On New Year's Eve, my roommate made the momentous decision to commit to veganism. She had been a vegetarian for many years prior, so this transition did not come as a total shock to me, but it still caught me off guard. Having grown up in a family of avid carnivores, veganism seemed to me a distant practice common only among health and fitness YouTubers living in LA. No one I knew intimately was actively practicing veganism at the time, and it wasn't something I regularly thought about. However, my roommate's commitment introduced veganism to my life, and I began to consider more deeply the reasoning behind veganism and its environmental impact.
While it is true that people go vegan for many different reasons, whether it be for health benefits, diet regulation, animal rights, decreased environmental impact, a combination of these, or something else altogether, the environmental impact of veganism cannot be understated. I've heard many broad statements about veganism such as, "If every person were vegan, there would be no water shortages anywhere in the world." I never knew if these kinds of statements were exactly true, so I decided to inform myself on the specific impacts of my roommate's choice, and I learned the following.
According to a study done in 2018 at the University of Oxford, removing meat and dairy products from the average person's diet would reduce that person's carbon footprint from food by approximately 73 percent. Additionally, if everyone in the world refrained from eating dairy and meat products, global farmland could be reduced by a nearly equivalent percentage, which would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, freeing up land currently used for farming would allow large amounts of land to return to their wild state, the reduction of which is the leading cause of the mass extinction of many wildlife species.*
I try my best to be an ecologically-aware consumer, and these facts were difficult to ignore. While going vegan is certainly becoming easier with restaurants, stores, and college campuses offering more and more vegan options, I still knew that, particularly as a college student living in a dorm, it would not be easy for me to remove the meat and dairy staples of my diet entirely. I just did not think I could do it, so I pushed the idea out of my head.
Over the first few weeks of my roommate's veganism, I began to realize how many vegan options there are. I started trying vegan foods in addition to my current diet, and then eventually I began substituting proteins on occasion. I did so without giving it much thought, but I found a few vegan staples that I enjoyed and I started working them into my diet.
After practicing this for a week or so and discussing it with my roommate, I realized that I did not need to fully commit to veganism in order to eat vegan foods. By substituting vegan options into my diet as often as I can, I am at least making an effort to decrease my carbon footprint.
I recently saw a post on social media describing how this ecological crisis will not be solved by many people caring for the environment perfectly, but rather by everyone caring for the environment imperfectly. Oftentimes, climate change and environmental decline seem too massive and overwhelming for anyone to take on the responsibility of fixing these problems. We must each make an effort, no matter how small, to make eco-friendly decisions every day in order to have a large collective impact. One easy way to start making those decisions is to evaluate your diet and see where you can start making small substitutes for common meat and dairy products. You might realize, like I have, that there are more options than you think if you choose to look.