For twelve days now, I’ve made a conscious effort to steer clear of eating animal products as part of my two-week vegan challenge. A recent UN study revealed that industrialized agriculture is a key player in climate change and resource depletion. It suggested a world-wide diet shift away from meat and dairy products is essential for alleviating our species’ growing environmental footprint.
Agriculture accounts for almost 40 percent of total land use. The animals we raise for food consume more than half of the world’s crops. Those crops and the animals themselves account for 70 percent of the global freshwater consumption. In total, the report found that agriculture is one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
If the UN wants the entire world to go vegan, I figured I should test the waters. Who’s a better candidate than a life-long carnivore raised in Indiana, where agriculture, dairy farming and hamburgers reign supreme?
So far, I’ve accomplished one of my goals, which was to expose that veganism is not as hard as you might think. There are so many ways to adjust your diet that will satisfy you as much, if not more, than the animal products you’re used to. I didn’t foresee myself loving vegan products as much as I do. My most recent find is Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread. It tastes like butter but it’s not. And it’s soy free, for those of you trying to avoid soy, too.
I have enjoyed cooking for myself so much, and I’ve come to realize how disconnected from my food I’ve become. As I said in a previous post, our current consumption habits and the society we live in have allowed us to become really lazy eaters. We eat what’s given to us, whether it’s in a bag or a plastic container or an aluminum can. Maybe we check the ingredients, but mostly we just assume it will satisfy us. Being vegan has required I pay attention to my food, and I feel enlightened by my own abilities to cook. Food is so good when it’s done right, and even better when prepared with your own hands.
I’ve also learned more about the meat industry and its appalling treatment of animals. I refuse to eat meat that comes from animals who were abused and tortured. But how can you ever know?
Last night I was watching TV and I realized that meat and animal products are routinely glorified. If you watch the food channel, rarely, if ever, do hosts cook vegetarian meals, let alone vegan dishes. There always has to be a meat dish, as if the meal isn’t complete without it. But this is because we are used to cooking with animal products. It’s the norm, and it’s the easiest way to cook.
The only way veganism will ever catch on is if we make it more visible and more affordable. Vegan options need to be offered in public restaurants, and labeled as such. Not only will this allow people to sample vegan items and realize how tasty they are, but it is great marketing. Encountering the word “vegan” within a comfortable, public setting, or over the lunch hour, will make it feel safe and even trendy for the everyday person, and I think those are the people who need to be reached (things like providing vegan school lunches are a good start). I’m not trying to trick people into going vegan, nor am I trying to make veganism a fad (please don’t attack me, people). I’m just trying to do for veganism what’s been done for vegetarianism. Bringing veganism out of the shadows and into public arenas will raise awareness, and make it more accessible and acceptable. Ideally, greater awareness would be coupled with greater education. Combining these two efforts could be dynamite.
Veganism also needs to be easier and cheaper to live by. Currently, it’s less expensive to eat badly than to eat well, and this carries over into the realm of animal products. It’s easier to live with them than without them. The amount we pay for three veggie burgers could easily buy several pounds of ground beef at the local Walmart. Those who don’t feel compelled to switch won’t do so until it’s affordable. Again, I know the movement is about people who DO feel compelled and have strong convictions about animal rights, etc., but if we really care about animal rights, the planet, and our bodies, we’ve got to root for a global movement even if not everyone is doing it for the same reasons.
Imagine affordable vegan products at your local major supermarket. Imagine smaller meat sections and larger produce sections full of fresher fruits and veggies. Better yet, bask in the glory that is your local farmers’ market, and just think of what it could be like if the entire community looked to local farmers for groceries, buying only local, healthy, unprocessed products. Imagine the satisfaction in knowing that perhaps once a week, every American prevents the release of enormous amounts of methane gas, nitrous oxide and CO2 by eliminating animal products from their diet. If we demand this, it can be possible.
Maybe I’m making this seem too easy. The meat industry will fight back. How can we respond? With policy? With alternative products to sell? With strict requirements for meat production and animal treatment? What are your thoughts? Again, let’s brainstorm (a note on brainstorming: I’m baffled that so many people are willing to comment and complain about my seemingly misguided efforts to go vegan but so few are willing to pitch in some productive ways to make the movement stronger).
Only three days left of my vegan challenge, but I have the feeling I’m not done with this diet change.
The Vegan Challenge Series
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