Today marks the beginning of day eight of my Vegan Challenge. I was prompted to try removing all animal products from my diet after reading a UN study published a few weeks ago. The study revealed that a global diet shift away from meat and dairy is needed to help prevent resource depletion and alleviate world hunger. The report said agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our global freshwater consumption, 38 percent of the total land use, and 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, more than half of the world’s crops are used to feed animals, not people. So, I’m going vegan for two weeks to reduce my environmental footprint, and to prove to others that it’s not so hard.
When I left off, I was visiting four meat-eating friends over the weekend. I thought this might pose a challenge. However, I planned ahead, as I’ve learned to do, and I brought my own groceries. And if I wanted to eat out, I used the VeganXPress iPhone application, which allows you to scroll through popular chain restaurants and identify vegan items. I also love the VeganYumYum recipe application. What a cool way to merge new technology with an active vegan lifestyle.
Anyway, my weekend hosts were open to, and curious about, my new eating habits. We experienced major power outages on Sunday, so we were forced to grill out. I whipped up some stir fry while the boys worked on their BLT sandwiches. And despite being offered, and tempted by things I used to love (bacon, tapioca, burgers), I really had no interest in eating them. This challenge has already successfully altered my thinking, and I can’t so much as watch someone eat meat without wanting to tell them all about what I’ve learned.
This brings me to my next point: spreading the word about veganism in a carnivorous country. I live in Indiana, where I need only hop on the interstate and I will pass chicken farms and hog farms and cows grazing in pastures. Animal products are an integral part of the culture here in this state, and other surrounding states, so to take the time to avoid them all-together certainly invites curiosity and criticism from those who don’t understand the mission. I guess what I can’t understand is why some of us so heavily defend the status quo. Clearly, our consumption habits are out of control, and we can fix this by changing what we eat, but some of us hold so strongly to our habits that we can’t see new possibilities, and this is self-defeating. Two of the boys I spent time with this weekend said things like, “Well I love meat and I’d rather eat it than not.” This kind of reasoning lacks sound logic. It goes along with the weird mentality that America is the nation of burgers and hot dogs.
We spend so much time investigating the source and integrity of other products. For example, most of us know where our cars were made, how many miles per gallon they get, what kinds of gadgets they offer. We have relationships with these kinds of products, and yet, we have no relationship with our food, the stuff we put in our mouths that fuel us for life. We have no idea where it comes from, and we don’t know what’s in it or what it’s doing for our bodies. When did we become so complacent about what goes into our stomachs? For me, the last seven days have made me incredibly skeptical about product packaging and advertising. It takes time to investigate food, but I think we owe it to ourselves to understand where it comes from, what’s in it, why it’s good (or bad) for us, and what the alternatives are.
I think it’s important to help spread the word about veganism (and health-conscious eating in general) in positive ways. We know there will be people who get defensive, throw outlandish arguments, and refuse to listen no matter how you pitch it to them. But if we approach this movement gently, with open arms, inviting others in warmly, I think it could work on a bigger scale. Sometimes I think we need to focus less on the gruesome negative impacts of eating meat, and more on the positive, globally constructive benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. For me, seeing videos of suffering animals makes me want to look away and pretend it isn’t happening. Of course, we can’t ignore the impacts of the problem, but I know that if I’m offered a hopeful vision for the future, I am more likely to focus on pushing for that future.
So, in my upcoming posts, I’ll be exploring that vision for the future, and I invite you to do the same. If you have positive ideas and visions about how the future could change if we all backed away from animal products (for whatever reasons, be they moral, political or environmental), I invite you to share them. Let’s brainstorm. Let’s get excited about the possibilities. Let’s reach out without scaring people away. Let’s make this a movement about positive and tangible change for tomorrow.
I’m off to make breakfast (oatmeal with cinnamon apples!), and I look forward to more wonderful reader feedback.
The Vegan Challenge Series
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