WARNING: This post is filled with adorable animal photos.
In the time between writing this post and publishing it, I found out what rennet is, watched Cowspiracy, and finally, mindfully came to the conclusion that vegetarianism wasn't going far enough for me. So I'm becoming vegan-ish. I say "ish" because I haven't yet had enough time to grow into the label or sort out thorny issues like honey and wool. I buy leather and wool secondhand and right now I doubt that will change.
The food I buy for myself is where the biggest changes will occur. No more cheese, no more yogurt, no more eggs. There might be some compromise — at a friend's house, or traveling outside of NYC, but I'll do my very best to avoid animal products. Below are five reasons why.
Veganism is better for the environment.
Raising livestock uses incredible amounts of water, land, and fuel while contributing to pollution, waste, deforestation, and loss of wildlife biodiversity. About 30 percent of the world’s total land surface is used to pasture livestock and raise the grains that are fed to them. This kind of system just isn't efficient. These animals are not free grazing, working for the environment and enriching the soil; instead they are inefficiently converting crops into meat, all the while using up water and land and contributing to 18 percent (or more) of human-related greenhouse gas emissions. The industry generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2, and also accounts for 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2).
After the United Nations report, Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, revealed these environmental impacts in 2006, senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization official Henning Steinfeld said, “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” Nothing of the kind has happened and in fact, global meat demand is soaring as countries like China increase in population and buying power. According to the U.N. report, global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
Cutting down on the consumption of animal products is the absolute best way to reduce your carbon footprint.
It's better for people.
I'm not the type of person to put animals above people. People come first. Which is why, when I see footage from slaughterhouses and farms, I also think about the people who have to work there. I don't think many people would like to even step foot in a slaughterhouse, much less work there, so I worry about the welfare of the workers. Meat processing plants also have notoriously high accident records and many workers are illegal immigrants who have no power and no recourse when hurt or put in danger. Don't get me wrong, the farming industry also has many problems. I believe our entire food system needs an overhaul to make it better for all workers. I support fair trade and organic farming because it is better for both farmers and the environment.
Animals are awesome.
I've always thought this, but at some point it I realized it was incongruent with my eating animal products. Just ponder this: some animals are kept as companions and considered part of our families while others are a commodity to be butchered and eaten on the regular. I'll give you that if you have to hunt to live and keep up your strength for weeks at a time, but that's just not the case for most people now. As my husband says, "Meat has become entertainment." See: anything having to do with bacon.
I've had meat; I know it's delicious. But at some point, I decided deliciousness wasn't a reason to participate in that industry any longer. I can't force anyone to that point, but I hope you can at least empathize with my conclusion. And now I finally realize that dairy and eggs contribute to the destruction of animal life as well. I'm going to miss cheese, for sure.
But back to my thesis: animals are awesome. They have intelligences and abilities that we can only wish for. Flying. Making their skin mimic textures and colors. Bioluminescence. Not to mention they are very capable of complex emotions such as friendship, even cross-species. I think being human endows us with the responsibility for taking care of these awesome creatures and their habitats.
Overall, vegans are healthier.
I say "overall" because there are some challenges to getting all the right nutrients on a vegan diet. But in my opinion, the benefits and protections bestowed by a plant-based diet outweigh those challenges. Even though don't eat meat, I am legitimately freaked out by antibiotic-resistant infections stemming from antibiotics use in the meat industry. No one is doing a thing to stop it, and that's also terrifying.
I also say overall because I am mainly talking about wealthy countries and their overconsumption of animal products, which we know is unhealthy. However, the evolutionary heritage of ominvory cannot be denied. From Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options:
In terms of health and nutrition, therefore, livestock products are a welcome addition to the diets of many poor and under- or malnourished people who frequently suffer from protein and vitamin deficiencies as well as from lack of important trace minerals. Children in particular have shown to benefit greatly in terms of physical and mental health when modest amounts of milk, meat or eggs are added to their diets, as shown by long-term research carried out in Kenya (Neumann, 2003).
Again, people first. Far be it for me to judge people who have no other choice but to include animal products in their diet to stay healthy. However, I don't believe this argument holds true in affluent countries of plenty. With this in mind, perhaps the best situation could be the benefits of animal products without the suffering of animals. Companies like Modern Meadow are working to make this a reality.
Vegan Food Can Be So Delicious.
For me, becoming vegetarian happened very gradually — I naturally ate less meat while living in China and continued that diet when I returned. As I learned more about sustainability, I ate even less meat until I decided to forgo it altogether. I dabbled a little in pescetarianism, but finally decided against that as well.
When I became fully vegetarian, I was excited by the challenge of filling a plate without using meat. I started trying all kinds of different veggies and grains and cooking became fun again. I read An Everlasting Meal sometime after, which then totally changed the way I cook. Eventually, I found it easy to prepare healthy meals almost exclusively. My tastes changed as well, and now healthy equals delicious in my brain. Check out some of my favorite food blogs below (click through the photo for the recipe).
Any advice on making this move from vegetarian to vegan would be much appreciated! Since I made the transition to vegetarianism (and now veganism) in my own time, I don't expect anyone will change overnight. However, I did want to share my personal reasons for the change and hope you will think about the ways all of your eating habits (from food waste to organic to local) impact the world.