Why Every Individual Counts
On this very special day celebrating our nation’s birthday, I want to write about why every individual counts. There are nearly 320 million of us in this country – that’s a lot of people – enough to have made me think from time to time that what I do or don’t do really doesn’t matter. After all, I’m just one person – does it really matter if I eat a piece of grilled chicken, a slice of bacon, an ice cream cone or not think about the food chain in this country? Yes, it does and here’s why.
The food industry in this country affects each and every one of us. We kill about 10 billion chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, sheep, rabbits, goats, ducks, lambs (baby sheep), and calves (baby cows) annually. That’s 30 animals for every one of us in the US, every single year. With the general population largely shielded from the realities of the livestock industry and the slaughter houses, we don’t have to think about what we are eating. Our meat is wrapped neatly in plastic packs in the grocery store, served on beautiful plates in restaurants, or simply in a condition that doesn’t cause us to think about the animal that died so we could eat that cheeseburger, chicken breast, steak, bacon, pork chop, sliced ham, or turkey breast.
For years, I blamed the slaughterhouses and the people in the industry but I don’t anymore. The reality is these people wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if we didn’t eat animal products. As with most things, we need to look at the factors driving the industry and it all gets back to you and me and what we do. Kellogg’s and General Mills wouldn’t make sugary filled cereals if we didn’t buy them and we wouldn’t have as many slaughterhouses if we didn’t choose to include so much meat in our diet (the average American eats about 130 pounds per year or about 6 ounces a day, according to the US Dept of Agriculture – about 60 pounds more than in 1950).
When I learned about the animal livestock industry, I realized I could make a difference. Although I rarely ate meat, I did eat chicken, turkey breast, and bacon from time to time. But, eating any kind of meat became a problem for me when I learned the truth – that most of these animals have short, miserable lives crowded into cages or feedlots before being slaughtered. So, I don’t eat any meat anymore and I know that because of my decision, 30 animals annually are not slaughtered for my eating pleasure. If we can live well without causing harm, why wouldn’t we?
We learn eating habits from our families and for the most part have been brought up to disassociate the meat on our plate from the cute animal at the farm or petting zoo. We have dogs and cats as pets but we treat other animals as a commodity when in fact these animals have feelings, nurture their young, experience fear and a desire to live.
Consider the dairy industry which is just as bad as the livestock industry. In order to produce milk, cows have to be perpetually pregnant so dairy cows spend their lives in a constant cycle of impregnation (forced), birth, and milking with just a few short months of rest between pregnancies. That the calf is taken away from her right away and put into a cage for about 4 months and then slaughtered for veal – well, that sealed it for me. If you’ve ever seen a calf separated from its mother and heard them cry for each other, you will be forever haunted. I’ve had people tell me to go visit a dairy and see the happy cows. A cow that is continually impregnated only to have her calf taken away from her right after birth, every single year for 4-5 years (the average life of a dairy cow) before she is sent to a slaughter-house is not a happy cow.
So, I stopped drinking cow milk and eating butter and cheese but it took many years for me to reach that point because I love butter, cheese, and ice cream and couldn’t imagine giving these products up. What would I put on toast? on a baked potato? in my coffee? on a pizza? The answer is nut butters, vegan cheese, non-dairy milks (i.e. hemp, cashew, almond, soy, rice, oat), and tons of veggies. As for ice cream, there are scrumptious alternatives now made with coconut, cashew, and almond milk.
I still wear leather shoes and boots although I ordered my first pair of vegan ankle boots a few months ago and carry a vegan purse. I write all of this not as a confession but as a way of saying that everyone can make a difference and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. To borrow a phrase, “progress, not perfection” is ok. Life really is a journey.
If meat and dairy products have been a part of your life for decades, they can’t be eliminated overnight. Progress takes time but know this. It all starts with children. Ask yourself if a child would ever eat a piece of meat if he or she knew how that animal was raised, treated, and slaughtered? Children brought up on a vegetarian or vegan diet see their diet as normal just as children bought up on meat because that is all they know. So if you were brought up on milk, cheese, hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, bacon or sausage with pancakes, or sliced lunch meats, it’s going to be difficult to change, but not impossible.
Take it one step at a time. Don’t classify yourself as vegetarian or vegan and risk criticism from those who say it’s an all or nothing deal. Rarely in life is anything all or nothing. Cut your meat consumption in half and save 15 animals a year. Buy almond, hemp, oat, soy, rice, or cashew milk instead of cow milk which could save a calf and a mother cow from the anguish of having her calf taken from her. I never thought I could give up cow milk in my morning coffee but after a period of time, I got used to hemp milk and couldn’t imagine having my coffee any other way. If ice cream is a favorite, seek out non-dairy ice creams including sorbet and those made with nut milks (i.e. coconut, cashew, almond).
Every single individual can make a difference. Seek out help in your journey because suggesting that you do something without offering a path is a set up for failure. Here are eleven recommendations:
- Talk to other vegetarians and vegans about what works for them.
- Seek out vegetarian and vegan websites (www.happyherbivore.com, http://www.engine2.com, http://www.forksoverknieves.com, http://www.ohsheglows.com, http://www.francostigan.com, http://www.chefchloe.com, http://www.thugkitchen.com, and http://www.theppk.com.
- Start with one vegetarian or vegan meal a week and gradually add additional dishes in future weeks.
- Consider following a meal plan offered on vegan websites.
- Spend one day a week planning the menus for the week and doing all the shopping and prep work(i.e.chopping).
- Read up on great sources of protein. The number one question you will be asked is “where do you get your protein?” The answer: beans, lentils, grains, oats, rice, nuts and nut butters, seeds, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, Spirulina, pasta, and plants.
- Keep a bowl of fresh chopped fruit out, rotating grapes, diced navel oranges (my family’s favorite), chopped mangos, mixed berries, chopped fresh pineapple, and various melons.
- Take whatever vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, squash) are in the refrigerator (or use frozen vegetables) and chop up into 2 inch pieces. Fill a skillet with the vegetables and stir fry using just a bit of water or a a few tablespoons of Teriyaki or your favorite sauce.
- Find two or three energy bars that you like and always keep one in your purse, backpack, and the car.
- Go to Trader Joe’s and stock up on nuts and seeds which add terrific flavor and texture to salad and vegetable dishes, along with a nutritional bang.
- Buy soup mixes by Bob’s Red Mill, Frontier Soups, and Purely American for $4-$7. These companies offer dozens of soup mixes made with beans, lentils, rice, pasta, dehydrated vegetables and lots of spice (but very little or no sodium). Using low-sodium vegetable broth and whatever vegetables are in the pantry or refrigerator, a homemade soup can be table ready in less than 30 minutes.