Late last year I decided to stop eating so much meat. I was never one of those guys you see eating a huge rack of ribs with grease dripping everywhere—in fact I’ve never been one for eating ginormous portions of fat-laden meat anyway—but a certified vegan would nevertheless have been repulsed by my habits.
I’m 27 and I live in Berlin so of course I have my vices, but overall I’m a pretty healthy person. I run three times a week, I go to the gym, I eat plenty of fruit and veg, and I try not to eat too much refined sugar.
For a long time I saw eating meat, and consuming enough protein, as an essential part of that lifestyle. On Saturdays, I wouldn’t think twice about eating an almost entirely animal-based diet. There’d be eggs and bacon in the morning, a meat or cheese-based salad or sandwich for lunch, and inevitably another chunk of meat or fish with vegetables for dinner, too. I loved meat and I loved cheese.
I still do love meat and I still do love cheese. I’m still on your side, meat eaters. But if you at all care about our planet and the animals that inhabit it, then you probably need to reconsider what you’re eating or at the very least how much of it you’re eating.
Over the last few years, things have started to look up for animals and the environment. Veganism was predicted to be the number one food trend this year, with Forbes telling its readers to consider turning their businesses vegan-friendly in response. The movement’s image was also boosted by a number of high-profile converters such as Beyonce and Jay Z, Tom Ford, and a raft of NBA stars including Kyrie Irving and Wilson Chandler. This mirrors a similar trend across the fashion industry, with brands like Gucci and Versace vowing to go fur free.
My own stance, however, isn’t quite as strict: I’m a part-time vegan. I felt sympathy for Wacka Flocka Flame when he announced he was no longer a vegan. “They [vegans] scare people and shit,” he said. “When vegans are around, people be trying to throw their food under the table, like, ‘Oh, the vegans!’” He added that he now describes himself as a “conscious eater” instead, telling Paper that he is “conscious about the things I put in my mouth, and about the things that I drink.” That’s pretty much how I’d describe my approach, too.
Livestock production now contributes nearly 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (that’s even more than the transportation sector) and the impact of beef (which dwarfs that of other meats) is so bad that cutting down on it would be a better way for people to reduce carbon emissions than giving up their cars. Three meat companies—JBS, Cargill, and Tyson—are estimated to have emitted more greenhouse gases last year than all of France and nearly as much as some of the big oil companies like Exxon, BP and Shell.
It’s now clear that the world cannot avoid climate catastrophe without addressing the monumental emissions from meat and dairy production. But the point that often gets lost is that we don’t need to stop eating animal products entirely (though of course that would be more beneficial) we just need to curtail our excesses. Research led by scientists at the Oxford Martin School found that simply cutting down meat consumption to within established health guidelines would make a large dent in greenhouse gases.
If you care about the environment, there are no logical reasons why you shouldn’t reduce your meat and dairy consumption: it is scientifically proven that a) it’s damaging our environment, and b) we can do something about it by simply consuming less of it, without the need to avoid it altogether.
Many people know and understand this but still don’t take action. I was the same. This happens, apparently, because we think purely in black-and-white, right-and-wrong terms. This is a deeply human phenomenon, and it’s known in psychology as splitting. Either you eat animal products or you don’t; you’re a vegan or you hate vegans.
But we, animals and the planet would be lot better off if we simply aimed to find a middle ground. Of course vegans can take the true moral standpoint, there are no arguments about that, but it doesn’t work to try to convince or bully people into total and immediate abstinence. That may come later naturally.
I decided that the best thing for me to do was to go vegan three days out of seven every week. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll go full vegan—the enjoyment I once got out of eating meat is already petering out—but for now I’m happy. Some weeks I do three solid days, other weeks I’ll just ensure to eat nine vegan meals out of my usual 21.
You might think that doesn’t sound so hard, but it’s more difficult than it seems. Even with the best intentions, I’ve lost count of how many times I planned to have a vegan breakfast but idiotically ordered a cappuccino on my way to work simply out of habit.
I initially tried to limit the amount of completely new dishes in my weekly diet to minimize the impact to my normal routine. I swapped dairy milk for almond milk in my morning porridge; my lunchtime salad of leaves and cheese or meat became millet or couscous-based with roasted vegetables and olive oil; the chicken or beef stir-fry became a tofu stir-fry, and so on. There are hundreds of incredible vegan recipes online that don’t need a ton of fancy ingredients (and some great ones that do), and a lot of them do provide you with enough protein too.
When it comes to the meat I do eat, however, I put the money saved from eating less of it (meat is expensive after all) into buying humanely raised meat and dairy products cultivated in the most ethical way possible. In Chas Newkey-Burden’s excruciating piece “Dairy Is Scary,” he points out that the daily practice of most dairy farms are far more distressing than those of meat production.
Among the many evil aspects of large-scale dairy production, Newkey-Burden points out that cows as young as 15 months are forced into a narrow trap, known as a “cattle crush,” where they are brutally impregnated. When she gives birth, her calf is removed from her within 36 hours so farmers can steal the milk meant for her baby — an act so distressing for the mother it bellows and screams for days. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
When meatless alternatives like Beyond Meat finally hit supermarkets here in Berlin, like they have Stateside, you’ll find me right in line. For now, however, produce from farms that treat their livestock humanely is the best you can do as a responsible omnivore. That’s not as easy as it should be, but eventually I found (in the more expensive organic supermarket, of course) animal products bearing the Demeter logo, one of the few stamps of approval in Germany that guarantees a high standard of welfare. They’re slightly more expensive, but given I now eat and drink less of them I don’t really notice a difference on my bank balance.
Spending more money on ethically sourced produce (and occasionally fancier ingredients to liven up an entirely vegan meal) is undoubtedly a privilege. Having grown up in a working class former mining village in the north of England, it’s certainly nothing I take for granted. Nor would I sneer at those who cannot afford to do so and have to make ends meet in anyway they can. But for me, and a lot of other people like me reading this on a publication such as Highsnobiety, it’s the difference between taking my own lunches to work and eating out every day of the week. Or not buying that new T-shirt you kinda want but don’t really need.
All that said, you can prepare yourself and your wallet for becoming a part-time vegan, but not so much the endless barrage of questions and sneers you’ll get for it. You’re a sitting duck in the middle of two warring factions, both of which are as bad as each other. In fact, I don’t know why I’m still writing here — you’ll all be down in the comments already anyway.
Next up; here’s why everyone is telling you to #DeleteFacebook.
- Main & Featured Image: Steffi Loos / Freier Fotograf / Getty Images