Settling back into student life in Manchester, it has been hard to avoid the debate: to be vegan or not to be? My recent conversion to vegetarianism sparked a heated conversation at the dinner table. The meat-eaters rolled their eyes as they tucked into their bacon sarnies; now the minority in our house, they are sick of taking the blame for the world’s problems. Us, as the vegetarians, seem to be able to take the high ground. But we don’t boast the credentials of belonging to the same list as Brad Pitt and Emma Watson like our vegan housemate. In my quest to be a good, all-rounded human as I think about entering the ‘real world’, should I be following in their ethical, green footsteps? And what would this diet mean for me? Here’s some food for thought.
We’re all talking about Cowspiracy. If you’ve not seen it, you’ll have heard about it and its exposure of the shocking impact of the meat industry on our world. Mass deforestation, high levels of methane gas release and water usage all make it a big contributor to global warming. 30 per cent of global emissions come from agriculture (more than all the transport in the world). And if that doesn’t shock you, research shows that instead of feeding animals with our crops, 3.5 billion people could live off the food used for livestock. That’s enough to feed Africa three times over. There are currently 800 million people who do not have enough food, so why aren’t we feeding the people? If a vegan diet uses a third of the land and a third of the water of a typical dairy and meat diet, why don’t we all change in order to save our planet?
Many of us can’t let meat and dairy go. Friends have told me life would be boring without them, but is that enough reason to ignore the facts? The horror towards Mozzarisella (the new rice-based cheese) is understandable but a vegan diet doesn’t have to be boring. The common under-nourished image of a vegan is also wrong; you only need to take one look at Germany’s strongest man—all 105kg of him—to prove it is no detriment to strength.
There are concerns over health for a vegan; we’re just all ill-informed over where to get key nutrients. But protein can be found in other plant-based foods. Seitan for example, the wheat gluten substitute for meat (it tastes better than it sounds, I promise) contains as much, if not more, protein than steak. B12 vitamin deficiency is widely perceived as the vegan problem, but only long-term vegans are advised to take widely-available and safe supplements. And the idea that we need to drink milk for calcium is one provided to us by the companies who produce it.
For now, I class myself as a vegetarian on the diet spectrum—I try not to diet-discriminate. Perhaps one day I’ll be a ‘Cheagan’—a vegan who cheats now and then—like Serena Williams. I mean, if she can win 3 US Opens on a near-vegan diet, I’m sure I can attend lectures without putting milk in my coffee.
I’m not saying we all need to become animal lovers, but being aware of what we eat is important, and little changes can go a very long way. When we consider the facts, this apparently ‘fashionable’ trend seems to have more behind it than just a soya milk craze.
Advice on steps towards achieving that healthy, globally-aware diet and how to get the nutrients you need through plant-based products can be found in Part Two, coming soon.