Over three months ago, junior Emily Milnamow began watching video after video of various people describing the benefits of their vegan lifestyle. These videos were instrumental in informing Milnamow about
the effects of her eating habits on the environment, convincing her to adopt the vegan lifestyle.
“Initially, I became vegan because I really was concerned about climate change and I figured that it was the only responsible thing for me to do if I really wanted to make a difference,” Milnamow said. “If other people weren’t going to do anything about the environment, then this was something I could take into my own hands.”
Both senior Carey Davis and art teacher George Hancin decided to become vegetarian also as a result of awareness on the impacts certain foods have on the planet.
“Evidently, [energy consumption and carbon emissions] all go into what you eat and where you get your food,” Davis said. “[Becoming vegan] was a really great way for me to start being more conscious of how exactly I’m impacting the environment.”
“[Vegetarianism] is definitely healthier for the environment of the world because the amount of waste that’s used in having a large meat-eating diet is detrimental to the planet because of all the waste it causes,” Hancin said. “Historically, people have only eaten a little bit of meat. And now, with the American diet that’s spreading across the world, where you eat so much meat, that causes just huge amounts of waste of land and waste products of all the animals.”
When Hancin was in his early 20s, there was a popular movement to get into eastern spirituality, which involved “a lot of people who were trying to get off drugs and do something positive with their life.”
“At that point, I got into eastern spirituality,” Hancin said. “And a big part of eastern spirituality is meditation and part of meditation is to kind of calm you body down and kind of live on a diet that’s less violent. So meditation and vegetarianism are kind of connected together...”
Animals rights also motivate Milnamow and senior Domenica Ferrero. Documentaries like “Forks over Knives” and “Cowspiracy”, intended to expose the vulgarities in the food and agriculture industry, informed Milnamow about factory farming, providing her motivation to stay vegan. For Ferrero, a viewing of the documentary “Earthlings” affected her to the extent where she became determined to stop consuming animal products.
“It messes you up,” Ferrero said.
Switching eating habits has impacted other aspects of the lives of Milnamow, Ferrero and Davis. Since becoming vegan, Milnamow started cooking her own meals, while Ferrero has shifted in her food-shopping patterns.
“It’s more expensive to go more plant-based because of subsidies with packaged goods,” Ferrero said. “I try to buy more organically. Since, I’m thinking if I’m not spending the money on meat then I should spend it on buying something that’s better for the environment, too.”
Davis believes being vegetarian causes her to be more engaged with the food culture, as well as cooking.
“It pushes you to be more creative in what you eat,” Davis said. “I think it’s just a really interesting culture, too. There are always vegetarian fests or vegan fests.”
For both Ferrero and Milnamow, veganism has enlivened their physical and emotional well-being.
“Health-wise, I’m healthier now,” Ferrero said. “I used to have very high cholesteral. I’m more conscious of what I eat.”
“You just feel a lot more clear, mentally and physically,” Milnamow said. “You have a lot more energy and everything that you’re eating you just feel good about it. You get really passionate about the food.”
The term “locavores” is attributed to those like Davis, who make a frequent effort to buy locally grown or produced food.
“I try to purchase my food from local farms, organic sources, not only because that benefits the local economy but also because it’s more natural and they usually treat their animals far better than agricultural corporations,” Davis said.
Buying local also yields immense positive environmental effects, causing Davis to realize the impact of her diet - and its source - on the world around her.
“How much of an impact your diet has is incredible,” Davis said. “If you’re getting locally sourced food, it’s not as detrimental to the environment as an agricultural corporation, which is incredibly detrimental to land, how they deplete resources, how they add chemicals and toxins to the environment, how they foster an imbalance in the ecosystem. It’s incredibly concerning and I think a lot of the time, especially on the east coast, we don’t really see that because it’s all happening on the bread basket of the world.”
Davis believes that locally-grown, organic foods, as well as vegetarian options, are becoming increasingly prevalent in society.
“You see a proliferation in restaurants focusing in on locally-sourced, organic foods, vegan food, vegetarian options,” Davis said. “You can see the market trends of consumers because businesses are now starting to alter their menus to accomodate for the larger demograhic that is becoming- that is augmenting in vegetarianism and veganism.”
According to Hancin, vegetarian options have also become more accessible in the 21st century. During the counter-culture movement in the 1960s, there were hippie restaurants and co-ops with vegetarian products. But in mainstream culture, there were few vegetarian options in restaurants and supermarkets.
“And over the course of time, vegetarianism has become more mainstream,” Hancin said. “So now most normal restaurants will have some vegetarian options. Now, most supermarkets will have a natural foods section and Whole Foods and Trader Joes have become so big. There seems to be less of the old-fashioned hippie vegetarian restaurants, but more mainstream restaurants will have a vegetarian menu.”
Hancin believes that attitudes towards vegetarianism vary across regions, shaping the culture and identity of the place.
“If you’re in Cambridge, Massachusetts or you’re in Vermont somewhere you’re almost looked down at if you’re not a vegetarian,” Hancin said. “But there’s still very conservative parts of the country where if you say that, they’ll give you a funny look and think ‘boy, this is totally wacko.’ So I think it’s very regional. I think it depends where you are and who you’re hanging out with - whether it’s common or not common or looked at as a natural thing or looked at as a weird thing.”
Shifts in attitude towards our food intrigues Davis. For her, this change reveals multiple aspects about the society she inhabits.
“I think it’s very interesting from a cultural, economic, environmental standpoint to witness such an evolution of how we are obtaining our energy,” Davis said. “If you look at how humans have obtained energy throughout our entire existence on earth, it’s really interesting to see the development of that because it mirrors our cultural values, our attitudes, our beliefs, our politics, our economics. So what we eat is a really really interesting manifestation of our notions and ideologies in terms of class, politics, and really how we view our position in the world.”
Davis believes that a large, collective shift in diet and market tendencies is already taking place in American culture, prompting considerations of reform in the food industry and thus allowing for greater accessibility of local and organic options- all of which then create drastic, lasting impacts on human health and the environment.
“[A drastic change] would probably produce a beneficial market shift because it would push the agriculture and meat industry to re-evaluate how they’re processing our food,” Davis said. “You already see this conscpicuous change in less consumption of processed foods and more towards organic and all natural and you see the springing up of farmers markets. I think that’s a very healthy shift for our country because our obesity rate and health issues that are linked to unhealthy diets is agregious and I think that people are finally realizing that their diet and what they put in their body has a lot to do with not only their health, but their environment and the economy as a whole. It sounds revolution, it’s obviously not at that point yet but I definitely think that there are some incredible, major shifts occuring within the American diet.”