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What's the deal with vegan living: Part 1

Indian activists from The People for the Ethical

Indian activists from The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pose wearing green body paint holding placards during a demonstration in Hyderabad on World Earth Day. (April 22, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Jennifer Greene was taught growing up to be kind to animals but also ate meat, eggs and dairy on a regular basis. She always felt a disconnect at the dinner table wondering what happened to the farmed animals and once she made the connection, it finally hit her that she had the option to make a kinder choice--she realized she could choose vegan food. Greene has embraced the vegan life for more than 10 years and is also the MeetUp group creator of “Vegan Long Island!” based in Melville.

The main difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans exclude all animal-based products, such as dairy and other products like soaps and cosmetics that could contain animal secretions.

The motivation to embrace a vegan lifestyle ranges from personal health to ethical reasons, especially in relation to animal rights.

Bob DiBenedetto, president and executive director of HealthyPlanet, is a longtime vegan of more than 30 years who works with the community group on Long Island that promotes healthier lifestyle choices.

DiBenedetto said Americans at large already possess compassion, but it’s a matter of applying those same values to animals.

“Many people would protect our animals, and if that compassion is to have any meaning, it has to be brought into practice. Thinking something and believing something gets nowhere,” DiBenedetto said. “When we’re eating animals, we’re doing it not because we need to -- which many people still believe and is not true -- so why do we do it? We’re inflicting pain for fun, entertainment and for convenience. This is actually what’s happening. And no one who’s doing it believes that’s the basis.”

Aspects of agriculture, particularly in raising livestock, is also a concern for vegans, especially since studies say beef production is linked to global warming.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, nationally based in Massachusetts, is an organization that looks for environmental solutions through independent studies. One of their research topics was a study about the amount of heat-trapping gases pasture-based beef producers emitted into the atmosphere.

The study found that agriculture accounts for about 6 percent of total heat-trapping emissions in the United States and beef production accounts for about 2.2 percent. That’s roughly the same amount of annual emissions as that given off by 24 million cars or light trucks, or 33 average-sized coal-fired power plants, according to the website for the UCS.

The study indicated that, heat-trapping gases such as nitrous oxide and methane are doing damage when it comes to global warming emissions that are trapped within the atmosphere.

“And it's no contest — vegan choices are better for the planet,” Greene said. “Why? Because livestock produce methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So cutting back on meat and animal products helps fight global warming. Less meat equals less heat.”

So now you’re sitting there saying to yourself, “OK, I get it; it’s good for the animals, and the environment, but I like food and I love to eat. What are the options?”

Stay tuned for part two to learn about healthy vegan foods and alternatives.