Veganism Might Save Us: from One Meat Lover to Another
Does the word “vegan” ring a bell? Yes, exactly. That’s the face. Eyes glare, mouths twist, sometimes laughter erupts— and not the good kind. We are all quick to shut down our hearing system when somebody happens to mention they are vegan; we put them on mute and kindly nod our heads just enough to be polite. Well, maybe we shouldn’t. Veganism is not only a much healthier lifestyle for us, not to mention the great impact it has on animals’ lives, but it really is our best shot at saving the planet we all plan a great future in.
When we think of veganism, as Southerners, the first thing that comes to our mind is how many family cookouts we’d be missing out on—la carne asada, if you’re Hispanic. Not to mention grandma’s lasagna, chicken Alfredo if you’re an Olive Garden fan, turkey legs at the state fair, Bojangles on Sunday morning after church, some ropa vieja if you’re a Cuban like my mom, or literally anything involving cheese (because let’s be real: cheese truly is the best!) But the sad reality is: we never stop to think about what is really on our plates. When we browse the internet, we avoid animal cruelty videos like the plague and rely on the old “out of sight, out of mind” mindset, yet many believe our bodies are well aware of what we are feeding them, including the fears and stress the animals feel once they understand what their destiny holds.
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Overall, the idea of going vegan sounds hard and expensive, and sometimes we simply don’t know enough. According to Jay Stephens, who wrote “How to Go Vegan When You’re Young and Broke,” the secret is to shop from different places by comparing prices and to check out the local farmer’s market. All the vegans he spoke to simply reinforced one important point: going vegan is a process. Whether it is changing the way we shop, depriving ourselves of small pleasures, or even budgeting (which is the core problem for many), one thing we can say for sure is that it might take a person years to fully transition. In the meantime, there is plenty of things we can do to make sure we are doing our part.
The first thing to remember when it comes to going vegan is that baby steps are still steps. Refrain from paying attention to the ones who tell you to go big or go home. Nobody ever does that, and that’s a lie they are trying to feed you. Replacing some of your house products little by little is a great start on making a change. Switch from cow milk to a plant-based milk, opt for vegan options at restaurants (even if the only real reason is you’re simply curious— it still counts!), or follow the example of chains like Panera Bread who are promoting initiatives like Meatless Monday. Many beginners actually start by going meatless once a week which, based on “Going Meatless Once a Week” by Monique Ryan, puts them at lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. By taking part in this approach to the matter, they also add nutrients necessary to their diet and help not waste the 441 gallons of water it takes to produce one pound of meat. Wow, imagine that! One day a week already makes such a big impact!
An important secondary step we can take to make the transition to veganism easier on us is to go green as much as possible. The United Nations confirmed that we only have approximately twelve years to fix what the generations before us, who didn’t know any better, broke. Unfortunately, this is the time for unprecedented changes to take actions and the ball has been passed onto us. Going green doesn’t solve the issue, but it is a great step in the right direction. Water waste is big in our daily lives, and sometimes we don’t even realize it. Take quicker showers, turn off the tap when washing your face or brushing your teeth; this is easily reducible and it literally doesn’t change your life. It’s a win for both your bill and for our planet! Stop buying plastic bottles of water from the store. Instead, invest in a reusable bottle you can carry around throughout your day; more and more places like gyms, schools, parks, etc. are installing water fountains we all can use. Landfills are overfilling by plastic water bottles, and even when we recycle, there is still a certain amount of units of energy that contribute to our carbon footprint required for transportation and the machinery that does the recycling. Opting for a glass drink when having the need for one also has a positive impact, as well as stopping to use straws— which is seriously harming our marine life and polluting our oceans. Many online companies like Amazon have plenty of reusable bottles, straws, shopping bags, and other products who are environment-friendly and really not expensive; for example, reusable organic straws made of bamboo or stainless steel. Finally, shopping from beauty or clothing companies who do not test on animals or use animal products has a big impact in the way we see everything we buy and how aware we are on what we are paying for, or what type of practices we are contributing to.
It’s important to say that each step doesn’t have a time limit, and you can stay in one specific step on the way to veganism as long as you’d like until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Jay Stephens in “How to Go Vegan When You’re Young and Broke” also noticed that when interviewing vegans, many would admit that it’s easier and way cheaper to replace things in your household as your run out of things, rather than throwing everything away at once and replace it all. This method also gives you an excuse to practice and play around with products, implementing them in your daily diet. Getting rid of meat allows for healthier foods necessary to replace the nutrients meat would give us, which also means that sometimes you might just get to eat a little bit more with the sole purpose of reaching the calories intake, and who doesn’t love some extra food on the plate? Stephens also wrote that “after cutting out meat, eggs, and dairy over time, weight loss, an increase in energy, and an overall feeling of wellness were common themes” within the people he spoke to.
All these things seem very noble and helpful and not very hard to do, but the reality is that, whether we like it or not, we have to get to a point where we stop eating meat. I’m sure we all love hamburgers. We all love steak tacos. We all love spareribs. But if somebody had come to our parents or grandparents and told them “stop eating meat or you’ll die in your thirties,” I am sure they would’ve thought twice about that burger. So why don’t we? Is it that important for us to order that medium rare steak when we know there are better options just as delicious and fulfilling? Are our taste buds more important to us than saving the planet we want our children to grow in? People encourage you to vote or to call your reps, but individual actions and choices have to go first for us to fight climate change. We have to decide to stop hiding and admit to ourselves that meat consumption accelerates global warming.
In 2014, Damian Carrington wrote on The Guardian that experts suggest eating less meat or none— especially red meat— would be more efficient to cut on carbon emissions than giving up our cars. There are so many more units of energy necessary to produce meat than there is for the production of crops that go toward a vegan diet. A plant-based diet only requires one-third of the land needed compared to a meat and dairy diet. Imagine on how much of a large scale we are contributing to our carbon footprint with the transportation necessary to produce meat, the water, the crops and the grain necessary to feed the livestock. Anup Shah wrote on Global Issues that in 2010, seventy percent of the grain produced in the United States was used to feed livestock. This brings up the issue of deforestation to make space for additional land for pastures and grazing, which ends up in habitat loss and extinction for many animal species. Forests are supposed to absorb greenhouse gas emissions as well, which end up getting stuck in our air with nowhere to go.
We do not realize as much as we should that our actions and nonchalant decision to eat meat at all times, has a destructive impact on the lives of these animals like dairy cows that get exploited to produce more than they are born for. Once these cows are so worn out that their production decreases, they are sent to slaughterhouses. This is about five years after said cow was born, while the natural lifespan of a cow is to up to twenty-five years. In bigger or smaller measures, this is how the production of any meat goes and we have normalized it.
We have to do better. We have to make better choices. We have to be more aware. It requires time— to learn, to start and to adjust— but how important is a taco de pastor, a chicken quesadilla, a sausage pizza, a barbecue plate to us? Are we willing to trade our lives for it? We only have about a dozen years until the climate situation is irreversible. It’s a heavy crown but somebody must wear it, and I believe in my generation. I believe we can do the right thing. The human is an adaptable creature, and I know that all we need is a small start. So the next time somebody tells us they are vegan, ask the real questions. Ask “why?” and say “please, educate me.” Let’s not be a generation that dwells in ignorance, but one that strives to do better than those who came before us.