I've always been a hippie, inclined to favor the least harm possible, and policies that maximize the good for everyone. But I never really applied that principle equally everywhere in my life.
You'd have never pegged me to ever go vegetarian, much less go vegan. My love for meat and potatoes, and my dubious tolerance of (some) vegetables has been a constant throughout my life. Yet I had brunch with this amazing vegan woman, and by the end of that conversation I'd decided to try being vegan for myself.
This is my attempt to explain that, since I've started getting curious glances and outright challenges about it. First off: I'm not interested in proselytizing. I am not trying to change anyone's mind here. I'm not saying anyone is bad or wrong. So...just keep that in mind.
We all live with a certain amount of hypocrisy in our lives. But the saying goes, "Once an honest man realizes he is wrong, he will either cease being wrong, or cease being honest." Related to our stewardship of this planet and the people upon it, there are certain beliefs I have, and have believed for many years, while continuing to eat meat:
- There are too many people on this planet
- We are using far too many resources, and using the ones we have unwisely.
- Factory farming is a pretty horrible practice for the environment, even if you don't care about the abuses to animals involved.
- It is far less efficient to our resources to raise so much livestock than it is to raise crops.
- Climate change is something directly influenced by our actions, and meat contributes significantly to our global greenhouse gas output.
Asian countries generally eat less meat than we do, as meat is a sign of wealth. Yet as China is becoming increasingly wealthy, so is their intake of meat. This, along with an increase in industrialization, contributes significantly to their carbon footprint. We're actually going in the wrong direction here.
Moreover, eating too much meat/dairy has been shown to have detrimental health benefits. So much so that over 700 physicians marched on the White House to draw attention to it.
If you have kids, like me, you've already contributed significantly to your carbon footprint. If you're eating the typical American diet, you're already eating too much meat, too much dairy. There is cheese and milk in everything. The government subsidizes it, encourages it. Recipes posted on Facebook encourage it.
Don't get me wrong, it's delicious. And soy milk is not cow's milk. Meat substitutes are not meat. There is no real 'bacon' but 'bacon'.
But I was getting ready to move into my own apartment and, for the very first time, cook my own meals. I'd been worried about my health, knowing I eat too much, and it all revolved around meat. I'm the beneficiary of a great metabolism, so it doesn't show...but if my metabolism was a bit weaker I'd have easily reached 300 lbs by now with the amount of food I usually consumed.
And it worried me, but I didn't prepare the meals. I didn't know how to make that switch in my existing routine. But if I was going to move out and start making my own meals for the first time, it seemed like it was a good time to make that conscious decision, and greatly reduce my meat and dairy intake. That brunch just came at the right time, and while discussing and acknowledging all of the things I said above, and that I felt like a hypocrite about it...I suddenly realized that I didn't actually have to be. (Or at least, not as much). If I bought meat and dairy and started cooking meals with it, I couldn't say I didn't have a choice in the matter.
I haven't even gotten into the ethical arguments, because then people feel like you're laying judgment on them. I'm not, really, but if you eat meat or dairy, you have to accept for yourself that living creatures are suffering as a result. Demonstrable, measurable suffering, so we can eat the meat we eat, and drink the milk we drink. Most people shrug this off. I certainly did. And I'll confess that it was the least-compelling argument for me, simply because my empathy on that scale has been short-circuited by years of accepting all of this as normal.
But not entirely. I will say it's comforting, truly comforting, to know that when I eat dinner, I'm not part of that, for that one meal. Though I may not be eliminating the suffering, I'm reducing it. Nothing had to die so I could live. Nothing had to suffer so I could eat.
I've also found it to be cheaper, and strangely convenient. I don't have to wash my countertops or cutting boards for fear of e.coli or salmonella. I don't have to grab 4 different kinds of meat at the grocery store for a week to make dinner or breakfast. I don't have to worry about the meat being 'bad' on arrival and having to return it, or forgetting it an extra day in the fridge and opening it only to find out it's spoiled. I don't have to worry if the animal in question has been injected with antibiotics. I don't have to worry if the food I've made is undercooked, or full of parasites, and thus full of dangerous microbes I'm feeding to my kids.
I haven't really called myself a 'vegan' to this point. I've been saying that I'm eating vegan, like a personal challenge, and an attempt to rein in my eating habits and live a longer, healthier life and do a small part to contribute less meat-eating to the planet.
At this point, my resolution is that I will not personally buy meat or dairy to be brought into my house. I'm not going to cook with it.
But there's a world of cuisine out there, and sometimes someone is going to make some ribs, or whip up some mashed potatoes with butter in them, and if someone else made the food, and it's only once in awhile, I'm happy to eat what's already served. Maybe that makes me a 'bad vegan', but I think we all have to settle for a certain level of hypocrisy that we're happy with.
But when I have the choice, and every day in my pantry I do have that choice, I'm vegan.
Sometimes I find out that after I bought the bread it has milk in it. Sometimes I'm going to go out with a friend and eat a burger. I'll justify that by pointing out that roughly 28 days out of every month I'm vegan. Yes, this makes me a hypocrite, and I don't feel great about it, but at least I'm acknowledging my hypocrisy rather than pretending it doesn't exist.
A Handy Vegan FAQ I Wrote
What is the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?
There are all kinds of vegetarians, of which vegans are a subset. Vegetarians don't eat meat, but pescatarians (a form of vegetarian) will only eat fish and seafood. Ovo/Lacto vegetarians will also eat eggs and milk. A vegan is a vegetarian who won't eat fish, eggs, or milk.
I don't really feel like a vegan yet, I've just been doing this for a couple months, so I'm not an authority. But, basically, it involves swearing off all animal products. Depending on the vegan, this can go beyond food to include animal products of all kinds (like leather). Note that bees are animals, and so honey is also "banned". I put it in quotes because like any movement, there are exceptions. There are probably people who call themselves vegan who also eat honey, because reasons.
Where do you get your protein?
Seriously. Stop asking vegans where they are going to get their protein. It's become a joke at this point. It would be nearly impossible to design a diet without enough protein in it. But in case you're really just mystified, here's your forever answer about protein: Nuts. Legumes. Peanut butter. Soybeans. Even broccoli has some. If it's not 100% fat or 100% sugar, it's got some protein in it. And, unless you're body-building, you don't need as much as you think you do.
But milk is good for you!
Cow's milk is good for baby cows. Nestle will tell you that milk is good for you, for the following reasons:
- It contains proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fat.
- "Protein is important to fight diseases, renew cells, build muscles and maintain healthy hair and nails. That is why your diet should provide enough proteins. Milk is an important source of protein, since each glass contains almost 8 grams."
- "The source of carbohydrates in milk is lactose which gives energy to the body."
- "Minerals and vitamins: Milk is rich in many nutrients that are essential for good health, for stronger bones (Calcium, Vitamin D, Phosphorous), for more energy (B vitamins), for a stronger immune system and for healthier skin (Vitamin A)."
- "Fats in milk constitute essential fatty acids which are important for body cells, as long as they are taken in moderate quantities."
Besides about 70% of the planet being intolerant to lactose, there are bigger issues here.
Let's talk about the calcium in cow's milk a bit more, because we've heard this from grade school. Quoting from another source:
"There are over 20 plant based foods that contain more calcium than milk on a pound for pound basis. And the calcium in these plants is actually more easily absorbed by our bodies (more bio available) than that in milk and milk-derived products. More and better calcium actually comes from plants.
Better sources than milk include dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and watercress. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are also excellent sources of calcium. These foods offer many other health benefits ... as well as providing a natural and safe source of calcium."
If you're eating green vegetables, you're getting calcium. You don't need to get it from milk. If you're eating soy milk, you're getting equivalent protein (and again, it's not as important as you think), and soy milk is often fortified with calcium.
As for fatty acids, those Omega 3's can be found in a variety of plant-based sources. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a type of omega-3 found in plentiful amounts in plant sources such as soy, walnuts, canola oil, and chia, flax, and hemp seeds and their oils.
So you really don't need to eat milk, any more than you need to eat meat.
Yeah, but meat is GOOD
So is a deep-fried candybar, but I'm not going to eat that every day. Some people have sworn off deep-fried candybars entirely, even if they think they are delicious, and it's hard to blame them.
What about all those recipes you can't eat now?
What about them? There's a world of recipes out there, and if I really have a hankering for macaroni and cheese, I can google and find a vegan option. If you like asian food (Thai, chinese, etc), you'll be unsurprised to consider that they don't use cheese or milk routinely in their food. If you like Pad Thai, you're in luck.
Vegan cheese sucks
Most of it does. It is getting better, though.
Prepared correctly, there's nothing really wrong with tofu. It just doesn't taste like meat. That's okay, really. It's not supposed to taste like meat. It's supposed to taste like tofu. But if you don't like tofu, that's okay. Plenty of vegans don't like tofu, either. But if you want something a bit more reminiscent of meat, there's always seitan. Or soy curls.
Wait, are you saying I should be vegan?
Nope. I'm just justifying it from my perspective. You do you, I still love you.
No, really. You're judging me, aren't you?
No. Unless you ask me where I'm getting my protein.