How a Vegan Diet Can Help Save the Planet

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord. Fifty-five United Nation countries collectively signed the agreement in November 2016 in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. When the news broke that Trump was out, I honestly wasn’t surprised. I felt that familiar sinking feeling when yet another act of progress championed by the Obama administration has been intentionally unraveled by the new president.

Trump explained that he did it because he valued American manufacturing jobs over everything else, to include the health and future of the planet. This message comes from someone who’s administration has not actually acknowledged climate change as a reality, and frequently used the term “hoax” to describe EPA data on its own government website. Not to mention that the biggest threat to traditional manufacturing jobs is automation, not climate change regulation. So what does this mean for those of us who do believe in climate change and understand what a huge disappointment this was in the battle for fighting global warming?

When president Trump withdrew US involvement in the accord, he made a statement to the rest of the world, that barring some sort of financial benefit, the US does not care to engage in collective movements for the good of others–i.e. non-Americans. As the unmatched leader in terms of wealth and military prowess, the US stands as an example of what other countries aspire to become. By opting out of an agreement promoting clear and defined goals of a cleaner earth, it shows a lack of concern and will no doubt encourage other nations to take on the same isolationist mindset. Those in leadership set the tone for everyone else, whether it’s a corporation, a field office, a soccer team, or a nation. It’s the same everywhere. Trump’s selfish and short-sighted withdrawal is a huge step backward for positive relations around the world, and for our planet.

For those of us at home who understand this and were disappointed–Elon Musk announced he was leaving Trump’s advisory council, there is still something we can do. By talking about climate change, and the effect that this withdrawal will have on the US and the world, we bring attention to it. When you bring light to anything, it has an impact. Additionally, Trump’s withdrawal was so shocking that it has sparked more debate and focus onto combating climate change at home. Individuals who may not have spent much time thinking about global warming, or from where the majority of it is generated, are now researching and talking with friends and co-workers about it and what can be done despite disastrous governmental actions. That’s progress.

What people discover when conducting research on climate change, is that the majority of the greenhouse gases are not from cars or factories, but from animal agriculture. The fastest route therefore to fighting back, is to stop buying meat and animal products. By one person going vegan for a year, hundreds of animal’s lives and over 400,000 gallons of water are saved. Additionally, the methane gas produced by cows and pigs–which is 23 times more damaging than CO2 and the biggest threat to the ozone layer, is seriously reduced. So now equipped with the data, what can we do?

Even if you’re not currently vegan, there are still small manageable steps you can take today that will create a real impact.

  1. Try eliminating meat from one meal a day. Since my transition to becoming vegan last year, my husband and kids have greatly reduced their meat and dairy intake, most notably from breakfast.  We were a household that would eat bacon and eggs regularly, now my family sticks to oatmeal, grits, peanut butter toast, and fruit in the morning–it was a simple change that my family could easily accept. And according to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week, the CO2 emission reduction would be the same as taking half a million cars off the road. It just shows how simple changes in our everyday lives can and do make a huge impact. We are not helpless observers to the wrongs of those in power.
  2. Incorporate an entire day without consuming meat, more commonly known as “Meatless Mondays”. If everyone in the US engaged in Meatless Monday for one day, it would equal a reduction of 1.2 million tons of CO2, 3 million tons of soil erosion, 4.5 million tons of animal excrement, and 7 tons of ammonia emissions. This was great way to encourage my husband to try new dishes and reinvent his old trusted recipes in new and interesting ways. Additionally, our grocery bill was greatly reduced. I was amazed at how far our money went after we eliminated beef, chicken, pork, and eggs from the cart. It took actually going to the store and seeing it in real life to fully appreciate how much further our dollar was going while simultaneously eating significantly healthier.
  3. Lastly, as humans it’s a well-known fact that we’re wired to connect. Seek out a community that supports your desire to learn more about plant-based diets and connect with them online. Facebook has a myriad of groups like “Vegans United” and “My Vegucation” that offer support and information from real people who have felt a similar call to make a change in support of the environment despite heavy cultural and traditional opposition. On Instagram, search hashtags like #meatlessmondays, #veganbreakfast, or #veganrecipes, for more inspiration and motivation. The vegan community is growing everyday, and it is one of the most welcoming, passionate, and intelligent groups I’ve ever encountered.

Currently the US is responsible for over 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If our president refuses to participate in a global effort to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a sustainable planet, and enough food and water to exist when they grow up, we as citizens have to take responsibility for the future onto ourselves. The truth is that we cannot change his mind or his administration’s agenda, but we can make small changes in our own lives, like the ones detailed above, that taken together as a country, can and will change the fate of the world and the future health of the planet.

 

 

Four Unexpected Effects of a Plant-Based Diet.

Update: My article was published in elephant journal! You can find the latest version here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/four-unexpected-effects-of-a-plant-based-diet/

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

What if I told you that you could do something today that would make you look and feel amazing, save lives and the earth? I think without knowing what that action was, most if not all people would agree to trying it. Unfortunately, when that action involves breaking with societal norms and traditions, the decision to change is harder fought. My only viable option then, is to share my own experience of how going vegan and relinquishing all meat and dairy from my plate, drastically changed my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. My ultimate purpose is that someone reading this will be curious enough to try the experiment out for themselves, and watch their own life transform for the better. 

Common sense dictates that when you eat more fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously eating less sugar, processed foods, and fat, you will feel better. A diet consisting mainly of meat, eggs, and dairy has been proven to sink the body into a state of inflammation which leads to disease and a poor quality of life riddled with medication and corrective surgeries. But what I found surprising is that in the past few months while I slowly eliminated meat, then eggs and dairy in favor of a plant-based diet, I experienced a myriad of benefits that I never anticipated. Aside from feeling happy about my choice to live an environmentally friendly existence, I experienced perks that I had not even considered when making my initial decision to become vegan. I knew I would feel clearer and have more energy, but I never expected these next four items to happen, and certainly not so suddenly.

Sleep: Within days of eating a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy, I started needing less sleep. Typically I would feel exhausted by 9:00 pm. Right after putting my two young boys to sleep, I would want to crash too, and often did much to my husband’s dismay. Our time to talk and bond as friends and a couple was truncated because all I wanted to do was clean up the dinner dishes and get to bed. This shifted almost immediately when I began consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and grains. And aside from having more energy at night, my quality of sleep improved. I fell asleep fast, and slept soundly all night, which was not typical for me.

Before the switch, I would toss and turn to get to sleep (despite being overly tired) and would wake frequently throughout the night. The result was that I was groggy and reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 am so I can practice yoga and mediation, and usually it’s a battle for my feet to hit the floor. Not so under this new diet, and that’s with receiving even less sleep that I was used to getting. Now when the alarm sounds, I am alert and ready to start my day from a place of mindfulness and strength while the rest of my house soundly sleeps.

Athletic Endurance: I love to workout, it’s something that has been a constant companion my entire life. It’s rarely a chore, and something I honestly enjoy. Through working out I connect with my body and reach meditative states I can’t by simply sitting still on the floor. That’s why I was intrigued when I went completely plant-based, and my running felt different. I felt as though I could run forever, there was no resistance in my lungs, heart, or legs. My body moved in synchronicity, perfectly free and full of life. The amount of energy I source from nutrient dense foods has changed that way my blood flows when taxed, and I sensed it immediately. It has been shown that patients with high cholesterol and arterial blockages can improve their vascular health by switching to a plant-based diet. The body wants to heal itself, and it will if you only let it. It takes about three hours for the arteries to de-harden after the consumption of food high in salt and fat, which is usually when they are hit again with another damaging meal. Imagine what happens when you let the body go into a state of healing instead of destruction, and imagine what happens if you don’t.

The change I felt in running carried over to the weight room too. The weights felt lighter, and my recovery time was shorter between repetitions. Usually, the day following a tough weight session, I am sore, but I felt very little of that. At first I thought I was just having a good day, then a good week, but I saw the same encouraging results each time I went to the gym. My performance had definitely improved, and the only variation was the quality and make-up of my diet. After my workout, I typically drink a protein shake or eat an apple and it carries me through until dinner, no 2:30 pm sugary snack needed.

Sugar Addiction: Sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients in the human diet, and one of the most addicting. I certainly was not immune to its pull, however with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, my urge for soda, candy, and yes even Nutella has subsided substantially. Its been theorized that sugar cravings are actually caused by a depletion of nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and chromium. Because I was getting plenty of the core nutrients my body needed, my usual sugar cravings evaporated. And as a result of consuming less sugar, I noticed my skin, hair, and nails looked better. I was healing my body from the inside on a cellular level, and it was showing on the outside.

Relationships: Truly happy people have a good relationship with themselves first, and feeding yourself well and with care, is the ultimate act of love to your body, mind, and spirit. By choosing to eat nutritiously and mindfully, I show myself love everyday, and that impacts how I interact with my sons, husband, family, co-workers, and friends. My improved levels of energy, athletic performance, and general sense of well-being made me happier and more excited about life and my relationships. It’s a scenario where everyone wins. Plus the more I talk about how great I feel, the more questions I receive about it. At first there is always a joke, usually accompanied with an eye-roll, but then more often than not, the conversation transforms to honest curiosity and openness about how a plant-based diet changed my life for the better, and how it could change theirs too.

The list above details just a few examples of how going vegan has had an enormous impact on my quality of life, and I am looking forward to discovering more as time goes on and I get more creative with my recipes. For those individuals who inexplicably deride a vegan lifestyle because it opposes cultural norms, I just want to convey that we have one life and one body, and to truly honor yours and live your best life, you need to actively take control of what you put in your body. And who knows what exciting ways your life might improve if you are curious enough to try a plant-based diet out for yourself.