How can we make our diets healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable?

We ask how changes can be made to improve our diets both in terms of health, but also in terms of ethics and sustainability

Current issues
By VoiceBox ·

Jac

Jac is a 21-year-old Anthropology and Spanish student with a special focus in Paleoart. They live in Ohio, USA with their hairless guinea pig, Mochie and enjoy wild plant foraging and reading historical and science fiction.

From Bambi to burgers

From a young age, most of us have a natural empathy which tells us that harming another being is wrong. It's the same empathy that makes us sensitive to displays of violence, real or animated. We cry when the hunter kills Bambi’s mother and we root for Charlotte to outwit the humans and save Wilbur’s life. This compassion isn’t something that’s taught to us and some would say it's part of what makes us human.

But somewhere along the way, we lose that compassion when social norms dictate the opposite – just as somewhere along the way, humanity stopped loving nature for what it was and started loving what we could exploit from it. We enjoy eating meat and dairy and we don’t worry about the morality of it because society says that it's ok.

In fact, it's more than ok – it's encouraged, it's commonplace. Fast food restaurants sell animal products in crispy batter on almost every corner. The egg and dairy industries dominate grocery stores and market their products as “staple goods” for modern cooking. For a majority of people, animal products are a seemingly critical piece of their culture and way of living. There is, however, a small but growing niche of people who don’t see the things we do to animals as ok, or commonplace, or worthy of any market in society.

“How do you turn inward and ask yourself, am I wrong for doing this thing, even if the majority of people are accepting of it?” – Jac

My name is Jac and I’ve been vegan for a little over three years. I’m not here to tell you that animal consumption is one of the biggest pressures on our climate today, or that many animals show signs of complex social behaviors, because you may have already heard all of that. Lots of people recognize these facts, vegan or not. The question for you may not be “why should I change my ways?”, but “how do I do it?”. How do you let go of something that’s been ingrained within our society and is such a prevalent part of our culture? And even more daunting, how do you turn inward and ask yourself, am I wrong for doing this thing, even if the majority of people are accepting of it?

I’ve talked to dozens of people – most of them close friends – in my short time as a vegan. There seem to be commonalities in their arguments against veganism, even among those that I would consider to be empaths. The biggest one – which isn’t really an argument so much as an excuse – is “I don’t think I could do it. It’s too hard.” To me, the inconvenience of finding alternative foods is small compared to another being’s life. Even if you don’t value animals as much as people, you have to admit that causing unnecessary pain and suffering isn’t something that we like to promote in today’s society. So why are so many people pushing aside their moral compasses to participate in animal consumption?

That brings me to the next argument, which is the prevailing argument of all meat eaters: “well our ancestors ate meat. Biologically, humans are omnivores and are meant to eat meat.” And that's true, to some extent – we as humans have evolved the biological ability to consume and digest some animal products. However, there are limits to this. Humans can’t consume raw meat and some humans lack the enzymes to digest lactose, which usually disappear in early childhood. And as far as being true to our roots, humans also used to roam the land, constantly on the move, often in small groups – but you won't see a lot of this today.

Moreover, animal agriculture has developed to the point where it's no longer sustainable – and one of the best ways to lessen our cataclysmic effect on our planet is to reduce our consumption of animal products. Doing so is not only good for the planet, but it's also good for your health, as many doctors will attest. So-called ‘think tanks’ and dietary guidelines in schools will tell you that you need milk for calcium and meat for protein – but these are often funded by the dairy and meat industries. Studies show that you can get the same amount of nutrients from plants (and at a significantly lower price, might I add).

So now that we’ve broken down some of the main arguments against embracing a plant-based diet, let's look at what makes people so defensive (and sometimes hostile) to the idea. Vegans are used as the butt of the joke on many occasions. We are labeled extremists, hypocrites and worse. But if you strip away all of the internet sarcasm and hate surrounding veganism, I think you’ll find a public viewpoint that is threatened and perhaps scared of what we represent.

And what do we represent? Is it an attack on modern agriculture or a high-and-mighty way of viewing the world? Is it something that celebrities do to lose weight? To me, it is none of these things. There are a few different opinions about what being vegan really means (even among ourselves) – so I’ll just give you mine: being vegan is not a lifestyle choice, but it is a choice. It’s choosing a life in which you actively try to reduce the amount of suffering you cause. With that said, and the facts already known, I think many people would consider themselves vegans already, on some level. So what's holding you back?

(Please note: I am making my case to all adults with the privilege of choosing what they eat. Food agency, while taken for granted in most places, is not always available.)

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