I like meat. Once, at Gibson’s steakhouse in Chicago, I ate a 48oz Porterhouse in one sitting. The waiter told me it usually feeds a family of five.
So last year, when a girl told me on our first date that she was vegan, I tried to hide my aversion. The evening had been going well so far. I decided to stick it out. I assumed that being vegan for “environmental reasons” meant she objected to animal cruelty. A college fad, surely. And either way, it was a first date. It wouldn’t effect my life.
Naturally, we fell in love.
So, reluctantly, I began trying to accommodate her diet. Unfortunately, I had no idea what vegans ate. To me, eating out meant Jimmy John’s or Epic Burger. I had never even tasted tofu.
I did like smoothies, though. I mean, they’re really just healthy milkshakes, right? And there was a smoothie bowl place nearby. So we started going. A lot.
At this point, I just felt I was making a small sacrifice for a relationship. I didn’t really think about veganism outside of her. Our friends thought it was funny: a meat-lover and a vegan. Occasionally, she would say things like “meat is actually the leading cause of diabetes”, but she didn’t push me away from animal products. I chose to stay away from them when I was with her, and she put up with my flip phone. It was only fair.
She was right about my health, though. Turns out, humans are actually designed to consume little or no meat. I had more energy. I could play harder for longer on the basketball court, it was easier to get my assignments done. I was even sleeping better. I would go days without noticing I hadn’t eaten meat.
Invigorated by my new reserves of energy, I took a big step. One day (after five straight days of smoothie bowls) I decided it was time to start cooking vegan. I cleaned my disgusting college kitchen as best I could and turned to Google. I found something called “farro risotto.” It sounded classy.
The finished product was essentially rice with soggy kale. I’m no chef. I did my best, and to her credit, she ate it. But I had opened a door. She introduced me to plant-based meals from Avocado toast to vegan lasagna. I started buying some vegan substitutes at the grocery store. Believe it or not, Toffutti tastes every bit as good as Philadelphia cream cheese. And I don’t feel like I need to take a nap after my fourth bagel of the morning.
At this point, I was essentially semi-vegan, but I still thought of it as a personal choice. Something my girlfriend did for her and I did for me. I still ordered meat when I was out with my friends. I snuck the occasional bacon wrapped hot-dog.
It all changed when we made Sunday night our movie night. The first weekend was my choice, and she dutifully sat through No Country for Old Men. The next week was her turn. She chose Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a Leonardo Dicaprio produced Kip Anderson documentary on the environmental effects of factory farms.
When the credits rolled, I was no longer choosing plant-based products for myself. I was choosing them for the environment.
The short documentary is packed with terrifying statistics the meat industry has a strong financial incentive to hide. Livestock are responsible for 51% of greenhouse emissions worldwide. A single hamburger requires 2500 gallons of water (2 months’ worth of showers) to produce. It’s astounding, but it checks out. Factory Farms emit eighty-six times more CO2 and Nitrous Oxide than all the world’s vehicles combined, and account for 30% of all water consumption. Overall, an average diet takes 18x the environment toll of a plant-based one.
I’m vegetarian now. Being allergic to nuts, the full shift has been hard for me. I’ve opted for eggs as a source of protein while I continue to search for other ways to cut back on my use of animal products. I hope to work my way to veganism by next year.
Swearing off animal products no longer feels like a choice. It isn’t about me anymore. I don’t want my kids to inherit a planet without polar bears. Or without Manhattan.
And for the less idealistic, take it from me: a plant-based diet will definitely improve your jump-shot.