Wanda Embar: Veganpeace
By Bharathi Shiva
Wanda Embar (WE) is the Founder of Veganpeace, a website dedicated to “inspire people to strive towards a more peaceful world where animal and human rights are respected and honored.”
Embar, who was born in Leiden, the Netherlands studied mathematics at the University of Leiden and later at the University of Toulouse, France. She then relocated to Wisconsin, U.S.A., where she currently resides. Embar became vegetarian around 1985, by following her older sister’s example. After reading about the suffering dairy cows go through, she turned vegan in 1990. It was then she saw how connected the meat and dairy industry are.
Livestock is now estimated to cause around 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has huge environmental impact. In this interview, Embar highlights the philosophy behind veganism and some of the key behavioural issues related to it.
EWTT: When did you become sensitive to animal suffering?
Embar: I grew up eating meat. I was surrounded by cats and other little creatures and loved animals, but I’d never made the connection. Meat was just a normal part of the meal on our dinner table. When I was about 15 years old, my older sister had become vegetarian after a teacher had talked to her class about animal suffering. As a younger sister I just followed her lead. After that I looked up books about vegetarianism in the library and started to read about the issues. I was shocked when I found out how animals are raised and killed for our meals. I was also completely convinced that other people would immediately become vegetarian if they found out what I had just read. My parents were the first people I shared my new found knowledge with. It was a very rude awakening for me when they didn’t react the way I expected them too. I was hurt, upset, but as a teenager, I was especially angry. After that I started to talk to basically anyone who wanted to listen to me about vegetarianism, mostly to my friends at school.
EWTT: Was your decision to turn vegan because of a love for all animals or the belief that animals have a right to a good life?
Embar: I would say both. I definitely have a love for animals, which I’m sure has influenced the decisions I’ve made in life. I was also born with a very strong belief in justice. That’s why I can’t help but care about so many different issues in this world.
EWTT: Was your shift to a vegan diet a gradual process or more like an overnight decision?
Embar: I turned vegan the day I read a paragraph about dairy cows in a Dutch book about vegetarianism. (I’d been vegetarian for about 5 years.) The book talked about how calves are removed from their mothers, very soon after birth. It also mentioned how dairy cows are slaughtered at about the age of 3 to 4 years, whereas they can live to be 25 years old. That’s when I realized that the dairy industry was just as cruel as the meat industry. I was still living at home and remember opening my bedroom door, calling my mother (who was about to buy groceries) and saying that I didn’t want to drink milk anymore. That’s the day I became vegan. It was on February 27th 1990.
EWTT: How did your family react?
Embar: My mother was a bit worried. I hardly knew anything about veganism yet and didn’t even know whether there were any other vegans in Holland. So it was all still new for us. But my family supported me, mostly because they knew that there was absolutely no way they could possibly change my mind.
EWTT: How about your children?
Embar: Since my husband and I, are both vegan, we are raising our two children (aged 10 and 12) as vegan. I believe that a vegan diet is healthier, so it’s a natural choice to raise our children that way. And of course it also makes a lot of sense to raise children with compassion. It’s very easy and gentle to explain to them that a tomato grows on a plant, but I can’t imagine how I would explain to them about how a piece of meat reaches the dinner table. Children are born with a natural love for animals and it’s beautiful to be able to nurture that.
EWTT: What is the hardest thing about becoming a vegan?
Embar: If I have to answer this question for me personally, then the answer is “nothing”. I’ve never had any trouble becoming vegan and never missed anything. I’ve been a vegan for 21 years now and there hasn’t been a single day where I “missed” something or had a craving for a non-vegan food. I know that’s not the same for other people though. Many vegans (including my husband) are really helped by having other vegans around them for support. I also know that many vegans (especially here in America) really have a hard time giving up cheese. Cheese seems to be more difficult to give up than meat.
EWTT: You believe that going completely vegan instead of cutting down on meat or dairy consumption is the ideal situation. But for most people, isn’t meat reduction a more achievable goal?
Embar: That is a very good question. You correctly assumed that I consider being totally vegan the ideal situation and I would like to elaborate on the reasons why a bit. Firstly – and what brought me personally to ‘veganism‘ - I don’t believe that animals exist on this Earth simply to serve us humans. Unless it’s necessary for our own survival, I don’t see any valid reason to exploit and abuse our fellow sentient beings.
Secondly the vegan lifestyle can be the solution to some other major problems we are dealing with. It’s important for us to realize that ‘veganism’ doesn’t just benefit the lives of the non-human inhabitants of this Earth but us too. Here is why:
We are growing gigantic amounts of grains to be fed to farmed animals, while people in this world are dying from hunger. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat. That’s a very inefficient way of producing food, which we can’t afford in this overpopulated world.
To make room to grow these huge amounts of grains, we also destroy the beautiful nature on this Earth. We are destroying millions of acres of rain-forests so we can grow crops to feed to factory-farmed animals.
And if that weren’t bad enough, meat consumption has also been linked to major health problems like heart disease, obesity and cancer.
So yes, veganism is the ideal situation for this planet and all the creatures who inhabit it.
EWTT: Our society is largely non-vegan and most meat is factory-farmed. How to you stay positive that the transition will come about?
Embar: It is not easy, but I deal with it by trying to understand how humans behave and why they behave that way. We are all born in this very complex world, with already existing norms and values. It is very normal to just want to blend in with our current society and to accept their way of life. That’s the easy way to live and it’s understandable that most people choose to go that direction.
It’s comforting for me to know, that the majority of people seem to have a natural love for the animals that they encounter in life (like pets or zoo animals). It’s also comforting to know that most people would be absolutely disgusted if they were face to face with what goes on in a factory farm. This is both comforting and frustrating, because people seem to have a natural reaction to want to close their eyes and ignore whatever makes them feel uncomfortable, which is made very easy for them since most animal cruelty happens completely out of sight. What also helps me to deal with people, is being very aware of my own imperfections and my own tendencies to want to ignore suffering. When money is tight, I’ll also buy clothing in a regular store, regardless of everything I know about sweatshops.
And what helps me maybe most is the way I became vegan. As I’d mentioned, I became vegan after reading just one simple paragraph about the dairy industry in a Dutch book about vegetarianism. This book was a newer and changed edition of the same book I had read a few years earlier.
After I’d become vegan, out of curiosity, I went to the library and looked at the older edition. I was absolutely shocked and amazed when I found that same paragraph about the dairy industry in this older version. This meant that I’d already read it a few years back, without it having any effect on me at all. This really helped me to understand other people and to know that they not only need the right information, but they also have to be at the right time in their lives to want to change.This all helps me to understand and stay patient, which doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments of frustration.
EWTT: How do you think a transition to a less meat oriented society can come about?
Embar: Every person is different and has their own comfort levels, that’s why I don’t suggest any single way in doing this. Some people might have no problem switching to a vegan diet overnight, while other people are more comfortable incorporating a vegan meal once a week. There is no right or wrong, it all helps. Caring is what matters most.However I encourage people to try eating more plant-based foods. An important reason people might want to try transitioning towards a vegan diet is the message it gives to society. Money is a major tool people have to voice their opinion. The way you spend your money lets society know what actions you do and don’t support. Every time you buy a vegan food product instead of an animal product, you increase the demand of vegan products and decrease the demand of animal products.This might not seem like much while you are doing your groceries, but it definitely counts.
EWTT: Do you believe a humane way to raise animals for meat is possible?
Embar: No. I really don’t believe that it is possible to commercially raise animals in a humane way. Any commercial institution has to make economic decisions, to be able to both exist and thrive. I believe that it is impossible to put animal lives in this equation, without it negatively affecting their quality of life. It is simply impossible to meet the demands for animal products, while treating animals compassionately.
A few years ago I contacted this small Dutch farm where they raise chickens for eggs. This farm allowed you to ‘adopt’ chickens and to see them on a webcam. I asked them about common issues in the egg industry. A woman, one of the owners of the farm, answered me in an admirable honest way. She told me that they indeed have to dispose of male chicks (which are useless in the egg industry). She also mentioned that when the chickens are about 2 years old, they are slaughtered, because their eggs become too fragile to transport. She mentioned that as long as people demand animal products, they have to make economic decisions like that. And this is of course true for all animal industries, not just the egg industry.
EWTT: What about Dairy? What about milk that comes from cows that are allowed to graze on pasture and be their natural self. No hormones and antibiotics are administered. Would you consume dairy products from such farms?
Embar: No. I believe that the breast milk from cows is meant for their
own babies. And like I mentioned in a previous question, I don’t believe it is possible to raise animals in a humane way. Even small farms have to deal with issues like male calves , as male calves aren’t of much use at a dairy farm. And issues like older cows not giving enough milk anymore.
I also would like to mention that “natural cows” don’t need to be milked. Cows have been bred in a way that makes them produce these huge quantities of breast milk. A “natural cow” would produce just enough breast milk for her own baby to drink.
EWTT: What is your view on the following statement “Plants may also feel pain”
Embar: Unless you want to go the fruitarian route (I know some fruitarians), we have to eat plants. The meat industry kills more plants than eating these plants directly. The meat industry has to first feed plants to the animals that produce the meat. Then the animal has to be killed. That causes a lot more suffering then directly eating the plants.
EWTT: From the time you became a vegan 1990s to now, do you see any dramatic changes about how people perceive Veganism.
Embar: One huge change I see is that more people now know what the word ‘vegan’ means. In the 1990s, vegans were basically treated like weird aliens. Today when you mention the word “vegan”, many people even know someone that is vegan in their inner circle. So we are definitely growing as a group. This of course is helped a lot by the presence of the internet, which we didn’t have in 1990. Spreading information has become so much easier now.
People also seem to be more open to accept the vegan diet as a healthy option, even though the old “where to you get your protein” question never seems to go away.
I’ve also noticed how through the years ‘veganism’ is slowly becoming a more integrated and accepted part of our society. In 1990 it was as good as impossible to enter a restaurant and to ask about vegan menu options. Today it still doesn’t always work, but it’s a lot easier (at least in the US). You can even find some “regular” restaurants that use the word “vegan” in their menu.
The quality and selection of vegan products in health food stores has definitely greatly improved these last few years, which helps in making vegan products a lot more accessible. Regular grocery stores are also starting to carry more and more vegetarian items.
EWTT: What is the future of veganism?
Embar: My dream is that one day the animal industry will be abolished, but I highly doubt that I will live to see that happen. What I do know is that we will continue to grow and spread information. The majority of people like to follow the general way society is set up and I believe that ‘veganism’ is slowly becoming one accepted way of living. That will make it easier for future generations to decide to go in that direction. It’s never easy to join a minority, let alone be the only one you know that chooses a certain lifestyle, which is currently still the reality for many vegans. I’m confident that will change.
What Every Vegan Should Know About Vitamin B12
Very low B12 intakes can cause anaemia and nervous system damage.
The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. Vitamin B12, whether in supplements, fortified foods, or animal products, comes from micro-organisms.
Most vegans consume enough B12 to avoid anaemia and nervous system damage, but many do not get enough to minimise potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.
To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following:
- eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (μg or mcg) of B12 a day or
- take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms or
- take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
Read more from The Vegan Society
About the Interviewer:
Bharathi Shiva volunteers as Editor for Eco WALK the Talk.com
Short URL: http://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog/?p=8741
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