Growing up in a conservative Christian household, observing Lent has always been an intricate part of my cultural and religious identity. But this year I wanted to abstain from something that would truly challenge my willpower—my Diet Dr. Pepper fast from last year didn’t quite cut it.
It was in this spirit that I ventured into the uncharted waters of veganism, a dietary regime that eliminates all animal products from your diet. That means no milk, eggs, or even honey, because bees make it. The diet is so restrictive it may make you wonder how any normal, non-sadistic person would ever attempt such a constrained lifestyle.
Like vegetarianism, veganism attracts a wide range of followers who limit their animal consumption for myriad reasons. Jainism, a religion indigenous to India, prohibits harming other living creatures on the logic of reincarnation (you could be that cow some day). Others choose veganism because certain medical conditions, particularly lupus, can be remedied or repressed by a strict vegan diet. Still others believe that all life is sacred and that animals should not be used and tortured for human consumption. My reason is a mix of Lenten obligation, a pinch of ecological responsibility, and an ample serving of curiosity—hold the butter.
Having tried vegetarianism on a whim last year, I figured veganism would be a logical next step—more difficult, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. How wrong could I be? On the first night of my experiment, back home in California, my friends suggested we go to In-N-Out. While I wearily watched my friends chowing down on their juicy Double Doubles, I chewed my small fries with remorse. This was going to be impossible.
The temptations only got worse. Over the past few weeks I’ve had to turn down carrot cake at my best friend’s birthday, Jell-O shots at a Thursday night pregame (Jell-O is made from bone marrow … ewww), and an ice-cold Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day thanks to the ingredient isinglass, a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It turns out that animal products are in almost everything.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve had problems finding stuff to eat. At Georgetown, Leo’s offers a surprisingly good selection of vegan-friendly options. In 2007 PETA2, a subdivision of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, ranked Georgetown as the ninth most vegetarian and vegan-friendly school in the U.S.
Since then our rankings have slipped. We didn’t make the list in 2008 and haven’t returned to the top-10 since. Still, Georgetown’s regard for vegan and vegetarian students has made my transition relatively smooth. Everything is labeled, which makes selecting a meal fairly simple—though is it really necessary to say vegan-steamed broccoli? Furthermore, the availability of soy and rice milk makes my hungover Saturday brunch all the more bearable.
That’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement. While the vegan line usually offers protein, the emphasis on soy proteins, like tofu, is detrimental to male vegans, who have to limit their intake of soy because it contains estrogen. More tempeh-based dishes would be an improvement.
Grab ‘N Go needs the most work. The only vegan entrée that is available on a regular basis is the black bean salad (which is usually soggy and always unappetizing), and once in a while, that’s not even available, leaving me with nothing to eat but bananas and Lays. And while the occasional addition of vegan sushi has provided my fast food cravings an outlet this semester, regular vegan options need to be available at both Grab ‘N Go locations for strict herbivores.
While curiousity rather than religiosity originally fueled my critter-conscious conversion, this experience has demonstrated to me that there are plenty of moral reasons to stay vegan. The truth behind our animal-based food products is both gruesome and unavoidable. Cruelty, confinement, and congenital disease are all disturbing facts of the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in the U.S.
The larger environmental impacts are serious as well. Consuming meat and animal products doesn’t just harm animals, it harms the earth. According to Environmental Defense Fund, if every American substituted just one chicken meal each week for a vegetarian one, it would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road. That’s because meat and dairy are much more calorically inefficient than vegetables and cereal grains. With a looming food crisis due to rising demand and stagnant supply, the time is now for more people to adopt socially and environmentally responsible diets. By simply going vegan one night a week, you can make a huge difference.
At this point, I’ve decided to halt my strict veganism come Easter, but the idea of limiting my meat and animal product intake will stay with me. If you’re ready to live a healthy and socially responsible lifestyle, I encourage you to make a change too. You might regret it once in a while, but the cows certainly won’t.