an inconvenient choice

the trials and triumphs of a vegan lifestyle

I became vegan two years ago for two pretty simple reasons. One is the animal suffering in the meat industry. Animals that are killed for meat are overwhelmingly often kept in awful  living conditions where they live in overcrowded confinement. I also felt that I could easily eat foods that are still healthy and delicious without needing to rely on killing animals to sustain me. The second reason is the fact that raising animals for meat has a negative impact on the environment, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions than eating vegan foods. (Let’s say you eat a cow. This cow needs to eat plants. After it is killed, you can eat the cow. When you eat the cow, you are only able to extract about 10% of the energy that went into the cow.If you just ate the food that the cow had eaten, you would be saving energy).

Often, when people find out that I am vegan, they seem amazed that it is possible, usually noting that they could never do it. In my experience, though, being vegan does not significantly affect my own life. I do have to remember to take dietary supplements.  I think slightly more about my protein consumption than I did before I became vegan, and I have gotten really good at quickly skimming through ingredients lists. But being vegan in college, where my choice of food in the dining hall or at an eatery is completely up to me, is actually quite easy. I still eat delicious food with my friends who aren’t vegan, and we don’t have to compromise where to eat because every eatery and dining hall at Brown has good vegan options.

The harder part of being vegan arises when I am not on the meal plan or cooking for myself. Since I became vegan, whenever I arrive at my grandparents’ house after a long flight, my grandma takes me around the kitchen to show me all of the vegan food she painstakingly goes out of her way to buy for me before I come. In these moments, it is clear that the food that I choose to eat is an inconvenience in her life and even adds unnecessary stress because she wants to make sure that I will be well fed when I am at her house. This inconvenience that I pose to her extends to other situations as well. Over spring break, I was at a protest in Florida rallying to get Wendy’s and other big companies to agree to the Fair Food Program, which would result in tomato farmworkers being paid better wages and getting better working conditions. Some of the organizers had provided lunch for the students attending. However, they did not have anything vegan. One of the organizers went to get me a lunch, but by the time that the organizer had returned, I had already had to leave with the other students. The organizer, who was already busy with setting up for the event, had to spend time that could have been used to do much more important tasks running around trying to accommodate me.  If I could have done it again, I would have eaten the lunch already provided. There have also been times when I have broke veganism because of the effect it would have on the people around me. I started tutoring a high school student in Providence who recently moved here from Nepal as a refugee. When I would come to his house for our tutoring sessions, his aunt and uncle would make tea for me. Though the tea that they gave me had milk in it, I made the decision to drink it regardless. I felt that it would have been extremely rude to refuse the drink that they made for me after they welcomed me, a stranger, into their home.

Pre-vegan Sophia would have thought that being vegan was very clearly the right thing to do no matter what. It turns out though that, like most things in life, it really is not that simple. In this case, it stems from the fact that my choices are not only my own. Choices make changes in other people’s lives, too. My choice to become vegan did not happen in a vacuum, and the people around me sometimes have to make accommodations. But seeing how much this choice has an effect on the people around me reminds me that it also has effects that I can’t see. Most people who buy meat, tomatoes from Florida, or clothing made in sweatshops do not see the living conditions of animal livestock or the working conditions of farmers or garment factory workers. Not everyone can choose what they buy because of different levels of access, both geographically and economically, but many people, including myself, regularly make purchasing decisions that are unsustainable. These choices seem almost trivial, but they do matter.  In the end, I think veganism can be a case-by-case choice.