As someone who cares about the environment, you probably already know that animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, deforestation, and pollution. Environmental science also tells us that eating at lower trophic levels–in other words, eating plants, and not the animals that eat those plants—will always be much more efficient and preserving of the Earth’s resources.
And there are many other reasons to avoid animal products, including the meat industries’ horrific cruelty to the animals themselves, and widespread labor abuses.
The good news, however, is that every meal and ingredient you “swap” from animal- to plant-based is a win for the planet, the animals, and your health.
Below are five easy ways to start. You can buy most of the products listed at any supermarket, but you’ll find the best selections at your friendly neighborhood health food store. Also, be sure to check out your friendly local veg group—like Vegan Kalamazoo, Vegan Grand Rapids, Veg Lakeshore, and Veg Michiana. You’ll meet many other environmentally concerned (and fun!) people, and get great recipes and tips.
- Follow in the footsteps of 7-Eleven, Harvard, and many other institutions, and ditch the egg-based mayo. Plant-based options such as Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo and Follow Your Heart’s Vegenaise give you all the taste and texture, with fewer of the calories and none of the cholesterol.
- Replace eggs in cooking and baking with apple sauce, flax seeds, a banana, silken tofu, or Ener-G’s Egg Replacer. Oh, and pancakes and waffles work just fine without eggs. (Add some nuts or vegan protein powder for more oomph.) And don’t forget the nondairy milk…which reminds me…
- Join the nondairy club! Nearly half of all Americans now drink nondairy milk every day. (Source: Mintel, April 2016.) So, have fun trying out the many flavors and varieties of soy, almond, cashew, hemp, coconut, rice, and pea-based milks. (My household uses vanilla-flavored soy for coffee, and cashew for everything else, including baking.) You’ll also find dairy alternatives at most coffee shops.
- Don’t forget the nondairy ice creams! There are at least a couple dozen brands. My personal favorite is Coconut Bliss, but Ben & Jerry’s has a lot of fans for their vegan flavors, too.
- Swap out the superfluous. Many breads, snacks, condiments, and other packaged foods contain small amounts of dairy or egg you’d never miss if they were gone. Fortunately, most products’ allergy labeling now makes these unwanted ingredients easy to spot so you can choose another brand. And here’s a big list, courtesy of PETA, of “accidentally vegan” breads, cookies, chips, candies, etc. that lack those minute additives of suffering and environmental degradation.
My suggestion is that you make one change, and then, when you’ve gotten comfortable with it, make another. I’ll offer a few more changes in a followup post.
About the author: Hillary Rettig is cofounder and organizer of Vegan Kalamazoo. She lives in Kalamazoo’s Stuart Neighborhood with her partner, Kalamazoo College physics professor Jan Tobochnik, and their rescue dog, Billy, a fifteen-pound pomeranian with a thirty-pound attitude. Hillary is also author of The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way (Lantern Books, 2006). She invites your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org .