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Swimming with vegans
A chance email, a podcast conversation, a LOT of feedback, and two weeks as a mostly-vegan. Happy Labor Day!
If you already listened to last week’s podcast episode, you know a bit of what I’m about to say. A few weeks back, I got this very nice email from Jessica Resler:
I am reaching out because your climate warriorship is exceptional and inspiring, except one thing... I'd love to discuss how you could go vegan to make an even more impactful time here on earth. Aside from stopping to promote violence and bad health - the benefits for the planet are undeniable and let's face it - there is just no safe or sane way to eat meat right now. With your voice only growing louder, the chance for you to reach more people and help entice them to follow in your lead with saving lives - both animal and human.
If nothing else.. consider it for health vanity! We're about the same age and when I go to the doctor they are literally astounded by my balanced blood and energy levels. You're a person the world needs around for leadership and voice so this would be a natural step to be on the right side of history!
Let me know if you'd like my tips and tricks to veganism and I'll happily share. Wishing you the best of everything and thank you for all that you do!
And I, like so many of you, said to myself, “Oh, man. Do I have to?” But I responded with, “That’s intriguing. Do you want to come on the show to discuss?”
See, in the pantheon of Things You Can Do About Climate Change, eating a plant-based diet, cutting out red meat in particular and most meat overall and ideally all meat is, in fact, very high on the list. Depending on who you ask, it’s somewhere between the actual top of the list and in the high top 10 (after things like flying substantially less, living without a car, or having smaller families).
Also, not to state the obvious, but animals are wonderful, and the things we do to them in order to feed ourselves is so far from what nature ever intended for us as an omnivorous species that it’s quite literally becoming impossible to stomach.
Increasingly, we’re realizing that we are, in fact, what we eat—80% of agricultural land is used for livestock production, which also uses 30% of global freshwater. The animals themselves fart out planet-warming methane. And by trying to constantly increase meat production to feed the growing number of humans on earth, we’re pumping animals full of antibiotics and growth hormones that, in turn, um, we eat. Also, animal agriculture spreads tons of diseases and pandemics. Fun!
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A model developed by UC Berkeley and Stanford scientists last year, conducted as an academic exercise, found that if we switched the global food system to plant-based and phased out animal agriculture (again, it’s an exercise), we’d cancel out all other greenhouse gas emissions for 30 to 50 years.
Based on the model, published in the open-access journal PLoS Climate, phasing out animal agriculture over the next 15 years would have the same effect as a 68 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through the year 2100. This would provide 52 percent of the net emission reductions necessary to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which scientists say is the minimum threshold required to avert disastrous climate change.
The reason is that not only does animal agriculture emit gigatons of greenhouse gases, but restoring all that land to either natural growth or even plant-based agriculture means the land would act as a carbon sink. In fact, a 2018 study that identified a plant-based diet as likely the most significant personal action you can take actually had to issue a correction because the authors profoundly underestimated how much carbon would be sequestered if agricultural land was re-vegetated.
And here’s the other thing I didn’t realize. I was chatting with my incredible and talented sound engineer, Robyn Edgar, who’s based in Canada, and she casually mentioned that she eats a lot less meat since she moved from New York City to Canada during the pandemic because there, meat is not subsidized, and is super expensive. Four chicken breasts, she told me, can cost $20 in Canada.
In the US, we spend $38 billion a year on subsidies for the meat and dairy industry, and much of our agricultural subsidies are for corn and soy—to feed animals. We pay as taxpayers, we pay with climate impacts, and increasingly, we pay with our health: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation, and on and on. It’s almost annoying how incontrovertible it is.
So here’s what’s happened over here since I talked to Jessica.
Then, just to try to add a little vegan to my life, I signed up for a few meals a week from Thistle. As is so often the case with meal kits, I was instantly in over my head—I didn’t realize I was going to get meals on Monday and then again on Thursday. Plus, I’d bought some veggies and tofu (I made vegan tofu tacos for dinner one night and my son scarfed down three!), so suddenly I was drowning in vegan food that I refuse to waste, so I’ve pretty much tricked myself into eating a 95% vegan diet for the last two weeks. (I get a little carried away with stuff.)
Reader, I feel great. I almost wish I didn’t feel so great. I’ve peeled off a whole other layer of bloat, I have good energy, I’ve been tracking my fiber intake and it’s basically never been better (and PS, America’s lack of fiber is actually a health emergency that’s a way bigger deal than not getting enough protein). It’s working, and it hasn’t been that hard.
Now. I’m not going to keep getting meal kits in plastic containers. I will at some point have to start fending for myself and cooking more, and that might slow down this effort. I’m on the hunt for recipes and cookbooks and will take your recommendations. But I will say this, a drop really can become a flood fast. This is not something I personally ever thought I’d do—I’ve reduced my red meat intake significantly over the years, I try for my Meatless Mondays, but I was eating eggs every single day and cheese sticks at every snack and after just two weeks of a different way of eating, the one cheese stick I had seemed unpleasantly oily and gross. I am genuinely shocked, and I’m excited to keep going. Because seriously, I think my skin really does look better.
It also helps that I live in the Bay Area during a rising tide of interest in plant-based eating—the SF Chronicle published this piece just about a week ago, a roundup of best vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and confidently declared that:
Vegan and vegetarian food is some of the most exciting food in the Bay Area — without any need for qualifiers.
So maybe this exercise will have a dual impact of making me healthier and fitter and more energetic and climate (and animal) conscious and getting me out of the house.
Oh, and also? It apparently might help me get more gracefully through menopause? Like, seriously? Is there anything plants can’t do?
Happy Labor Day barbecue, everyone. ;)