At the age of ten, I knew two things for certain, I liked animals, and I didn’t want to eat them. It seemed to be an obvious choice, but to my surprise, everyone around me did not see what I saw when I looked at the chicken on my plate.
There has not been one day in my life where I have regretted my choice to be a vegetarian. That is not to say I have not dealt with being the inconvenience at the family barbecue, been laughed at and teased. I’ve had people explain that eating animals is “our natural God-given right” or that meat consumption is good for the environment; however, no matter what situation or circumstance, my conscience has never wavered. So I’m pretty damn proud of that.
In my choice to stop eating animals and, more recently, trying to cut out all animal products, I have regretfully remained silent. Besides answering the usual questions and concerns at the dinner table, or the odd post on social media, I have kept my beliefs, my knowledge and my choice to myself. Only in the past year have I avidly read and researched works of inspirational and educated activists, nutritionists, doctors, and academics. With social media’s help, I have connected with a massive global vegan, and vegetarian community that I did not know existed until now.
I was twelve when I first stopped eating meat altogether. My young mind could not comprehend how I could love all creatures, yet turn a blind eye to what was on my plate. Although my parents saw my defiance as silly, I continued to hide pieces of chicken under my plate at dinner. What my parents thought to be a phase turned out to be the most important choice I would make in my young life. Today at 24 years old, I am even more dedicated to educating the world about the benefits and importance of a plant-based diet. I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to let ten years of people’s negative perceptions, ignorance, and belittlement silence my voice. The health of animals and the environment, and the human race depend on our willingness to educate ourselves and refuse to be manipulated by industries that disregard our health and governments who refuse to acknowledge facts. By choosing ignorance, you are doing yourself, your family and the future of our planet a massive injustice.
The largest problem I have bared witness to being a vegetarian is the immense lack of knowledge and misrepresented ideas we living in North America have about nutrition and health. In elementary schools across North America, health is an integral part of the Canadian school curriculum. To this day, I hold a vivid image in my mind of the cover of my Health Canada Guide Book. Inside, fitted with large streams of colour across a page titled “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide,” meant to resemble the food pyramid, which has been an iconic symbol in nutrition for decades. Everyone who has looked at or studied some food pyramid version knows that fruits and vegetables are the largest portions or the “foundation” of a healthy diet. Second, on the pyramid are grains, and the last two sections, which gradually become smaller and less important, are (you guessed it) the calcium and protein giants: meat and dairy. The older I got and the wiser I became about my food and the nutrients I needed to have a healthy diet, the more I realized I could fulfill the two categories of calcium and protein without consuming any animal products.
How do you get your protein? Every vegan and vegetarian will roll their eyes when they hear this as it has to be the most common question I have had to answer over my life of not eating meat. My revelation that the protein section of the Canadian Food Guide did not have just small pictures of fish and steak but also soy, cans of beans, tofu, and nuts, validated my understanding of a plant-based diet and that I could be healthy without having to sacrifice my conscience. But even though everyone in my grade six health class was learning these facts, too, they and many other people I have met still ask and comment on my need for protein.
For some hard facts, there are only two vitamins that the body can not get from food: B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by our bodies when we are exposed to the sun, and B12 is created by micro-organisms which are found in water and the soil and are also produced by the healthy bacteria in our intestines; thus every nutrient and vitamin that we need as humans to survive, can be absorbed from a purely plant-based diet.
The popular belief that eating animal products and meat, in particular, is necessary for human survival stems from a history of commercialism and capitalism. It is no longer a question that large amounts of animal protein directly negatively influence our health. There is avid research behind “Meatless Mondays” and health professionals’ warnings to eat less red meat, but many people remain unconvinced. If you at this point are willing: try Googling “effects of eating animal protein” under scholarly articles, and see what you find. You may be surprised that nearly all recent studies show the negative effects of eating meat and other animal products have on our health compared to plant-based protein.
As for the environment, we are eating more animals now than ever before. The demand for meat, poultry, fish, and dairy is quickly and greatly damaging our health and our planet. Many choose to ignore this idea when they pick up that styrofoam plate of ground beef at the grocery store, but the environmental, not to mention the health costs, adds an extra sum to your beef’s price tag. An article published by The Guardian in 2010 states: “In 2006, the UN calculated that the combined climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat were about 18% of the global total — more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together”. Animals require copious amounts of land and water to graze and live. Animals also need food. Their food: grain, must be grown somewhere, which adds to the area taken up to raise livestock. Agricultural runoff pollutes our waterways, and animal waste and cattle transportation also largely contribute to greenhouse gasses. The human population will continue to grow, and eventually, there will not be enough space or natural resources to continue on this path.
In writing this, the last thing I want is to offend or discourage. Growing up in North America, we have eaten what is put on the table. We have not been wary or felt the need to question what our parents feed us as we believe that they give us what is good for us. In my life as a vegetarian, I have witnessed so much hope and change. It fills my heart and lifts my spirits when I meet someone who shares the same diet or genuinely asks me for advice on their path towards a plant-based diet. My friends and family’s simple choices to taste my veggie burger or be more conscious when they pick out items at a grocery store — inspire and encourage me. However, what does shock me is not necessarily people’s ignorance, but how they treat someone else’s diet or belief as a “fad” or a “trend.” Veganism is said to be trendy. If looking out for my health, animals well being and the future prosperity of our planet is trendy, I see that as a pretty great thing.
I understand that many people don’t believe that one person can have an impact. Still, your dollars are your voice; by putting your money toward more sustainable, humane, healthier ways of living as a consumer, you hold power to make a difference. I believe that education trumps ignorance, and together we can shift our perceptions of food and become a more compassionate society. I believe this is the future of food, and I look forward to improving the lives of animals, humans, and the earth. Because it is the only one we have.
“How do you know if someone is vegan? — they’ll tell you.”
Damn straight, because we have a whole lot of educating to do.