Ways to Eat Sustainably without having to go full Vegan.

I’m neither a vegan nor vegetarian, but I have taken on the stance “if you can’t commit to being one, then at least be one part-time”.  If millions of us ‘omnivores’ ate this way, it would encourage big changes already.

I’m ok to admit that I don’t have the dedication (or the full desire) to eat an exclusive plant based diet. I also don’t judge those who do, and if you want to go vegan than by all means, please do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and it’s probably the way to go eventually. But if you’re in the same boat as me, and you still want to make an impact (however big or small), I thought to share how cutting back on meat and dairy, without cutting it out, can make a significant difference already.

My first impression of the more extreme vegan propaganda, was that the premise of veganism (in its extreme form) seemed rather single minded with the goal to convert everyone to go completely meat-and animal product free. It seemed that no compromises were offered, no alternative solutions were discussed and it was an ‘all or nothing’ deal. Just, go vegan or face the consequences of being solely responsible for killing the Earth.

Having said that, not one of my friends who are vegan have ever given anyone that ultimatum nor do they ‘shun’ those who shy away from the plant based diet. Vegans, in my experience, are some of the most loyal and dedicated people who are happy to share what they know without crucifying the rest of us if we don’t follow suit. This imaginary ‘us versus them’ wall needs to be broken down if we truly want to make a difference in helping our planet survive (regardless of how we go about doing that).

I’m sure some might disagree with the above and that’s why it’s good to know that this is a personal blog, based on my opinion of what I’ve researched from both sides (even though I think it’s ridiculous to see them as ‘sides’ in the first place).

I wanted to write an article on this, not to try and convince people to go vegan nor to discredit those who are, but rather to just encourage people to be aware of what they are eating and go from there….

Just like there are many different recipes to making awesome lasagna, I believe there are many different ways to eating sustainably without having to eliminate animal products entirely.

  1. Being a ‘flexitarian’ 

A semi-vegetarian or ‘flexitarian’  diet is a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. While more staunch vegetarians/vegans might resent the term or view it as a moral relapse, many others embrace it as a way to get a broader section of the public to be more aware of how much meat they eat. The belief is that more animal suffering and environmental devastation will be prevented if people simply cut down on meat rather than viewing meat-reduction as an all-or-nothing. (M. Rosenberg- Author of “Not becoming Vegetarian but cutting down on meat”, 2015)

We’re still consuming meat, but by simply eating less of it (e.g.: not every day) we’re already reducing the carbon footprint of what we eat in half (according to a paper by the World Resource Institute in D.C). The paper calculated the environmental impacts of several dietary scenarios and found that if countries over-consuming meat cut back their average consumption to about half the result would be a drop of 40-45% in agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.  The author, J. Rangathan, indicated that small changes and reductions can make a meaningful reduction in your carbon footprint. You don’t have to go all out.

Examples on how we can ‘flex it up’ a bit: 

  • Make the transition easier by having as a minimum one meat-free day a week and build from there
  • Find alternatives for meat in dishes (hint: ‘Old El Passo Burrito Mix’ is awesome with chickpeas, spinach, kidney beans and corn as a substitute for minced beef…. first time I made it, my husband didn’t even realize it was meat-free).
  • Find substitutes for dairy (cooking with soy cream literally has not changed the taste of my pasta dishes… and in my case it makes me fart a lot less, hence less methane gas emissions from Stef .. two birds, one stone ;p
  • Just because something is labelled ‘vegan/vegetarian’ does not mean it’s good in high quantities. Processed food is still processed food; try to go fresh where you can.
  • In saying that, don’t shy away from labels like ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ either. The stigma around it sucks I know, but technically when I snack on carrot sticks do I state I’m eating ‘vegan’ or am I just enjoying an awesome, crunchy, snack… Just eat it, don’t label it.
  • As the production of beef is the worst for carbon emissions because of the land and grain cows require, eating more poultry/fish can be seen as a more favorable alternative.
  • Buy organic eggs (labels differ in each country). The term ‘cage free’ (although it sounds better) still means the birds often live in flocks of thousands inside a warehouse and are pumped full off antibiotics. Organic eggs, for both health and humanitarian reasons, are a best bet. The label ‘organic’ is regulated which attests that the hens are healthy and engage in natural behavior and have access to outdoors and direct sunlight and are fed organic feed that contains no pesticides, drugs, antibiotics or animal byproducts.
  • To eat meat more ethically the advice is two-fold: eat less (about half) and choose better quality meat (from organic/ethical farms).
  1. Can’t deny the facts …

There are hundreds of websites with ‘facts’ and ‘statistics’ that tell us how big of an impact animal-based foods have on the agriculture sector’s production-related gas emissions globally. We’ve known this for some time. There are claims that propaganda pieces often use such statistics to overwhelm people into springing into some kind of action. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that we’re killing the earth and the over-consumption of meat (in particular beef) has a lot to do with it.

Keeping that in mind, the meat industry might negatively impact the environment but it’s not the one and only culprit. We’re doing a pretty good job of messing up our planet with a lot more than just eating animal-based products. Our excessive use of plastic, water consumption, not recycling properly, and habitual spending also do a good number on the environment.

I’m not going to bore you with the statistics.. no matter where you look, vegan or omnivore, the industrialized animal agriculture is horrible for our planet and the treatment of animals on such factory farms is shocking if not illegal.

  1. Ethical point of view 

Ofcourse environment is not the only reason why a lot of people are turning away from animal products. The ethical treatment of animals has been a hot topic for decades and with the increase of animal agriculture, unfortunately, a lot of animals are mistreated, kept in horrible conditions and then slaughtered.  The industrialized animal agriculture is depraved and worst of all, such callous treatment is unnecessary. But we don’t have to abuse animals in order to raise them. There are alternative ways to ‘giving farm animals a life worth living’. (P. Glowaski, organic inspector, certifier for ‘Animal welfare Approved‘ and owner of The Dinner Bell Farm, SF).

If we acknowledge that eating animals will cause them a certain amount of pain, then it is impossible to defend why we eat meat on an ethical basis. Most people who eat meat are very well aware of how it came to be on their plate, yet they still eat it. Does that make us hypocrites? According to ethicist Paul Thompson (Author, From Field to Fork: Farm Ethics for Everyone) moral ideals are exactly that – ideals. Something we strive for.  If I could, I would grow up on a farm and raise my own chickens like I raise my kids, but then I would eat said chickens (whereas I would not eat my kids….. I’m not gonna lie, some days it is tempting though..) I have a good understanding of what I’m eating. I honor the life and death of the animals being killed and I own up to the fact that animals have died for my burger, tuna salad or chicken wrap. I know by consuming meat an animal had to die, but I disagree that this immediately puts me in a category of being an ‘animal hater’. I won’t be a hypocrite and call myself an animal activist either, but just because I enjoy the occasional barbecue does not make me go around kicking puppies or pushing over cows for sports.

Jason Mark (Sierra, 2017) could not have said it better: “I want to be very clear. This attempt at a moral ideal of meat eating is not, in any way, a justification for causing wanton pain. While suffering is unavoidable, cruelty is intolerable”.

If the only option for us was to either eat meat from the large factory farms or to stop altogether, then ofcourse the people at PETA and all vegan activists would be right. The only ethical choice would be to stop eating meat. But that isn’t the only option… there are alternatives available, ones that honor the sacrifice of animals and which respects animals’ instinct for a life worth living (Mark, 2017).  More and more animal welfare approved farms are raising cattle, pigs, chicken etc in humane conditions. The animals spend their lives on healthy diets, living outdoors and having ample space inside… ofcourse they are still destined to die but there are no nose rings, crates, mutilation or torture. They are dispatched with what is called a ‘stun kill method’ where they are knocked unconscious before being killed. The concept is that they experience no pain before death (Division of Food Animal Science, University of Bristol, 2001).

Ofcourse, ethical farm products are not nearly as available or industrialized ones and in many cases the price difference is still rather high. Billions of people can’t all eat ethically; the infrastructure is just not there yet. But we need to appreciate that any progress has to start somewhere! Even if only a few million of us are able to be conscientious about the animal products we eat, that would be the first step towards hundreds of millions being able to do the same, and eventually even more…

There is no moral argument for eating meat, but the very act of questioning why we eat meat and where our meat comes from might be a first steps to encourage ethical farming to grow and for us to view eating meat as a treat (when we need it) rather than a daily act (over-consumption).

  1. Sustainability is not just about food

While I’m focusing on the sustainable consumption of animal-products here, I still think it’s worth briefly mentioning the other plagues that are screwing with our environment. Each could use an article of their own but for now, just a few quick ways we can be more aware.

  • Decrease Habitual Spending and try to focus on sustainable clothing. The philosophy around this include buying vintage clothes, redesign/swap old clothes, shop from smaller producers, and buying garments that last longer. The goal is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility.  The fashion industry is the second largest cause of pollution worldwide (Sweeny, Glynis, “It’s the second dirtiest thing in the world-and you’re wearing it”, 2015)
  • Recycle!!  Avoid products with lots of packaging (some local stores even let you bring in your own containers to collect products).  Don’t use plastic bags. Cancel your junk mail. Buy durable products rather than disposable alternatives.  Separate your waste. Reuse items where possible and buy products that have been made from recycled materials.
  • Burn fuel cleaner (cars and air pollution). Buy the most fuel efficient vehicle that meets your average daily needs (and your budget). Keep your car well-tuned and tires inflated properly to reduce exhaust emissions. Minimize driving altogether and bike or walk where you can.
  • Reduce Water Waste. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth, shampoo your hair etc. Always use full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher. Invest in water sufficient goods like shower heads, taps and toilets. Not only do you save energy, but you save some of your money as well.

It is a lot easier said than done, doing every single thing right for our environment, and it’s true that some excel at it better than the rest of us.

Do I do all the things I have suggested in this article religiously?  I think it’s clear that the answer is a big, fat ‘NO’… There are limits to this way of life because nobody in modern society can be absolutely perfect. I have clothes that were made in a sweatshop, I still eat meat, I buy products with plastic and I drive a car. In our household we try to be mindful in a way that is manageable and affordable. We make one change at a time and gradually adjust our lifestyle.

To get back to the title of this article stating we don’t have to go full Vegan in order to make a difference…. I have the utmost respect for vegans and hope to make at least half of the contributions they make to our environment throughout my life. According to the Vegan Society the definition of veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purposes. Well I think the “as far as is possible and practical’ part differs for all of us and we know we need to change and bring our best game, and it’s a good start already… to simply do our best.

I don’t mind people voicing their objections to needless animal slaughter, but what I don’t support is when they say they are better than those who don’t view their dietary choices critically. There are many places where someone can claim the moral high ground, but it’s just unproductive and generally pointless to do so. It’s also not fair that some vegan self-righteousness has given the entire philosophy (and its followers) a bad rep, making people turn away from the concept of ‘vegan’ purely out of spite.

I think it’s safe to say that most would be more open to honest conversation about our food without judging one another or becoming defensive about being judged. Starting the process of change by becoming more aware of what we eat is already a step in the right direction if you ask me …

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References:
– J. Mark, 2017, “Toward a Moral Cause for eating meat”
– Karin Lindquist, 2016,  BSc Agriculture (Animal Science Major), Forage, Range & Beef Specialist (
– Philip Wollen “’Animals should be off the menu debate”
– www.thugkitchen.com
– www.vegansociety.com
–  M. Rosenberg, 2015 “Not becoming Vegetarian but cutting down on meat?”
– J. Rangatan World Resource Institute, D.C
– P. THompson ,2015,” From Field to Fork: Farm Ethics for Everyone”
–  University of Bristol, 2001, Division of Food Animal Science
– Environmental Protection Agency “What you can do to reduce Pollution from Vehicles and Engines” https://www.epa.gov/air-pollution-transportation/what-you-can-do-reduce-pollution-vehicles-and-engines
– Sweeny, Glynis, 2015  “It’s the second dirtiest thing in the world—and you’re wearing it”

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