Fifteen million is a pretty big number.

That’s how many leaflets that the Vegan Outreach activist group claims to have put into the hands of college students and others in an effort to inspire those who might be currently following, oh, I don’t know—USDA’s Dietary Guidelines or a program recommended by a licensed nutritionist—and convince them that they should forego any of that nonsense for the “purity” of a diet (and lifestyle) that is totally divorced from any connection with animals.

Except as companion animals that get to substitute for children or as objects of wonder seen only in the fictionalized majesty of cable TV shows, of course.

My first question is, Who’s handing out the leaflets talking about proper nutrition and agricultural diversity and economic opportunity represented by livestock producers to those 15 million impressionable young people?

My second question is even shorter: Why? Why would 15 million people decide that veganism is worth a serious look-see?

Because the premise of that lifestyle is preposterous. Don’t believe me? Here’s the opening sentence of the “bestselling” (by their own accounting) book titled, “The Ultimate Vegan Guide,” by Erik Marcus:

“The practice of avoiding meat dates back thousands of years, but it was not until the 1800s that the word vegetarianism was coined.”

That is wrong on so many levels.

Guess what, veggies? Thousands of years ago there were these people, you see, who lived where you now live. Their villages and their shelters stood where your modern house or apartment now sits. But they didn’t go down to their local Whole Foods and stroll through the aisles picking up vegan analog products made mostly with “industrially grown” soybeans and imported tropical ingredients. Instead, they fished and trapped and hunted and butchered and consumed all kinds of game meat, seafood and even occasionally birds’ eggs.

Those people were called Native Americans, and you know what else? They somehow managed to survive for approximately 20,000 years, give or take a millennia or two, and even with eating all that horrible dead animal flesh they stayed healthy, happy and by all accounts were quite spiritually evolved. All the things veggies always claim are the sole property of born-again vegan believers like themselves.

And by the way, vegetarianism in the 1800s emerged not because of so-called factory farming, or because of fears about antibiotics and hormones, or even from widespread concerns about the treatment of animals in society. Primarily, those who espoused a meat-free existence did so from a primarily spiritual motivation, such as monks and other religious practitioners. The reasons for deciding not to eat meat were most often tied to concerns about ancient practices of sacrificing animals to whatever deities a particular culture happened to worship.

Behind the proselyting

But fast-forward to the 21st century, and there are millions of kids interested in adopting a lifestyle they believe will right certain wrongs they perceive are rampant in society. Because in the end, that’s the real reason people become veggies: They want to believe that their individual choice “balances the scales” against the killing of cows or the confinement of pigs or the pain they’re sure that chickens and turkeys are experiencing.

The majority of the students or young people who grab a Vegan Outreach leaflet aren’t looking to better their health. They’re looking to set the world right and “free” all those farm animals from their perceived life of misery.

Forget the fact that there would be enormous potential for human suffering if we all abandoned meat eating. Hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers and goat herders and owners of a little flock of chickens in some of the world’s most impoverished place would become destitute.

Multi-millions more in the developed world would lose jobs, income and means of support for their families. The diets of billions of people would be severely compromised. The planet’s primary ecosystems would take a major—some say fatal—hit from the added farmland, irrigation water and energy inputs that would be needed to grow enough food crops replace even a fraction of the trillions of calories consumed daily from meat, milk and eggs.

And the animals themselves? We would have no more creative ideas about how to turn back the clock on thousands of years of domestication and return cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and other species back to the wild—which, even if it could be done, would also cause a devastating impact on the world’s ecosystems—than we would how to send hundreds of millions of cats and dogs back to their primeval status as creatures equipped to survive in the wild.

What little there is left of it that hasn’t been plowed under to grow corn, wheat, soybeans and rice that veggies believe are pure, natural food that fall off of trees and into their food bowls, that is.

Me, I’ll be browsing through “The Ultimate Vegan Guide” in the next few weeks, but here’s a shortcut for those 15 million wanna-bes thumbing through their Vegan Outreach leaflets: Take it from the people who populated North America for the 20,000 years prior to the last couple hundred: Man does not live by veggies alone. □

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator