Just about every single friend I have on campus identifies as a liberal and an environmentalist. Moreover, most of them say they are animal lovers and most of them avoid wearing fur. While I was the obnoxious animal rights activist in seventh grade, now I keep quiet about my reasons for being a vegan, as not to be confrontational or rude.
Still, I’m often asked why I’m a vegan. In these conversations, most people are sympathetic and understanding. However, some jokingly call my decision stupid, and many offer concern about my health. I’ve never had a conversation with a friend at CC where I’ve tried to turn them vegan. But I don’t mind engaging in this civil dialogue with my friends. I won’t level personal attacks or name names in this piece, but what I will do is call out the campus as a whole. I plan to take all critiques of veganism down, bit by bit.
Many Americans and people worldwide are ignorant or judgmental about a lifestyle free of animal byproducts. But the problem on CC’s campus is that people seem to know and at least partially understand the food industry but still choose to block it out when they eat to remove themselves of any guilt.
Most CC students haven’t seen Alec Baldwin’s “Meet Your Meat” or Paul McCartney’s “Glass Walls”- two powerful documentaries based on Sarah McLachlan’s idea that if slaughterhouses had windows, we’d all be vegetarians. Still, most CC students have seen the very PG “Food Inc.” and most have at least somewhat of an idea as to what goes on in factory farms.
Before senior year, CC students take pride in eating meat and dairy that Bon Appetit tells us come from free range and organic farms. But, once senior year roles around, many will buy the cheapest meat and dairy on the shelf. While they often remark concern about my health as a vegan, nobody gives them grief for buying carcass parts and dairy that are loaded with hormones and preservatives. While red meat remains a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s, vegetarians have life expectancies far exceeding meat eaters. Everyone from the American Cancer Society to University of North Carolina has confirmed this finding. In fact, NPR reported a study in late 2009 of over 500,000 adults over 50 in which researchers documented that people who ate the most red meat – that’s beef, lamb and pork – were 300 percent more likely to die from heart disease or any type of cancer than were vegetarians. What worries me is how many friends I see eating red meat almost every day. It triggers a similar reaction in me as when I see friends smoking cigarettes. In both cases, they are dramatically increasing their chances of cancer and potentially causing serious and irreversible damage to their life expectancy.
Instead of being critical of the health effects of all the alcohol and marijuana smoke they consume, so many CC students are critical of a meat and dairy-free lifestyle. The statistics show that a meat and dairy-free diet are only dangerous if one does not make sure to get plenty of iron and protein. But in reality, meat eaters are more likely to suffer from potassium and fiber deficiencies than vegans are to suffer from protein deficiencies. Vegans and vegetarians tend to be more conscious of their nutritional intake. They are more likely to take vitamins. At a time when obesity is at epidemic levels, the link between eating meat and dairy and being obese is stronger than ever. Dr. Deborah Wilson, one of Phoenix Magazine’s Best Doctors of 2012, argues that the only weight-loss plan that has been “scientifically proved to take weight off and keep it off for more than a year” is a vegetarian diet. As Dr. Wilson states, “Many delicious vegan foods are naturally low in fat, so quantity and calorie restrictions are unnecessary. My colleague Dr. Dean Ornish calls it the “‘eat more, weigh less’ diet.” American population studies show that meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times the obesity rate of vegans. Because vegans are slimmer, they have dramatically lower rates of respiratory problems, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as do meat eaters.
Of course, anyone who pays attention to the food options at Benji’s, Rastall and The Preserve know that CC is a vegan-friendly environment. While there are very, very few vegans on campus, those who are vegan have plenty of opportunities – from Rastall’s vegan meals and deserts to vegan snacks at the Preserve. CC is encouraging students, most of whom are active and health conscious, to adopt a healthy diet. As for seniors without cars, Mountain Mamas, Safeway and King Soopers offer hundreds of fantastic vegan options. For seniors with cars, there is always Whole Foods, the vegan paradise.
Still, despite all the options on and off campus, CC students are very rarely vegan. On a campus that encourages veganism, too many students put their taste bud’s narrow-minded cravings above their health.
If you step back and analyze your diet, you are probably eating more meat than is recommended. But in reality, most of the foods you eat are vegan. Essentially all bread- 12 grain, whole wheat, sourdough, white bread, bagels…etc – is vegan. Fruits, vegetables and nuts are all vegan, of course. Legumes like chickpeas, black beans and pinto beans are high protein vegan super foods. Of course, the protein sources are endless- tofu, tempeh and quinoa are all the rage right now.
While it feels right to encourage a vegan diet, the decision is and always will be all up to the individual. I won’t tell you about the horrors of the meat and dairy industry and I won’t write an article about how you simply can’t eat meat and call yourself an environmentalist. But what I can say is that I’ve been vegan since July and never felt better. I am naturally underweight and I have kept my calorie intake relatively identical to the way it was when I ate dairy. Thus, I have not lost or gained weight. But my energy levels are way up. I haven’t gotten sick once. I’ve eaten all the proper nutrients every day – and I feel great. I appreciate my uninformed friends who express concern about my health, but chances are, if you are reading this article and eating animal carcasses and byproducts, you are the one who should be concerned about your health.