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First Person: To shrink your carbon footprint, go vegan

Kevin Garrity
Sports Editor

At a time when our planet is in peril, people should actively seek out different things in which they can do to help lessen their footprint on Earth.

Whether it be switching to energy efficient light bulbs, conserving oil by driving less, or changing the basis of a diet and become a vegan.

That’s right. Becoming a vegan and eliminating any food produced by animals can exponentially decrease the impact one has on the environment.

The amount of land used to raise the growing number of animals that people are consuming takes up many resources.

Also, transporting meats and dairy from the farm or food processing plant to the convenience of your grocery store uses an enormous amount of fuel, which causes pollution from trucks, trains and planes.

Cornelis de Haan, Livestock Adviser to the World Bank told the Congress of the American Veterinary Medical Association that, “Removing the causes of environmental degradation is often more effective than seeking to control the symptoms.”

In a report commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank concluded:

“Factory farming affects the global land base indirectly through its effect on the arable land needed to satisfy its feed concentrate requirements. Ammonia emissions from manure storage and application lead to localized acid rain and ailing forests.”

Being an environmentalist and a believer in animal rights, I thought I would see how difficult it would be to become a vegan.

Factors that usually discourage people from undertaking such a diet might include price, lack of knowledge or lack of access to grocery stores that are vegan or vegetarian friendly.

My goal was to become a vegan for four days and experience the challenges and rewards of doing something selfless for the environment.

There were a few stores that I had in mind when I started researching where I would be able to get my food.

Trader Joe’s and Sprouts Farmers Market in Claremont seemed like the best places that would have a wide variety of foods that would feed my diet for the next four days.

I knew soy would become one of the foundations of my new diet and so when I entered Trader Joe’s I was on the look out for anything that was soy based.

Soy burgers and soy chicken nuggets caught my eye first and while putting them into my cart I realized that this might not be as difficult as I had originally thought.

How bad could a diet be if you can eat things that taste like burgers and chicken?

I knew I was going to lose the intake of amino acids that one gets from meat so I needed to find foods that would replace what I was about to lose for four days.

However, I do know that losing proteins from meat does not mean that I could not get the essential amount of protein in other varieties of foods.

Martica Heaner wrote an article for MSN Health & Fitness last year (which can be viewed on msn.com) that details the misconception of vegans and vegetarians not getting enough amino acids.

She said, “a vegetarian or vegan is unlikely to be protein-deficient if they eat a varied diet that supplies enough calories to meet their energy needs.”

Making my way through the aisles at Trader Joe’s I noticed a store clerk putting milk onto the shelves so I asked her what were some of the fundamental foods I would need to get in order to maintain a vegan diet.

“There are a lot of different types of milks like soymilks, rice milks and multi-grain milks,” said Debra McShea, an employee at Trader Joe’s for eight years. “Once you get used to them, it is tough to tell the difference.”

“Try and drink a lot more (of these) milks than you are used to because that is an easy way to take in protein without significantly changing your cooking habits.”

McShea was very helpful throughout my shopping trip, she suggested certain foods and made sure that all of my nutritional needs were covered.

My next task inside the store was to find a variety of nuts, fruits and vegetables and, lastly, something that would become a staple throughout this experience, peanut butter.

I picked up a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as juices and soymilk and decided that it was enough for the time being and would get me off on the right track for my new diet.

As the checker scanned the last item, I was expecting to pay much more than if I would have stuck to my normal diet, but I was pleasantly surprised.

When gauging the prices the sum total for the food that would probably last for four days was only a couple of dollars more than what I expected to spend.

It led me to believe it is a myth that the expensive nature of becoming a vegan is a deterrent for people.

The first dinner I ate as a vegan was two soy burgers, orange juice and some peanuts for dessert.

The soy burgers filled me up and I was feeling confident that I would be able to complete the four days I had set out for myself without any hiccups.

After two days of not taking in my normal calories I felt myself becoming more tired throughout the day.

I did not have the same energy in the middle of the day that I usually have after lunch.

Noting this change, I made a conscience effort to eat more during my meals and using the fruits and vegetables as mid-day snacks to give me sugars that my system was lacking. In an effort to understand if it was going to be healthy to maintain my diet for longer than the four days I researched medical articles to see if in fact the vegan lifestyle is a healthy one.

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada posted a statement that reassured me that it was in fact a healthy lifestyle.

According to the Association, “Well planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

My breakfast did not change much during this time. I was able to eat bagels and fill up on fruit salads every morning with a nice cup of coffee.

Lunches usually consisted of peanut butter sandwiches.

In fact, I think I ate at least two peanut-butter sandwiches everyday during the four-day period.

They provided an easy outlet to keep something in my diet that I was used to eating.
The smooth sailing soon stopped when I unknowingly broke my diet.

I was careful with every meal that I ate, reading each label and making sure no animal products were included, until my last day when I had to wake up early for a class.

It ultimately came down to having a 7 a.m. chemistry class that led to me breaking my commitment.

I completely forgot that I was the subject of this “guinea pig story,” and I poured myself a bowl of cereal with two percent milk.

I did not realize this error until after my chemistry class when I was documenting what I had eaten the previous night.

I was not ashamed of myself and I did not think that the experiment was now a complete failure.

I rationalized that I was only a vegan for four days and therefore I still had food and drinks in my house that do not fit that category, so a slip up was easy.

After the fourth day was complete I was able to reflect on what I did for the environment if only for four days.

I felt I was doing my fair share for the environment without sacrificing too much.

If becoming a vegan would ensure slowing the rate in which the earth is heating, then I would be happy to make that life change for the betterment of the world.

I found the process to be very doable and not as expensive as I thought it was going to be.
Monitoring exactly what you lose when you take animal products out of your diet is highly necessary in order to get the all the health benefits of being vegan.

Despite one misstep during my diet, I felt I undertook the opportunity with an open mind and realization that sometimes people need to do what is best and most beneficial for the globe rather than indulging in appetites that could be detrimental to our environment.

Kevin Garrity can be reached at kevin.garrity@laverne.edu.

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