Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

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Feeding Natural Carnivores

What is the vegan perspective on feeding companion animals meat?

There is no "official" vegan position regarding what to feed companion animals and the vegan community is conflicted over this issue. Dogs and cats are the primary topic of contention, since the majority of other animal companions are, by nature, herbivorous.

Dogs are able to eat a wide variety of foods and, with proper supplementation, many do quite well on a totally or predominately plant-based diet. Cats, however, are inherent carnivores and require meat to thrive. Wet and dry vegan cat foods are available, as well as nutritional supplements that are intended to be mixed with home-prepared vegan cat foods. Nevertheless, we do not have hard evidence yet to ascertain whether synthetic taurine, arachidonic acid, and other essential nutrients are metabolized effectively by felines. It is quite possible that a number of cats fed a vegan diet could appear to be healthy for several years and then "suddenly" experience devastating health- or life-threatening consequences. Some side effects of inadequate or inappropriate nutrition in cats are blindness, heart problems, kidney problems, listlessness, poor muscle tone, dull coats, and flaky skin. Is it fair or right of vegans to impose their personal diet choice on naturally carnivorous companion animals? This continues to be an issue of much debate.

There are no long-term studies or solid scientific data to support putting cats on vegan diets. Any presumed benefits are simply conjecture -- promulgated primarily by the manufacturers of these products and well-meaning activists. However, scientific and anecdotal information regarding the hazards abound.

Vegans and vegetarians often like to underscore the anatomical differences between carnivores and herbivores to support their belief that humans are not designed to eat meat. They are also repulsed and furious that some "food animals," such as cows, which are total vegetarians, are commonly fed ground up animal products or even their own species. If vegans believe that it is wrong for natural vegetarians to be force-fed meat, the inverse should be considered equally morally outrageous. Cows are designed to eat plant matter; cats are designed to eat flesh. It is not a sin to be born a carnivore -- carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores are part of the complete balance and scheme of the natural world.

Humans have a choice about their ethics and the foods that they eat; our companion animals do not. They are compelled to eat what we provide for them, even though they know what their bodies require. Homo sapiens is the only species that doesn't seem to have a clue what its ideal diet should be. Place a cat in a room with an apple and a mouse, and the cat will instinctively go after the mouse and ignore the apple. When people are transitioning a cat to a meatless diet, they typically need plenty of patience and perseverance. Sometimes vegans deprive their cats of alternative foods for long periods just so the animal will eat a plate of oats and lentils -- hardly the "normal" diet for a feline with dagger-like canines, retractable claws, no grinding molars, no hinged jaw, a short gut, and powerful stomach acids.

There are no perfect solutions when our companion animals are carnivores. Commercial "pet foods" are the dregs of the slaughterhouse industries and are rife with tainted rotting flesh, hormones, drugs, and other contaminants. Although "organic" meat-based cat food might be considered a step up the ladder as far as purity, it still contains discarded animal parts often deemed inedible by humans, and there is no way to guarantee that the "organic" animals were not diseased or given drugs prior to their death. No matter how it is analyzed, the ingredients in all animal-based "pet foods" are equally disastrous and dead -- whether home-made from human grade "organic" meats or scooped from a can or bag.

Vegans are entitled to practice and abide by their beliefs and even influence other people to do so, but is it fitting to impose our ethics on another species, especially one that would not oblige us if other options were provided? If some vegans cannot respect a cat's physiology and biological requirements, perhaps they should not adopt felines. Instead, those vegans who agonize about the welfare of cats but are unwilling to give them the meat-based diet they are designed to consume could work toward eliminating the domestic cat market through implementing extensive spay/neuter programs and breeding bans.

The issue of feeding carnivorous companion animals is controversial and contentious and certain to spark continued debate among vegans. From a moral vantage point, it is critical to analyze all angles of this problem and not settle on or reject a quick or easy resolution simply because, on the surface, it appears to comply or conflict with vegan convictions.

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