There are around 19,632,000 vegans living in the U.S right now and while that number seems to be growing, a recent discussion has pondered whether the vegan lifestyle really is as cruelty-free as it portrays itself to be.
Veganism. It's one of the fastest growing and most talked about movements on the planet.
High-profile figures such as Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson, and Pamela Anderson have all boasted how they have benefited from a vegan lifestyle and millions of vegans constantly promote their healthy and cruelty-free lifestyles online.
But a recent online discussion has completely directed the "cruelty-free" brand that veganism holds and has proven that being a vegan really isn't as cruelty-free as many believe.
Most people would think that going vegan is either a health-conscious choice or an environmental choice.
However, vegan detractors have posed that issues such as forced labor, exploitation of workers, hazardous and extreme working conditions, lack of labor rights protecting agricultural workers, and extremely low wages are all reasons why you should have a rethink about choosing the vegan lifestyle.
It's been reported that the sudden demand for grains such as quinoa meant that prices had a dramatic increase, meaning places such as Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
Soya is another problematic import.
Would go vegan but that shit is expensive to have a proper balanced diet— Kaath Kilo 🇦🇺 (@Kaath_Kilo) June 13, 2021
Beloved by vegans worldwide as an alternative to dairy products, it is actually leading to environmental destruction.
Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.
The discussion in question arose on Tumblr and it questioned the credibility and sustainability of the vegan lifestyle and whether it can truly be considered as cruelty-free.
The post started as a criticism by user @rosasdesal: "Repeat after me: Veganism is not affordable. Veganism is not cruelty-free. Veganism is not the best choice for everyone."
User @caged-freedom replied, with one line reading in bold: Veganism is f***ing cruelty-free. That's what it's all about.
Then, another user @latinagabi came swooping in to discuss how mass harvesting of grains is actually exploiting hundreds of people, including children. "Exploiting undocumented immigrants and other workers is cruelty-free? Nearly 500,000 children as young as 6 harvest twenty-five percent of U.S crops."
In 2012, The Atlantic released an incredible report on where American food actually comes from.
"What's illegal in most countries is permitted here. Child migrant labor has been documented in the forty-eight contiguous states," writes author Helene York.
"Every few weeks as families move, children leave school and friends behind. If you've had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you've probably eaten food harvested by children."
And with veganism being a mass proportion of vegetables, it's important to know and understand where your food originates from.
"What's remarkable is that most of the migrant child farmworkers are American citizens trying to help their families."
heres your reminder that going vegan isn’t cruelty free. stand in solidarity with farm workers and help them fight for higher wages and better working conditions !!!!!!! https://t.co/dKm13OGsiN— 🇵🇷communist 🇵🇸 (@chichisup) November 28, 2019
"Children earn about $1,000 per year for working an average of 30 hours a week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. When you consider that the average annual pay for a migrant family of four is $12,500-$14,500, it's apparent why some families feel they have no choice but to bring their children into the fields with them."
"And despite an idyllic "back to the land" reputation, crop fields are not the safest work environments for anyone. They're stiflingly hot at times and are often sprayed with toxic pesticides that cause skin irritations, nausea, and breathing difficulties."
"In 1938, Federal law extended protections to working children -- but it intentionally excluded agriculture."
"As important as legal rights are, protective legislation may not be the best approach. Migrant families will lose their children's wages and would be unable to move with available work. Our very cheap food comes with enormous environmental, social, and public health costs. It's time to end child field labor by paying adult laborers a wage that is truly decent."
Another commenter, @sissikuk, joined the Tumblr discussion: "People are literally starving in South America because all the Quinoa crop is being exported mainly for white vegans who want to live cruelty-free but don't care about brown people as much as they do about animals."
Another criticism of the vegan lifestyle was many turning away from the use of honey.
Commenter @breelandwalker joined the Tumblr discussion, writing: "Plus there are vegan articles floating around decrying the use of honey, even though the production and harvest of honey by responsible beekeepers don't hurt the bees at all and is not exploitative, and that misinformation hurts the honey industry, which is TRYING TO SAVE BEES FROM EXTINCTION."
Let's look into it then - Bee's, honey and veganism, how do they all meld together?
Bees make more than enough honey for the colony and for us, it’s there natural instincts to hoard honey so I don’t think it’s morally wrong to use honey and health benefits of honey. Being that many animals die in the production of vegetable but we still view vegetables as vegan— Jah-B (@cjahbarey) June 17, 2021
According to Scientific American: "Forcing bees to gather pollen and nectar from vast swaths of a single crop deprives them of the far more diverse and nourishing diet provided by wild habitats. The migration also continually boomerangs honeybees between times of plenty and borderline starvation."
"Once a particular bloom is over, the bees have nothing to eat, because there is only that one pollen-depleted crop as far as the eye can see. When on the road, bees cannot forage or defecate. And the sugar syrup and pollen patties beekeepers offer as compensation are not nearly as nutritious as pollen and nectar from wild plants."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also have a strong stance against honey. "These tiny animals are factory-farmed, much like chickens, pigs, and cows are," says the organization's page on honeybees. "Avoid honey, beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and other products that come from bees."
It seems to be that honey falls into a grey area when it comes to vegans because some believe that as long as the bees are kept in an "ethical" manner, then taking some honey isn't so bad.
However, it has been reported that bees have to visit 2000 flowers to make just one teaspoon of honey. Even though the population of bees globally seems to be drastically decreasing, American honey seems to be on the rise with commercialized honey being a $9 billion industry.
With commercial beekeeping, bees are subject to various processes and procedures, including artificial insemination for the queen and clipping of her wings so she can't fly away, manual replacement of the hive's queen bee, treatment with antibiotics, and culling.
In conclusion, it's about seeing where your honey originates from. Does it come from a local beekeeper who has a mass of wildflowers in his area for his bees to have a rounded and healthy diet? Or is it from a mass-produced beekeeping area where bees can only have one type of nectar which is packed with chemicals and pesticides from the plants?
And finally, we get the conclusion comment from Tumblr user @allbarksomebite, who discusses many issues vegans face when choosing a "cruelty-free" lifestyle.
For example: "Rabbits are regularly shot and killed to protect crops. If a farmer has a particularly bad rabbit problem i.e. a large, established warren, they may use a gas bomb like the Rodenator to destroy the warren and kill or relocate the rabbits."
"All we can do is reduce harm. Being vegan does not mean you are living a cruelty-free life."
PETA described being vegan excellently: "Being vegan is about helping animals, not maintaining personal purity. Boycotting products that may contain trace amounts of animal products can actually be harmful to animals in the long run. For example, by refusing to eat a veggie burger from a restaurant because the bun may contain traces of milk or eggs, you are discouraging that restaurant from offering vegan options because it seems too difficult a task."
It's certainly a lot to think about…