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.