If the sea is contaminated beyond any instant repair, and animal agriculture is rapidly destroying the very land we depend on to survive, what are we left with to consume that won’t have such a negative impact on the environment? With billions of lives depending on animal protein to thrive, what would we eat if animal meat is no longer an option? And would that lifestyle suggest any harsh implications on the environment as well?
Over the course of research for my last two articles, it became incredibly evident to me that I had to begin implementing a plant-based diet, and quickly I found myself becoming obsessed with falafel and routinely asking the waiter to ‘hold the cheese’. Needless to say, I adopted a vegan lifestyle for an entire 6 weeks! And yes, the jokes follow, so to clear things up – no, I did not survive on weeds and water. But, yes, favourite restaurant menus were all of a sudden not so straightforward, and everyone, for whatever reason, gets a serious kick out of you being vegan (insert eyeroll here). But my reasons were vital; the deeper I got into the research the more seriously I wanted to take this. I committed myself to no milk chocolate, honey, eggs, pizza, ice-cream and while my friends ordered a nice glass of wine or beer with their dinner, I got a sparkling water. Because according to a study, the fining agents in beer and wine are more than likely derived from blood and bone marrow casein (milk protein) or, a more common fining agent called, isinglass, (gelatin from fish bladder membranes). Yum…
But since my goal was to be as devoted to this lifestyle as humanly possible, I quickly established my appropriate eating habits. Then it dawned on me: Veganism, by definition, “is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. Which in theory suggests that I’d have to toss out my purse, piano, makeup brushes, all my favourite sneakers, boots, and heels, my feather blanket, along with my silk bedding, my watercolour paints, chewing gum, ketchup, and anything that contained omega 3’s - like my favourite OJ. Instantly a mixture of guilt and separation anxiety flooded over me: how did I miss this? I was incredibly dumbfounded. How have I been so conditioned into mindlessly consuming animal meat daily without batting an eye, but also, purchasing materialistic things that were once living, for nothing more than superficial novelty. I vowed, from that moment forward, to become a very conscious consumer. Suddenly, the statistics I was reading about the implications of animal agriculture made sense; they actually go beyond the consumption of our food and encompass aspects of our daily lives including what we wear and all the various products we use.
Going vegan meant that I saved “1100 gallons of water, 45lbs of grain, 30sqft of forest, 20lbs of CO2, and 1 animal’s life – per day”. Now, you’re probably wondering why I only explored veganism for 6 weeks. Apart from it being incredibly challenging and extremely time consuming, some studies suggest that it may not be as sustainable as we may think, particularly if, say, the entire population treated veganism the way they do animal farming. In order to meet my required intake of protein for the day, I relied heavily on soy. When I did some further investigating into the farming of the soybean, studies suggested that, about 93% of soy is genetically-modified. Therefore, like the box of frozen chicken breast I refused to purchase, the very thing keeping me going was actually doing the same damage I was trying to escape from. I was also alarmed by a statistic that suggests a connection between soy and the rise in pancreatic cancers, which is not only becoming more apparent, but rapidly growing, and has been predicted to become the second cause of cancer deaths by 2020. GMO soy is hard on our digestive system, as protease inhibitors in GMO soy actually suppresses some of the key enzymes that help us digest protein. And on top of that, soy contributes to a number of health concerns mostly targeting women - you can check those out here.
Soy production also results in chemical runoff, which finds its way into our freshwater systems, thus contaminating our wildlife. And it doesn’t stop there, according to an article, Brazil has 25 million hectares devoted to growing ‘monocrop’ soy, where 80% of it is used to feed livestock, in return for meat and dairy products. South America, home to the rainforests, have wiped out hundreds of acreages of biodiversity to plant soy. If everyone began implementing a vegan diet overnight, the demand of soy would go up, and we would run an even greater risk of biodiversity loss, which in return would impact the globe no differently than the way fish depend on coral, and no differently than the way we depend on oxygen.
And after being vilified for years, fats, are making a comeback, so the rise in demand for avocados is no surprise. In fact, in the U.S., avocado consumption went from 1.1 pounds in 1999, to 5.8 in 2014 per capita. Unfortunately, avocados, along with almonds, have also been robbing California of its water as it takes approximately 72 gallons of water to grow one pound of avocados, and one gallon of water for ONE tiny little almond (UM, WHAT?!). According to a study, in terms of non-food applications, such as the production of sugars and starches, using animal fats actually helps reduce the need for petroleum-based waxes, making it an eco-friendly option by decreasing our carbon footprint.
In a Q&A with author and editor, Simon Fairlie, he states, “it is not what we eat individually — it is what we eat as a whole society that has the impact on the environment. Some vegans may continue their vegan ways. I'm arguing for meat in moderation, not to eradicate meat entirely, nor to over consume it”. I believe this an incredibly vital take away as it touches back to a point in my last article, ‘Meats and Methane’, if you can farm your own meat, then you deserve to feast. Fairlie continues to state that, if pigs were fed on residues and waste, their meat becomes a very efficient source of protein. In fact, if cows were fed their proper grass-fed diet, they would have ‘very little toll on the environment”. Suggesting that perhaps organic farming is the way to a thriving future.
It is quite obvious to me that I alone could never begin reversing the effects of climate change, or even reducing the significant amount of carbon footprint we’ve been accustomed to producing daily. I do, however, believe that in order to help preserve our ecosystems, there is something we can all individually be held accountable for and that is, consciously tapping into the way we consume our food. Instead of meatless Monday’s, implement Monday to be one of maybe two or three days you decide to indulge in animal protein. Source other foods that are high in protein like, mushrooms and lentils. Because believe it or not, I am of the belief that there is no diet better than the diet of complete moderation. Extremes on either end of the spectrum lead to imbalance which leads to potential for disaster. Also note, how incredibly important it is to source where you get all of your food from. Just like GMO soy, GMO chicken breasts are not helping your health, and are quite unethical.
With the risk of oil spills and plastic pollution infecting our seas, and our livestock and grains pumped full of GMOs and unnatural diets, when it comes to food consumption the most convenient items are the ones where we can assert the most control, on the future, on our health, and on the environment. Maybe now you’ll begin supporting local farmers, or finally grow that garden you’ve always wanted to.
Check back next week where I will explore the dirty-dozen, and shed light on how to make your grocery visit not only easier on your bank account but easier on the planet.