One Year Anniversary of being a Vegetarian

A year ago I embarked on a new commitment to be a vegetarian. This last year has been easier than I thought it was going to be because I use to LOVE bacon and steak! Now I’ve found new foods to love like asparagus, brussel sprouts, and homemade smoothies.

To be honest, the toughest part of this last year was dealing with people. Most of the time, people were just naive and asked polite questions. But then there were some people who would try to tempt me with a steak or they would tell me I was stupid. I’m not sure what eating meat has to do with being smart?!?! But for the most part people were pretty supportive and after asking their initial first questions they dropped the conversation. Majority of the questions I was asked was why I became a vegetarian and if there was anything I could eat. This latter question makes me laugh a little and I wonder what people are taught or what people (don’t) know about food.

Regardless of the ignorant people I’ve dealt with, I’m so happy I became a vegetarian! I feel like I get to make a small difference every day by protecting the planet and saving the lives of animals, which was why I became a vegetarian in the first place! Cheers to another year!

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Got Soy Milk?

So last weekend I bought my first container of soy milk. All biases and stereotypes aside, it was pretty good. It was like a watered down version of milk, but I drink skim milk anyways, so it wasn’t that different and I thought it was pretty dang good. I bought the vanilla flavored as opposed to the regular flavor, just in case – I didn’t want to waste my money on something I wouldn’t enjoy or finish. According to Alex, it had a nut flavor – I didn’t think so, but it was my first soy milk, so what do I know? However, I intend to buy organic milk in the future. Besides drinking the organic milk plain, here’s what else I did with the organic milk… 

  • I added some chocolate and made some pretty tasty chocolate milk.
  • I also added it to my egg-white omelet.
  • I added it to my Cheerios.
  • I used it in my hot chocolate.
  • I used it in my smoothie creation.
  • I used it as creamer in my coffee.
  • I added it to my ice cream to create a “blizzard” type concoction.
  • I even added it to my White Russian – which totally enhanced the flavor of the coffee liquor! Each and every time I could hardly tell a difference, if at all.

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I would be talking about organic stuff and so this was not a random purchase, but it was indeed very intentional. I’ve been reading up about conservation and sustainability and it’s hitting me pretty hard. I call it the I-want-to-save-the-world plan or in the great words of Wangari Maathai, “be a hummingbird.”

Anyways, I’ve been reading and learning a lot about the differences in organic vs. inorganic foods. Meat was one of the items to come up, hence a previous post, and now milk has come under my radar. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in any way, shape, or form,which is why I like to list books and websites that will be helpful and educational to other people, but reading up on the differences between organic milk and regular milk is pretty crazy. The websites I listed below are from National Geographic, so there is only a few, but they list other articles to check out and stumble through. Having now worked at NatGeo I know every piece of writing, from TV scripts to what is printed in the magazine to what is posted on the educational website, is fact-checked about three times over, IF not more. So I do not see the need to list additional resources besides those of NatGeo. Side story: One project I was working on, each fact needed to be fact-checked by at least four reputable resources! Being on that side of the fact-checking was definitely not my funnest job at NatGeo, but I definitely have more respect for NatGeo and the people who fact-check all day long!!!! 

Anyways, back to the soy milk… For those who just want to save the world, switching to organic foods is a great way to save the body and the world. Organic products are better for the environment because they do not create as much waste and they are more sustainable for the long-term because they do not do as much damage to the land in which the products are produced, whether that be fruits, vegetables, meat or dairy products.

Eating Organic Food by NatGeo – this article lists steps to have a more organic diet in general.

How Do I Eat Healthy and Organic? by NatGeo – this article is a very short read and similar to the previous website but it too lists steps to become healthier and eat more organic foods.

Organic vs. GMO by NatGeo – this article talks about what GMO (genetically modified organism) is and how that relates to being organic and healthy.

How To Buy Organic Without Breaking the Bank by NatGeo – well this article is just like it sounds :)) which is great because at this moment in my life I’m a very poor, struggling college student just trying to make a positive impact on the planet.

So this whole organic thing started because I wanted to save the world, and now it has developed into also wanting to be good to my mind and body, as well as good to Mother Earth. I’ve been eating more fruits and veggies lately – we bought apples, celery, bananas, pears, and onions in just one shopping trip! Which is pretty excessive for me, but I feel good about it. This health/save the world plan definitely won’t get be to drop the large bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, but it definitely is making me re-think the other things I put in my mouth and into my body and the impacts it has on others.

That’s alot of meat!

So i’m currently reading EarthTalk: Expert Answers to Everyday Questions about the Environment (as well as a few other books), but I’m really digging this book for a few reasons – it takes questions from everyday people, ranging from various environmental topics like water pollution and organic foods and clothing, and breaks down the answer so that it  is very understandable. AND it gives a list of additional resources to check out. I love when websites do this (I’ve never seen this in a book) because it allows the fascination and interest in the topic to continue to grow. I’ve also recently discovered StumbleUpon, which has fueled my obsession to check out new stuff.

Anyways, while I was reading on the train home last night, I read this statistic, “A 10% reduction in U.S. meat consumption would free up enough grain to feed sixty million people.” Just take a second to really think about this… It’s staggering to think that the amount of meat consumed in the United States affects those all over the world – to the point that people are starving while we over-indulge in meat products. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak, but I read somewhere else that if everyone in the U.S. gave up one meal a week that contained meat, we would be able to feed everyone in the world.

For as long as I can remember, when we would have family dinners growing up, we would have the main meal focused around the meat – a burger, ham, grilling; or we had meat in almost everything we ate – yum yum, manicotti, chipped beef, spaghetti, hamburger helper meals, lasagna (notice an Italian theme here?) and so on. According to many websites and dieticians, an adult plate should be 2 parts fruits and veggies to less than one part protein/meat – this is definitely not the balance on my plate! And overall, Americans need to cut back on their meat intake. There are many health benefits to cutting meat out of one’s diet, and while those reasons are important, I want to focus more on the conservation side. But for people who are interested in all of the above, there is a movement called Meatless Mondays (I just signed the pledge) that is all about the benefits to the earth and to people who partake in this movement by not eating meat on Mondays, just one day a week, it’s pretty cool.

Back to the conservation stuff. The meat industry contributes to global warming by leaving a HUGE carbon footprint by using excessive water (and the polluting other water sources), clearing tropical rain forests for grazing land or for meat factories, using a lot of grain, that as previously mentioned good go to better use feeding people around the world. So what are some solutions to this problem?

  • Number 1 being definitely cut meat or some meat out of your diet! This definitely is not an easy task, one intern in particular said it would be near impossible for her because she loves meat that much. However, this simple dietary change can make a world of difference (pun intended). The Meatless Monday campaign is a great way to start, but it’s more than just cutting meat out of your diet, I think the real focus is to eat healthier – more fruits and veggies. OR another option would be to eat organic meat, in which animals are raised humanely and not given any hormones or toxins.
  • I think the second thing people can do is just educate themselves and others – I think the teacher in me is coming out a bit 😉 However, I truly feel like education is the number one thing people can do to help themselves and others. AND it’s been proven that when woman in developing countries become educated or more educated they have a huge impact in changing their livelihood.
  • The final thing I would recommend people to do is to positively contribute to the environment in other ways if they can’t cut meat out of their diet or find it hard to read a book about the topic. I’ve found there are a number of things people can do to positively contribute to the environment and I’ve been recently inspired by Eco-Day (today) at National Geographic. They had booths and gave out all sorts of goodies, but more than that the goal was to educate the staff about how to leave a smaller carbon footprint – solar panels, wind energy,  biking to work or public transportation or carpooling, installing water regulators in faucets and toilet tanks, and the list goes on and on. NatGeo is apparently very eco-friendly, which is just another incentive for me to want to come back and work at NatGeo in the future.

If you do a quick search for “meat industry impacts on environment” you get over 3 million hits. These were a few sites I really liked:

NY Times article is basically a summary of the meat industry – including a lot of statistics and interviews from experts. It also lists a few solutions and ways people can help.

This article I think is mis-titled, but it’s called 13 Breathtaking Effects of Cutting Back on Meat, it lists 13 problems associated with the meat industry. I was expecting more of a health article and benefits from cutting back on meat – it doesn’t. Nevertheless, it lists 13 impacts of the meat industry on the environment.

PETA‘s brief article, and website for that matter, are a bit extreme, and I don’t think I could ever completely give up meat in my diet, but this statistic is pretty intense, “According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.”

I would also highly recommend reading Fast Food Nation. It’ borders on the gross factor, but for the most part it is very eye-opening. Granted, it focuses only on the negative aspects of the food industry, but it does put into perspective the positive associations most people have with the fast food industry – like the fact that it’s cheap and convenient!

Lots of information to think over. Just a heads up, the next chapter of Earthtalk is about shopping organically – you should probably expect a post on that. 🙂