By Kaitlynn McShea
Veganism, like all alternative diets, is synonymous with inflammatory comments and divisiveness. Since our relationship with food is deeply personal and often complicated, the impact of bringing the term “veganism” to the dinner table is not surprising. However, veganism positively impacts both animals and the environment. Although a complete vegan lifestyle is a far-off thought for most people, its benefits can still be enacted by eating vegan “sometimes.” In other words, a little bit goes a long way.
I first went completely vegan when I was sixteen years old. Prior to that, I was raised in a vegetarian household and thought veganism was an extreme diet that held no interest for me. My mindset changed when I went to a local farm and watched cows being milked. Although it was a small farm, the process was mechanical and exploitative. Nausea overtook me as I watched the animals being hooked up to pumps one group at a time. I remember thinking that if I thought that a local, ethical farm’s process was disgusting, then factory farms would be abhorrent.
Thus began my research regarding ethical veganism. I read books and articles to gain a deeper understanding of my new way of life. Thirteen years later, I still adhere to a vegan lifestyle. According to Animal Matters, twenty-five million animals are slaughtered in the U.S. on a daily basis. By being vegan, I theoretically save thirty animals per month (Veestro). When I first became vegan in 2009, choices were limited at both grocery stores and restaurants. I remember often being hungry and cranky when eating out with friends and family. Now, vegan options are everywhere. It has never been more accessible to eat a vegan diet.
In addition to the ethical considerations of veganism, the environmental impact of becoming vegan is unparalleled. According to the BBC, animal products account for fifty-eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions. One pound of meat takes over two thousand gallons of water to be produced, whereas only twenty-five gallons of water are necessary for one pound of wheat. By eliminating both meat and dairy, your carbon footprint can be reduced by almost seventy-five percent. Finally, by making changes in your lifestyle and participating in ethical veganism, you could save human lives impacted by climate change. According to the Oxford Martin School, veganism could save close to eight million people by 2050.
Finally, becoming vegan can improve your personal health. Everyone’s body is different, but by eating plant-based meals more than meals filled with red meat and dairy, you can reduce your risk of high cholesterol, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. According to the BBC’s Caroline Parkinson, eating a diet high in processed red meat is linked to an increased risk of cancer, including bowel cancer. However, she cautions for a balanced, well-planned diet, as there must be a balance of vitamins and minerals within the vegan diet so that it does not become detrimental.
When considering eating a vegan diet, it can be overwhelming. Like anything, eating a plant-based diet is a habit that is created through intentionality. Before my “aha” moment of seeing cows being mass-milked, I had already been vegetarian my entire life and had stopped eating milk and cheese two years prior. When I decided to make the jump to veganism, it was fairly easy. Therefore, if you are interested in a plant-based diet or a vegan lifestyle, there is no timeline of which to adhere. Your pace is your pace. If you have a lapse and eat something that isn’t plant-based, shame will only negatively reinforce your diet.
To alleviate shame, veganism should be approached with curiosity and excitement. Meatless Monday was a global campaign started in 2003 by Sid Lerner in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The premise of Meatless Monday is self-explanatory: on Mondays, eat a plant-based diet. By doing so, you can “reduce and slow the acceleration of climate change, which threatens our planet’s future” (Monday Campaigns). This campaign provides social support for reducing meat within your diet, which helps make it accessible and exciting.
Another organization making strides to promoting a plant-based diet is Veganuary. Every January, Veganuary inspires people to try out a vegan diet while also promoting vegan food choices in restaurants and shops. In 2021, more than a half-million people participated in their campaign, with participants from over two-hundred countries. Whether a full-time resolution for the month of January or just a “sometimes” experience, Veganuary promotes visibility and drives corporate change.
In addition, another way to create an anticipatory feeling toward veganism is to find recipes that are easy and delicious. Carleigh Bodrug is a plant-based chef with a social media following. Her series titled “Scrappy Cooking” on TikTok encouraged her followers to use their cooking scraps for new and delicious plant-based recipes. Her forthcoming book, PlantYou, has almost one-hundred-fifty tasty and easy recipes.
At this point in my veganism trajectory, it is a habit. I know what processed foods are vegan at the grocery store and rarely have to read labels. As I get closer to being in my thirties, I am trying to eat fewer processed foods in general, which makes being vegan much simpler. Grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and legumes can make for a variety of tasty meals. This eliminates the need for buying faux-meat products, which are costly and processed. One of my favorite simple meals is to make a stir-fry with a variety of vegetables. With two tablespoons of clean nut butter and a few splashes of soy sauce, it is healthy and full of protein. To complete the meal, a sweet potato, couscous, or rice can be added. Conversely, most (if not all) baking recipes can be tweaked by using ground flax seeds mixed with water instead of eggs. It gels and binds the dry ingredients together, much like egg whites accomplish. Veganism is quite literally an ingredient-swap away.
If you are interested in veganism or are trying a plant-based diet, I encourage you to start slowly. Meatless Mondays and Veganuary are fun and low-stake ways to explore a vegan diet. By giving yourself grace for not adhering to a timeline and trying out new ways to make food, you will feel more inclined to stick with a plant-based diet. And by doing so, you will save the lives of countless animals, improve your health, and help save the environment.