I have been vegan for over a year now, and as result of being both vegetarian and vegan, I have also committed myself to a non-GMO, mostly organic diet, and this blog will tell you why.
Before you read further, I kindly ask that you let go of any negative connection you have made with the word “vegan” and instead picture a colorful array of your favorite fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
With a personal commitment to be positive and focus more on what I’m for rather than what I am against, I’m organizing this post by the values I live by and explain why they have led me to choose organic, plant-based whole foods.
1. HEALTH: I’ve never felt this good in my life
It’s important to understand that I spent the first 12 years of my life eating meat and seafood, and for seven years after that, I still continued consuming milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and eggs. I ate processed, packaged food that entire time. In those first 19 years of my life, my immune system often failed me. I always had stomachaches, I caught the cold multiple times a year, and I developed allergies to many fruits and most pets by the time I was in high school.
When I began to choose organic produce, all of my allergic reactions went away, and I was able to eat all those fruits I thought I was allergic to. When I cut out dairy and animal byproducts, my stomach problems disappeared and I no longer get fevers or the cold. When I consciously chose non-GMO, unprocessed foods, my diet became much more creative and colorful, and I suddenly had energy after I ate rather than feeling tired and irritable. My body is in its most productive, active, and energetic stage it’s ever been, and looks really can be deceiving because at 100 pounds, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.
My health has become one of the most important things for me, and I’m a firm believer that you can’t take care of others (to the best of your ability) until you really take care of yourself. I’ve also never been so confident in my body to heal itself. I’m writing this with injuries in which I couldn’t walk much or use my left arm, and I have healed in just a few days. I haven’t had health care in a few years, and I’m absolutely positive I do not need it (other than in very few emergencies).
2. SUSTAINABILITY: I love nature, and I want it to survive and thrive
I’m an environmentalist, and some people may even call me extreme. My bike gets me everywhere I need to go, I never use a plastic bag at the store, I often bring my own fork and plate when I go out, and I take cold showers under three minutes to save water and energy. But, in reality, those are small steps to take in such a severe environmental crisis.
After reading Will Tuttle’s World Peace Diet (the book that made me vegan), I discovered the incredible environmental destruction caused by the meat and dairy industries. They are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. It is said that it would be better to be a vegan and drive a Hummer than it is to be an omnivore and drive a Prius.
Tuttle also explains that one-day’s worth of food for a vegan requires 300 gallons of water to produce. That’s a lot, right? Well, a day of food production for an omnivore requires an unthinkable 4,000 gallons of water. For comparison, an average ten-minute shower uses 70 gallons of water. Based on these numbers, going vegan for just two days will save a year’s worth of showers in water.
For the first time, I felt uncomfortable calling myself an environmentalist while still supporting the livestock industry, and I could truly sense how important each meal is in being mindful about how my actions affect the environment.
Even the United Nations recommends a global shift to a vegan diet to save the world from climate change!
3. COMPASSION: I love animals (and plants, too!)
I went vegetarian for animal rights when I was 12, and people often wonder if I love animals so much then I must care about plants. So, why do I eat them?! They have feelings, too!
First of all, let’s agree that plants are physiologically different from animals. When you pick an apple, that tree will continue to bear fruits (it’s like trimming your hair). When you kill an animal, it’s not exactly the same story. There is a major difference between pulling lettuce and carrots from the ground and slaughtering a cow. You tell me which situation causes more pain. Animals are intelligent creatures that have complex nervous systems, and anyone who has had pets or has worked with animals will agree that they have emotions, preferences, reactions to pain, and an intense desire for love and freedom (kind of like us!)
Furthermore, my goal is to reduce unnecessary suffering; simplifying my meals gets me closer to that goal. Eating neither animals nor plants would definitely be the most compassionate diet, and I hope that one day, we can evolve into a species that doesn’t need to eat at all! Then, we can be completely nonviolent towards both plants and animals, but for now, can we agree to be realistic? A little bit of compassion is better than no compassion at all.
I do, agree, however, that many plants and seeds are exploited and abused by industrial agriculture, which is a main reason I choose organic (and local) produce whenever possible to support the most mindful practices and farmers.
4. SOCIAL JUSTICE: I’d like to see less hunger & suffering in the world
I’m an activist first – always have been and always will be, so social justice is extremely important to me.
I often hear people tell me they don’t want to be picky with their food because they are grateful to have any food at all. They say, “There are a lot of hungry people in the world.” And, I totally agree!
In fact, world hunger is one reason I plan to be vegan forever. Over 12% of the world’s population is chronically malnourished, six million children starve to death every year, and all of it is completely avoidable.
At least half of the world’s grains (much more in the U.S.) go to produce animal feed. If those went directly to feeding humans instead, not only would we feed hundreds of millions of people and solve the global hunger crisis, but we would even have an incredible surplus in food. Heavy consumption of meat and dairy fuels a completely inefficient, uncompassionate system.
The U.N.’s recent report also exposes the hidden dangers of the livestock industry.
And to truly address social justice, it’s important to look deeper in the issue. Slaughterhouses are the most dangerous workplace, resulting in serious injuries, and many even exploit minority and immigrant workers. Some of these companies lure immigrants to work for them and eventually report those same employees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to avoid getting blamed for their hiring. Many who worked at slaughterhouses also face long-term mental instability and trauma from their experiences.
Worker’s rights also come into play in my decision to support local, organic farms. Big agribusinesses and industrial practices undermine rights of farmers, exploit farm workers, and often expose workers to extremely dangerous chemicals and pesticides.
PEACE: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”
I’m a strong believer in the idea that what you reap, so shall you sow. Will Tuttle discusses this concept in depth in World Peace Diet. He explores the disconnect from the suffering involved in the production of animal products, and he investigates what implications that may have for our society. When such a harmful yet prevalent system exists in society, we in turn will be harmed. Suffering is a cycle, and in a holistic approach to peace and nonviolence, indifference to suffering often equates to violence. We must be proactive in our actions and aware of our inactions to have the most peaceful society possible.
Arguably the most holistic teachings of ahimsa, or nonviolence, exist in Jainism. Jains are often complete vegetarians and even wear masks when walking and brush their seats off before sitting to avoid killing bugs. Many teachings, ancient and modern, teach that such mindful, compassionate practices lead to happier, healthier lives for yourself, for the earth, and for other species.
As peace is a universally desired state of harmony, it’s essential to consider what steps can be taken towards it. Your actions as an individual are extremely powerful, even if it’s a small change at your next trip to the grocery store or your next meal at that restaurant you love.
Anything is possible!
I’d like to end by saying that maybe a year and a half ago, I was convinced of the impossibility and irrationality of veganism. For me, it was not an option. I had strong inclinations about the radicalism of a vegan lifestyle and could not fathom life without ice cream, pizza, and chocolate. I even used to scold my mom for wasting valuable money on expensive, organic food when I was younger. I’ve been on both extremes of the spectrum and understand that each of us has unique experiences and cultures. All I can do is share my values and stories; and if it’s comforting, I discovered that I never did have to give up ice cream, pizza, or chocolate by going vegan. Instead, I now make them all by scratch with local, organic, fair-trade ingredients or get them at the local health store or co-op! Here’s some photos of typical vegan, organic, and local treats for inspiration (special thanks to my lovely sister for her cooking):
A delicious breakfast made with vegetables from our local, organic CSA box!