Vegetarian and Vegan Guide
Are you thinking about going vegetarian or vegan ? Are you one already? If so, good on ya! You've already taken a first step towards a more compassionate existence for our non-human friends, and a healthier life for yourself. Not only that, but reducing or eliminating your animal consumption also decreases your carbon footprint--that's good for everyone! Believe it or not, according to a 2006 United Nations report, the livestock industry is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global," and is responsible for the production of more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. Pretty alarming stuff, when you really start to think about it.
Our Animal Friends
One of the main reasons why many people choose to adopt a vegetarian diet is because they are against animal cruelty. Farms today are hardly those idyllic pastures of days of yore: factory farming is a business, and in many countries, livestock have no legal protection. Most are confined in cages, crates, or tight pens; experience neglect and even mutilation at the hands of their caretakers; and often they will only see the sun for the first time when they are shipped off to slaughterhouses.
Sadly, these are startlingly intelligent and sensitive creatures with distinct personalities. There have been reports of cows walking over 10 kilometres to be reunited with their calves that were sold at auctions, and pigs will actually roll over to ask their human friends for belly rubs. Furthermore, many of these animals have the cognitive abilities to rival cats and dogs--even primates and three-year-old children, believe it or not! Scientists have found that chickens are able to understand the concept of the future: when presented with the option of pecking a button and immediately receiving a food pellet, or waiting about 20 seconds and receiving a larger portion of food, the birds will hold out for more food nearly over 90% of the time.
Raising animals for food requires a vast amount of resources. It is estimated that the equivalent of seven football fields is bulldozed every minute to make room for livestock. As if that isn't bad enough already, overgrazing can lead to the extinction of indigenous flora and fauna, soil erosion, and much land will actually become barren and irreparably damaged. However, these farmed animals also have alimentary needs: think of all the feed and water that must be supplied for these herds. It takes approximately 16 pounds of grain and 19,000 litres of water to produce one pound of meat. To put that in perspective, you could go without showering for a full year and still not conserve that much water!
And apart from a porterhouse steak, what do we get in return for these expenditures? About 40,000 kilograms per second of faecal waste. A farm raising 5,000 pigs produces the equivalent waste of that of a city of 50,000 people, and the concentration of parasites, bacteria, and chemicals (pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc.) present in this excrement gets into the ecosystem: specifically, water that people bathe in and drink. In West Virginia and Maryland in the United States, studies have recently found that male fish are growing ovaries; this is likely a cause of factory farm run-off. Is factory-produced meat really the kind of stuff you want to be putting into your body?
Eat Your Greens!
This Earth Day and every day, show the world you care by adopting a meat-free diet. Here are some handy tips to make your transition as painless and as enjoyable as possible.
- Try vegan versions of your favourite dishes: There are a variety of vegetarian meats and dairy alternatives available these days, so it's quick and easy to replace the meat in your lasagne with some vegetarian beef or tofu crumbles. Try using soy or rice milk in your coffee or cereal, and use margarine instead of butter on your toast.
- Explore new foods: There is beautiful organic produce available at your local market, so try something new each time you go. Also, think about trying different ethnic cuisines. Many are largely vegetarian-based, so be courageous--it will likely pay off!
- Mix it up: They say variety is the spice of life. If you think of your diet as restrictive, it will be, so be sure to eat a lot of different whole grains, vegetables, and proteins. Not only will your meals be more nutritionally balanced, but you'll be excited to eat and less likely to fall back to old meaty standards.
- Try try again: If you've tried and hated a certain brand of meat substitute or soy milk, experiment with different manufacturers and other ways of cooking. Certain meat alternatives tend to take on the flavours of what they are cooked in, so try experimenting with different spices.
- Search online for the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants near you: Just because you don't eat doesn't mean that you can't enjoy a nice night out. Many restaurants will feature at least one vegan dish on the menu, but if you don't see one, ask if they will accommodate you.
- Be patient: No one is expecting you to go vegetarian or vegan in a day. If it is too difficult to cut out animal products all at once, set a reasonable schedule for yourself. Perhaps try to eat one vegan meal per day--this is realistic and actually quite simple. Most vegetarians say that the first month is the most difficult, so take heart in the fact that it will only get easier over time.