Olivia Miller, a senior at Avenues The World School gives a talk about her adventures with Veganism. Evidence suggests veganism could be a solution to some of the worlds’ greatest problems—environmental crisis, human health and animal exploitation.
Full text of Olivia Miller, of her Talk ‘Being Vegan’ at TedxAvenuesWorldSchool conference.
I’m sure, you’ve all heard the word vegan before.
But what you might not know is that evidence suggests, it could be the answer to some of the world’s greatest problems. Environmental crisis, human health, and animal exploitation, all that in one word.
Yet for the individual there seem to be so many reasons why not to go vegan: the inconvenience, social stigma, pure taste of the food and more. But these are surmountable obstacles standing in the way of solving big problems.
First to clarify a vegan is someone who excludes all animal products from their life whether that be in the form of meat dairy or eggs. Only one year ago I was an omnivore, who didn’t think extensively about the food I was consuming or the products I was buying.
Now only one year later, what I eat, has become a large part of who I am and the way I interact with the world. My path to becoming vegan started when my dad bought me the book called: ‘the new health rules’, by Dr. Franklimin and Daniele Claro.
I started flipping through its pages and ended up reading the book nearly twice in one day. I was completely fascinated by its content, simple food and lifestyle tips for balance and health.
After this book, I started doing some of my own research on all things: health and nutrition, a world I had never really ventured into. I also started learning how to cook complete meals filled with vegetables and all the healthy foods I was learning about.
At this point I was not fully vegan, but I was making a conscious effort to eat meals that were two-thirds plant-based.
One statistic that caught my attention was that those who eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day have a 33% lower risk of premature death than those who eat less than one portion. Keep in mind a portion is around half to one cup.
This initial immersion made me feel confident in my knowledge of food and health and laid the groundwork for what was to come. While working an internship over the summer, I was organizing a bookshelf and saw something that caught my eye.
It was a book called ‘How Not to Die’, by Dr. Michael Greger. For lack of a better word, I devoured the book. Each chapter chronicled a common disease and explained how a whole food plant-based diet can work preventively to mitigate and even cure the disease.
In the book it states the healthiest diet is the one that maximizes the intake of whole plant foods and minimizes the intake of animal-based foods and processed junk. At this point I was falling in love with my new diet.
I was experimenting with new vegan recipes. Discovering the large selection of vegan restaurants in New York City and at the same time feeling like my best self. I had become so passionate about veganism, specifically a whole food plant-based diet that the necessary lifestyle changes came naturally. For the most part those obstacles I mentioned at the beginning of my talk were easily surmounted.
However, I did have difficulty with one obstacle- the social stigma. I found myself having to explain my decision and sometimes it was uncomfortable. My responses to questions like do you get enough protein, don’t you miss cheese, isn’t it too expensive. Never felt like enough justification. I always left conversations feeling insecure about my choice. I didn’t understand why the way I chose to eat affected those around me. Especially, if I wasn’t passing judgment on anybody else’s eating habits.
However, I soon came to realize that it was more nuanced than that. There seemed to be an inherent judgment in my simply stating I was vegan. I am vegan sometimes came across as you’re a bad person for eating meat. Of course this was never my intention. But this dynamic persists as an unnecessary divide between vegans and omnivores. Food should bring us together not drive us apart.
Think about all the ways food connects us. It is deeply rooted in culture and is a major element of most social interaction. For these reasons, the idea of abandoning animal products can feel like abandoning memories or traditions. I can personally empathize with these concerns. I have felt socially isolated by veganism to the point of taking a small bite of dairy or fish just to feel a part of the birthday party or respectful to the Thanksgiving host.
But absolute perfection sustaining my vegan diet was never a goal. And that shouldn’t be a notion that deters you from experimenting with a plant-based or vegan diet.
The lessons I learned from veganism cannot be eclipsed by a small bite of forbidden food. Only 3 % of Americans are vegan according to a 2018 poll.
How is veganism going to help solve some of the world’s greatest problems with so few people on board?
The answer may lie in continued research and further education into the benefits of veganism. An integration of that knowledge into more professional fields. Statistics already show that veganism could cut food production pollution in half.
You may be asking how that is possible.
Well the production processing and distribution of red meat, for example, requires 10 to 40 times more greenhouse gas emissions than most plant foods. On top of pesticide and fertilizer use the livestock speed also expends large quantities of toxic chemicals and resources.
Growing livestock feed in the U.S. uses 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer annually. To add to that, cattle is estimated to cause 20% of U.S. methane emissions. On top of that the water pollution from a factory farm can produce as much sewage waste as a small city.
Factory farms which are concentrated animal feeding operations are not only bad for the environment but operate at the expense of animal welfare. These farms neglect suffering animals, and misuse antibiotics to rectify overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
This is when I told myself, a little social discomfort is okay. The benefits of avoiding animal products, especially, those that are factory farmed motivate me to think past the personal inconveniences of veganism.
Veganism has also changed my life. It has given me a basic understanding of how to feed my body to thrive. Although, this is personal to me. the outcome of filling my diet with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, has improved my energy, mood and from what I’ve learned my immune system.
I became so inspired by the way changing what I ate and to change the way I felt, that I started a blog to share what I was learning. At first I thought I had no right to share information given my lack of professional expertise, but naturally my blog turned into a place where I could just be an advocate for my passion.
I could visualize that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring, in fact if anything veganism has taught me how to use food as a tool to express creativity and think outside the box. I also wanted to use my blog as a place to interview professionals and synthesize information for others to understand and learn from.
In the about section of my blog it states I believe the best foods should be simple. There seems to be a complexity to everything we do, see and feel.
Life is not simple. For me food acts as an escape. It is one of the only constants I can rely on. I may have to eat to live, however, there is power and choosing exactly what the body consumes. There is a simplicity in the fact that if I give my body good food, in return it will feel good.
Besides my blog and developing a love for nutrition veganism has taught me to be a more compassionate person. One idea that has resonated with me deeply is remembering that I am not the only being who is or has been affected by my choices.
Avoiding animal products especially those derived from unethical practices is my way of standing up to an injustice that seems overwhelmingly larger than me.
It is my belief that over time a plant-based vegan diet will become a catalyst for change towards healthier individuals living on a healthier planet and ultimately in addition to all the other benefits I’ve spoken about.
Veganism has taught me to be confident in Who I am and the choices I make.
– Olivia Miller