Being vegan can be super beneficial for our planet. However, the diet is also incredibly intimidating when you first consider making the switch. Realistically, becoming vegan is rarely something that happens overnight, especially from a sustainable point of view (I’m talking to all you university students who have been hoarding miscellaneous frozen chillis in your freezer your mom has sent you so you don’t starve during finals that you best be finishing instead of wasting at the start of your plant-based journey). The next step is deciding, “what kind of Vegan do you want to be?” Fitting into a category can be hard, but to name a few of the more popular options there is:
- The Vegan: no animal products consumed (yes, we’re also saying no honey) – just plants!
- The Lacto-Vegetarian: no animal products but, you can eat dairy products.
- The Ovo-Vegetarian: no animal products (this time this includes dairy) but, you can eat eggs.
- The Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: no animal products but, this time you can consume eggs and dairy.
- The Pescatarian: you don’t eat most animal products, or eggs or dairy but, you still eat fish.
You may be shocked. How can there be so many different ways to be Vegan? I’m sure the list goes on – but don’t panic, take a deep breath, there’s good news to come!
Maybe you are allergic to nuts, maybe you don’t have time to make a whole-food based dinner after class or work, maybe it’s not in your budget, but there is a place to start if you don’t fit into these categories. For example, I want to be vegan. But right now my “diet” consists of no beef, pork once in a blue moon if I’m at a friends, chicken when I visit my family’s house every month, no dairy, sometimes eggs when my partner makes me breakfast, seafood when I’m craving and honestly, Spolumbo’s chicken sausages when I’m in a pinch. I’m not a perfect vegan, and may never be, so for now – please join me in introducing the new diet: The Imperfect Vegan!!
A style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, foods from plant sources – fruits and vegetables (produce), whole grains, legumes (pulses, nuts and seeds, plant oils and herbs and spices – and reflects evidence-based principles and health and sustainability.The Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The reality is, a plant-favouring diet will help minimize the environmental consequences of agriculture on our planet. Right now, “agriculture is the largest cause of global environmental change,” which accounts for 30% of green-house gas emissions and just under half of these emissions are from livestock specifically (1). This is a rather depressing statistic, and to add to that feeling a little more “every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London.” Personally, that doesn’t sit so well with me.
So what is the solution? There already is a lot of potential for a plant-forward diet, as Harvard describes it (The Harvard, it’s that important!). Harvard even recognizes Millenials and Gen Zs as essential contributors to this plant-forward movement. Optimistically, 70% of the world population is already reducing or has gotten rid of animal-products in their meals! So, since Harvard is asking for the help of us University students directly to slow global warming and meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), how can we practice imperfect Veganism?
It starts with some big changes – reducing red meat and sugar by 50% (which honestly is even more in North America since we consume about 6.5x more than the meat consumption average globally…). Myself, with the help of the WWF (2), has outlined some exciting foods as a starting point to a more sustainable diet, in addition to eating local first, eat in-season and reduce food waste:
- Fava Beans: these green guys are environmentally friendly, a protein substitute, fibre dense and are good for the bee population! In addition, they can grow in most climates – including Canada. You can include Fava beens in chilli instead of beef, in chicken noodle soups instead of chicken, or maybe as a bean dip with tortilla chips!
- Lentils: the greatest part of lentils are their versatility as a meat substitute (I’m thinking in burgers and soups!), they’re extremely nutrient dense, have a carbon footprint 43 times less than beef AND can be grown right here in Alberta.
- Beets: while you may have hated beets as a kid (maybe it was just me), they’re high in iron and magnesium, which you have to be aware of when reducing animal-products. More so, they are able to thrive in our cooler Canadian climate making them a delicious local product in the summer and fall months. Borscht is out-of-this world on the flavour charts, while beat leaves make a lovely nutrient-rich salad.
- Flaxseed: another super valuable sustainable food that you can find right in Canada. The seeds can grow in cooler temperatures and less sunlight making them perfect for local growth. More importantly they’re a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids which are super important for your health and brain and are mainly found in fish products only. Flaxseeds can act as an egg-replacement in baking, an addition to the top of your oatmeal for breakfast or blended in soups and smoothies.
In the end, what I’m trying to tell you is that you can make a difference for our planet simply by reducing your meat by more than 50% and emphasizing fruit, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. The reality is, it will be hard to convince the global population to be 100% vegan, but if we can get everybody to try being 60-75% vegan, we’re going to accomplish big things together. I also encourage you the next time you’re craving a Junior Chicken from McDonalds, consider trying Edmonton local Moth Cafe’s (Not) Chicken Burger. Or maybe it’s Mac & Cheese, you can go try Cafe Mosaic’s Stay Gold Pony Boy, Stay Gold substitute. Edmonton’s Die Pie has pizza out of this world (this includes pickle pizza!). In the, end, nobody is perfect (to quote Hannah Montana), and if you follow the sustainable plant-forward diet recommended by Harvard in support of the SDGs, you’re contributing to the fight against climate change and your actions are very important!
Thank you for taking the time to read my article! I encourage you to click on the embedded links to the resources I’ve used from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the WWF. I look forward to you joining me in being an imperfect vegan and maybe someday soon we can reach that next level of 100% vegan.
By Megan Jones – November 30, 2020