I have always considered myself an animal lover, environmentalist, and healthy eater.
I’ve always ooohhhed and ahhhhhed at cute farm animals and caged zoo animals. My family has had all kinds of animals throughout the years: dogs, cats, goats, snakes, fish, birds, guinea pigs, and even an actual pig! My best friends have always been animals. When I was little, I would talk to the cows in the field across from my backyard. I grew up taking care of a dog, Violet, from the time I was 10 years old. She even came with me to college and was my best friend until she passed away at the age of 14.
I’ve always loved nature. I love hiking, camping, and anything else that gets me outside. I wanted to do something with my life that helped save the planet, so I chose environmental engineering. I got through my undergrad and started graduate school in the same field. I tried to do the stuff you’re supposed to do to help the planet. Don’t litter. Recycle. Save energy where you can. Use reusable grocery bags.
I grew up eating the standard American diet. When I went to college, I became more interested in health. So I started eating more salads, buying organic meat, and ate less sugar. I was still tired and needed a slow supply of coffee to get me through the day. I just thought that was what happened when you became an adult. You have less energy, so you have to find other ways to keep up with the constant busyness and handle the pressure to do so much in so little time without stopping to take care of yourself.
I tried so hard to be the person I thought I should be. I tried to please everyone around me and do what I thought was right. I was in a constant state of stress over how I was performing in school, as well as my other many commitments. I was drained, overworked, and burned out. And I was barely into my twenties. My life was great. I was privileged, paid to go to college, had everything I would ever need and more, but I was unhappy and unfulfilled.
It only took a few hours for me to realize that there could be more to life, that I could do more with less energy, and that I needed to change.
In fall of 2015, I came down with a case of bronchitis that lasted over a month. I rarely missed my classes, but I felt really terrible on one particular day, so I decided to stay in bed. I flipped through Netflix until I found a documentary that looked interesting: Cowspiracy. Cowspiracy uncovers the fact that animal agriculture is the greatest source of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Factory farming is also the leading cause of rain forest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, and ocean dead zones. Some of the facts presented in the documentary are as follows:
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US.
442 – 8,000 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land.
We are currently in the largest mass extinction in 65 million years.
A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted.
Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels.
As many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year.
Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass (i.e. zoomass) was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoomass.
70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour.
We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.
82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
Vegan: 1/6th acre
Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan
Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan
A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food.
Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.
Note: These are not made up numbers. These are numbers that are backed up by peer-reviewed sources and experts in their field. As mind boggling as these numbers are, how do we not hear about this every day in the public news? How are we destroying our planet, unknown to many of us, at such an alarming rate? More facts and sources can be found at http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/.
I was left in COMPLETE SHOCK by the numbers. I needed to know more about veganism. What did that even mean? So I watched another documentary on the same day: Veducated. This documentary followed three average Americans as they adopted a vegan lifestyle, and explains the many ways that eating more plants is good for your body. The film also showed a five minute long clip of what really goes on in an average slaughterhouse. It was beyond disturbing. It’s a real life horror story. I remember pausing the clip halfway through and clinging to Violet as I cried. I wanted this for no animal, no matter how small or different from us. I had to change. I was finished with eating animal products.
The transition was a little scary. I contacted the only vegan I knew for moral support, and she graciously helped me through the process. (She is now one of my very best friends. Thank you, Lindsay.) I cut out meat first, then cheese, then sweets. Some people become vegans overnight. Some transition. I had to transition, which is okay. I did my best. I slowly felt better and better.
Since that day, I have educated myself on veganism extensively. I find inspiration from Instagram, bloggers, YouTubers, etc on what to eat. I read books and watch documentaries to learn about nutrition and the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. The more I learn, the more I am sure that this is the lifestyle for me. It makes sense for the planet, for the animals, and for my body.
I have felt such a drastic shift in my life since becoming plant-based. I have felt the effects of the peace that I have been consuming seep into the rest of my life. I know that I am making a difference to bring peace to our planet. I refuse violence that is manifesting in my backyard. I know that I am doing something huge to take care of the planet. I take care of my body and my mental health. I don’t let school and work control my life. I’m not tired. I’m a pacifist, an environmentalist, and I’m happy and fulfilled. I have been vegan for two and a half years now, and haven't looked back. My family has been inspired to consume less animal products. My mom rarely eats meat, my brother changed his health by consuming less animal products, and my dad has recently started eating more veggies after having a heart health scare.
I feel compelled to share my experience from a place of compassion and understanding. I'm not asking you to drop everything and pursue veganism. Most of the time, I don't talk about veganism with the people around me unless I am asked to do so. This is my experience. I know this is a huge life shift, and may not be available for some people for various reasons. However, I think we can all become more aware of what we consume in the form of food, clothing, and all other products and how those things affect our bodies, the environment, and the being who created the product. Consider eating less meat, or meat that comes from sustainable and humane sources. Find a balance of what works for you, your lifestyle, and your family, but is also considerate of the world and the creatures who share this place we call home.