16 January 2012

Why should working towards a vegan diet be #1 on my list of New Year's Resolutions?

The days leading up to New Years Eve usually find me in a predictable frenzied state. I fill pages and pages of notebook paper with fervent resolves to be better in the upcoming year: not better in one specific field, but as many as I can humanly think of. I'll learn to play guitar and form a band! I'll take up yoga...and modern dance...and women's field hockey! I'll start a non-profit soup kitchen for hungry people on the streets...AND their poor pets! Kibbles for all!

Obviously, these endeavors tend to fizzle out with the fireworks. It's just too much for my always crowded plate. However, for those who have vowed to improve their lives in the upcoming year -- and have the means and motivation to go through with their claims -- they may be surprised at my suggestion on how to tackle some of the most common New Year's resolutions. The top resolutions, so insistently repeated as to be considered cliché, are to lose weight, be healthier, spend less money and give back to the world. There's a solution that encompasses all of the above, and condenses them into a tasty package: vegetarianism or veganism!

I concede that the words "vegan" and "vegetarian" can come off a bit strongly to those who are used to eating meat and dairy on a regular basis. However, an open mind and a flair for experimentation are absolutely key in the process of making this dietary switch. You were willing to give hardcore work-til-you-drop pilates a chance-- why not veganism? Believe me; veganism is a LOT less intimidating (and sweaty).

Lose weight

To be clear: Eliminating meat or other animal products (dairy, eggs, etc.) does not NECESSARILY mean weight loss. In fact, a person can be a vegetarian but still wildly unhealthy-- a donut is still vegetarian, after all! The benefits of a vegetarian diet can only be achieved if the eater keeps a close eye on monitoring vitamin and mineral intake and consumes a varied spectrum of food. (Basically, the same as an omnivorous diet.) For me personally, vegetarianism helped me to maintain a healthy weight level for my body because the eater is forced to look for sources of protein outside of just meat-- and other options, such as beans and legumes, are lower in saturated fat and high in fiber. And they make you feel full! Vegetarianism also makes avoiding fast food joints a whole lot easier.

Be healthier

For those looking to improve their health in the upcoming year (who wouldn't be?), a switch from meat consumption might be the answer. Some of the most common types of health issues in the United States-- namely, high cholesterol levels and subsequent concern for heart attacks -- can be remedied with a vegetarian diet. As stated above, this is because meat contains higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which tend to build up and can clog arteries. Not good! Diabetes is also a common affliction in the United States, and although it cannot be considered a cure, vegetarian diets tend to give diabetics more control over their blood sugar levels. Finally, certain studies show that vegetarians are less likely to be affected by cancer -- up to 12% less likely than their meat-eating counterparts, as found in the The Oxford Vegetarian Study conducted between 1980-1984.

Spend less money

Vegetarianism is a perfect option for those scraping the bottom of their piggy banks for spare change -- or simply for just those who are looking to save a little extra money (I'm sure there's some exotic trip you've long thought about saving up for!). A strange misconception is that vegetarianism is only for the privileged, although with the proliferation of dollar-menu fast food options, I suppose it's easier to see why. However, vegetarian staple foods -- rice, grains, and beans -- are generally cheaper than meat staples. Only vegetarian alternative "meat" products, such as soy chicken fingers or seitan steak, are considerably more costly than real cuts of meat. Veggie staples also keep longer in the pantry than meat, and are easy to buy in bulk for quick-fix meals.

Give back

Ahh...we all have that inner peace-lover who just wants everyone to get along and be in harmony with the earth. No time for protests or petition-drafting? Switching to vegetarianism or veganism is currently one of the most impactful actions you can take to help the environment and improve conditions for animals that are suffering in factory farms across the country. Even cutting back on meat consumption in any amount can benefit the earth and reduce your impact on global resources. Environmental factors aside, half of the world's crops are currently fed to animals -- not humans -- to sustain the huge demands of the meat industry, mostly in Western countries. These are crops that could be put towards feeding hungry mouths, but instead are eventually sold as perishable meat products not accessible by the world's poor. This is an issue that is far from being "granola;" in fact, the UN has called for less consumption of animal products as one of the most productive methods to fighting climate change and global poverty. (See "Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production," as released by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2010.)

So, 2012 might already be in full swing -- but that doesn't mean it's too late to incorporate a diet change into your New Year's goals. With all of the resources available to would-be vegetarians, there's no excuse to not at least consider the option and knock out four birds with one stone this year. You may even be surprised to find yourself delving into a new passion with the conversion to meatless living -- it becomes somewhat addictive! I can at least guarantee that there is no other New Year's resolution as compassionate, health- beneficial and delicious as becoming a vegetarian or vegan. Good luck!

Danielle Snow | Facebook | blog
Chicago, IL Danielle is an avid eater who, after switching to vegetarianism, discovered a renewed passion for food in all its fascinating varieties. Currently living and studying in Chicago, she hopes to devote her life to travel, learning, and having haphazard adventures that she can write about afterward.

Photo credit: Aaron Beall and TDIV