The world is getting more “woke”. Or, at least, we’re trying to be. With the advances in the digital age and the internet, information is more easily accessible than ever before. No longer do the ivory towers of academia decide who can access what information and as a result the masses are learning a lot about their government, their planet, and also their personal health more than ever before.
With all this information it should be no surprise that people’s day to day lifestyle choices are changing a lot too. One of the most significant changes is a switch towards plant-based eating habits, better known as vegetarianism or veganism. Millennials in particular are making the change with 15% reportedly live on plant-based eating. But why are so many people switching their diet?
Why Go Vegetarian?
One of the reasons so many people are switching to vegetarian and vegan diets has to do with the environment. Climate change is a big topic right now and there are many sources that indicate it is tied to our dairy and meat industries.
Our planet is surrounded by an invisible shield of sorts known as the ozone layer, which keeps harmful intergalactic light from affecting us. Unfortunately our ozone has big holes in it and letting extra space light through. This is causing irreparable changes to our environment. We are seeing the median temperature of the planet rise at a drastically fast degree because of the radiation allowed through our broken ozone. With rising temperatures comes the death of many species, particularly aquatic life, the flooding of coastlines, and ferocious wildfires.
This is what we call climate change. Scientists have learned that methane gas emissions made by human industries are one of the biggest causes of the ozone’s depletion. And the biggest producer of methane gases comes from the beef industry and, explicitly put, cow farts. The over herding and breeding of cattle has led to huge methane gas emissions. While it is not the sole cause of our environmental emergency, it is a major one. If humans, en masse, consumed fewer cattle products it would potentially cut down on methane emissions. While that is an unlikely scenario, many people feel going plant-based is a way they can make a more positive environmental impact.
The herding of livestock does more than just produce greenhouse gases though. It also leads to a large amount of deforestation. As cattle are such large animals and consume such large volumes of food to sustain themselves, it takes a lot of space and resources to breed and keep such large volumes of animals. As a result, in places like Brazil, farmers are actually cutting back and burning down parts of the Amazon rainforest to make room for their livestock. Some believe this has led to the terrible wildfires that have ravaged Brazil in 2019. Not to mention countless animal deaths and even possible species extinction.
It’s not just the land that’s in trouble because of meat industries. Aquatic ecosystems are being disrupted greatly by the overfishing of very specific species. As the most common fish eaten by people are tuna, salmon, haddock, tilapia, and cod these are the species that are struggling to remain properly populated. For example, the overfishing of cod in the Baltic seas has led to an extremely high population of algae-living zooplankton, as the cod eats the herring that eats the zooplankton normally. Without the cod, no one is eating the zooplankton and these creatures stimulate algae growth. As a result there are now large over blooms of algae in the Baltic Seas. This may not seem like a big deal but the large volumes of algae soak up all the sea’s natural oxygens, which leads to deoxygenated waters, or what experts call ocean dead zones. This is all worsened by the fact that hundreds of years of farm-fertilizer-dense-rain run-off has also settled into the baltic seas and also increased algae over bloom.
One may feel a bit overwhelmed and powerless by all this information. Surely one person’s personal eating habits couldn’t do all that much to help with these daunting environmental issues. In general that is true, no one person is responsible for fixing these problems. But it may behoove you to know that research shows that going vegan can cut down your personal greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. By going vegan for a month, you would not only save 30 animal lives, but also 620 pounds of harmful carbon dioxide emissions, 913 square feet of forest, and 33,481 gallons of water. According to Oxford University, going vegan is the single biggest way you can reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
Beyond the environmental impact of meat and dairy industries is another core issue behind why many people chose to go vegan or vegetarian; that is animal rights. Some people find it morally questionable to consume a once-living creature for sustenance. While this may seem overly sensitive to some, remember that pigs are considered to be more emotional and intelligent than even dogs. If you wouldn’t eat your pet why are you eating something just as feeling and smart? Many explicitly oppose the treatment of livestock endures in our factory farming systems, which by all accounts isn’t very pretty.
Let’s walk through the average life of a dairy cow. Like humans, female cows usually only produce milk when they are pregnant. So female dairy cows are forcefully impregnated to initiate milk production. Once the cow gives birth her baby is immediately taken away from her. Many people prefer to not think about how traumatizing this is, or perhaps have convinced themselves that cows don’t form strong emotional attachments to their offspring but this is far from the truth. When the cow has her calf taken away she will wail endlessly, and enter a period of deep depression. Only to immediately be forcefully impregnated immediately again and restart that cycle.
But what happens to the calf? Well if the calf is male, he is usually sent to veal farms. Once at the veal farm the baby calf will immediately be crippled into a crate so small that he won’t be able to move his body at all. This is to keep his flesh tender and soft until he is slaughtered a few days later. If the calf is female she will most likely go into the same life as her mother. When she is about a year old she will be fully matured, and have small horns. Dairy cows often have their horns cut off by saw, hot iron, sharp wires, and caustic chemicals. As you can imagine it is a torturous procedure. From there they spend their life as a milk-producing machine, being constantly impregnated and made to produce 4 times the amount of milk as they would usually produce. Well cared for cows with space to roam, and natural breeding patterns can live up to 20 years. The average dairy cow literally gives up and dies by age 4.
So if saving the environment and innocent animals isn’t enough reason many people make the change for straightforward health reasons. Others may, incorrectly, argue that eating meat or dairy is necessary for healthy eating habits. But this is not true. In fact overeating meat and dairy can cause a whole host of health problems. The current Corona pandemic was caused by eating exotic animals. Other virus outbreaks from the past were even caused by eating not so exotic animals like chickens (the avian flu) and pigs (swine flu). Humans are capable of digesting animal products but that does not mean it is necessary. The health risks associated include high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many more.
The number of health benefits that can come from switching to plant-based diets have proven to be endless. Some of the health benefits associated with switching to plant-based include increased vitality, better sleep habits, better ability to stay focused, a stronger immune system, and not to mention healthy weight loss. The whole food plant-based diet specifically provides you with more fortified vitamins and minerals and increased omega 3’s. These help to protect brain functions and more balanced hormone levels and often show much higher levels of free blood proteins than meat and dairy eaters. Even smaller steps towards vegetarian and veganism help greatly reduce cholesterol and have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Some cases go so far as to boast that going vegan or vegetarian cured them of type two diabetic, or pre-diabetic status.
So Where Do You Start?
So say you’ve decided to help out the planet, your fellow animal and your own personal health by switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. How should you start? It can seem like a really major change if you’ve been eating animal products your whole life like most of us have. Some simple switching in your head can do the trick to get you on the right path. Here are some tips for starting a vegetarian diet or a vegan one.
For most people, going to the grocery store is a routine process. You have your local haunt, you know where your regular items are, you go through the store as quick as you can and go on with your life. It can seem daunting to try new things and change up your routine completely. So start by making small changes. Spend more time in the produce section than in the frozen meats. Try to focus on hearty meat substitutes. Many people mistakenly assume eating vegan or vegetarian will cost a lot more money. But there are fewer products cheaper in bulk than rice and different kinds of beans. A pound of lentils doesn’t cost more than a dollar. Plus frozen or canned veggies are perfectly appropriate if you’re on a budget. Vegan or vegetarian does not mean you have to spend a lot of money on fancy veggies at Whole Foods. Try your local farmer’s market. They are usually farm to table, and almost always notably cheaper than your local chain. Employing small changes like this, one at a time, is a great way to inch your way into a vegan or vegetarian diet. Starting with familiarity can help a lot too. Remember peanut butter is a great source of protein, and that vegetables and fruits also carry protein in them.
Trying out some new recipes is a really fun way of starting a vegan or vegetarian diet. It can teach you about different sources of nutrients and specific protein. Buying a beginner’s vegetarian cookbook and starting off with some simple recipes is always gonna be helpful. Any resource that has tips for starting a vegetarian diet will be useful. They can even teach you alternative ways to cook you may not be used to, and innovative solutions to dietary restrictions. Try a cauliflower crust pizza next time you’re at the supermarket. It’s not as scary as it may sound.
It’s also important to be kind to yourself about starting a new diet. You’re not perfect and making such a radical change to your diet can be hard at first. As long as you’re working towards a path to plant-based eating you’re making an improvement. Sometimes very passionate vegan activists will come across as purity testers and come off as judgemental to people who aren’t as perfect with their plant-based diet. It’s important to ignore these people and not let them deter you from working towards a plant-based diet. If 100 people stopped eating beef for a month it makes a bigger difference than 1 person going completely vegan and plan-based for a month. So start by making mindful steps and don’t be too hard on yourself especially if you’re just starting out.
There positive results of going vegetarian or vegan really speak for themselves. Helping the environment is a very important issue for us and future generations. And going vegan is the easiest way to make any kind of tangible difference. Defending the intrinsic value of all animals is not only noble but it is much healthier for you as well. There are really only positives to switching to plant-based eating habits.