I’m leaning over a bowl of homemade guacamole. Shadows are growing longer on the back patio as the sun sets behind craggy Colorado foothills in the distance. The only sound in the kitchen is a monotonous munch. Three of us stand there deep within our own thoughts. To my right, stairs creak as heavy footsteps make their way back downstairs.
A somber dragging of feet, the result of facing a harsh reality, and a jovial dragging voice, the result of years of sarcasm, emerge from the dark hallway:
“So, you guys gave up meat too, huh?”
I nod resolutely: “Yup.”
We answered in unison. There was no other answer after what we just watched.
And, just like that, I quit cold turkey, cold chicken, cold beef, and any other livestock manufactured for consumption.
That question was the ice breaker. At the end of the documentary, we peeled ourselves out of too comfy couches. Not a word was spoken as we began to process the images we saw and the information we learned. Days later I still had flashes of a constrained cow being kicked and punched by workers at a factory farm. They laughed and called her stupid. As if blatant animal cruelty wasn't enough, the documentary went into detail about the adverse health effects of consuming animal protein and the catastrophic environmental effects of producing meat for consumption.
I know you’ve heard about the woes associated with burning fossil fuels. You know that they release greenhouse gasses; carbon dioxide and other gasses that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. Did you know that animal agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses? The Food and Agriculture Organization, reports that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of worldwide emissions. That number includes emissions associated with the day to day farming needs of raising livestock for consumption.
According to World Watch, livestock, and their by-products account for 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That number includes emissions that the animals themselves release. During food digestion cows, goats, and sheep expel (a.k.a fart) methane into the air. Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide. The 51% also takes into account the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting livestock by-products such as meat and dairy.
If that doesn’t scare you enough, let’s consider water on this planet. Only 3% of the Earth’s water is freshwater. Of that, only 1% is considered drinkable or easily accessed for consumption. The rest is salt water and ocean-based. Animal agriculture uses 1/3 of that 1% and is expected to increase as the demand for meat production increases. In the U.S., 5% of water is used by private homes. 55% of water is used for animal agriculture. Has eating meat somehow become more important than accessible water?
You may begin to answer that question with a yes. You may start recalling that you need protein to be a healthy human being. You would be correct. We do need protein. However, animal protein is not the only way to get the required amount of protein in your diet. In fact, the links between consuming animal protein and the rise in Western diseases is astounding. We have been taught to associate protein with eating meat. Most people actually seem worried when they find out someone they know is becoming a vegetarian. Weight loss and deficiency related sicknesses are usually brought up as concerns. Hospitals are never full of protein deficient vegans. What they are filled with is diabetic and cardiac meat-eating patients.
Hopefully, this statistic makes you sick to your stomach. The Environmental Protection Agency states that a farm of 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. There are over 9 million dairy cows and over 90 million cattle in the U.S. alone. Let that sink down in your stomachs. We are manufacturing these animals in greater numbers only to kill them and it is having proven effects on our planets’ ability to naturally regulate gasses in the atmosphere. It is taking its toll on water resources through consumption and creating a problem of waste pollution in water streams.
The Easy Decision
No matter what worldview you subscribe to, it’s hard to deny that humans have a magical planet to call home. It’s beauty and variety is, thus far, unparalleled in this universe. If you’re a Christian then you are taught that humans are stewards of this Earth. Buddhism teaches that all things, including humans, are interconnected with nature. Beyond religion, you cannot deny the awe you feel when seeing a polar bear dive beneath a glacier. Can you recall a moment where time seemed to slow down as you stared onto a beach at sunset? We somehow forget these moments in our everyday actions as if what we do has no consequence on this planet.
Well, our actions do have effects and consequences. The studies, the journals, the books, the documentaries are out there. Read the facts for yourself. Once we did, the decision became easy. After all, there is no way to unsee what open eyes have seen. There is no way to not know what an open mind has known. Now, the smell of bacon induces wanton nostalgia instead of want. We’ll even take it in candle form. Maybe, light it along with a maple syrup scented one and have a breakfast theme going. But, keep it off my plate unless it’s plant-based. We’ve decided to no longer contribute to manufacturing animals to kill them and this planet at the same damn time.
How Traveling Affected The Decision
When we watched the documentary we were volunteering on a hobby farm with a veterinarian and his family through Workaway for a few months. There were three dogs, two goats, a beehive, a horse, a rabbit, a duck, a cat or four, and about 20 chickens as pets. I could never get an accurate count of the chickens! It's hard to ignore the varied personalities of these animal lives when living so close to them. Our mornings were filled with feeding the animals as the sun rose over the Rockies. The goats were funny. You could expect a nudge or two if you came in later than normal with their breakfast. The rabbit was fiesty. We had to be quick when refilling her food and water. While we were there the duck mysteriously died after being with the family for years. There were tears. A few days later, Tarzan, our Siberian husky, was stung by several bees and went into an allergic reaction that left him weakened and whimpering. There were more tears along with the realization that this love of animals we have is tied to their suffering once we allow ourselves to see it and feel it.
After leaving Colorado, we traveled to Anderson Island in Washington state to volunteer on a hobby vineyard for the summer. The family there also had a sizable garden that we tended and maintained along with the vineyard. The family was flexitarian eating mostly vegan and vegetarian dishes. Picking fruits and vegetables for each meal became the norm. If we felt like having a kale and green bean salad for lunch, all we had to do was run to the garden with a basket. Here, the blackberries grew sweet in the wild and Siegerrebe grapes grew sweet at the vine. That summer we learned how to make just about any jam and veggie curry you could think of. In the midst of all this cultivating and growing, we found ourselves growing too. Our awareness and appreciation for the way food is grown changed forever. The garden became a paint palette and the kitchen a canvas. Here, our creativity to try new plant-based recipes flourished and our interest grew. From the families library we read The China Study. The book discusses how Western diets, those based on animal meat and products, are related to many common diseases using published studies and experiments as proof. As our knowledge base grew on plant-based living it became clearer that it was a healthier lifestyle for us and the planet.
Seattle and Portland was next on our journey. These West Coast cities have long embraced plant-based lifestyles. There was never a shortage of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, cafes, or groceries to buy. Traveling in our camper was easier than ever too. With a tiny fridge and cooking space, dealing with dead animals and their by-products usually ended up being more of a hassle. Now, we could by pass the meat sections of the grocery store and have more room in our fridge for fruits and vegetables. If we go off grid camping in the wilderness we no longer have to worry about meat spoiling and stinking. Even cooking and cleaning up is a breeze. Fat from meat is harder to clean off pans and plates especially when water is limited. Trash from meat and by-products create smells far quicker than fruits and vegetables. After all, most of the fruit or vegetable will be eaten. Quitting meat on the road definitely has it's benefits. And, if we end up in a place with sparse vegan options we can always pack up the camper van and leave!
We love hearing what led others to a plant-based lifestyle! There are so many different paths and so many reasons out there to make the change. Feel free to share yours. If you're considering becoming a vegan or vegetarian and would like to chat about it, I'm here for you. We can take this journey together.