A quick walk through an average grocery store reveals the lack of options available to those considering making the switch to a vegan diet. Those wanting to do so make the switch for moral reasons, for animals and for our planet.
“Being vegan is beyond a diet, it is a lifestyle choice,” said Leah Derikx, who is enrolled in a master’s program in sustainability management at the University of Western Ontario. “If everyone went vegan, there would be reduced demand for mass animal agriculture practices.”
Those practices include the necessary land and fertilizer to grow animal feed, the water required to grow feed and provide to cattle, and the fuel it takes to harvest feed, transport feed, process animal products, transport, deliver and cook.
All of these practices contribute to global land use change and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which are major drivers for global warming, according to experts. However, there are other factors to consider when determining the impacts of different types of agriculture on global warming.
“For example, the locality and seasonality of food will determine the fuel usage and GHG emissions released to process and transport the food to its destination. Additional environmental impacts related to food production and distribution in our current global food system are water demand, fertilizer use, land use change and decreasing biodiversity from monocultures, to name a few,” Derikx said. “Therefore, the environmental impacts of food is a multifaceted issue that is not simply solved by altering the prevailing diet.”
There are a lot of organizations dedicated to helping consumers become more aware of the ways in which they can become greener. Among them are local environmental non-profits, community resources, and provincial and federal organizations. Derikx herself volunteers with Envirowestern and London Environmental Network.
“I met like-minded people, and it was nothing short of a positive experience,” she said.
Candice Tilbury, senior data manager at Robarts Clinical Trials Inc., decided to change her diet, for a few reasons.
“Of course, the primary one was reducing my part in animal cruelty,” Tilbury said. “I started learning more about the conditions that the animals live in, how it affects them and how it affects the animal products that we consume. I also learned about other plant-based ways to obtain the same nutrients that, traditionally, we only think to be in animal products.”
Tilbury also noted that it really was not that hard for her to find alternative food options.
“The biggest challenge for me is finding vegan options at family gatherings or on vacation,” she said.
Tilbury advised that the best way for a consumer to become vegan is to start off slowly.
“Start gradually. I would have been very overwhelmed if I had just gone vegan cold turkey. Meal prep is the key to any successful dietary change and/or consistently eating well, especially when you are going other places. There is a lot of planning ahead.”
Humber College paralegal student Endrit Bllaca made the choice to go vegan ultimately to challenge himself.
“I wanted to see if I possessed the willpower strong enough to completely take out the foods that I once loved. Food is a very important part of our lives, we – literally – live to eat! Therefore, to drastically change your diet in this way seemed like quite the exciting challenge for me.
“Then of course, it changed my way of life. I didn’t see animals as food or property anymore. They’re living and happy; all of which without our interference,” he said.
The reason a lot of people do not want to go vegan is because they assume the price to do so is very high. Bllaca, however, disputes that fact: “Definitely not. Veganism is one of the cheapest dietary lifestyles to carry.”
Bllaca recommends the film Cowspiracy to anyone considering the dietary switch or wanting to be more educated on the topic.
“It’s a very mind-opening film,” he said. “It shows all these facts and statistics about what it’s doing to our world. Unfortunately, many people think they’re made-up statistics created to push a vegan agenda — ‘vegan propaganda’ Can you believe that? We were told our entire childhood and even adulthood that dairy is good for your bones and that we needed to drink it. Now studies have shown it’s actually really bad for you.”
But what if someone if unable to change their diet to vegan?
“Not everyone is able to go vegan and that’s totally understandable,” Derikx said. “Anyone can be more environmentally conscious by learning more by aiming to reduce their personal carbon footprint.”
There has been a wave of change in the food industry, Bllaca states.
“Two years ago, vegan ice cream was scarce. Now, 25 per cent of Ben & Jerry’s lineup is vegan! We did that! The world will get better; it’s only a matter of when.”