We all should consider changing our eating habits.
Most of us sympathize with the cute baby animal photos that the Dartmouth Student app conveniently provides. Many of us understand that meat production contributes to world hunger and climate change. And yet, most of us are neither vegan nor vegetarian.
Meat consumption per capita is still extortionate in America—the highest per capita in the world with the exception of Luxembourg—largely due to its ingrained nature in our economy and culture. Our society hides us from knowing where the food we eat comes from. Most of us do not live next to factory farms. This sanitizing of animal products leaves us disconnected as consumers, letting us engage in practices that, if we were more aware of them, we might deem unethical.
Beyond just hiding consumers from the pain and suffering their food choices inflict on animals, a myriad of myths and misconceptions about vegetarianism helps our culture maintain its primarily meat-eating status. Many view veganism as synonymous with weakness and a holier-than-thou attitude. To them, these people all shop in the health food section and embrace diets consisting solely of Tofurkey.
However, many of these vegans or vegetarians do not embrace those extreme or weak attitudes. In fact, many Americans have made the decision to consume less meat, instead focusing their meals around vegetables or whole grains. These decisions have both health and financial motives, as vegetables have become more affordable. Furthermore, people can take a degree of flexibility in choosing how they limit their meat consumption. There are several levels of vegetarianism. Pescatatarians, consuming fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy, only refrain from red meat and poultry. Pollotarians consume poultry, fowl, eggs, and dairy, but not red meat, fish, and seafood. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, consuming eggs and dairy, only refrain from meat. The list extends to ovo vegetarians who consume eggs, lacto vegetarians who consume dairy, to vegans who consume neither meat, meat by-products, nor animal by-products.
Without worrying about being a “perfect” vegetarian or vegan, people have the option of becoming a “flexitarian,” a less restrictive eating habit that still can improve a person’s health, reduce their environmental footprint, and help animals. While one eats more plant-based foods, there are no rules to this lifestyle, besides trying one’s best to consume more fruits and vegetables with every meal.
There are many ways to begin a flexitarian diet. Try a vegan or vegetarian meal, snack, or substitute once a week, such as on Meatless Mondays. Reach for a piece of fruit for your snacks and add a side salad to your meals. Open your mind to alternatives: sauteed tofu and fresh-pressed juices are expensive; hummus, chips, and muffins are not. There are several meatless and delicious sources of protein, ranging from soy products to beans to nuts. While you are on campus, Dartmouth’s dining halls offer a variety of vegan foods, particularly at the Herbivore station in the Class of 1953 Commons.
Think about your future self. Studies have shown that adopting a flexitarian diet for just four weeks drops bad cholesterol levels, also known as LDL, by approximately 15 points. Being a flexitarian is not synonymous with being lazy; exercising moderation is key for most elements of our lives. The social aspect of vegetarianism and veganism might prove most difficult, as people will have to find ways to maintain their diets when there might not always be abundant options to choose from, and some may need to be able to defend their choices to family and friends, but even then, these people should know that they share famous company in making the choice to not eat meat. From Ellen DeGeneres to Mac Danzig, celebrities are increasingly adopting vegan diets as well. With the rise of meatless meals and restaurants, veganism and vegetarianism are no longer extreme ways of living.
Adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet may appear difficult, particularly during the trying economic times of our college years. At the same time, there is no better time to start. People from all backgrounds have the ability to transition to vegan or vegetarian diets as long as they take it one step at a time. Every change you make will have a positive impact not only on your health but on the planet’s as well.
Above all, remember that the “perfect vegan” is nonexistent. Every person has the ability and choice to decide whether they wish to go cold Tofurkey or to try one meatless snack per day. Our dietary choices should not be treated and regarded as a fad, but rather as a lifelong lifestyle. If the health benefits stay with you for the rest of your life, so does the food itself. You do what you can do.
Rather than only expressing your love for animals, do something about it. Let your actions reflect your words and your thoughts. Make yourself an agent of change. Help make the world a kinder place one bite at a time.
Shah is an incoming member of the Class of 2021 and part of the leadership of the Dartmouth Animal Rights Troupe.