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

Jo will make every attempt to answer each question personally, however, due to her schedule, this may not be possible. If a reply is forthcoming, it could take up to a few weeks, so please be patient. It is also possible that your question will be answered directly in the "Ask Jo!" column rather than an individual response.

If you'd like to view previous questions Jo has answered, visit the Ask Jo! Archives.

Caring for Carnivorous Cats

I read that you have cats. I also heard that cats require a carnivorous diet. Do feeding your cats and your vegan lifestyle conflict? Have you found cruelty-free food for your cats?

The vegan ethic provides broad guidelines for how to live a compassionate life. Many everyday decisions -- such as what to eat, wear, or wash with -- are relatively easy to make because they are clearly delineated by vegan parameters. Other choices are not so simple.

Vegans are regularly confronted by the gray areas of life, so we are perpetually challenged to determine the most benevolent solution to numerous philosophically ambiguous and complex problems. Often there are no conclusive answers. Therefore, certain issues become more a matter of the heart than the mind.

Companion animals -- what to feed them, how to best care for them, and even whether or not they should be in our homes -- is one of those murky areas under continual discussion among vegans. Food is a particularly contentious subject because the commercial pet food industry thrives on the by-products and dregs of the combined animal slaughter industries.

Dogs and cats are, by nature, carnivorous. Nevertheless, canines, in general, can fairly readily adjust to a vegetarian or vegan diet, with careful planning and nutritional supplementation. Felines, on the other hand, have much more difficulty adapting to a meatless diet, and, without meticulous supplementation of very specific nutrients, they could go blind, fail to thrive, or even die.

Some veterinarians vehemently caution against vegetarian and vegan diets for all carnivorous companion animals. Others concede that dogs can be healthy on vegetarian fare. But whether or not cats should be given solely vegetarian food, under any circumstances, continues to be a topic of much controversy.

Some vegans provide their cats with vegan options at home, and then allow them to hunt freely outdoors to retrieve their necessary ration of meat. This approach, however, is rife with problems. Cats are extremely territorial. When left to wander on their own, they customarily get into brutal fights with other cats, which can be crippling, disfiguring, or deadly. Their safety is further compromised by exposure to lethal viruses and other transmittable diseases. Outdoor cats also become easy marks for abuse, seizure, poisoning, highway death, impoundment, and sale to research laboratories. Uncontrolled breeding of free-roaming cats is another concern that further exacerbates our already exploding problem of companion animal overpopulation. Furthermore, the predation of unsuspecting birds, small urban mammals, and other native species is cruel and dangerous. Frequently the small animals are maimed and debilitated or left to endure a slow, agonizing death. Also, the consumption of wildlife can spread disease, illness, and rabies.

Vegans do not have a clear-cut solution to this dilemma. Cats, as well as the animals that go into their food, are sentient beings. We must ask ourselves if our attempt to transform carnivorous beings into vegetarians is motivated by our concern for our feline companions, the other animals that go into their food, or our own self-serving interests.

Millions of healthy domestic animals are euthanized each year because there simply are not enough homes for them. Billions of farm animals are slaughtered each year to appease the seemingly insatiable human appetite for flesh and the meat industry's lust for greater profits. Vegans make a difference by not eating animals or using animal products and by encouraging others to do the same. Regardless of what we do and what we wish for, however, we cannot transform the world overnight. Animals will, for the time being, continue to be killed for human consumption. They are not exterminated outright to become dinner for our companion animals. Pet products are merely the remnants of animal parts deemed unsuitable for ingestion by humans.

Unquestionably, the purchase of commercial cat food supports, at least in some small measure, the food animal slaughter industries. However, it is not the cow-for-a-cat equation that may initially come to mind. Food animals are first and foremost slaughtered for human consumption, and therefore our first line of action should be transforming human eating habits. That alone will save significantly more animals than those consumed by our feline companions. Our second focus should be working for the elimination of breeding mills, combined with active campaigning for the widespread implementation of low-cost, readily available spay and neuter programs.

Should we euthanize all cats, or let them die in shelters, laboratories, and rural and urban areas simply because they had the misfortune to be born carnivores? As vegans, we must evaluate the most humane options available, and make realistic decisions based not on the world we are trying create but on the world we have before us right now.

Yes, I have feline companions. At first, we tried feeding them a vegan diet, against our veterinarian's advice. Unfortunately, they did not do well. After extensive soul searching, we made the tough decision to feed them commercial pet products. It is a moral quandary we grapple with each day. Our choice may not be the right one for every vegan. All vegans must weigh what is acceptable to them within the realm of their conscience and beliefs. If we listen to the truth in our hearts, we will know what approach we should take.

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