If you asked me two years ago if I would ever identify as vegan, my answer would have been an absolute, finite, hell-to-the-no.
I had been eating vegetarian for over a year, but the thing was, I loved pizza (still do). And I loved butter. And lots of other things that came from animals. But by the end of summer last year I had just learned too much to ignore the tap tap tap on my shoulder that was telling me to at least just give it a try --
Now, here I am, just a few months later, collaborating with Bull City Vegan for their 5th biennial BCV Challenge to start the conversation about why I couldn’t ignore what my gut was telling me to do. The theme of the BCVC this year is sustainability, so with running a business like The Durham Originals, I jumped at the chance to collaborate.
Researching veganism, animal agriculture and the environment can be time consuming and deep, so I've tried to keep it light, sum things up in a way that makes sense, and offer alternatives that are harmonious with the delicate balance of life.
Let's take a look:
Some people might argue that what we need is more sustainable animal agriculture practices en lieu of factory farms to help clean up the planet -- but considering that almost half of the continental US is already dedicated to livestock and livestock feed, this idea just doesn’t add up.
By devoting more land that would be needed to transform current systems to “sustainable” would mean clear cutting our remaining forests (yeah, all of them!) to make room for grazing and growing livestock feed. Simply put, animal agriculture would literally take over the land.
If the US went vegan, we could feed an additional 350 million more people! Think of it this way -- instead of growing food to feed animals and then feed the animals to the people, doesn't it make sense to grow food and feed it directly to the people?
"Eating 1,000 calories of meat can easily use more than 7,000 calories in plant-based foods, plus the associated use of natural resources" -awfw.org
With issues like a growing population, hunger and drought this is a solution I can live with.
All roads lead to the ocean.
For the litter that blows in the wind, the soap we use to wash our hands and the pesticides we use on our lawns, the ocean, via rivers, streams, and roads is the destination to which all types of debris travels.
Americans alone raise around 8 billion animals per year for food (ahem* more than the planet's entire human population) which creates more than 355 million tons of waste (poop stuff). And while we've mostly figured out systems to take care of human excrement the solution to animal waste isn't, well, much of a solution.
Much of animal waste is kept in outdoor pits or "lagoons," and in a study done by NCSU in 1995, an estimated 55% of those manure lagoons were found to be leaking into waterways. Read more.
And with the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 the evidence becomes crystal clear that the hog waste sitting in lagoons near our beautiful North Carolina coast ends up downstream sooner or later. Our flat lands are subject to heavy flooding, causing said lagoons to overflow (--not just during hurricanes) and make their way even faster into our ocean.*
But animal agriculture does more than just pollute our water systems & land.
While taking shorter showers and being mindful of water consumption in the home is beneficial to our water bills, the real water saving impact comes when we modify our diets. Consider these numbers:
Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US
2,500 gallons of water is needed to produce 1 lb of beef
5% of water consumption in the US is from homes. 55% is from animal agriculture
1,000 gallons of water is needed to produce 1 gallon of milk
That's a lot of showers.
To say all of that and nothing of the underwater creatures would be a shame.
Besides the threat of marine debris and dead zones, commercial fishing and trawling cuts another large piece out of the pie that is the balance and harmony of the planet. Maybe you already know, but we could see fishless oceans by 2048. It's happening, and fast.
With statistics like this, it's no rocket science discovery that we are dealing with a fishing system gone awry -- it's pulling any and everything out of the seas with complete disregard for its part in our survival and for the species that exist below.
What are some of the ways you seek to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions?
-- Do you bike or take public transportation? Unplug things when they’re not in use? Reduce the amount of AC and heat you use in the house? While these actions are helpful for many reasons, and we should all practice them regularly, the effect is pocket change in comparison to the vegan diet.
As many of you know, the increase of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere causes our globe to warm, resulting in climate change. Of those greenhouse gases, methane is one of the most active -- it’s 25 - 100 times more destructive than CO2 in a 20 year timeframe.
Yes -- it's true. Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide. Read more.
Power to the plants.
While these are all very dramatic numbers that may seem impossible to touch, what I see is an opportunity. There is a solution present that doesn't require the government, law or any other being besides ourselves to take action. And the icing? Converting the population to a vegan diet is faster, cheaper and more effective** than converting all of our energy to wind and solar.
We are the ones that hold the power to influence the outcome of the climate crisis of our time, simply by mindfully choosing what we put on our plate.
We are also really lucky to be here in the Triangle and have so many wonderful options to choose from, no animals required!
Things to try / resources:
Sama Spread, Artisan Almond Cheeze
Bulldega (lots o' options)
The Durham Co Op (lots o' options)
Happy Cow (options for here or traveling)
This yummy looking oat milk recipe
There are plenty of vegan options at many other places here in town -- even Taco Bell has a way to dine animal free! And the more people show up and ask for plant based foods, the more options and creativity will continue to sprout. Which brings me back to The Bull City Vegan Challenge, the food celebration where Chefs Compete and You Eat!
This April, Bull City Vegan invites you to dine at any and all of the participating restaurants and to share your photos using #BullCityVegan for a chance to win prizes! Restaurant hoppers will be allowed to vote for their favorite dishes closer to the end of April.
Join us for the afterparty, May 5 at The Fillaree Factory, 3 - 5 pm!
Thank you so much to Bull City Vegan, Triangle VegFest, Vegans for Peace and Triangle Vegetarian Society for collaborating and inspiring the dining community to think about dinner differently. And thanks to all of you for reading this super long post! So go reward yourself already and go out to eat and try something different!
Happy Dining + Lots of Love,
*The Indy's recent article on another hog waste issue.
**Based on a projected increase of 80% emissions for animal agriculture and a 20% emissions increase in the energy sector.