For the past two months I have been vegan. Before you roll your eyes, gasp in disbelief or question where my protein came from, let me tell you this: I am alive and well and feel fantastic.
The most common reaction people had to this experiment was disapproval. This often came from common misconceptions on veganism and vegetarianism in general.
To bust a few myths: Protein can be consumed from a lot of different sources aside from fish and meat. We eat more than enough of our daily intake of protein anyway, so hold your horses. Calcium comes from broccoli just as it does milk. You can find copious amounts of iron from spinach and oatmeal. B12 is the only nutrient supplement a plant-based diet lacks, but most non-dairy milk is fortified with it and supplements are easily attainable.
As for health benefits, plant-based diets reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, even cataracts and arthritis, according to NursingDegree.net. Usually low in cholesterol and fat content, it makes you feel and look great.
That’s well and fine, but what about the food you can’t eat?
We often forget that the momentary pleasure of flavors bursting in your mouth comes from a long process with massive of impacts. Food, as simple as it sounds, is complicated.
Pollution is a big problem in food production. Methane from livestock is the largest human-related source of pollution globally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane, a greenhouse gas, contributes to global warming.
Pesticides used to ward off invasive species and control crop production have the tendency to enter the water system through run-off. This can cause ground and surface water contamination, the source of our drinking water and aquatic habitat.
Cheese production has recently been known to have a significant carbon footprint. According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, if everyone in the U.S. did not eat meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
The working conditions of farm workers and meatpackers are often overlooked when biting into a juicy burger. The National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH) reports that migrant and seasonal farmworkers are the most economically disadvantaged people in the US. Three out of five farmworker families have incomes below the poverty line. The meatpacking industry is considered to be the most hazardous industry, with more than a million workers receiving minimum wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Farm subsidies also add to the mix, known to advantage big, industrialized farms. Their implications are as far-reaching as the cheap prices of fast food and poor nutritional levels of school lunches. A Big Mac may not cost you much money, but you are in fact paying a great environmental cost.
Clearly, food is complex. The greatest step we can take to support a more sustainable food system is to be better informed.
Monday is Food Day, a nationwide event sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The CSPI is a nonprofit watchdog concerned with food safety and nutrition issues since 1971. Their main objective for Food Day is to bring people together in the name of more healthy, affordable and sustainably-produced food (FoodDay.org).
Nationwide events are occurring to help raise awareness. Locally, WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) has organized daylong activities addressing food justice and hunger issues. Panel discussions, service opportunities and movies screenings will take place to build our community of educated consumers.
It is through learning and understanding where our food comes from that we can make more informed decisions. It may be difficult to give up meat completely, but at least through understanding its process of production, Meatless Mondays will not be an idea too far out.
Understanding the complexities of food helps develop a greater passion for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings. It also helps us appreciate our environment, because to love food is to love the earth.
Food Day Service Projects
Center for Civic Engagement (CUB L45)
1 to 3 p.m. WSU Organic Farm
3 to 5 p.m. Pullman Community Garden
5 to 7 p.m. Sojourners Alliance
*Must register on SLPro
Food Day Film Series
International Center (CUB L46)
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. "The Future of Food"
3:30 to 5:30 p.m. "Food Inc."
7 to 9 p.m. "The Garden"
*Students get 1 hour of reflection per movie tracked by the CCE