Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and now the season of Lent is here for the next 40 days. As a product of many years of Catholic school, I was immersed in the tradition growing up and it has caught on in my adult years. I like a healthy challenge and the idea of making a conscious effort over 6 weeks to make a personal sacrifice. It’s like a new year’s resolution but a much shorter commitment and at the end you get Cadbury eggs and sweet religious greeting cards from elderly relatives. This year, I’ve decided to do a version of Meatless Mondays during Lent. Yes, it’s only one day a week over the forty days, but I’m going to eliminate all animal products on those days instead of just meat so I figure the extra sacrifice sort of evens out. I thought that eating vegan would be a breeze for me, because I’m not a huge meat eater. Don’t get me wrong, I could never be fully vegetarian in my real life — I love cheeseburgers and bacon and prosciutto too much. But I can easily eat more than half my meals in a week without meat without and not bat an eye by sticking to my normal routine of salads with nuts and cheese, soups and tacos with beans, and rice and pasta dishes with vegetables. But committing to one day of complete vegan-eating each week makes me realize how many animal products I actually rely on for my food: deviled eggs for a pre-workout snack, cheese on vegetarian tacos and on salads, yogurt for breakfast or in dressings and sauces, even some pasta is made with eggs and my half-Italian self will never give that up completely. So while my vegan days won’t be impossible, they will certainly require a conscious effort.
People go vegan for many reasons ranging from issues with animal cruelty to lower-cholesterol diets to food allergies to sustainability. For me, it’s the sustainability factor that convinced me to give it a try. Even if we aren’t eating huge slabs of meat for every meal, non-meat dairy products take a toll on the environment too. Take cheese. Seems completely harmless, right? No animal had to die to make your brie en croute, true. But the cow that produced the milk to make that cheese had to be fed, and was most likely given corn and soybean meal — most cows grown in the U.S. for milk are given this kind of feed rather than being grass-fed, as cows would do left to their own devices. Well, that corn and soy had to be grown, probably on another farm which required a lot of land and water, and then had to be harvested and trucked over to the dairy cow farm. The cows had to be given a lot of water (think hundreds of gallons) only to produce a relatively small amount of milk. Then after the cow was milked, the milk had to be shipped in a refrigerated truck maybe as far as 7 states away. If that doesn’t sound so bad, think of this process for every jug of milk, container of yogurt, slice of cheese, pint of ice cream all 320 million Americans eat in a week.
Livevegan.org suggests that “switching just two meals per week from animal products to vegan products reduces greenhouse gases more than buying all locally-sourced food.” This speaks to the heart of my little test. Will I give up all meat and dairy forever? No. But having just a couple more meals centered around whole grains, vegetables, beans or nuts rather than meat and eggs and cheese could make a small impact on the water usage, pollution and other problems that come with raising animals for food.
I’ll post at the end of my Vegan Monday Lenten journey, but I’m predicting a lot of whole grains and veggies in my future over the next month or so. Stay tuned…