145,000 gallons of water
145,000 gallons of water
I ask a favour of you from the outset: any stigmas that may or may not be attached to the idea of vegetarianism/veganism is put to one side while reading this piece. I ask for an open mind and for you to read without any prejudgement. I promise to not bombard you with facts about CO2 emissions, deforestation and the rest of it. I’ll endeavour to simply put forward a situation that I believe is worth being put in to words and as a hope that it could answer some questions about an often misunderstood subject.
I will define a few terms for clarification. When the piece refers to ‘pescatarians’, it is referring to people who do not eat any meat or poultry, however still consume fish (as well as dairy products and eggs). ‘Vegetarians’ are the same as pescatarians, but without the consumption of fish. ‘Vegans’ are like vegetarians but without the consumption of any dairy products or eggs, they consume a plant-based diet.
The reason I ask for the favours in the first paragraph is for a few reasons. The first of which, and the main reason for the stimulation of writing this in the first place, is to share an interesting story about the change in the diets of my housemates recently. To cut a long story short, 12 months ago only one of the seven of us gave any consideration to removing meat from their diet. The situation now is that only one of the seven is not removing meat from their diet. The purpose of this blog is to share that dietary change is very much possible, even for some of the most unlikely of people. The second reason is an attempt to provoke at some level a greater awareness—or even interest—to a hugely important topic that ultimately affects everyone. I remember very vividly my attitude towards vegetarianism and veganism one year ago. It was one of disinterest and an unwillingness to listen to justifications for, what I viewed as, such a dramatic life decision. ‘What about steak though? What about bacon sandwiches? What about a Texas BBQ pizza? All the best food is made up of meat and dairy products?! You can’t even drink milk!’. Fast-forward to now, I’m a vegan, and unless something pretty out of the ordinary happens, I will be for life. So far it is going very well and I am extremely glad I made this change to my lifestyle. Now, as promised, I shan’t delve too deep into the reasons for this or detail all of the benefits. If however this is of particular interest to some of you, I will leave a link to an article that sums up my reasoning in a very concise and informative way.
I asked my housemates a few questions about what they eat and their views more generally on this topic. Naturally, having busy university lives I haven’t got responses from all of them, but may I briefly introduce the people who kindly gave me their thoughts on this subject:
Tom- was a vegetarian 12 months ago and is now a vegan.
Johnny- wasn’t removing meat or dairy from his diet 12 months ago, but is now a vegan that eats fish.
Alex- wasn’t removing meat or dairy from his diet 12 months ago, but is now a vegetarian that occasionally eats fish.
Ben- wasn’t removing meat or dairy from his diet 12 months ago and still doesn’t.
The one member of the house who was a vegetarian a year ago, Tom, even admitted that at the time he was “pretty ignorant of veganism” and believed that “plant only diets were inherently unhealthy”, and despite that, Tom is now a vegan also. Johnny currently eats a diet that is “plant-based with fish” however he tries to make sure the fish he does buy is “specifically regarded as ‘sustainable’”. So Johnny is pretty much a vegan that eats ‘sustainably caught’ fish. When asked what his reaction would have been a year ago if I told him his diet would as it is today, he said he would have been surprised, which he puts down to a lack of mindfulness. Johnny said that he knew the meat industry was bad, but perhaps less explicitly. Alex gave an answer that is probably fairly relatable to many young adults at university (certainly I can relate to this myself); “I would have told you to have a day off a year ago because I f***ing love meat!”.
I asked my housemates a few nutritional questions in order to try and iron out some of the misconceptions with plant-based diets. The assumption is often made that we need meat for protein, and cow’s milk for calcium. Let’s face it, we were told this at school and even by our parents. But in reality this is not actually the case. It is in fact true that on average there are more deficiencies in people that consume meat and dairy diets than plant-based diets. Tom, who has been a vegan for a number of months, explains that plant foods are often high in protein and calcium, for example, pulses and broccoli. He said that he hasn’t had any health problems and has in fact “stopped suffering from eczema flare ups” since switching to a plant only diet. Alex said that since going pescatarian he has had “no health issues and have eaten much healthier since changing”. Johnny told me he receives enough protein and calcium from his diet and that, “there are a vast range of replacements that are ethically sound and contain good nutrients, that I think people just aren’t aware of.”.
When trying to identify what it was that triggered these changes, often responses are to do with the effect animal agriculture has on the planet. The animal agriculture industry is the leading CO2 pollutant. CO2 pollution contributes to climate change. Climate change will make the lives of future generations more difficult. This is often what can trigger someone to become a vegetarian, and certainly was a big part of why I cut out meat initially. Tom echoed this by saying that his diet reflects his knowledge of what animal agriculture is doing to the environment and its unsustainable nature. Ben, who currently eats a diet that includes meat and dairy products says that he eats the food he does because he struggles “to think of new meals”. Indeed this isn’t necessarily why he’s not vegetarian/vegan, but it could be and it definitely is part of the reason for many people. I’m not going to lie, it takes a little bit of getting used to- changing what you’ve been shopping for, cooking and eating for years requires some thought. But I really think it is just that; thought. If you give time to consider the prospect of only eating plant-based foods and start planning, it is very achievable! You might find yourself having to follow recipes for a period of time but before you know it you’ll come up with your own ideas about how to combine different ingredients. Johnny explained that his diet—or ‘nutrition plan’ as he refers to it as—is the way it is because he believes “it is what is needed to preserve future resources, remain fit and healthy and because it reflects [his] morals (being respectful of others, trustworthiness and taking full responsibility for my own actions)”. Moreover he backs up Tom’s view on animal agriculture and believes it is important to “abstain from supporting a damaging industry”, and recognising this fact and taking responsibility of your actions once made aware of this situation is vital.
Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise and have been for a while now which is fantastic news in many respects. For me, it isn’t the case that someone can ‘turn someone else vegetarian/vegan’, or ‘so and so is vegetarian because of so and so’. People go towards vegetarianism/veganism through discoveries they make themselves. This, in my opinion, is the only way a transition can happen. However this really is a transition that can be achieved anyone, as hopefully illustrated by this piece. Ben said that he is “more open minded now that I ever have been before”, which is brilliant. Why would one not be open-minded? Why would one close themselves off from information? Surely everyone should want to know the implications of their decisions? If you put yourself in the shoes of an animal that is in the queue to be killed in a slaughter house, how can you possibly be closed-minded? Tom explained that since bringing this topic to the attention of two of his family members, they have begun to make changes to their diet to reflect their morals. That’s all it is- a reflection of morals. Most people when it comes down to it have a very similar set of core values. Veganism is about living out these core values and being true to what you believe. One doesn’t have to love animals to be a vegan, they can just be against harming other beings without a just reason. Alex explained that he had spoken to a friend of his about it and they then started to make changes as well.
With the danger of rambling on and causing all readers to lose interest I’ll bring this piece to a close. I asked in the first paragraph for an open mind and for any stigmas to be put to one side. I hope this was possible and I didn’t push too many of the wrong buttons. I also hope I have conveyed that my six mates and I are very normal university students and not a strange species of tree huggers. I would love this to serve as evidence to some extent that a change to any kind of person is very, very achievable. All it takes is an ownership of one’s actions and a desire to find out the facts for oneself. Consequently, and only upon these conditions can people make a fully informed decision about what they want to eat and which industries they want to support. Please, please, please, please take some time to have a look into this and become a more knowledgeable person on this subject!
You may still be wondering about the title, “145,000 gallons of water”. This is an approximation of the amount of water our household is saving every single month (1.74 million gallons per year!), just from the removal of meat and dairy products. One person does make a difference, and it is a difference that is very achievable for anyone.
By Guy Harper