Note: most of this also applies to vegetarianism

When I was a sophomore, a resolution for Lincoln-Douglas debate was,

Resolved: Just governments ought to ensure food security for their citizens.

During one novice debate meeting, our team met in Ms. Cohen’s classroom to brainstorm arguments for this resolution. Ms. Cohen overheard our discussion and suggested we watch a documentary called Food Inc., because it was relevant to the topic.

It wasn’t until my junior year that I actually watched it. Before winter break, Mr. Adams suggested to me another documentary called Racing Extinction that he was showing to his world history students. That winter break, I watched both documentaries, which have ever since changed my perspective as a consumer.

Maybe you’ll recall a book from AP US History titled The Jungle that exposed the inner workings of the meat industry and created the FDA. Food Inc. exposed the inner workings of current-day meat factories, and while the meat products don’t contain human flesh or fingernails as they used to, the production of meat is still extremely problematic. I don’t want to go too much into detail, so if you have time, watch it for yourself (it’s worth your time).

Racing Extinction was less about the production of meat, and more about the consequences of consuming products that lead to extinction of species. It’s also very eye-opening, providing facts about global warming and the illegal shark fin trade.

Both documentaries convinced me that as a consumer, I needed to buy fewer animal products. I was shocked to learn that although I thought transportation was the main cause of global warming, animal production was actually a leading cause. After all, it takes greenhouse gases to clear land for grazing, grow food, produce the products, and then transport them. Here’s some of the details if you want to read more.

If every American skipped meat for a single day, the emissions savings would be equivalent to taking almost 8 million cars off of the road.

At first, I thought consuming less meat would be difficult. The surprising thing I learned was that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. After feeling like my avoidance of meat was for a cause, it became really easy to avoid meat. It’s difficult to enjoy meat when you learn just how much suffering is caused to produce it.

Furthermore, the internet was full of vegan versions of my favorite recipes. YouTube became a useful source to me as I watched videos from Kalel, Fablunch, and MindOverMunch. These channels made cooking and eating vegan meals an art and pastime. After trying a handful of recipes, it came to my attention that — hey, vegan meals don’t actually taste bad at all. It seems like vegan meals would taste off-putting, but that’s only because I’d never actually tried it. Vegan food has come a long way, and today, there are even vegan burger products that bleed like real meat due to added ingredients like heme (found in plant roots).

After months of research, I decided it was time to go vegan. For an entire month away at summer camp, I chose not to eat meat or animal products. My time at summer camp was the first time I’d really paid attention to what ingredients were put in my food. For all my life, I’d never had to ask, but now it became clear that I rarely knew what I was eating.

Most importantly, I learned that talking about food choices was more difficult than I imagined it would be. Food is surprisingly divisive. I didn’t even know that a vegan stereotype existed until I tried to go vegan. That’s when it occurred to me that the main reason why more people weren’t vegan was because it was misunderstood, in a sense.

Veganism misconceptions:

· Vegans are extreme people with ridiculous dedication

· It’s not possible to have a healthy diet without meat or animal products

· I’m not an animal lover so there’s no way I could give up meat

· Vegan food tastes fake

· Veganism doesn’t affect the world anyway

· Vegans are pushing their religion onto everyone

When I returned from summer camp, I stopped being vegan because I couldn’t convince my parents that a healthy diet could exclude meat. They dismissed veganism as another silly fad that millennials were into. I figured it was okay to take things one step at a time, because I can’t convince everyone.

That’s one aspect I like about veganism: that it’s fine to take it one step at a time. After years of eating meat and animal products, I can’t just pretend that I haven’t already done a lot of damage. However, it’s fine, because there’s only thing that can happen from learning about veganism: my diet will improve. It might take me weeks, months, or even years, but as long as I’m moving toward a better diet, things are better than before.

Going back to eating meat has been sad because it’s been mostly against my will. However, I learned yet another lesson: labeling people as “vegan” does more harm than good. As someone who wants to improve the world by eating less meat, I still resonate with a lot of the ideas of veganism. However, I’m not completely vegan, so does that make me less cool or proud of what I’ve learned? It’s strange to identify with veganism’s values yet not be a vegan.

I think that’s what a lot of other people might feel also — that vegans think other people are “less cool,” which contributes to the vegan stereotype as being a pushy or extreme type of person. While chatting with a friend (Adam Towers), he made a great point about how a big reason the vegan stereotype exists is because it’s hard to find the vegan who doesn’t fit the stereotype. You’ll only know that someone is vegan if they tell you, so a majority of the people you know to be vegan are going to be the ones who are vocal about it.

I don’t have to completely stop eating meat or animal products in order to improve the world, and the insinuation that I can’t be in the “vegan club” unless I completely stop is more demotivating than it needs to be. I should be proud every time I choose not to eat meat, but the labels make it seem like food choices are all-or-nothing.

Many people are also interested in improving the world, but might not because they’re too busy to think about their diets, they don’t know where to start, or they simply are imperfect/human and want to enjoy meat or animal products. It’s easy to enjoy a vegan meal once it’s in front of you, but not easy to do all of the research that accompanies buying the food and cooking it.

One such person who is like this is Hank Green, one of my role models. He’s made two videos about this: here and here. He’s come to the conclusion that he will lower his meat consumption, but not quit completely. It’s never easy to put limitations on what you can or cannot eat, and guilt tripping people into being vegan certainly doesn’t help. That’s why one of his suggestions is to stop eating the meat you don’t enjoy. It’s a win-win situation. I think that’s a solution to help people limit their contributions to global warming: start valuing the small steps it takes to make improvements, because the small steps add up.

It’ll also be important to gap the bridge between vegans and non-vegans. Ultimately, the choice of what people eat is a cultural choice. If I become vegan in the future, I know I’ll have to completely give up my culture’s food that is made with meat, such as the Chinese dishes I really enjoy. I think about how I enjoy getting boba or coffee with friends and how it’s more difficult (although not always impossible) to share that experience when I limit what food you can eat. However, I know I’ll also be accepting new types of food into my diet, and sharing that experience with other vegans. It’s more of a matter of which culture I value more: the food my parents taught me to eat, or the vegan food that I have to learn to enjoy. Every person has their own culture when it comes to food; that’s why things get personal when people start judging what others buy at the supermarket.

That’s why, in the end, vegans shouldn’t be angry at non-vegans and vice-versa. People should be proud of what they eat. Part of that includes knowing what we’re eating, so I think as long as people are open to understanding why the meat and animal product industries are so problematic, then the world will be a better place.

I believe that if more people are aware that meat contributes to global warming, can be less healthy, and is harmful to the animals themselves, they’ll make better choices about their food. I’ve noticed that I feel more powerful (in control of my own life choices) when I actively think about my role as a consumer and understand what I buy. I believe other people want that for themselves too.

That means having more conversations about food, especially with those who are open to trying new foods, even if it’s a slow process. This type of change can only happen slowly.