Recently I was at a lunch and the conversation about food came up. Not strange these days. Have you noticed how frequently we talk about what we eat (or don’t eat)?
Someone at the table mentioned that her teenage daughter wanted to become vegetarian. Her daughter’s reasons were valid: she was concerned about the environment and the state of the planet. As we hear more inspiring stories of millennials avoiding meat consumption and teenagers going vegan to fight climate change, I assumed most of us would be encouraging and supportive of these decisions. Her mother’s reaction took me by surprise.
Affirming that the methane that cows release was minimum, people around her seemed to agree and nodded. To her, if her daughter wanted to make a real impact, she should go on a fashion “fast”, stop traveling and make her own meatless meals. I could understand that it would be more work preparing food for someone on a different diet, but there are ways to make it work. For example, planning a fun weekend to teach your children how to make kid-friendly veggie recipes or putting a portion of food aside without meat when you’re cooking in batches could be a way to show support. To me, encouraging those who want to make conscientious and sustainable decisions is one tiny action we can make each day.
After those and other comments, I found it concerning that the conventional convictions that many around us have won’t let them see the positive impact teenagers - and anybody - can ultimately have on the common good: the planet. Some topics that were - unfortunately- left out of the conversation were the consequences of meat production: environmental degradation, water usage, ocean pollution and wildlife decline due to deforestation. Just last month the world was shaken by news of the Amazon burning at an accelerated pace to give way to cattle farming. Couldn’t help but wonder, are the older generations not as enthusiastic about the solutions?
This situation prompted me to write this week’s blog post and to pose these questions: Are we doing enough to reduce our environmental footprint in our nomadic lifestyle? Are we removed from a global concern due to the nature of our transient lifestyle? Is there something we could do/adopt/try wherever we are? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
With this in mind, I’ve put together 5 environmental reasons for going vegan while living overseas. These are:
Create a local demand for vegan products - Doing this will expand the options for consumers and opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies wanting to create more sustainable products. In Amman for example, the offer of vegan products has significantly increased in recent times. You can now find anything from artisanal vegan cheese to banoffee pie ! It might be due in part to the global trend but also, to the number of people who are either going vegan or trying to incorporate more vegan items into their meals. In Nepal the demand is growing as well. During my recent trip, I met this super smart vegan entrepreneur who is gaining so much attention with her vegan “dairy” products. The demand is expanding and so is her business.
Save in monthly bills- It is entirely possible to reduce your monthly bills by changing your diet. For example, this couple went vegan and saved almost $3K in six months. On that note, here’s another #expatlife story: last year I went out to dinner with a group of friends and one of them ordered an $80 steak, a glass of wine and tea. Her bill totaled $150, while mine was $22 for vegan sides and soft drinks (including tip!). True, we hardly spend that much in meat every time we dine out; but if we choose vegan dishes instead of those containing meat or dairy, we’ll save ourselves a lot of money over the long term. The same goes for when we do grocery shopping. Our supermarket bills have reduced a lot since ditching meat items! Vegan potluck anyone?
Consume local products and delight your taste buds - This New York Times article states: ”Fewer food-miles can mean fewer emissions.” Additionally, eating local products is a very enriching experience as you try new combinations and traditional flavors you haven’t had before. By eating local it is likely that you’ll have more of what’s already available in the country and hence reduce your environmental footprint. Thanks to trying different local products, I now eat Middle-eastern protein-rich foods like friekeh and foul on a regular basis. These were all unknown to me.
Educate / guide those around you - Use your culinary talents and resources. Why not start a monthly vegan cooking club or a recipe exchange club? This month for example, I’ll be participating in my first Eat your Books club. Our hostess (who is an omnivore) has proposed that each participant makes a recipe from the book Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. So eating well is a good way for people to appreciate plant-based meals and so is sharing the reasons why veganism is scientifically-proven to curb climate change. Both are powerful catalysts for change. Your efforts could have an impact in your current post and beyond!
Protect local wildlife - Cattle farming for meat and dairy requires a lot of land and resources to raise the cows and, as I learned recently, poultry does too. Chickens are fed with soy. Its production is only expanding and hence forests and natural habitats are being cleared, driving away wildlife and destroying their ecosystems. Think about it, breeding cows and chickens requires a lot of space, water, energy and chemicals for antibiotics and food. This inefficient way of doing business harms wildlife to give way to farming and likely, those forests will not be replanted again - at least not on time. By going vegan we’re not just preventing more animals being raised to end up in our plates, we’re also helping those we don’t often see.
While not everybody is ready to make the shift, there are smart flexible ways in which anyone can incorporate more vegan meals into their diet. For example, the reducetarian diet helps you achieve that by consuming mostly plant-based meals and drastically reducing dairy, meat, seafood, etc. Entertaining at home could be a fun way to try vegan dishes or attending local food festivals and creative culinary venues.
Before I go I must say, there is one thing I agree with the woman who inspired this article: shopping and flying less is also good for the environment. Probably many of us won’t exclusively wear only second-hand clothes or give up flying completely, but one thing we can do is start with what’s on our plates tonight.
What are your thoughts? Have you been thinking about becoming vegan? What are the challenges you see? Would love to know!
Thank you for being here.
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To learn more about how our diet affects our planet, these are some recent scientific publications that might interest you
Harvard University - Vegan diet can benefit both health and the environment
The Lancet - Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems
National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. - Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change