More than just a lifestyle: my path to embracing veganism

Bougey juice bars inhabited by Los Angeles’ swankiest hipsters, crunchy eateries packed with heavily pierced and tattooed rebels, and nature preserves encompassed by (high) tree-hugging hippies — these are some of the typecasts of vegans. Regardless of these awfully true stereotypes, veganism is trending for a variety of palpable reasons — mainly its unparalleled ethical, environmental and health benefits.

If you had told me two years ago that I would soon become an avid vegan and animal rights activist, I would have laughed in your face. I considered myself to be a meat-eater that needed animal protein to survive until my brother, Zack introduced me to the world of veganism during my senior year of high school.

Zack made a convincing environmentally-based argument for his vegan lifestyle. He claimed that factory farming is the No. 1 contributor to climate change, as it causes 51 percent of our global greenhouse-gas emissions, that we’re causing species to go extinct in our oceans in the commercial fishing industry, and that it takes over 1,000 gallons of water to make one steak. To drive his argument past statistics, Zack focused on the unethical treatment of animals used for food, demonstrating his non-speciesist mentality. He preached that animals are sentient beings just as humans are and that we lose that connection when we consume animals thoughtlessly. The packaged chicken breast, for example, was once a chick who was born into confinement, living among tens of thousands of other birds in a filthy shed, collapsing under his or her legs due to artificial growth hormones, to be prematurely trucked to the slaughterhouse to be put out of lifelong misery.   

His compassion deeply inspired me, and caused me to go vegetarian for three weeks before making the full transition to veganism. Not to dogmatize my vegan journey, but I honestly noticed significant changes in my health. Physically, my skin cleared up, my nails and hair became thicker, and I easily gained muscle. Mentally, having cleared my cognitive dissonance, as I formerly claimed to be an environmentalist and an animal lover, I was satisfied that my actions justified my beliefs. Emotionally, I became a more empathetic person, as my private sphere of compassion (toward the animals) opened up to my public sphere (friends, family and strangers).

The way I related to my food also really changed. My previous unhealthy relationship with food — restricting what I ate, religiously counting calories, and regarding food as good or bad — vanished, as I began to eat food because it was healthy, in an effort to nourish my body.

Going vegan has taught me how important sticking to your beliefs is, and how the continual dedication to said beliefs reinforces your principles, thus empowering yourself and others.

Providentially, college is the time to try new things, and being situated in Los Angeles makes it especially easy to try going vegan. On campus, the dining halls offer meat alternatives, including Gardein and Beyond Meat products, Nekter and Amazebowls offer refreshing acai bowls, and Starbucks (finally) offers almond milk as an alternative milk for all of their drinks. Off campus, build your own vegan pizza at either Blaze or Pizza Studio by opting for their vegan cheese, try Chipotle’s savory sofritas, indulge in vegan baked goods at Nature’s Brew, or (when late night hunger strikes) head over to Taco Bell for their bean burritos, minus the cheese.

If you want to learn more about reasons for going vegan, I can recommend a few documentaries on Netflix that have different focuses; Cowspiracy — environmental, Earthlings — ethical, and Forks Over Knives — health. For those who enjoy reading, I highly recommend Animal Liberation by Peter Singer and/or Free The Animals by Ingrid Newkirk. To access hundreds of easy recipes that at most require a microwave, check out PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook and for a comprehensive piece of literature, check out their online Guide to Going Vegan.

As Thomas Edison once said, “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.”

Tessa Nesis is a sophomore majoring in NGOs and social change.  Her column, “The Sentient Bean,” runs on Thursdays.

1 reply
  1. Scott Graves
    Scott Graves says:

    You realize that many things vegans tell you are lies. They may not realize they are lying, most likely they are just repeating the same lies that they heard on a vegan chat room.

    As for your environmental concerns there have been studies that show, quite logically if you’ve the courage to look at them, that if everyone converted to veganism the impact on the planet would be worse than simply reducing our intake of meat and animal products to the USDA recommendations. You see, currently cattle spend a large portion of their lives converting grass and weeds on the prairie into protein and fat. Those grasses are not edible to humans and to use that marginal land for growing food for humans would be more environmentally damaging than leaving it to the cattle. Before the 1930’s sod busters broke up the prairie grasses out in the Midwest and grew wheat. When the droughts hit the region all that topsoil turned to dust and blew away. It took decades to get the land back to being productive. Now we have learned our lesson and the land is left to the wild grasses that hold the topsoil together when droughts hit. So ask yourself which is better, leave the prairie as grass for cattle or hack it up, spray it with pesticides and herbicides to run off into the rivers and if a drought hits watch the topsoil blow away?

    While it’s true that factory farming isn’t something pretty it’s a compromise we need to make to feed our numbers, you can’t turn chickens out on the open prairie and hope to harvest enough to feed people after the coyotes and wolves get done with them. Even domesticated animals can be a problem, I’ve got a friend who raises chickens in a free range environment for eggs and her neighbors dogs got into them and killed several of her chickens. Her chickens are fed not only grain but household scraps and any vermin or insects that wander into their area.

    Commercial fishing ventures have no desire to fish a species to extinction. To do so makes no more sense than a factory owner burning his own factory to the ground. From what will they make a living if they fish those species to extinction? They’ve every reason to preserve those fish species just like a factory owner wants his factory to keep working. Have there been mistakes made in the past? Have some fishermen been less than ethical? Of course, not everyone is honest and decent. But you cannot paint all fishermen or businessmen with that same brush. Most are good people who want to feed their families and the world.

    As for the 1,000 gallons of water to make a steak, I suspect that’s a tad inaccurate. A 16 ounce steak containing 128,000 ounces of water? That’s 8,000 ounces compressed into one ounce…. How does that work? Most of that 8,000 ounces is pissed onto the ground and makes the grass grow that the cow will eat later on. The animal is simply borrowing the water.

    So keep an open mind on this.

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