We're not that different, you and me.
Contrary to some old, naïve beliefs, animals do have intelligence and emotions, and do feel pain. (Yes, including fish.) And they are being exploited and abused in ways that should be alarming and jaw-dropping, but because of continued speciesism and the normalization of carnism, most people don't think twice about the meat they put in their grocery carts or the leather purse they buy. Cows, just like humans, only lactate for their babies, which means that their babies have to be taken from them at just a couple of days old so the calf doesn't drink the milk, and mother and baby cry out for one other. Dairy cows exhaust after 4-6 years of constant pregnancies and milking, living out only a quarter of a healthy cow's life expectancy before being sent to slaughter. Supporting dairy is supporting the meat industry.
Animal agriculture is causing rapid destruction of our planet.
Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land, and animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, habitat destruction, and global greenhouse gas emissions (source). If we continue at this rate, we won't recognize the planet our grandchildren grow up on. While you could argue individual person going vegan "doesn't make a difference," a vegan (plant-based) diet cuts your carbon footprint by 50%. And if you're going to use that argument, why bother recycling if we're piling up the landfills so quickly — and while we're at it, might as well litter since so many other people do it!
We are the only voice the animals have.
Unlike women in the suffrage movement or African Americans in the civil rights movement, animals cannot organize and speak up for themselves. And just as being silent about modern-day racism is equivalent to aligning yourself with the aggressor, being silent about animal exploitation is as harmful as being the one committing the violence — we just usually prefer paying other people to do it for us. No, we will not quickly change the minds and habits of billions of people. But if we don't start somewhere, we are just as culpable as those actively exploiting animals. We stand up by voting with our dollar, meal by meal, purchase by purchase. We give our voices to animals when we share the information that people need to know about what's going on in factory farms. We bust the myth of humane meat. Animals cannot speak for themselves, so we must speak and act on their behalf.
Our bodies thrive on a plant-based diet.
Personally, I have been blessed to this point in my life with very good physical health, so I don't have to follow any dietary restrictions for health reasons. I crave vegetables, and I also enjoy sweets daily. Because of my history with both personal eating disorder recovery and treating eating disorders for over five years, I am a big believer in "everything in moderation," and not getting overly rigid with food. So, for me, health is not a big motivating factor for my veganism.
With that said, from a strictly health perspective, a vegan diet can strongly support optimal physical wellness — and the foremost nutrition organization in the U.S., the Academy of Nutrition and Dietietics (AND), agrees. In December 2016, ANAD released an updated position statement:
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.
Though it may not be the most popular opinion in the vegan community, I do believe other diets can also support physical wellness. But when I also consider the ethical component, the fact that I can be just as healthy (if not more so) while eating only non-animal foods makes it a win-win.