I’ll forewarn you, this is a long answer to a short question : “what do you eat in a day?”. For this post, I’ve teamed up with a number of other bloggers, journalists and creatives who are a part of Ethical Writers Coalition to show that there isn’t just one way to eat sustainably. I’ve linked in all their food diaries just below my own, which, if you’d like to skip the explanation of ‘why’ I eat the way I eat, you’ll find the particulars at the end of the post.
** please note, the only reason this article is on veganism is that it is the only diet in which its members claim is the only answer for sustainable living. This does not mean that every other diet option is more sustainable or less, each has its flaws and each needs to progress. I wholeheartedly support whatever diet choices any human chooses to make, so long as it is a conscious choice which considers the following points and ones I’ve missed. I am not against veganism, I personally choose to eat a plant-based, local, seasonal diet which is fairtrade and organic instead **
I’m not a huge fan of being told what to eat … My mum brought my sisters and I up on an organic vegetarian diet, in the pagan religion, as feminists … thus, my main rebellion at the age of 16 was to become a cheerleader, start going to church and begin eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers every chance I got.
Back in the early ’00s, during the Atkins Diet regime, I had a bright pink shirt made that said ‘I ♡ Carbs’ across the front, because I had, and still have, zero interest in cutting carbohydrates from my diet. Bread in particular.
As the ‘Carb Free’ fad diets continued to rage through my 20s, various boyfriends over my romantic interactions of life suggested I cut bread out of my diet to maintain my optimal external attractiveness. Instead, I chose to cut them out, because, let’s face it, the one consistent love in my life has always been, and might always be bread.
⟠ MY INITIAL SHIFT INTO VEGANISM ⟠
But I also married a Texan, and through him discovered that if you can’t separate someone from their guns, you’re certainly not going to be able to separate them from their steak. To improve their diets for the sake of humanity, we would need to offer some options ‘better’ than my mama’s lentil loaf and store bought tofu. I found out that transitioning a beef eater to someone who instead eats chicken reduces emissions to 10% of the methane produced by beef. Reducing the AMOUNT of meat eaten also reduces one’s personal footprint too. That meat eaters just needed to be conscious, not completely abstinent. I was also acutely aware that I was neither a nutritionist, naturopath nor a doctor and thus the idea of telling people what they ought to eat was out of the question for me. Sharing ideas on how to eat more sustainably was a possibility, but telling people to forgo food groups, was not.
As I transitioned into Veganism, I was also trying to go zero waste, and it was a constant battle to find ways to marry the two lifestyles in a way that was realistic. Vegan food is covered in plastic, and most that plastic isn’t recyclable, making my zero waste efforts somewhat redundant. Similarly, it was also important to me that anything I purchased, be it fashion or food, was produced in a fair trade environment. As I discovered, almost 95% of the pre-made vegan food I found in my local stores had no mention of Fairtrade practices on its packaging.
Finally, I had to consider intersectionality, especially when I travelled. Meat is an important part of history, tradition and cultural identity, it felt completely wrong to rock up to a country I was a guest in and start telling them how to eat. Those sharing my skin colour had done just that for centuries, and I had no intention of embodying the historical oppression of my skin’s collective ancestry for the sake of a middle-class Western movement. Sustainability was an issue as well, most vegan foods have been imported from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. I wanted to reduce my personal Greenhouse Gas emissions and support my local economy by eating what was in season and produced locally.
⟠ YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT ⟠
They say you are what you eat. For a living, I write about the circular stories of things, I work countless hours each week trying to uncover the most sustainable products by looking at their lifecycle from cradle-to-cradle. Yet I couldn’t untangle the story behind my own eating habits. The dots weren’t connecting. I began to discover, with both what I eat, and the general world of sustainability. Nothing is black and white. It’s a big ole sea of grey, and here’s why:
⟠ CRUELTY-FREE? ⟠
What veganism, (and to be fair what most diets) don’t consider is the intersectionality which exists within our food culture. It becomes uncomfortably hypocritical to eat a ‘cruelty-free’ diet when the worker who grew your plant-based foods did so working in slave-like conditions. There are very few Fairtrade plant-based products beyond pure fruit and vegetables themselves. In fact, when I started to become obsessed with the idea, I found myself seriously disturbed when I walked the isles of my local vegan store and found coffee and tea were the only two products on the shelves with both the organic and fair-trade marks. White people already have a long history of treating nonwhite humans inhumanely, a tradition I’m NOT willing to carry forward or support. I felt and still feel, that fair treatment must include all living things, or it’s not ‘cruelty-free’, so I began separating myself from packaged vegan products which meant I was separating myself from protein replacements.
⟠ THE REALITIES OF CROPLANDS WORLDWIDE ⟠
Another consideration also under the umbrella of intersectional veganism is the fact that not all countries have unlimited access to foods from around the world all year like those of us in Western countries do. Nor are all countries able to grow vegetables, fruit and legumes year-round. Around one-third of the world’s land is composed of arid and semi-arid rangeland that can only support animal agriculture. When attempts were made to convert part of the Sahel in Africa from livestock pasture to croplands, desertification and loss of productivity ensued.
Furthermore, an interesting study (sent to me by Eco Boost’s Kate Arnell) which was published in Elementa Science in 2016 on the ‘Carrying Capacity of U.S. Agricultural Land‘, suggests veganism is not the most sustainable way to eat. Researchers used biophysical stimulation models that compared 10 different eating patterns. The study looked at Grazing Land (unsuitable for crop growth, but great for feeding agricultural animals), Perennial Cropland (crops that live year-round / can be harvested multiple times before dying. ex// grains and hay), and Cultivated Cropland (growing veggies, nuts, fruit ect…). What it uncovered is that because the Vegan diet doesn’t predominantly use perennial cropland, it would only be able to feed 735 million people, compared to the lacto (dairy but not eggs) vegetarian diet, which could feed 807 million people. Veganism actually came fifth, in terms of sustainability, out of the ten possible diets.
⟠ ECO + ETHICAL ISSUES WITH VEGAN STAPLES ⟠
3. ALMONDS are a water-intensive crop and are partially blamed for the droughts, and subsequent fires, in California.
⟠ANGRY VEGANS ⟠
Perhaps the most uninviting part of being a vegan was the angry side of the vegan community. Sounds harsh, indeed, but to me, it felt the community was so strict, judgmental, angry and nonsensical, that it felt a bit like how Scientology is described. One wrong move, one question too far, one too many defences of ‘the others’, and you’re out of the club. I could name about 5 vegan bloggers who no longer communicate with me for defending another blogger when a vegan troll tilted his tornado her way.
I’ve had my angry moments too, sustainability is frustrating, but the truth is, not a single one of us is perfect at anything. The vegan diet and lifestyle, just like any other lifestyle under the umbrella of sustainability is chalked full of hypocrisy and confusion. We’re still figuring things out. And the most important part of figuring things out is knowing, and admitting, that it’s possible we could be wrong and being open to discussion. Our shared ignorance as a species is built by lack of education and understanding of the circular story behind objects and habits that allegedly support the movement we stand behind.
Anger, though I’ve been guilty of my fair share of it, has been proven throughout the history of our species to create pain, not change. Blind zealots, fired up under any doctrine, like the trolls most of us encounter on the internet, who are accusing and insulting instead of working on perfecting their own path and simply leading by example and education to encourage others to embrace positive change keep everything stagnant. If you feel it is appropriate to call someone a ‘cunt’ for not adhering to the strict guidelines you’ve set for yourself, you are not living a cruelty-free life.
There are thousands of legitimate reasons why a person might not be a vegan or 100% vegan (I’ll outline some below), thousands of reasons why a person might make so-called ‘mistakes’ or choose to allow themselves some leeway outside the home (I sure do). If we allow our egos to rise and make bullied judgments of others without considering the nuances and realities of a life someone else is living become an extremist not a maker of change.
And I want to be a maker of change. A positive one at that, if possible.
⟠ OPPRESSIVE JUDGEMENTS ⟠
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⟠ WHAT I EAT IN A DAY, AND WHY ⟠
So, these are just some of the reasons I’ve decided to call myself ‘Plant Based’, because it allows for flexibility, for reality, for ecology, for logic, to acknowledge intersectionality, and to respond to the needs of my body.
I aim to eat what is in season and produced locally, to buy my products package free in an effort to live a zero waste lifestyle. I try to purchase food that is organic AND fair trade, and personally choose to avoid dairy because my body is intolerant to it … but I do dabble. I also avoid soy, avocados, and almonds due to their ecological impact on the planet (I still, regretfully, eat Quinoa Almonds and Cashews, as we bought a shit ton in bulk) and try to avoid all beef, pork, game meats and shellfish because my body has a lot of trouble digesting it. We eat vegan at home to ensure our meat, fish or dairy consumption is reduced to the odd restaurant outing or meals at the homes of others.
I tend to graze throughout the day as I’ve got an easily upset tummy, and I try to drink a glass of water and a cup of Numi Organic (Fairtrade) tea between each ‘feeding’.
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