My husband and I are already near-vegetarian, and rarely eat red meat. Frankly, our vegetarian habits are motivated more by health and taste than by ethical or global warming concerns.
Veganism is defined by Doris Lin, another avid vegan friend and About.com Guide to Animal Rights:
"Vegans eat plant-based foods, such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and nuts. While vegans have a wide variety of foods to choose from, the diet may seem very restrictive to those who are used to an omnivorous diet...
"'You just eat salad?” is a common comment from non-vegans, but a vegan diet can include a wide variety of Italian pastas, Indian curries, Chinese stir-fries, Tex-Mex burritos, and even 'meat' loaf made from textured vegetable protein or beans. Many meat and dairy analogs are also now available, including sausages, burgers, hot dogs, 'chicken' nuggets, milk, cheese and ice cream, all made without animal products. Vegan meals can also be rather simple and humble, such as a lentil soup or yes, even a big, raw vegetable salad."The vegan quandary for me is that "Veganism... requires abstention from all animal products, such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey..." A vegan diet is often described as non-dairy vegetarianism.
Here's the problem: We like dairy and eggs. A lot. Especially cheeses. Soft cheeses, hard cheeses, exotic and unique cheeses. Better versions of everyday cheeses as Swiss, Jack, and Provolone. Also, I start each and every single morning with Trader Joe's Honey Greek yogurt. And the cupboard feels bare to me without a dozen eggs in the refrig.... eggs that we use in easily a week.
Vegetarianism isn't much of a challenge anymore for this two-person home. But veganism? That's a whole other kettle of pseudo-fish... Lin, Lin, you're asking for a lot.
My think-outside-the-box friend cites her reasons for dabbling in a vegan diet as:
Health - A balanced, plant-based diet, rich in proteins and needed vitamins and minerals, has proven the healthiest possible diet for many people. Many studies show that vegetarians generally live longer than omnivores, and vegans live longer than vegetarians. (See Twenty-Two Reasons Not to Go Vegetarian.)
That's a boatload of bland generalizations, I know. And many references I find via quick Google search don't link to underlying studies. But let's be honest: everyone knows that a diet devoid of butter, ice cream, rich cheeses, and most dairy deliciousness is healthier for us. It just is...
"There is growing scientific consensus that a plant-based diet reduces the risk of a number of degenerative diseases, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer,osteoporosis, kidney disease and dementia" reports Wikpedia, which devotes pages to health arguments for veganism.
Global Warming and the Environment - Beef and poultry production, and all factory-farming of meats take a terrible toll on our planet, as does modern industrial mass production of eggs and cow's milk.
Methane emissions by cattle are a major component of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and are "25 times as potent as carbon dioxide," per NewScientist.com.
The volume of water required to produce one pound of beef and to support milk production is astronomical: estimates range from 2,500 gallons per pound (from VegSource.com) to 441 gallons per pound (per meat industry lobbyists). Newsweek once observed that "the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer." Water is a precious resource that daily grows more precious.
Poultry factory-farming has high impact on the environment due to extreme excrement production by the chickens, which they are then forced to live in for the remainder of their lives The diseased, disgustingly unhealthy and inhumane conditions in both modern industrial chicken-farming and in egg production are well-known.
(Read background at Encyclopedia Britannica's Factory-Farmed Chickens: Their Difficult Lives and Deaths. Quick reading on the topic: Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This? by Nicholas Kristof, and Egg Farms Violated Safety Rules, in the New York Times.)
To Vegan or Not to Vegan for Lent?
I get it. I hear your argument, Lin, that veganism might be a better way to eat. Is a better way to eat.
But is it enjoyable? Is it flexible? Is it fun? We love to eat, and really, really enjoy delicious meals. We savor cheeses, a staple of vegetarian palates. Food is vital part of the very fabric of our lives.
To vegan or not to vegan for Lent? That is the question. After thought, here is my response to the challenge tossed out over dinner at book club last Friday night: I will partially try veganism over Lent by giving up one item, eggs. Too much, too soon, and I'm flirting with failure.
I claim permission for partial commitment from About.com's vegan advocate Doris Lin, who wisely advises:
"Some people become vegan gradually, while others do it all at once. If you can't become vegan overnight, you might find that you can eliminate one animal product at a time, or go vegan for one meal a day, or one day a week, and then expand until you are completely vegan."Thank you for your challenge, my daring friend. I appreciate your thought-provoking ideas and suggestions. I'm deeply impressed that you care about the health this world, as well.
So as a first step to exploring veganism, our home will give up eggs for Lent, including using eggs as ingredients in cooking and baking.
Next step: telling my hesitant husband when he arrives home tonight...