How The Road Changed Us: Becoming Vegetarians

The more time I spend in the outdoors, the more I realize how fragile it is. Acre after acre of our public lands are being trashed, lost, and overrun despite the individuals and organizations devoted to conserving them. It’s an endless fight and I worry that it’ll end with our wildlife and wild spaces on the losing team.

McCausland Trail in Wenatchee National Forest.

Now more than ever, our environment needs more defenders. We thought that living in an all solar rig and driving on waste vegetable oil was doing our part. But our vegan road friends, Backroad Bennetts, had us watch Cowspiracy. This documentary made us realize what we eat, specifically meat, has a much bigger impact on the environment than any other aspect of our lives. It was deflating to realize the year we spent rebuilding and outfitting our home on wheels to be sustainable, and every day we spend in it is just a drop in the bucket compared to the difference in what we choose to put in our fridge. With that information, there was no denying what the next step in our lives was – becoming vegetarians.

Meat production has a dramatically bigger impact on the environment than any other agriculture. Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change.

So why has it taken me this long to become a vegetarian? (Jerud was a vegetarian for 5 years.) It’s not like I didn’t watch the documentary Food, Inc. when it came out in 2008. I’ve been environmentally conscious and an outdoor lover long before moving into the Toaster. The thing is, the Toaster has brought me so much closer to nature. And not just proximity-wise. This nomadic life has helped me develop an even more intimate relationship with the outdoors.Being constantly surrounded by the beauty, rawness, and grandeur has made me fall more in love with it and given me a stronger sense of ownership. Our efforts to live sustainably on the road and boondocking 98% of the time has made us extremely conscious of how much we use natural resources and our impact on the environment.

Almost 70% of the planet’s agriculture land is used for animal pasture and another 10% is used to grow grains to feed that livestock.

Not to mention the horrifying treatment of animals for food. The thing is that most of us know these animals are treated inhumanely. How chickens are raised to be so large so quickly that their legs can’t support their weight and they can’t move around. How livestock stand knee deep in their own fecal matter. How more than 250 million male chicks are destroyed every year because they aren’t bred for meat and don’t lay eggs. How baby pigs are castrated without any anesthesia, yes, their balls are cut off while they are conscious. Or how 26 pounds of other sea animals are killed and tossed back to the sea for one pound of shrimp. It’s easy to block and forget that when we’re at the grocery store, when that information isn’t being waved in our faces. But we can’t deny that is happening. The book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is a must-read book for everyone. It is a well-written, tell-it-as-it-is, no bullshit book filled with information. It paints an honest and complete picture of what’s happening to animals who are being raised as food. After all, it’s our responsibility to know the truth to what happens to the food we eat, how it’s treated, where it comes from, and the impact it has on our world.

Animal agriculture consumes 20 – 33% of all fresh water consumption in the world.

I find it extremely interesting the intense connection people have with food. What we eat is deeply woven into our traditions, celebrations, social gatherings, and who we are. People don’t welcome knowing the reasons why they shouldn’t serve turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Christmas, or fish on Chinese New Year.

I didn’t realize how big of a deal deciding to become a vegetarian would be or how large of a role food played in my life - and my self-identity. In a time when there are more dietary restrictions than there are days in a month, I was the guest that could ease any worries a dinner host had. I was proud to say I ate everything. Growing up, my mom had us try all kinds of food. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t allowed on the dinner table. And being Chinese, I enjoy the variety of food that makes most people in America squirm: chicken feet, duck tongue, liver, thousand year old eggs, etc. I loved traveling and trying out the local delicacies.

If I define who I am by what I eat, who am I when I no longer eat meat? Turns out the answer is simple – I’m an environmentalist. When the positive impacts to nature are so large by cutting meat out of my diet, it’s hard to argue that an environmentalist can also be an omnivore.

The amount of carbon dioxide that is given off per pound of beef is, in fact, greater [than burning a gallon of gasoline].

Does being a vegetarian mean living in my sustainable RV is a moot point? Far from it. I’m proud to know that I am doing my very best to take care of our environment. The sense of ownership I have for nature has increased tenfold since moving into the Toaster. There is never too much one can do to protect what is important to them.

Meat production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the combined exhaust from all transportation (14% greenhouse gas emissions).
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

So what do Jerud and I eat nowadays? We are about 99% vegetarians. Every once in a blue moon we’ll eat meat. When we do, we only eat ethically and sustainably raised meat. Product labeling is more marketing than fact, so research is required to make sure the animal farms are truly organic, free-range, and humanely treat their animals. Organic doesn't automatically mean the animals were raised in humane conditions. Ethically raised meat can't be found in your typical large grocery stores like Safeway, Kroger, Harris Teeter, and Costco. Look for it in specialty health focused grocery stores, like Earth Fare, Central Market, Whole Foods, or Sprouts. Be ready to ask the meat counter questions and have your phone out to do extra Googling. Or contact farmers, who meet the criteria, directly to find out where you can get their meat. A good website to help you find those farmers in your area is EatWild.com.

If you want to change how you eat but don't want to give up meat entirely, you can:

  • Eat less meat
  • Purchase ethically raised meat
  • Pick and choose what kinds of meat you eat. For example: stay away from beef. Cows are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases out of all food animals
If the average American switched from beef to pork, it would reduce the equivalent of 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, which is about nine days’ worth of the nation’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

I urge you to get your hands on the following documentaries and book to learn more about the animal agriculture, food industry, and the environmental impact. There's more to the issues than just eating meat.

 

Cowspiracy (Documentary)

Eating Animals (Book)

Food, Inc. (Documentary)

What you do with the information is yours to decide.



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