I was vegetarian for about two years when I started cooking plant based. Eight months later I decided to go fully vegan. Two months later I had a few slip ups with cheese, being in a formal social situation and not wanting to be the difficult person. I mark the real beginning of being vegan at the end of that month. Being completely devoted to it ever since. That is seven months ago.
In this (although short) period of being vegan I learned so much and have been able to reflect a lot on my actions in the past. Enough to see that I was a box full of contradictions.
Some things I simply did not know about, others I probably knew but found a way to disconnect myself from it.
Being a vegetarian for the environment but at the same time…
1… occasionaly eating fish
Honestly, I did only eat fish occasionally when there was no vegetarian option or when other people cooked for me. Still, being vegetarian for the environment and continue eating fish, that just makes no sense. Also it gives people the wrong perception that while eating meat is bad for the planet, eating fish is actually okay.
Which obviously isn’t true. The same that is going on above sea level, is happening in the seas, and even worse. If we keep fishing like we are doing right now, in 2048 the oceans risk to be empty. Which does not only mean that we have killed a whole world filled with different species, we also risk destroying a very important supply of oxygen. So yes, the risk is bigger than simply not having the same Great Barrier Reef diving experience, it will influence all life outside of the water as well.
And then there is the issue of by catch. When you eat fish you did not only cause for the animal on your plate to die, in the fishing process, there are always other species that are being killed because they get caught in the nets. We are speaking of whales, dolphins, sharks, that already face extinction and need protection. They aren’t protected because of the great demand of fish all over the world.
So yes I loved sushi, it was my favourite dish for a very long time. I still love it, but I do not need freshly killed sea animals for it to be tasty. And here’s a big disclaimer: it’s not the fish that makes sushi sushi, it’s the combination of seaweed, the mirin, the soy sauce, wasabi and the sushi rice that makes it so delicious. And there is a whole world of vegetables out there that you can use to make sushi. No need to empty the oceans for it.
To be honest, back then often people did ask me why I was still eating fish. I don’t think it was because they really cared about the oceans but more because they wanted to point out my flaws. Nonetheless, they were right, clearly I was open to some truth to change my behavior but still had some emotional attachments to other things, that kept me from seeing clearly. Also I thought eating fish was very healthy. When I saw the documentary Forks over Knives, I realised this was definitely not the case. So I started cooking plant based at home and I cut out fish and seafood completely.
2… buying leather
First of all it of course makes no sense not to eat meat, but still use other parts of a dead animal. I guess I did never really make a real connection between leather and the animal itself. I grew up with the idea that wearing and buying fur was disgusting and cruel, yet leather was never a topic of discussion. I only thought about the high quality of leather, not about what it actually took to make it. Which is obviously an animal’s life and a big environmental impact that comes with farming that animal. The meat industry and the leather industry go hand in hand, so not eating meat but actually supporting the meat industry by buying leather, is just a big paradox. But even more tragically is that the leather process itself, is extremely harmful to the environment. Toxic substances are used in the process, which don’t magically disappear. They eventually end up in rivers, thereby killing the land and polluting the water.
The people that work in the leather industry are getting sick and risk dying at a young age because they come in contact everyday with these toxins. If this is happening to people, then imagine what this is doing to the sea and the ground where the toxins eventually end up going.
The leather industry also uses an incredible amount of water in the tanning process and produces a lot of waste. But isn’t leather a by product from the meat industry, therefore isn’t it better to use it since it is being produced anyway? Not really, it would be safer to say that meat is the byproduct from the leather industry! Companies make their biggest profits out of leather,sometimes selling the meat for extra profit, but often it also just ends up on the waste pile. So buying leather is not at all sustainable.
3… shopping in Primark or other Fast fashion chains
This one I honestly did not realise. I didn’t even realise the impact the Fast Fashion industry has on the lives of the people who work in the industry. I will definitely make a blogpost about this, but check out the documentary The True Cost to learn more about this.
4. …eating cheese
I was being vegetarian for the environment yet I was eating cheese? Cheese is super polluting for the environment and if you think about it, it’s just plain logic that cheese is so polluting because you need the same resources for meat but it’s an even more complicated proces. Yet the thought that cheese is polluting did not even cross my mind. I was even eating way more cheese when I went vegetarian than before!
5. … eating candy
Most candy is made from gelatin, which comes from… Bones or intestines from animals. Yummy right? Not really. Also being vegetarian but eating candy is crazy. These come from the same animals that are bred and raised for meat, therefore you are again supporting the same industry you thought you stopped supporting because of its big environmental impact.
6… eating ice cream and other dairy based desserts
Okay, it’s not that I was eating Ice Cream everyday, but I did eat it once in a while. Which again, from a sustainably perspective just makes no sense.
So yeah, to be honest I felt like I was doing the right thing being vegetarian. Although I’m happy I made that step, since eventually it led me to become vegan, at the same time it’s just very interesting to look back and see all the things I overlooked.
Most vegetarians, including me at that time, do not really think about how much their decision makes sense. For some people it’s about just not liking the taste of meat… Others think it’s healthier and although it can definitely be this way, eating a lot of dairy and eggs because you eat less meat will definitely not make you healthier. Then there are others like me who go vegetarian because of the environment and I think that is a great thing, but as I showed in this post, cutting out meat alone, does not necessarily reduce your ecological footprint as long as you stay blind for other polluting factors. Lastly we have ethical vegetarians and I think if these people did a bit more research they would see how hypocritical it is to not eat meat because you don’t want animals to be killed, yet eating dairy, eggs and other animal products, industries that take the lifes of so many animals and are often very cruel.
If I could go back in time, I would educate myself more on how exactly my diet is better for the environment, I think I would have quickly found out that eating any type of animal product is not really justifiable as an environmentalist.
That said, I’m happy for every vegetarian out there, because that’s one more person not eating meat. But I really hope that at one point they all take the step towards veganism.
If you are interested or worried about the environmental impact of animal products. Be sure to check out the documentary Cowspiracy (it’s on Netflix). It might just blow your mind.