Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Vegan Dilemma

Obligatory photo...vegan chocolate beet cake! More delicious than one would assume...

Almost exactly two years ago I decided to go veg - not just no meat, poultry, fish, etc., but no dairy or eggs, either. Eight years earlier, around the same time, I began my life as a vegetarian... don't ask me why these revelations all seem to come during the autumn, or why they fall surprisingly close to a slew of holidays (not the least of which is Thanksgiving A.K.A. Turkey Day). However, this time my diet transformation resulted for slightly different reasons.

As a thirteen-year-old, I was most concerned with the fact that I was consuming a once living, breathing creature, complete with brain and nervous system. It also didn't hurt that half the girls in my eighth grade class adopted the same principles (although, none to my knowledge still follow them). After those eight years of refining my values, transitioning from a more animal-focused outlook to a bigger picture environmental one, I didn't know what my next step should be.

Then it hit me. The livestock industry produces almost 20% of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions and takes up large swaths of land either for grazing or even worse, for growing chemically-intensive corn and soy. While some animals make less impact than others (eat goats), that doesn't solve my dairy dilemma (I do not like goat's milk). Furthermore, while I actually think that raising chickens in the right situation and eating their eggs is completely fine, the way modern industry packs them together, concentrating their waste, and mistreating the animals, causes eggs to be even less appealing than dairy. So, I quit dairy and egg products. I took on the challenge of converting one my favorite pastimes - baking - and set out on my new food journey.

My experiment was going well a year and a half in; I had my staples down and baking was starting to come to me nicely. Then I jetted off to Europe for three months and decided to revert back to my vegetarian days while on the trip (in great part because I would be staying on a farm with an Italian family for a month). This little hiatus got me thinking - when cows are raised on grasslands as they were meant to be, they are excellent converters of energy inedible to humans to something we can digest; chickens play an important role in pest control and fertilization...when allowed to roam around a farm; and goat and pigs are good consumers of excess food and field scraps. The real, contemporary issues are that too many animal products are created from high waste and emission producing systems, AND people eat TOO MUCH meat, dairy, and eggs.

So, rather than go whole hog back to veganism now that I am in the States, I've decided to try a new experiment. For all intents and purposes, I am vegan - any products I buy will have no dairy or eggs in them. BUT, I plan on consuming dairy or eggs produced in an ecologically conscious manner - local, pasture-fed cow's milk (like I said, goat's milk is not for me) and "backyard" chicken's eggs. I don't expect the entire population of the United States to give up meat, dairy, and eggs, and in some places in doesn't even make sense (in norther latitudes, dairy products are keys to survival). I believe that people should make more informed and conscious decisions about their animal products. Therefore, I want to support those farmers who are trying to produce in a more sustainable fashion.

For now, this seems like a good place to be!

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