Last week, the New York Times published this article, Life Without Plastic Is Possible, It’s Just Very Hard. It was like the NYT editors had peeped my Zero Waste/DIY Pinterest Board–or my to-do list (Which toothpaste tablets have fluoride? Where to find ingredients for making my own blush?). From poo-pooing straws to switching to all things bulk (dish soap! Laundry soap! Beans! Grains! Seeds! Protein pow! Soy curls!), it’s been baby steps, one purchase at a time.
The thing is, a lot of us saw that turtle with the straw up its nose and said, “Okay; THIS is the last straw. And the last shopping bag. And I’m gonna bike to work or take the bus more.” But we keep eating fish–despite the fact that fishing nets account for 46% of all ocean plastic (source Ocean Cleanup). And we keep eating animals, even though it’s easily Googled that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than driving cars (Source: The UN.) And, back to the fish–we’re eating the very thing we’re trying to save.
The lowest hanging fruit (in addition to using cloth bags and skipping straws, and riding the bus–WAY before making your own deodorant) is skipping animal products.
When “I’m just one person. What can I do?” is asked by everyone, the answer is nothing.
It’s 2019. The information is online. I could litter this blog post with scholarly links (actually, I did, then I removed half of them and moved them to the bottom). The truth of how we are devastating the planet by what we put on our plate, it’s online. The videos of how we treat these very aware beings (by the billion)–also online. And endless delicious vegan recipes–yup. Online. It’s all just a Google away.
Everyone reading this post has access to this information. The majority of people reading this have access to a supermarket. And the majority of us have the opportunity to be the change we want to see.
When “I’m just one person. What can I do?” is asked by everyone, the answer is nothing. But when you take the initiative, inform yourself, and decide to break out of this cycle that’s dictated mainly by tradition—the future for all of us on this planet can be much brighter. And yes, you can also make your own toothpaste and feel super amazing about that too.
“I have a lot of issues with veganism.”
Skeptical? Of course. Veganism has always run into a lot of push back, and it makes sense. Change is hard, animal products are tasty, and we want to put off change as long as possible. (When I went vegan three years ago, I started out by googling everything, trying to disprove vegans so I wouldn’t have to go vegan. Turns out, the vegans were right. Ugh.) As we stand at the brink of environmental collapse, we need to do more than carry bamboo silverware in our glove compartments. It’s time to inspect our suspicions.
Here are some common ways people push back against veganism, and responses I usually give:
“But individual commitment won’t save us. The majority of people won’t even do small things. Everyone who cares needs to get involved politically. Laws have to be passed to make any real difference.”
Individual commitment is helpful. Especially when it inspires people to share information, canvas, protest, and vote. If everyone who swapped out plastic bags for canvas also took up a veg diet and shared their choices with friends, and requested for changes at their local grocery stores and restaurants, and wrote to politicians, that would be pretty powerful and hard to ignore.
“Grass-fed, though.” // “Small farms, though.” // Etc.
The truth is, we cannot continue to consume animal products at this rate–and more specifically, we cannot support it with small farming or by moving to grass-fed or free-range or hunting or any number of idealistic perspectives regarding raising animals for food. The math simply doesn’t compute.
99% of farmed animals live on factory farms.
The majority of us are not eating salmon that was hand caught, one by one. Or drinking milk from a small, eco-minded dairy with a tiny footprint. We may make careful purchases when cooking at home, but we’re also consuming animal products at work, at restaurants, with friends and family, and when you get down to it, 99% of farmed animals live on factory farms (Source: 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture).
“Regenerative animal agriculture exists and is often one of the only ways to repair soil that has been too depleted to grow crops.” // “Grazing is good for the land.” // Etc.
It’s tempting to pull out the smallest sliver of semi-positivity amongst a towering stack of opposition from very reputable sources (like this one from Oxford). However, like the argument for small farms, earth-friendly animal farming isn’t possible, large scale.
What’s more, we wouldn’t need to use the same amount of land if we stopped breeding animals for food. We’d get more out of letting the land return to a natural state and allowing the native wild animals to return than insisting on breeding non-native animals to roam them, eat the native grasses, and kill the native predators to protect them.
“Veganism is expensive.”
This is another common argument that seems to be more defensive than grounded in facts. A vegan diet can be as affordable as you need it to be. Staples (bread, rice, pasta, beans, oats, veggies, etc) are affordable. (Many vegans are also low income and do so successfully.) Some meat substitutes are expensive, as are some animal products. Both are unnecessary to a healthy diet.
So to say it again: Many people reading this post have access to a grocery store, and the internet, where they can find delicious, nutritious, and affordable recipes.
What’s more, our government hugely subsidizes animal products, making the choice of vegetables over chicken nuggets seem elitist. This is definitely something to be angry about and I’m angry alongside many people, as the government is pushing unhealthy diets on our most vulnerable, Including our schools, hospitals, jails. Read how we got here: U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat – Washington Post, 2011.
“Vegans assume all people having access to fresh foods year round, the ability to purchase them, the time needed to properly plan and research nutrition, the homes, and appliances necessary to store and prepare food. Many, many people do not have these things. In short: It’s classist.”
This is definitely an issue, which is why I’m always careful to use the word “many” not “all,” specifically to acknowledge that there are those who are food insecure, live in food deserts, etc.; barriers of time, cost, location, and skills will always be a factor in any movement.
The excuse that “veganism is classist” is like saying, “Recycling isn’t available to everyone so I won’t participate.”
The argument that “veganism is classist” and using that as an excuse to not be vegan is a bit of a cop-out. That would be like saying, “recycling isn’t available to everyone so I will not participate.” It’s up to those who are able to make the environmentally-conscious choices to make them–and to advocate for their availability for everyone. There are many vegan advocates working with low-income communities to address the barriers I mentioned.
In short, many many many more people can eat a vegan diet than are doing so. These same people have the ability to speak up, vote, and advocate for improved food systems for all.
“If vegans put half as much effort into ending poverty, food inaccessibility, income disparity, and [fill in the blank], then maybe we would see change.”
The best part about being vegan is it’s not all-consuming. For many vegans–especially a year or so into it–it’s not really a thing that takes up much time or brain space. It’s just eating. Which means vegans often advocate for many other causes right alongside animal rights and environmental issues. Due to veganisms’ inherently political nature, vegans are more likely to be tuned in to other causes, driving them to volunteer, donate, and vote.
“Have you ever even had a conversation with a small livestock farmer? Or do you get all your info from the internet?”
I read farmers’ journals and forums. I also read books and reports. I listen to interviews with farmers. And I volunteer at farm sanctuaries. Usually, when reading farmers’ forums or news journals, they speak frankly and in such a way that the many omnivores might read it and also go, “ugh, really?” It’s worth Googling something, like, say, “calf disbudding forum.”
Beyond the straws
Making any large personal change is scary. Not only do we want to protect our habits and our admittedly delicious foods, but we also want to protect our sense of self and our feelings of being a “good,” ethical person.
But there’s nothing wrong with reevaluating and realizing we can make changes. It doesn’t make us bad, it doesn’t make our past choices bad. The fact is, we live in a capitalist society that doesn’t want us connecting our choices to the environment, nor asking where our food comes from. When growth is the goal, the environment, our health, and the welfare of animals will be the victims.
Give these links a read. Give your fridge a look. Give some thought to your next meal. Change is possible. It’s tasty. And it can only help. Baby steps can start any moment.
- Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth’s natural life – The Guardian, 5/5/19
- Can We Solve World Hunger and Feed 9 Billion People Just By Eating Less Meat? – One Green Planet, 2018
- The Dark Confessions of an Ex-Animal Farmer – The Disclosure Podcast – Episode 3, 2/2319
- Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown – The Guardian, 10/10/18
- 30 Non-Vegan Excuses & How to Respond to Them – Earthling Ed
- How to Go Vegan – I Love Vegan
- Best vegan cookbooks:
- Happy Cow: Find vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants near you