This is Day 2 of my Vegan Challenge. I was prompted to temporarily eat a vegan diet based on a UN study released last week. The report found evidence that a global diet shift away from animal products is needed to help prevent resource depletion and alleviate world hunger.
I want to close the mental gap between the food on my plate and the animals I see being hauled down the interstate in semis. Yesterday I “tweeted” my interest in following one cow from birth to slaughter to the plate, just so I better understand where my food is coming from. My friend replied that he had no interest in knowing where his food comes from because he knew it probably wouldn’t sit well with him, anyway. Why do we turn a blind eye?
Most of us know the animal products we eat come from beings that were treated inhumanely, and yet, we choose to look the other way. Is this because we feel we can’t make much of a difference in the situation? Is it because we don’t care? Or can we just not bear to look?
I’ve been pondering questions like these. Today went much better than yesterday. I believe I made it through most of the day without consciously eating animal products, and I’m proud about it. I say “consciously” because I’ve realized that animal products hide under really complicated names on food labels, and it’s really hard to avoid them if you can’t identify them.
I found what I think is a really comprehensive list of non-vegan ingredients commonly found in food. Most of these have names I’ve never heard of before, which is why they are easily disguised. You need a watchful and careful eye for this game, but I’m learning SO much about these products.
For example, I learned that white sugar is often filtered with the charred bones of cows. This is done to remove color and impurities from the sugar. According to vegfamily.com, Domino, Savannah Foods, and the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company admitted to using bone char in their whitening process. I’ve heard that eating cane and raw sugar is safe, but confectioner’s sugar and brown sugar are both likely to have been filtered this way. Brown sugar is just white sugar mixed with molasses, and powdered sugar is just ground up white sugar.
This makes me wonder why we eat white sugar in the first place. I love cane sugar, and I prefer it. Maybe people just like their products to look as sanitary and clean as possible, but how silly.
I’m also learning that most restaurant employees have no idea what’s actually in the food they sell. I asked a woman at Panera Bread today about the ingredients in their garden vegetable with pesto soup. She said it didn’t contain any milk or cheese. She even asked a manager. I looked online at the website’s menu ingredients list (I wish more restaurants had these) and the soup contains cheese, and something called thiamine mononitrate, which is a salt of vitamin B1 and can sometimes come from pork, but not always. How frustrating! You’re telling me there might be pork in that vegetarian soup?
The bottom line is this: do your research; this is the only way to confirm ingredients, and you’ll learn so much about what you’ve been eating. Luckily, I work at a health food store where many of my fellow employees are knowledgeable on what products aren’t vegan but are hard to spot, and they’re understanding of my process. I can call on them to read over an ingredients list and point out the off limits stuff.
I’ve been trying not to make those around me feel badly about eating animal products in front of me. I find myself feeling like a burden on the people around me. Luckily the girl at Panera today was so sweet and curious about my diet, despite her wrong answer about the soup. One of my readers sent me to The Vegan Society’s website where they have something called The Vegan Pledge. They set you up with a “vegan mentor” who will help you through your pledge, be it one week or 30 days. How cool. Check it out if you are considering making the switch.
I’d like to change gears for a moment. I am still in the early stage of my challenge, and I want to say a few things before I go much further.
I’ve faced some questions about my reasons for this challenge. One person pointed out that I might not be setting much of an example if I don’t plan on sticking with this diet. I am prepared for the vegan community to ridicule me because approve of eating meat and animal products. I am also prepared to be called a poser and a cheater and a bad representation of the entire movement.
Let me say that I do not agree – at all – with how industrialized agriculture works, nor how the animals in the industry are raised, treated and slaughtered. However, I can choose not to participate in this system by eating meat and dairy products that are not part of that industry, and are instead raised locally, under more humane conditions. I want to encourage everyone who is not a vegan to do the same, but this may not be realistic, because not everyone can afford to pay the higher prices that come with this kind of consumption decision.
As an activist and environmentalist, the issue of whether or not we should eat meat is not my argument. My argument is this: if we were to step away from industrialized agriculture by not eating any animal products for a certain amount of time (or forever, if that suits you) we could reduce our consumption of land and resources, and we could reduce our emissions.
The Environmental Defense Fund found if everyone in the country ate one meat-free meal a week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off the roads. Further, if everyone designated one day a week as meat-free, it would be the same as taking 8 million cars off the roads.
If you consider the fact that when one car burns just one gallon of gas, it creates almost 20 pounds of CO2, taking 8 million cars off the road is huge.
I am going vegan for two weeks to reduce my footprint, and to set a realistic example for people looking for middle ground between spending more money than they can afford on local animal products and not eating them at all. I want to encourage people to go vegan, but if they can’t do so forever (like me), I want to show people that you can do so at least for a little while, and perhaps you can work it into your weekly and/or daily routines.
We have to change our mentality about our food. We have to willingly let go of our perceived rights to eat whatever we want and acknowledge that our massive animal consumption is not good for the planet (and more often than not, it’s bad for our bodies). To do that, I think we might have to change the stigma that veganism is only for people who think it’s morally wrong to eat animals. Let’s make veganism something everyone can do because it’s globally responsible. I think closing the door to the vegan world on those who enjoy eating meat but are willing to stop is a bad response, and only encourages them to eat more animal products.
Thanks for reading. Tomorrow I will give a rundown of what exactly I’m eating. I’ve found some awesome ice cream!
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