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Gen Y Speaks: Why I went from a meat-lover to a vegan

My meandering journey from an avid meat-lover, to flexitarianism, vegetarianism, and eventually veganism taught me about the unexpected personal benefits of gradually embracing different food choices, the inspiring possibility of addressing environmental issues through food change, and the empowerment of individual action.

The author (pictured) says that in a 100 per cent plant-based food system, we could free 3.1 billion hectares of land, and by reforesting 1.96 billion hectares of pastureland we could sequester more carbon than has been released into the atmosphere since 1750.

The author (pictured) says that in a 100 per cent plant-based food system, we could free 3.1 billion hectares of land, and by reforesting 1.96 billion hectares of pastureland we could sequester more carbon than has been released into the atmosphere since 1750.

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From 2015 to 2017, millennials from 186 countries identified climate change as the world’s biggest problem, according to a survey by the World Economic Forum.

A three-year study commissioned by medical journal Lancet published this month underscored the crucial role our food system will play in addressing this challenge, as well as other environmental issues, food security, and human health.

In particular, humans can eat more healthily for themselves and the environment by cutting their intake of meat.

My meandering journey from an avid meat-lover, to flexitarianism, vegetarianism, and eventually veganism taught me about the unexpected personal benefits of gradually embracing different food choices, the inspiring possibility of addressing environmental issues through food change, and the empowerment of individual action.

As someone who grew up in the United States eating the standard American diet of hamburgers, pork chops, and pizzas, I didn’t give much thought to what I ate, nor did I imagine it would ever change.

It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I began to seriously question the food culture that I lived in.

But when I finally did, it sparked a deeply positive personal transformation and a more optimistic view of our shared future that continues to motivate what I put on my plate every day.

Although I majored in Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College, the impact of animal agriculture wasn’t a central topic in most of my classes, and for a long time I was under the impression that food was a peripheral issue in the grand scheme of the environment.

However, one assigned reading during my second year explained how meat production and fishing damaged the environment, and woke me up to the urgency of this issue.

In addition to acting as major culprits in climate change, animal agriculture and fishing are some of the leading causes of many of our other environmental issues, including biodiversity loss, ocean dead zones, freshwater pollution, freshwater depletion, and deforestation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation describes the livestock sector as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

I made up my mind on the spot to go vegetarian after reading about these impacts.

Although I did a U-turn and became a “flexitarian” — someone who tries to reduce meat consumption rather than eliminate it — after a few weeks, I soon went back to being a vegetarian due to a sense of guilt.

One day, a friend asked me if I would ever go vegan, to which I replied: “Never, I’m not one of those crazy people.”

At the time, I thought eating only plants was a radical and fringe lifestyle that would be impossible to adopt.

But this changed several months later, when I came across a book entitled “Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis”.

At first, I was highly sceptical of the spiritual slant and the “v-word” included in the title, but after the first few chapters I was won over.

The meticulously referenced scientific arguments convinced me that shifting away from animal agriculture was critical to addressing the environmental problems we face, and that it offered a path forward that might even reverse some of the environmental damage inflicted over the past several centuries.

The book made the point — recently corroborated by an extensive agricultural study by researchers at Oxford — that animal products including eggs and milk have a higher ecological footprint than plant-based food.

The author, a Stanford-trained systems engineer who worked with Al Gore on climate change outreach, pointed out how a third of Earth’s total land surface is currently utilised for pasture or growing animal feed, and highlighted how this land could be used for carbon sequestration .

Plant-based food production requires 76 per cent less land than animal agriculture, meaning that by switching consumption we could allow this free land to return to native forests, sequestering carbon in the soil, animal, and vegetation biomass in the process.

By transitioning to a plant-based food system, we could free 3.1 billion hectares of land, and by reforesting 1.96 billion hectares of pastureland it would be possible to sequester more carbon than has been released into the atmosphere since 1750, potentially reversing the damage to the climate.

Learning of this possibility had a profound effect on me.

I had never thought that a plan for large-scale carbon sequestration was remotely plausible with current technology. The prevailing environmental narrative was only focused on reducing damage to the climate and environment — it seemed that reversing it was off the table.

After reading these environmental arguments as well as the ethical issues surrounding animal exploitation and the health research on plant-based nutrition, I decided to make the change to be a vegan with the encouragement of a friend.

I soon experienced a sense of fulfillment with every meal, as these new choices aligned with my values towards the environment.

As the weeks continued, I noticed more and more positive changes in my life. I felt like I had more energy, and my chronic acne improved dramatically because I was no longer ingesting the hormones present in dairy products.

More importantly though, I felt like a set of blinders had been taken off in how I related to animals.

Although I felt very close to the pets that I grew up with, the suffering of farm animals was something I didn’t care much about and that I tried not to think about until I became a vegan.

Now, two years on, I’ve found that my palate has changed. Animal-based food no longer registers as food to me, and the few times I’ve eaten dairy or egg by accident it has tasted strange and unappealing.

Looking back on this change, I am grateful for the unexpected turn that my life took, and that I had the curiosity to take the path less travelled.

If you’re keen to try cutting down on animal-based food, flexitarianism and vegetarianism are great places to start.

There are plenty of resources online such as Veganuary that you can turn to.

You never know where this journey will take you.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Peter Lewis works in Business Development and Partnerships at Karana, a Singaporean plant-based food startup.

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vegan environment

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