What is a vegan?
A vegan is a person who chooses not to eat or use animal products. That means that most vegans not only avoid meat, eggs and dairy but also don’t wear wool or leather, use goose down pillow or stir a little honey in their tea. People adopt a vegan diet for many different reasons including animal rights, health benefits or to reduce their environmental impact. A vegetarian, on the other hand, does not consume meat but will eat and use other animal products (although often not leather, as that is the direct product of an animal’s death). All vegetarians and omnivores can eat and enjoy the diverse and delicious world that is vegan food.
Why are you vegan?
My initial choice to start eating a vegan diet came slowly in the summer of 2015, when I decided to reduce my dairy and egg consumption in my already vegetarian diet. At that time I thought of it as the next long awaited step in my efforts to reduce the suffering we as humans have inflicted on domesticated animals through factory farming practices. I’d seen videos of the conditions dairy cows and chickens were kept in, and accepted the reality that I can no longer pretend that their suffering was acceptable simply because they were not being slaughtered. I could no longer pretend that the $2 milk I bought came from happy cows, let out to roam free in the pasture every day, or the dozen eggs I bought were from a gaggle of hens living in a painted red coup. I had to accept that these animals were being kept in over-crowded conditions, were poorly treated and were being subjected to unnatural practices humans have developed to maximize the products yielded. The cows who produced my milk were being continually impregnated to force their bodies to produce milk, only to have their calves ripped from their sides. The hens were deprived of natural day and night cycles to trick their bodies into laying eggs more frequently. And all of them were living under extreme stress, and euthanized the moment they could not keep up with the unrealistic demands we had developed.
As time went on I learned more about the impacts a plant-based diet can have. I noticed changes within my own body- I noticed that I no longer get stomach aches after eating, and I tended to have more energy. I feel stronger and as a result of that more confident. Although the quantity of what I eat has increased, I watched while the 15lbs I had put on in college faded away over only a couple months leaving me weighing about the same as I did in high school.
My attitudes towards food and cooking also changed. Instead of the same few vegetables I knew, liked and was comfortable with I starting seeking out foods I might not have tried in the past. I bought vegetables I’d never heard of before, ones I’d eaten when I was younger and forgotten about, and even vegetables I’d tried and hated (finally zucchini and I have a lovely relationship). My cooking blossomed from basic and unimaginative into something I find joy in. It involves research, experimentation and creativity. I play with textures, flavors and techniques. I’ve taken on ambitious and work intensive projects, and worked on mastering more every-day dishes. Through this process of cooking and eating my tastes and food preferences altered and developed. Because of the relatively short lifespan of our taste buds, it only takes about three weeks for our food preferences to change. As the cheese and eggs left my diet, the levels of fat I ate decreased leaving my taste buds more receptive to the more subtle and varied flavors of each new vegetable I tried, and each new dish I created. The idea of greasy, stretchy cheese pizza went from intensive cravings to a slight disgust.
I also started to research the larger implications of diet on humanity and the environment. I watched documentaries and read peer-reviewed articles on the effects of the factory farming animals has on the world on a larger scale. I learned about the discrepancy between the land usage (18 times higher for omnivores than vegans), water usage (production of the plants needed for a vegan diet in one day is around 400 gallons, vs an omnivores diet needing approximately 1000 gallons). A vegan diet also produces less greenhouse gas, with significantly lower levels of carbon dioxide and methane. I learned that the primary reason for deforestation is to grow grain to feed livestock. That the only reliable way to feed our growing population by 2050 without further deforestation is to feed the world a plant-based diet. That run off from animal agriculture pollutes water and destroys aquatic ecosystems.
I learned all this and I realized that a simple change in the way humans eat and think about food could drastically change the health of our planet and reduce suffering in both humans and animals. I knew that if I, a white woman living in a rich suburban area with access to fresh vegetables, vegan groceries and restaurants and the financial means by which to purchase them could not live successfully as a vegan, I had no right to expect that anyone else could.