By Kate Ringer
I have been vegan for three months now. I know I am not perfect, I know I have made mistakes, but I have been doing the best that I can.
Veganism has been on my radar since high school when one of my friends started a vegan diet. She claimed she was doing it for health reasons, but I quickly saw just how unhealthy she was while doing it, barely getting any of the nutrients she needed, and I thought she was absolutely crazy for attempting it. Just a few years later, I came to college and I joined the rock climbing team; suddenly, I knew many people that were vegans. These people were nothing like my friend in high school; they were strong and healthy, I frequently saw them eating nuts, fruits, and vegetables while I snacked on potato chips and candy. They weren’t doing the diet for health reasons, they were doing it for environmental and moral reasons. At first, I was incredulous; how could anyone cut all animal products from their diet? That meant no pizza, no cupcakes, no milkshakes! My favorite foods were macaroni and cheese and tacos, and I knew I could never lose those things. I had heard of vegan cheese and other substitutes, but I was wary. Those crazy vegans claimed that their food was just as good, but I knew that couldn’t possibly be true.
As I progressed through college, my guilt about my eating habits increased, but I truly felt there was nothing I could do. I thought that veganism was too hard; I thought that as a poor college student, it would be too expensive. My younger sister Suzanne became a vegetarian in 2015 when she learned of the cruelty that many animals suffer in the meat industry. She knew then that veganism would be better, but she ignored that feeling because she thought it would be inconvenient. Even though I ate meat with little guilt, I told her that it was hypocritical to just be vegetarian if you cared about animal cruelty. After learning about the environmental impact of eating animal products and suffering over a year of overwhelming guilt, she decided to be a vegan, a choice she has stuck with since. Now, she is so passionate about veganism that she can’t imagine doing anything else, and she hopes to work for a farm sanctuary after graduating from high school.
Suzanne’s passion for veganism was enough to convince my mother to follow in her footsteps. She’s now been vegetarian for almost a year, and she is trying to switch over to veganism. My family owns three chickens named Daffodil, Butternut, and Mathilda, and the two of them eat their eggs. These lovely hens are our pets, we feed them their eggshells to keep them healthy, and when they stop producing eggs, they will continue to live in our backyard until they die a natural death. Some would argue that this makes it so Suzanne is not vegan, but I think this policing within the community does nothing but harm.
None of this was enough to get me to change my ways until August of 2018. After spending a summer abroad with my sister, eating croissants, snails, quiche, or anything else I wanted, I decided to give it a shot. One day, I thought, Let’s just see if I can do it for one day. Once I got through my first day relatively easily, I decided to see if I could go for a whole week. When that was easy, too, I decided that I would just keep going with no goals. It has now been three months. Why have I continued to eat vegan? What’s keeping me going?
The first and probably biggest factor is how good it makes me feel. If nothing else, I can be proud every day that I am doing something that I think is morally and environmentally right. The environmental impact of cutting animal products from your diet is undeniable, according to this article, “Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.” Even though animal products in a typical diet account for just a small factor of your protein and calories, 83 percent of farmland is used for livestock, livestock contributes to 60 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture, and it contributes to a higher percentage of water pollution than other kinds of farming. As we can see in this graph, even the most environmentally impactful plants are much better than any animal product. One important thing to notice with this graph as well is how responsible buying of animal products can lower your footprint. When I tell people I’m vegan, I often hear backlash that buying sustainably and ethically sourced meat is a better option. While it may be true that carefully screening your purchases can lower your footprint, even the nuts from Walmart are better for the environment than the vast majority of beef. Not only that, but I can afford fruits, veggies, and nuts from the grocery store, but I can’t afford meat from an ethical farm. It is much easier, and cheaper, for me to eat vegan. In addition to the costs of raising livestock, the effects of overfishing on our oceans cannot be overstated.
As for the morality of eating animal products, one need only look at Idaho’s attempt at
passing the AgGag bill to learn just how much animal cruelty happens on farms As it is detailed Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, even in farms without added abuse, it is common practice to cram hundreds of chickens into a single barn and to pull calves away from their mothers to produce milk. As a feminist, I cannot support a practice that keeps mothers from raising their own offspring. I know about the impacts that farming can have on human rights. It’s not just animals that are treated cruelly in the farming industry. But to use human rights as a reason to not be vegan is simply illogical, as the meat-packing industry is no better than the agricultural industry in that domain. It shouldn’t be an argument of which is worse; instead, we should be focusing on how wrong it is to treat humans and animals this way and on how to fix it.
There are many ways that a person can live according to their morals in their day to day life, but so far this has been the simplest and most impactful way that I can find. It feels amazing to be living a lifestyle that I truly believe in.
The second reason I continue is that it forces me to eat healthier. Don’t get me wrong, I know how healthy it can be to eat white meat or fish with lots of fruits and veggies; my problem is that I never ate like that. Since coming to college, my diet primarily consisted of to-go meals from fast food restaurants, candy, chips, ramen, and frozen food. Entire days would do by where I wouldn’t have a single serving of fruit or vegetables. I was eating sugar and sodium with little care for my health. Now that I am vegan, I know that I have to be deliberate with my food choices or I won’t get the nutrients I need. All of the sudden, I am cooking for myself, an activity that I have always loved but never made time for. I’m taking vitamins every day, including B12 supplements. I’m finding new recipes, new foods that I have never tried before that taste absolutely delicious. I’ve discovered that I love veggie burgers more than I ever loved that 100 percent beef patty. I may not be eating macaroni and cheese and pizza, but I have found new favorite foods. I think that a lot of people get tripped up on a vegan diet when trying to make all of their favorite foods vegan. Spoiler alert: I’ve never had a vegan pizza that was as good as a regular pizza. But, there are a lot of naturally vegan foods and delicious recipes that will become your new favorites.
Now that three out of the four members of my family are vegan, we got to do Thanksgiving a little bit differently this year. There’s no turkey, but we don’t care; it was always our least favorite part of Thanksgiving, anyway. When we sat down at our table, there were mashed potatoes (vegan butter is good!) and mushroom gravy, stuffing (made with vegetable broth), cranberry sauce with candied ginger, rolls (most bread is naturally vegan), asparagus in olive oil, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows (thanks Trader Joe’s for not using gelatin!). It was a delicious meal, free from the guilt of living against my morals. In addition to everything that I had to be thankful for, I appreciated the access to vegan groceries and the support that I have from my family. I know that this is a privilege. I know that not everyone can be vegan, but as we approach the time of year when we set goals for ourselves, I challenge you to try something new. Whether it’s veganism or some other behavior that you think is too hard, that you will never be able to do successfully, I challenge you to try it for one day. Maybe you will discover that it’s not as difficult as you thought it would be. We all can make a difference, we just have to have the courage to try.