Nearly every day, I ask myself "what kind of an eater am I?" I tend to like to put labels on things. I think most people do. The fact is, I can't put a label on the kind of eater I am. Sometimes I call myself an "aspiring vegan" or an "almost vegan." Is there such a thing? Isn't that a bit like being "almost pregnant?"
The fact is, I prepare and eat mostly vegan meals. My family eats them with me, but they are not vegan, nor do they wish to be. So we have meat and dairy around the house. Do I occasionally throw a bit of cheese on my veggie burger? Guilty. Do I eat an actual burger once in a blue moon? Yes. But am I helping animals and the environment anyway? Yes.
A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally discovered a Live Twitter Chat new to me, #VeganFoodChat hosted by The Food Duo, "a couple of quirky vegan kids from NYC who play with their food." I started following the hash tag and discovered the participants to be talking about the triumphs and tribulations of being vegan around those who are not. I quickly joined in, not really caring if I "belonged." I know all too well about the judgements people pass about vegans. I judged, too, before I started learning more about it. I thought these vegans may not accept me (I think that's a commonly-held stereotype about passionate people), but I decided I'd just give them all the middle finger if they were haters and I dove in head first.
This group of people welcomed me and accepted me into their fold instantly. And when I admitted that I wasn't a "real vegan" but just a "mostly vegan," or one of those labels I like to use on myself, they seemed to breathe a sign of relief. One of them said "If there is a perfect vegan out there, I have yet to meet him or her." Another said "Everyone slips up sometimes, but no one talks about it." Wow. I felt accepted and comfortable, and even a little bit groundbreaking in my admission. For the first time, I felt like the kind of vegan-ish person I am is okay and can be accepted. And I don't have to be perfect.
So, what's my point? (Shut up about yourself, now, Kristen.) I don't have to be perfect, and you don't either.
Every bit of vegan-ish behavior you can muster helps the world get closer to ending the torture of animals for human consumption (please don't turn the channel just 'cause I went a little activist on you).
Being open-minded and educating yourself on where your food comes from is the first step. Sure, there are some nutty activists out there, and they are so loud, they are hard to hear. We just want to tell them to shut up. But if you digest the information slowly on your own terms and realize that there is a lot of truth behind the accusations, you're opening yourself up to a whole new way of thinking.
So what can you actually accomplish, even if you aren't a full-fledged vegan?
Reducing the amount of meat in your diet has tremendous health benefits and environmental benefits, not to mention the fact that it helps get us closer to ending the suffering of animals, the standard for most meat-producers. Check out some of these statistics outlined by Kathy Freston.
If everyone went vegetarian for just one day, the U.S. would save:
• 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost four months.
• 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year.
• 70 million gallons of gas–enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare.
• 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware.
• 33 tons of antibiotics.
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:
• Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France.
• 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages.
• 4.5 million tons of animal excrement.
• Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.
You can read Freston's entire article, The Startling Effects of Going Vegetarian for Just One Day, here.
Talk about a powerful way to help the environment! But what about animals?
Most of us fall prey to the denial of the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. We don't see animals suffer, so it's easy to deny it. We just see our food served nicely on a plate and don't give a second thought to what an animal had to go through to make that meal possible. Or we say "yeah, yeah...I know. But I like meat. Whatever." Some of us don't even believe that the animals suffer. When I do have that occasional burger, I'm somehow able to put the images I've seen and stories I've been told out of my mind for a bit, so I get it. But most of the time, I can't get what I've learned out of my mind. I'm not going to include a bunch of gory pictures and stories, so don't get all uncomfortable. Just know that it's real, and the information is everywhere if you want to see for yourself.
If you're interested in reducing the amount of meat and/or dairy in your life on behalf of animals (or the environment, or your health, or whatever) how do you get started?
First of all, you've already started if you've made it this far in the post and are still reading. You rock!
Second, do whatever works for you. I eased into it, and though I'm almost there, I'm still easing. I'm not quite ready to completely give up the annual sushi dinner with my mother-in-law (yes–I know–there's great vegan sushi) or an occasional late-night In-and-Out indulgence with my hubby. But I'll get there.
Here are a few suggestions on getting started that worked well for me:
• Try Meatless Monday. Yes, it's an actual thing with a web site and everything! Pretty great. Meatless Monday is an awesome way to commit to eating this way just one day a week. By committing to it, I enabled myself to explore vegetarian and vegan recipes I wouldn't have otherwise considered, some of which have become family favorites. My family was actually excited about it. Participation was something I proposed to them, and they were on board. Well, the teen thing rolled his eyes a bit to play it cool, but I think he liked the idea. They felt comfortable committing to one day. They had six others! We ate this way for a long time. The kids (and even my hubby) would start asking over the weekend "what are we doing for Meatless Monday?" or "can we have X, again, for Meatless Monday?"
Once I began to learn their favorites, I started sneaking in an additional meatless meal on, say, Wednesday. We'd be halfway through the meal before someone would notice. "Hey...this has no meat! It's not Meatless Monday!" Oh, well. (Hee hee.)
This video about the who, what, how, why, and where on Meatless Monday is quite hilarious (oh, and informative):
• Watch Vegucated. I'm a huge documentary fan, and this one was recommended to me by a non-vegan friend who has similar taste in flicks. I don't want to spoil it for you, but let's just say it probably had the most influence on me of any step I took toward a vegan lifestyle. It's not told in a voice of activism. It's quite gentle and forgiving, yet hard-hitting. It pulled me out of my denial about where my meat was coming from. It showed real people going through this struggle that is both physical and emotional. Check out the trailer:
• Read The Kind Diet. The Kind Diet has become one of my favorite books. I borrowed it from the library and then purchased a copy for myself the next day. It had to be mine. Alicia Silverstone talks about the different stages of being vegan from "flirting" to becoming a "superhero." She puts things nicely, but plainly, and has a casual "this meat-eating thing just doesn't really make sense" attitude. She thinks about it from all angles. She is kind, as advertised. She educates, offers tips, and provides some out-of-this-world recipes. And–bonus!–she's pretty damn entertaining.
• Check out Vegetarian Times Magazine. I have a subscription, and I love it! I don't have to go looking for recipes. I can just open up a magazine and choose something. In addition, the magazine has some great articles about the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. I even like the ads! They introduce me to awesome products I may not have otherwise considered.
• Make your own Pinterest board of meatless recipes, and follow others' boards for fresh ideas. My board is composed of both meat-free recipes and meat recipes that sound amazing that have adapted or would like to adapt (yes, it's okay to do that). I call it "grub: vegetarian, vegan, and adaptable recipes." Go on...check it out. I'll wait for you.
I also joined a Pinterest group board created by my friend, Sarah, called "Meatless Recipes," which is a great way to share with others and gain new recipe ideas. Plus, it's fun! If you're not already on Pinterest (echo...echo...echo), beware. It's quite addictive.
• Don't immediately try to vegan-ize your favorite dishes. You'll be totally bummed, if you do. A veggie burger does not taste like a cheeseburger, and tofu does not taste like chicken. Start out by creating something entirely new. Add to your diet; don't replace items in your diet–at first. Make yourself a veggie stir-fry over quinoa on Monday, and enjoy that fried chicken on Tuesday. Think of it as an adventure rather than a chore or obligation, and it will be a lot more fun. And once you do go for that veggie burger, realize that it's still not a replacement for a cheeseburger. Let it be it's own thing, and appreciate it for what it is. It's quite delicious. But it's not a cheeseburger replacement; It's a veggie burger.
• Make some vegan friends. And I know just where to find them. I invite you to join me each Wednesday for the #VeganFoodChat. Come with an open mind and an open heart (please, no haters). Tell 'em @WellMinded sent you.
See. There's a lot we can do. It's not black and white. Any small measure helps in so many ways. Consider the enormous impact you could have on animals by giving this whole meatless thing a try, to any degree. I'll close with one of my favorite quotes:
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he begun his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down at the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up, and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."