The buzzword for today is: vegan! Veganism is on the rise, with 6% of US consumers committing , up 500% from 2014. Many fast food chains have introduced vegan options, and several notable public figures have become spokespeople for the lifestyle. But what is all the hype about, and why are people making the decision to change their diets in such a drastic way? Here’s a basic breakdown of the plant-based phenomenon.
What is being vegan?
Being a vegan means that one does not consume any animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or eggs. Those who only make changes to their eating habits are known as dietary vegans. Many individuals who remove meat and dairy from their diet also make other restrictions to avoid all animal products, which includes clothing made from animal fur, leather or wool, and removing any beauty or lifestyle products that are tested on animals or made with animal based ingredients.
Veganism and the environment
Going vegan has major implications for the environment, as animal based industries contribute to a host of ecological problems. They add a variety of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, including nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture, in particular, is a major cause of deforestation, as it requires a significant amount of land for livestock grazing and crop production to keep animals fed. Excessive water use is yet another negative effect, as it takes large amounts of water to keep animals hydrated, fields for crops that feed animals irrigated, and meat and dairy processing. Runoff from animal excrement additionally contributes to water pollution. Check out the documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”, available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, for more information on how going vegan can be a driving force for environmental protection and improvement.
Is it healthy?
One of the major concerns that people have when it comes to being vegan is whether it is healthy, or if they will feel weak when they cut out animal products due to lack of significant components of a balanced diet, such as protein and nutrients such as iron. The main factor in whether or not being vegan is healthy or not is the food choices that you make. Sure, fries and beer are vegan, but they are not going to leave you feeling energized. It is important to ensure that when eating vegan, you are eating foods that satisfy your nutritional requirements. Check out this video for some helpful tips!
How do I start?
Changing your consumption habits can be difficult, and in the case of moving away from a meat eating or even vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Slowly introducing changes such as creating meals without meat and dairy a few times a week, or taking one animal product out of your diet at a time, is a solid way to make sure the habit sticks without feeling deprived of your favorite foods. Here are a few tips to make your journey as smooth as possible.
- Education and inspiration: Identify what the key factors in your decision to go vegan are. Whether they are ethical, environmental, health or otherwise, the knowledge that you are making a decision for a larger, overall goal will help you stay motivated and on track with your progress. Below are a few resources that serve as a good introduction to the vegan lifestyle:
- Vegan Society
- No Meat Athlete, “The Best Resources for New Vegans”
- I Love Vegan, “Transitioning to a Vegan Lifestyle”
- Introduce new foods: It is far easier to add new and exciting items to your grocery cart than remove old favorites, so start by adding vegan staples to your diet before you start taking things away to help you feel less deprived. Items that work as substitutes for meat and dairy products such as nutritional yeast (has a cheesy flavor), almond, oat or soy milk in the place of cow’s milk, and the large variety of meat substitutes made by brands such as Beyond Meat and Boca can make the switch seem less daunting.
- Learn how to read nutrition labels: Learning how to identify products that are made with lesser known, animal derived ingredients can help you to be more aware of what you are consuming, and avoid accidentally eating foods that don’t fit into your new lifestyle.
Is veganism not for you? That’s okay! You can still make your diet more sustainable by limiting your meat and dairy consumption. Try a meatless Monday, or make a few meals a week without meat, dairy, or both! While it may not seem like it makes much of an impact, even one meal without meat is environmentally impactful. According to an article in the LA Times average American diet takes more than 1,000 gallons of water per day to produce, and one hamburger takes 660 gallons of water to make.
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