How to decide whether or not to go vegetarian or vegan to reduce your carbon footprint

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

All the talk in the media about reducing carbon emissions has put a spot light on the food we eat and the level of carbon emissions involved in manufacturing and processing this food. Some people are arguing that a plant-based diet can fight climate change. Others are arguing that we don’t need to fully convert; we just need to shift away from a diet high in animal flesh and by-products. And then there are those who argue that there is nothing wrong with eating an animal-based diet. What should we do?

Being vegetarian or vegan is your choice

I recall a meditation teacher once saying, “Your food is your food, and my food is my food.” The choice about what we eat is up to the individual, not the scientists, farmers, chefs, dieticians, or anyone else who thinks they should have an opinion about what you should or should not eat.

If someone told you to put purified water in your car because it’s better for the environment than petroleum, would you do it? No. It’s your car and you decide what makes sense. There are many alternative options that you could decide instead: ignore the advice and live in ignorance, use the car less, dispose of the car and walk or ride instead, continue to use the car but feel guilty, and so on.

Likewise, we make decisions about our body-car. After careful consideration of all the options, each individual must determine what type of fuel (that is, food) they decide to put in our petrol tank (that is, mouth and stomach).

Identifying what’s motivating you to be vegetarian or vegan

Almost twenty years ago, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, I became vegetarian. It happened more as a result of circumstance than conscious decision-making. At the time, I was experiencing depression after splitting up with a long-term partner. I had gone from owning a beautiful three bedroom house in a trendy inner city suburb and driving a brand new sports car to renting a tiny concrete box surrounded by rowdy, drunk tenants and driving my mum’s old Toyota until I could afford to buy a new car.

The life that I had known, and thought that I had loved, was crumbling around me. I was having constant panic attacks, endless dark days, and felt as though I had lost control. Life no longer had meaning and purpose. As a result of the stress, I ended up getting a severe case of tonsillitis. My throat was so sore for days that I stopped eating. Gradually, it got better but I could no longer stand the smell of meat.

After a few months, I realised that I was eating a vegetarian diet. No one in my life at the time was vegetarian, so many of my friends and colleagues didn’t understand. Some even pressurised me to eat meat again.

By asking myself many questions, I had to identify why I was vegetarian:

  • Was it for my health?
  • Was it for animal-cruelty reasons?
  • Was it for the environment?
  • Was it for personal desire and taste buds?
  • Was it because it was trendy?
  • Was it because I felt depressed and lost and labeling myself as vegetarian gave me a new identity and more control?
  • Was it a combination of all of the above?

As time passed, I changed jobs and ended up working in a policy and research unit where not only the director was vegetarian, but at least four other colleagues were also either vegan or vegetarian. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding such a wonderful work environment! A few years later, I stopped eating animal products altogether, but I was an extremely “unhealthy” vegan.

The unhealthy side of a vegan or vegetarian diet

Though I ate a vegan diet, my meals usually involved eating highly processed foods containing soy. I lived on Sanitarium soy sausages, soy cheese, soy yoghurt, soy milk, marinated tofu, vegan chocolate and chocolate biscuits, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables and sliced bread.

In the past 18 years, I’ve discovered by trial and error about how to eat a balanced, organic vegan diet. My husband and I prefer not to buy food at restaurants or cafes, even if it is a vegan café as there is no guarantee the food will be fresh, unprocessed, and not contain preservatives or artificial colours and flavours. We make our meals from whole or unprocessed foods. Our diet is simple, such as raw fruit and vegetables, nuts and legumes, supplemented with oats, rice, buckwheat, nut and seed butters, and coconut oil.

“Our food is our food,” and I’m certainly not advocating that you should do what we do or eat what we eat.

If you are thinking about being vegan or vegetarian, then you’ll need to work out what feels right for you.

Listen to your heart, not your head

I have known a few friends over the years who were vegetarian or vegan at one point in their life but then they began eating meat or animal products again due to various different reasons. And there’s no need for anyone to feel bad about changing their mind about what they eat.

When the decision to become vegan or vegetarian is not from the heart but rather from our head, it is very easy to change our mind.

After much self-analysis, I’ve come to understand that my decision to not eat meat comes from the heart. I no longer feel the need to explain my reasons to anyone. The decision is based on a “feeling” so deep inside me that it is beyond my intellectual comprehension.

I know from past experiences that when I do something because I’m trying to impress someone else or others have told me it’s a good idea, the action is not genuine and permanent. When we take actions that aren’t motivated by our inner guidance, our mind can easily convince us to change our mind.

Ultimately, if you want to make lasting dietary changes, the decision needs to come from your heart. Otherwise you’ll just be a dogmatic or cranky vegan. In this age of climate crisis, Mother Nature needs our love and care, not our resentment and distress.

Copyright © L.A. Golding 2020

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