter Man's expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.

It seems like his crusade against cruelty of animals has turned into a revelation of our future.