Veganism- A Dirty Word?
Updated: Sep 1
Now, I know what you are all thinking..... here we go, another post preaching the good word of eating your way to a wholesome life. So I wont fool you, it is true, this piece is about considering the lifestyle of veganism; but it's coming from an individual who still currently eats meat!
The whole concept and idea of veganism is a bit like the values and attitudes towards the idea of feminism, isn't it? Both 'dirty' words. You often get the same reaction of eye rolls and sighs from a handful of people whenever these words are brought into conversation. Both very current topics that bring many contentious discussions and debates, that create so much outrage in people that they refuse to take the time to learn anything meaningful from either. Both concepts holding values around equality, fairness and ethical standards..... crazy right?!
Before I begin, I would like to clarify my position in this discussion. Being first generation Australian on one side of my family, and second generation on the other; a lot of my upbringing has been centred around my Italian heritage. With such a culture, comes a lot of traditions; many centred around food and the importance of food bringing family together. Such traditions include salami making and making various other cured meats. The reason I bring my family background into this, is to bring light of the dilemma I have had for many years when struggling to make the switch. I often saw my family's cultural practises as a road block to further pursuing these choices; it was almost as if it was an excuse. My cousin, on the other hand, has had a very similar upbringing, yet has been vegetarian for over ten years. I think with these two contrasting experiences, it's so important to note and acknowledge that we all experience life differently through various perspectives and values, and because of this we mustn't be too hard on ourselves.
But what I now want to address within this piece, is how we can shift these perspectives and values through more conscious consumerism and broader ethical and sustainable awareness. Because, as Maya Angelou once said, when we know better, we can do better.
If you speak to any of my friends, there is now an ongoing joke about 'what is Georgia today?..... is she vegetarian?, vegan?, or eating meat?'; this has been going on for many years, and the frustrating and embarrassing cycle only continues. I've always wanted to make the switch for various reasons, but I have found too often than not, that my temptations and lack of self control get the better of me.
Too often I find myself making excuses around cost, efficiency, accessibility, and even my own cooking skills and nutritional knowledge. Each and every one of these excuses has brought me back to eating meat. Each time however, I have been left feeling disappointed in myself. I can assure you though, with more research and education, each and every one of these points raised were simply just excuses and can easily be addressed.
My father owns chickens and although I'm irrationally terrified of birds, through the years I have found a soft spot for these feathered friends and have come to observe some pretty special and unique things about them. Each chicken has a individual personality and all have become lovingly attached to my father. It's been such a pleasure to watch how they have become a unique part of the family.
However, what I never understood is that we still ate store bought chicken, despite acknowledging their special qualities. I think it was at this point in my life that I started to make those conscious connections between what was on my plate and where it had come from and had once been. A connection a majority of society have continued to dissociate with. What was once out of sight and out of mind, had now just become a reality in my own backyard.
It is so easy with our over consumption and over capitalised supermarkets to loose that link between paddock and plate. The multitude of meat and dairy that is sold every single day is something that has become so unnatural, and quite frankly absurd. With the help of my fellow chickens I started to view the store packaged chicken on the shelf, as once being like my own chickens; and so my thoughts and moral dilemmas began.
I don't want to discuss cruelty within this post. There is a lot online in regards to this aspect within veganism and animal rights activist values; and a lot of this knowledge is widely accessible and can be self explanatory if we step outside of our sheltered bubbles from time to time. I have found also, that if we go too much into detail about these confronting practises, as sad as it is to admit, a lot of people find to too hard and uncomfortable to acknowledge, and as a result, people become defensive and the message is lost. But one thing I will say before I move on, is that each and every animal is a living thing just like you and me, and the treatment of these animals for our own demands and desires cannot be justified. This is something that has tested my own conscious for a very long time, but I'm hoping by writing this post, I can begin this journey again and for once not break the cycle.
Now in no way am I here to preach to go vegan, I have no experience, thus no reputability; but what I am hoping I can achieve through this particular post is for people to start being more conscious consumers when it comes to their meals and what they are putting into their mouths. I understand how 'drastic' and 'extreme' this lifestyle can often be perceived by people. Because in all honesty, it isn't easy to fully commit to something that is so foreign to what we consider normal; believe me I understand that. But through time, education and becoming more aware, I encourage anyone who is reading this, that does include a lot of meat and dairy within their diet, to reconsider or even just simply cut back on your consumption and contribution if you can't fully commit to going entirely plant based.
Through my constant moral dilemma on this topic, I thought it was time to properly educate myself and expose myself to more research and documentaries. Like every other situation that I am feeling uncomfortable or unsure of, I always turn to research and try and educate myself properly before truly forming my own opinion and view point. In the past, I was aware there was a number of resources out there that were easily accessible for me to learn, however I will shamefully admit that I consciously avoided seeking such knowledge as I was too scared to learn the truth because what I was doing was so much easier than having to make a change. Like I said before, it was out of sight.. so out of mind. However sometimes ignorance is not so bliss, especially when I am so vocal about ethical practises, sustainability and equality. I was living a contradiction.
I began to do some research and finally watched the successful and popular documentary called 'Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret', directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. I will not deny that completing a degree of International Development Studies and avoiding this documentary until just recently makes me feel even more ignorant; but we all have to start somewhere. It just goes to show how uncomfortable I really was to learn the truth, and I am okay to admit that, as I am sure a majority of others feel the same. But with the acknowledgement of this previous ignorance, I now have the ability to shift this mindset and use my privilege and abilities to make a conscious effort and change.
Whilst there are a number of other highly accessible, popular and extremely informative documentaries regarding the issue of the meat and dairy industry, if there is one documentary I could convince even just one reader to watch, it would be Cowspiracy. I not only recommend this documentary because the content within it is so brilliantly portrayed and told, but also because for the first time throughout my whole battle to make the switch, something FINALLY clicked after watching this; and it was for reasons I was not expecting.
Unlike a majority of other documentaries and research that is focused around the issue of the meat and dairy industry involving animal suffering and cruelty (which of course is just as important and serious), Cowspiracy focuses around the issue of our meat and dairy consumption linked to the detriments it has on the environment and the significantly concerning impact it has on the world's environmental degradation. This was a perspective and aspect I was so niave and ignorant about previously, and as the documentary explains, it is something that is not as widely known or discussed.
This sustainable perspective was so startling and confronting, that I instantly viewed my consumption differently. I was more critical of my choices and habits. This documentary showed how my habits and consumer choices of meat and dairy were severely threatening our world and contributing so rapidly to the depletion of the environment.
I'm fine to admit that sustainability and the threat of climate change was the perspective that ultimately altered my values on the meat and dairy industry, instead of the argument of animal rights and cruelty. That does not mean however that I do not agree with the current practises and conditions that animals are treated and suffer from within both industries. And I hope that one day, as I continue to educate myself, that I will be able to fully make the connection between the meat served on people's plates with living creatures that are just as worthy of life, as both you and I are.
Another topic of interest that is also one that a reader may consider when thinking of making the shift or consuming less animal products, is issues regarding health and the benefits of eating less meat and dairy. To find out more, 'What the Health' is another brilliant documentary that is extremely informative in a number of areas including health and corruption.
But for now, I have included some confronting environmental facts raised by the research of Cowspiracy. For more alarming facts and information on each, you can access the Cowspiracy's official link below:
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. ***Transportation exhaust is responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
Emissions for agriculture are projected to increase 80% by 2050. Compared to energy related emissions which are projected to increase 20% by 2040.
Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, ALL from raising animals.
Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption. *** Animal agriculture water consumption can range up to 290 trillion litres annually.
9,500 litres of water is needed to produce 500 grams of beef.
3,700 litres of water is required to produce 3 litres of milk.
Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead-zones around the world in our oceans.
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.
As many as 2.7 trillion marine animals are pulled from the ocean each year.
As many as 40% (28 billion kilograms) of fish caught globally every year are discarded.
As I was doing further research into this topic for this piece, I came across a multitude of articles describing veganism as a 'virus' and something to fear. It saddens me to think that people become so fearful and hateful towards groups of individuals who are doing nothing more than wanting to contribute ethically and sustainably to this world. I will not lie when I write this, I am guilty of passing judgement previously to those with these lifestyle choices; but I am also happy to admit that these judgements stemmed from my own insecurities and jealousy toward their better moral judgement and self control.
Before people are quick to belittle or dismiss someone who is sharing these lifestyle view points and values, we need to reconsider our initial judgements, determine where they stem from, and ultimately educate ourselves first. There is no excuse for our convenient consumer choices anymore, as so much information is accessible to us now. It is up to us to make the change, even if that means challenging ourselves and getting out of our comfort zones. Because after all, the world is going to get a lot more uncomfortable for us if we don't.
It is up to us to fix the damage we have caused. It is up to us to make more of a conscious shift.