Visit a park in the city of South Pasadena in Los Angeles County, California, and if you’re fortunate, you might encounter a man and his pet pig. The man is Ian Marshall and the pig is a pot-bellied pig called Ollie, who is seven years old, about 120 pounds, and whose favourite food are chocolate-covered almonds. Ian will introduce you to Ollie and invite you to take photos with him, and then he’ll talk to you about the thing that he is most passionate about: veganism. We began by asking him what being vegan meant:

Ian Marshall (American accent): Veganism and plant-based can be confused. Eating plant-based is when people don’t eat meat, dairy and eggs. Veganism is more of a lifestyle. It’s when not only do we not eat meat, dairy and eggs and honey, we also are opposed to any kind of animal exploitation, any kind of animal products, such as leather or fur. Typically, a vegan won’t go to a zoo. They’re definitely not going to be going to a circus.


Veganism has prompted a backlash. Some people argue that since animals eat animals that we should eat them too. Marshall says that this is a misconception. 

Ian Marshall: We are not naturally carnivores. I would say that some animals, like hyenas, like tigers, will hunt and kill animals, and eat their flesh, uncooked. And then if we look at omnivores – omnivores, of course, eat animals and plants. However, if we look at the human body, we are actually designed to be herbivores. If we look at our intestinal tract, for example, it’s extremely long, and the intestinal tract is rigid, which is used to break down the plant-based fibres. If you compare that to a carnivore’s, carnivores have a very short and smooth intestinal tract, which doesn’t absorb cholesterol like our does. If you also look at our fingernails, we have very short, blunt fingernails, rather than  claws, which are used to rip apart flesh… There are so many aspects to the human body that show that we are actually designed to be herbivores.


So what about dairy products and eggs? 

Ian Marshall: I was a vegetarian for several years because I felt while I was a vegetarian that my diet didn’t contribute to the slaughter of animals. I believed that “Well animals weren’t dying.” I mean, chicken lay eggs and cows give us milk. But the more that I found online, the more videos I watched, the more articles I read, the more I realized that there is a substantial amount of death and suffering in the dairy and egg industry particularly. For example, dairy cows are, to start, artificially inseminated, oftentimes by a steel rod or a human fist. And nine months later, just like humans, they give birth to their babies. Their babies are taken away from them, typically within twenty-four to thirty-six hours. So that’s a very stressful event for the mothers, as well as for the calves. If the calves are males, then the dairy farmers will sell them to the veal industry. If they are females, then unfortunately for that cow, they will be brought up into that life of being impregnated, milked and their babies taken away from them. And typically, a dairy cow goes through that several times in her life. 


But do vegans really get all the nutrition they need?

Ian Marshall: Any diet that is not balanced may be nutritionally deficient. Just because somebody is vegan doesn’t mean they’re going to be healthy, and vice versa of course. I believe that some vegans lack some types of nutrients, particularly B12 and iron, and some vegans do lack protein. However, it definitely takes some effort and some knowledge to have a well-balanced diet as a vegan, just like it does if someone is eating meat. 


We then asked him about the environmental impact of a non-vegan diet.

Ian Marshall: Eating meat, dairy and eggs is substantially stressful on the environment, and the reason is because raising animals takes a substantial amount of resources. The farmers have to grow typically genetically modified soybeans and corn to feed to the animals. The amount of grains and other plant-based foods that they feed to those animals, it’s very inefficient. They also have to put in a lot of water, not just to give to the animals but also to clean the facilities… Another reason that animal agriculture is bad for the environment is that it is causing a substantial amount of species extinction. We see that in Brazil, where they’re chopping down rainforests to clear space for the cattle grazing. They’re chopping down rainforests to make room so that they can make room to grow genetically-modified soybeans and corn… 


And, as we now know, animals kept in captive conditions can develop viruses and diseases and transmit them to us. 

Ian Marshall: We know that Covid-19 came from animals. It was transmitted from an animal. At the time, they were saying [it was] a bat or pongolian. But ultimately, Covid-19 did come from the exploitation of animals, keeping animals in a confined space in dirty conditions, with the intent of slaughtering them and eating them. And so we’ve seen this before with other pandemics. So if we stopped exploiting animals, then we are substantially less likely to have to deal with something like this again.