Take Animals Off the Menu
I love animals. So do you, right? You might have walked past quite a few dogs on your way to class, even stopped for a moment to pet one of them. Maybe you have a puppy at home or your house is filled with cats or you have a rabbit that you just absolutely adore. Me? I have two dogs, a chinchilla and three birds back at home, and I can say with certainty that I love them all. Every six in ten Americans has a pet. Why do so many people turn to animals for companionship? Well, we aren’t as different from animals as we think.
We all seek happiness. We all do our best to avoid pain. Have you ever accidentally stepped on your dog’s paw and then felt like the most loathsome human imaginable? Why did you then continue to apologize profusely to your dog, even though you knew Buddy didn’t understand a single word you just said?
We do this because we know that even though our pets can’t express their emotions in the same way as humans, they still feel. Dogs, like humans — like all animals — experience love and happiness, loneliness and fear, pain and suffering.
Yet, every year, over 70 billion animals are raised and slaughtered in ways that would bring any human being with an ounce of compassion in their soul to tears.
Why do we believe it is okay — even ethical — to eat certain animals but not others?
On factory farms, cows, pigs and chickens are crammed into filthy feedlots and injected with hormones, stimulants and antibiotics. Many of these animals are fed “renders,” which can range anywhere from dead and ground up cows to diseased animals, roadkill and euthanized pets instead of proper meals. They live out their short lives bloodied, battered, breathing in toxic fumes, covered in sores and unable to move an inch, until they finally wind up as the ground beef for your Tuesday night tacos or the chicken nuggets you just ate for lunch. When I was younger, my family and I had the urge to save a hummingbird from dying outside in the cold, while also continuing to eat chicken for dinner. Why do we believe it is okay — even ethical — to eat certain animals but not others? We are conditioned at a young age to believe that cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and fish are somehow lesser than the dogs, cats, bunnies and horses that we love so dearly.
The ignorance, apathy and hypocrisy of humans all sustain this unsustainable lifestyle of factory farming. In addition to the ethical immorality, consuming animals also has drastic ramifications for our planet. While 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is due to transportation, including road, rail, air and marine, a whopping 51 percent is due to breeding livestock and their byproducts.
Thus, carpooling instead of driving solo, biking to and from work and even cutting down driving won’t be enough to save us, although doing all of these are still beneficial. In the United States, 55 percent of our water use goes toward animal agriculture, whereas five percent of water use is domestic or used for drinking, showering, washing dishes, etc. Consequently, shortening our showers and fixing leaky plumbing only saves a drop or two in the bucket. As if the effects of this industry weren’t already concerning enough, every minute, the animals bred for food produce seven million pounds of excrement. Lovely.
Even with these facts, you still might remain apathetic to the detrimental effects animal agriculture has on the environment — it’s not like we only have one life-sustaining planet or anything. Climate change, water use, deforestation, species extinction, fisheries, land use and waste — all of these are severely affected by animal agriculture, whether we want to acknowledge our harsh reality or not. Every second, animals die and the earth pays for our ignorance, delusion and indifference. With billions of us consuming meat daily, the implications are frightening. Every day, we hear snippets of the environmental disaster surrounding us: Species of animals and plants are rapidly becoming extinct.
Start cutting down the amount of meat in your diet. Then, if you’re feeling brave, cut it all out.
The number of ocean dead zones is increasing. Every day, we have the choice to turn a blind eye or to do something. The excuse, “I’m just one person. What difference can I make?” just won’t cut it anymore. When the production of one hamburger patty requires 660 gallons of water — the equivalent of showering for two months — the impact each individual person has is huge.
Still, there is hope. An entirely plant-based diet reduces your carbon footprint by 50 percent, but even consciously making the effort to reduce our meat intake makes a substantial difference. Although the ultimate, sustainable goal would be for everyone to become vegan, I’m taking baby steps. By removing animals from my menu, I’ve already come a long way from being the girl who posted a picture of her In-N-Out cheeseburger on Instagram a few years ago with the profound caption, “Wow” and the heart-eye emoji. After nearly a year and a half of being vegetarian, I can definitely say the change was worth it.
Start cutting down the amount of meat in your diet. Then, if you’re feeling brave, cut it all out. Start reducing the amount of animal products in your diet. Then, make the choice to remove them entirely.
Having compassion for animals is better for the animals. It’s better for your body. It’s better for your soul. It’s better for the environment. Having compassion for animals is better for the world.
Calista Liu wants everyone to consider the ethical consequences of meat-eating.
Plant-Based Privilege: Why Veganism Needs a New Approach
A few years ago, PETA.org published an article entitled “Top 10 Reasons to Go Vegan in the New Year.” Nestled between valid reasons like “save the planet” and “help feed the world” was this: “All the cool kids are doing it,” followed by a list of high-profile celebrities.
Name-dropping those who “regularly appear in People magazine” is usually a failsafe marketing strategy. When it comes to veganism, however, this method is counterproductive. It makes veganism seem pretentious, undermining its personal benefits and positive impact. Worse, it contributes to the misconception that this lifestyle is only for the wealthy.
That being said, veganism is a privilege that not everyone can afford. Being able to subsist comfortably on an animal-free diet is only possible with sufficient time and money. Poor people are never included in conversations about going meatless and eating green. Those who say “anyone can go vegan” are turning a blind eye to classism, poverty and how the meat industry profits off of both.
There’s a reason why going full herbivore is called “converting.” Most people find the transition difficult because their favorite foods contain butter, eggs or milk. Ingredients like soy, rice, almond and coconut are popular substitutes for the real thing. They make the switch not just tolerable, but enjoyable.
They’re also significantly more expensive.
Writer Antonia Noori Farzan published an article about the cost of these alternative products. Over the course of a month, she compared the prices of her purchases to their non-vegan counterparts. In total, eating vegan costs her roughly $100 a month. If you’re a member of the middle class, that’s pricey. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans making minimum wage, that’s unthinkable.
Those living at or below the poverty line don’t possess the money, time or cooking equipment to accommodate a vegan diet.
Veganism, however, is about more than paying for food — it’s also about having the time to prepare it. Vegan or not, home-cooked meals are both labor- and time-consuming.
Along with meat and dairy substitutes (whose absence would “take the joy out of eating”), cooking made it easier for fellow Gaucho Lily Garcia-Daly to convert.
“I was really lucky to have a family that supported my lifestyle change. Not everyone has a mom who would buy them almond milk in addition to normal milk for the rest of the fam[sic]. Not only did she encourage me to make my own meals, but she also made plant-based meals for my non-vegan family,” Garcia-Daly said.
Those living at or below the poverty line don’t possess the money, time or cooking equipment to accommodate a vegan diet. Some parents work multiple jobs or round-the-clock shifts to support their families. This leaves little time for stewing lentils or grilling tofu burgers. Even if cost wasn’t an issue, there’s no vegan equivalent of McDonald’s or KFC. Vegan options at fast food establishments are nonexistent, unless you count french fries. Even so, fast food is unhealthy and unsustainably grown, fundamentally clashing with vegan values.
Unfortunately, fast food is the only option for those living in extreme poverty. While they aren’t America’s largest consumers of fast food, poor people are preyed upon by the industry more than other members of society.
This is the result of “food deserts,” which the fast food industry helped to create. Food deserts are low-income neighborhoods in which healthy and affordable food is scarce. In these same neighborhoods, Wendy’s and Taco Bells flourish on every corner. The multi-billion-dollar meat, agriculture and fast food industries collude to make their products cheap and easily accessible. As a result, obesity is rising in low-income areas and has surpassed smoking as a leading cause of death.
The decision to go vegan isn’t as simple as plants versus meat or right versus wrong.
These industries work together to trap the marginalized in a vicious cycle of poverty. The fast food industry is one of the most unequal industries in the U.S. While their CEOs are among the highest paid, their employees are by far the lowest paid. The meat and agriculture industries pocket an enormous profit from overworking and underpaying their employees. Many of these laborers are undocumented immigrants with no other employment opportunities. Fast food corporations profit as well, exploiting their workers and selling their labor back to them in the form of hamburgers and chicken nuggets.
All of these industries have the lower class right where they want it: on both sides of the counter. There is no place for veganism in the struggle to survive on minimum wage. It’s not even a topic of conversation.
Therefore, claiming that veganism is universally accessible is ignorant. Preaching that veganism is morally superior is similarly inconsiderate. The implication that anyone who doesn’t convert doesn’t care about the earth vilifies the underprivileged.
More importantly, it distracts people from the task at hand: finding solutions. The decision to go vegan isn’t as simple as plants versus meat or right versus wrong. Budget, schedule and family size also need to be taken into consideration. Veganism’s mission goes beyond winning over individuals — it involves tackling the intertwined injustices of the immigration system, poverty and the meat industry.
Rather than imposing judgment, advocates of veganism should focus on education and activism. There are also smaller-scale fixes. Vegans can encourage people to cut down on food waste and meat consumption, buy locally if they can afford it and teach people how to do their best with limited resources. The food industries may be rich and powerful, but there are still opportunities to affect change through individual action.
In reality, a plant-based diet is doable for most Americans. Protein sources like meat and dairy can be swapped out for beans, nuts and grains without additional cost. But to realize the vision of a sustainable food economy, veganism must be presented as more accessible and less elite. Otherwise, meat-eaters who can afford to convert will feel discouraged from doing so. Those who cannot will be left out of the conversation entirely.
So next time you hear someone say, “Everyone could go vegan if they wanted to,” challenge them to consider who they mean by “everyone” and who they’re leaving out.
Harper Lambert brings up the issues of making veganism a trend.