The Environmental Vegan

The world’s leading cause of climate change is animal agriculture, an industry contributing more than 51% of greenhouse gas emissions (a conservative estimate).

Beef is a huge product among consumers, and the love affair Americans have with the industry valued it at $60 billion (in the U.S. alone) in 2015. There is a financial incentive to perpetuate this environmental and health hazardous industry and discredit facts presented by its opposers to maintain the industry’s foothold at the nuclear family’s dinner table. Our consumption of these animals is continuing to enrich this $60 billion industry while we, the consumers, harm our health and our environment.

As you may know, many vegans and vegetarians choose their diets for different reasons, the environment being one of those reasons.  The environmental vegan refuses to accept and contribute to an industry that exists in the environmentally irresponsible way that the animal agriculture industry does. The facts below are some of the environmental reasons vegans and vegetarians choose to refrain from contributing to the animal agriculture industry, thereby “voting with their dollars” against it.

Quick facts about animal agriculture and climate change (Sources: Cowspiracy Documentary, this article):

  • The methane produced by cows in the animal agriculture industry is 86 times more destructive than CO2 in its contribution to climate change
  • Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day
  • Livestock contributes 65% of all nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions
  • Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times more destructive than CO2

What if we all changed our diets for the better? (Sources: this research paper, this article)

  • If everyone ate a vegetarian diet, emissions would fall by 44 percent ($973 billion savings in health costs)
  • If everyone ate a vegan diet, emissions would fall by 55 percent ($1 trillion savings in health costs)

So what could it mean for humans if we chose a diet that would be better for our health and our environment? We could live longer, healthier lives and we could have an environment capable of sustaining our extended lifetimes.

Climate change is no longer a problem of the future. The future is here and it’s us– it’s how you and me and everyone else decides to shape it. As soon as 2050, much of our land above sea-level is predicted to be below it. That means that there will be no Miami Beach for me to spend my retirement in (I don’t know about you but I don’t want to lose that view).

Two important documentaries on the subject of climate change and the animal agriculture industry’s contribution to it are Before the Flood and Cowspiracy. I recommend these to anyone who has an interest in knowing the scope of humanity’s impact on the health of the planet.

Informative, easy-to-read articles on this subject from Vegan and Conservation websites:

Can Veganism Save The Planet?

The World’s Leading Driver of Climate Change: Animal Agriculture

What If The Whole World Went Vegan?

 

Vegan Side Effects: Healthy Brain & Healthy Heart

Vegans are typically health-conscious individuals who, after cutting meat and dairy products from their diet, also choose to eliminate highly processed foods from their diets, even if those food products are vegan (like Spicy Sweet Doritos, for example).  The benefits of following a healthy vegan diet (it’s okay to cheat on your diet with vegan guilty pleasures every now and then) are many, but the most impactful benefits are the benefits to your heart and your brain.

Heart Benefits

  • At least 25% reduced risk of mortality from ischemic heart disease (Source)
  • TMAO, which increases the risk of heart disease, is lower in vegans/vegetarians than in meat eaters (Source)
  • Reduced risk of Left Ventricular Diastolic Dysfunction and Stage B Heart Failure Burden (Source)
  • Reversal of existing coronary artery disease (Source)

Brain Benefits

  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease (Source)
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (Source)
  • Reduced risk of Multiple Sclerosis (Source)
  • Reduced risk of senile dementia (Source)
  • Reduced risk of having a stroke (Source)
  • Regression of diabetic neuropathy (Source)

Check out this fun article on brain superfoods (11/12 vegan options).

Some other benefits: reduced risk of cancer, obesity, hypertension, gallstones, cholesteroldiabetes, and more. Vegans also have lower mortality rates.

Please feel free to google around for more sources. It’s fun to do your research, challenge your beliefs (and challenge assumptions in others’ beliefs), and in the end learn something new! If you’ve ever tried the vegan/vegetarian diet, leave me a comment! How did you feel afterward? Did it help you? Did it not? I’d like to know! Thanks for reading 🙂

Looking at the Menu

The world has changed a lot since 2011, a time when being vegan/vegetarian meant you were forced to stick to the appetizer and sides menus at restaurants. In 2017, nearly every restaurant I go to has at least one meatless entree item and choices that accommodate the dairy-free. When I went to this restaurant called Earls a few weeks ago, I ordered a vegan burger which prompted the manager to come by our table just to tell us that they offered a vegan alternate to every item on their menu (side note: Earls has the best vegan sushi rolls I’ve ever tasted, which the manager gave to us on the house).

If I’m out to dinner and there’s someone at the table I’ve never met, one of our mutual friends will undoubtedly make my diet a topic of conversation before the waiter comes by to take our order. It usually starts off with someone saying, “oh, Natalie is vegan by the way,” to which this new acquaintance will either say “me too!”, or ask a bunch of questions about what it means to be vegan like “where do you get your protein?” or “do you care if I eat meat in front of you?”

As a culture, we are desensitized to what it means to eat meat. Even as a vegan, I can’t say it bothers me to see people eat meat because it is so engrained in our culture. But if I really think about the question “do you care if I eat meat in front of you?” I have to think, why are you eating meat if the ethical option is there for you? When we think about the health risks of eating meat, how animal agriculture is damaging our environment, and the millions of animals who are suffering for five minutes of our gustatory satisfaction, contributing to this industry seems insane but our society does it anyway. The right choice is clear but we’ve designed it to be the alternative, and although the groupthink is changing, it’s not changing fast enough.

This week I’m going to write about the three common reasons people become vegan/vegetarian: health, environmental, and moral. I think a lot of people who aren’t vegan/vegetarian assume vegans/vegetarians abstain from meat eating because we don’t think animals should be killed for human consumption. While that is part of the reason for many of us, it’s not all of it.

Can Vegans go to the zoo?

When I was a little girl, the Miami Metro Zoo and the Miami Seaquarium ranked among my favorite places to be, right alongside Magic Kingdom and Chef Mickey’s. I loved seeing and learning about animals that I would never get to see otherwise. Seeing the king of the jungle hang out in real life at the zoo was among the coolest things that could happen to a kid like me who grew up watching anthropomorphic Disney movies like The Lion King. Kids have this wonderful ability to form connections with animals and empathize with them (I remember having full conversations at age 6 with my Pomeranian, Princess). Over the course of growing up, many of us lose this connection with animals, and even if we have pets with whom we connect, we sort of forget what lives can be like for animals that aren’t considered pets, beyond the idyllic, classical representations we have of those animals in our heads.

Animals at the zoo are a perfect example of this. We go there to see these beautiful, wild creatures that we don’t get to see in our regular civilian lives, but these animals are not happy and as a kid I never actually processed that (even as an adult, it can be easy to ignore). As a kid, I’d go to the zoo elated to meet new animal friends! I didn’t think about the fact that some had been snatched from their homes, their families, that some had never seen the vastly stunning wild that would be their natural habitat having been born into the dismal, artificial environment of their tiny zoo habitats. I didn’t see their sadness, their boredom, and their frustration the way I did when I went back years later as a young adult– as a kid, I just saw their beauty, their strangeness, I saw them as the physical representation of every cartoon and movie I’d grown up watching. But that’s not what animals are. Animals are trapped in the paradigm we’ve created for them in our society. Zoos aren’t necessary, they are cruel, and what they teach could be just as beautifully done with animatronics as they are done in several Disney Theme Parks. Sentencing these animals to life imprisonment isn’t ethical. The only places that house animals that I support are rescues, sanctuaries, and zoos that have discontinued bringing in new animals from the wild and are now working to sustain lives that have been born under their watch (if they’ve committed to making those animals the last generation born in the confines of a zoo) or have spent so many years at the zoo they wouldn’t know how to survive if released.

So to answer the question posed in the headline of this post, a vegan should not go to the zoo because zoos exist with the sole purpose of profiting from the use of animals.

Why you should go Vegan

When I was 18 years old, my first year of college was drawing to a close and I had a part-time job as a server at the local Denny’s (which I quit after 5 months working below the minimum wage) where my lunch consisted of free pancakes and bottomless coffee. I was under-informed and mega broke, but after watching a few Netflix documentaries and soul-crushing animal cruelty videos on YouTube, I decided to become a vegetarian (which goes to show, you don’t need big money to make the change). In the months that followed I read books, news articles, watched more documentaries and more online videos and realized that my decision wasn’t only a moral obligation, but if I wanted to live a truly healthy lifestyle, being a vegetarian was a requirement. During my time being vegetarian I’d say things like “I could never be vegan” or “that’s too extreme” or “I can live without meat, but I’d go crazy without cheese/pizza.” Then, on a whim (literally), I decided to try being vegan for a month in October 2014. It’s been over two years since I made that decision and I have yet to go back to being a vegetarian (and now I’ve swapped regular pancakes for the vegan kind).

Since becoming vegan I’ve:

  • Lost almost 20 pounds
  • Had clear skin
  • Had more energy
  • Aged slower
  • Not felt bogged down by a big meal
  • Discovered there is an entirely different world of food when you focus on the vegan diet
  • Found the best vegan restaurants
  • Participated in an Animal Rights volunteer event

I became so much happier just by changing one thing in my life (you are what you eat!). I encourage you to try being vegan for 21 days and see how many of the bullet points above you can say you achieved after being vegan for that long. If you decide to give this a try, let me know! And message me if you have any questions, I’d love to help 🙂

P.S. Being a vegetarian was a great first step for me (I’ll make a separate post about that). If you’re hesitant to jump in (the way I was), cut back on eating animals first and then slowly cut back on animal products.