31 May 2015

Want to Go Vegan? How To Stick With It

This is the last in a series of three posts answering questions from a friend; the previous posts were on cooking vegan and eating vegan meals in restaurants.

This is the toughest one: what arguments do you tell yourself to stay with it? The decision to forego animal products is a personal one and, at the moment, a fairly counter-cultural one, and thus is bound to engender some flak or just bafflement from friends and family. And occasionally strangers.

There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose to go vegan, including concerns for animal rights, individual health, the health of the planet.

Various population-wide studies going back years have demonstrated that vegan diets are healthier than diets that include animals, as long as some attention is given to protein and vitamin B12, and as long as people eat a variety of foods regularly, including fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole grains.

Climate science is also clear that vegan diets have less planetary impact than diets containing meat. It takes about ten pounds of feed to produce a pound of meat, meat requires more water to raise than most vegan foods; all that feed needs to be transported from the field to the animal; and animals release a lot of methane as they chew their cuds.

Factory farming is horrifying in terms of animal welfare as well as pollution and the use of antibiotics and pesticides.

Some people argue that the problems with meat consumption can be solved by relying on local, sustainably raised meat sources. The problem with this is the size of the human population: to feed all the people sustainably raised meat in the quantities Americans eat would be impossible. There's just not enough land to graze all those animals.

Others advocate eating fish instead of meat because the sea appears to be an endless resource, covering nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface. But fishing, too, has been mechanized and industrialized. Many species are declining and ocean environments are threatened by pollution and bottom trawling. Eating only line-caught fish helps, but there's still the problem of eating high on the food chain. Fish farms are also an environmental disaster.

Finally, though, if you slip occasionally and eat animal products, don't beat yourself up. Re-commit yourself based on whatever the reasons you had for going vegan in the first place, and keep moving.