Bridging the Gap, Part I

If you’re a vegan, do articles like this annoy you? You know the ones by environmentalists who talk at length about the hardships of a vegan diet despite the fact that choosing a plant-based diet is one of the best choices for the planet? Before I read, What I Learned from a Month of Eating Vegan, back in April, I had been thinking about the gap between the animal welfare and environmental movements. From what I know about both, the gap is wide, although, in my mind, they are complimentary. If you believe in one, then shouldn’t you embrace the other as well? Taking care of animals and the planet is necessary to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Photo: Joel Makower

Photo: Joel Makower

Let me back up and explain how I got to this point. My first recollection of the environmental movement was my senior year in college back in 1991. It sounded like a good idea. “Count me in” I said, but I never considered myself a tree hugger. Over the years, I moved in that direction at the speed of a turtle. I tote my re-useable water bottle and shopping bag with me everywhere I go. I take public transportation. This is the easy stuff. There are some things—the harder stuff—I have not been willing to change, such as long, hot showers and air conditioning, to name a few. I never even gave these comforts a second thought until I met my environmentalist, vegetarian boyfriend, who is now my husband.

When we met, I naively thought our values were similar enough that we would complement each other. This will be great, I thought.  And yet, these values have been the subject of many heated debates and disagreements over the past three years.

How can you feed your cats meat and call yourself a vegan?

I’m not giving up air conditioning. I’m burning up!

We can’t buy apples from New Zealand.
But I want apples!!!!

I don’t want to bring my own containers to Whole Foods. What a pain!

I have come to the conclusion that even though I have chosen to be vegan (and it is good for the environment), it’s not the only thing I can do. I have heard other vegans say things like “It’s okay if you take long showers, you’re vegan!” I’m not sure that it is and I certainly can’t complain about environmental meat eaters like in the article above if I’m not willing to do more myself. It’s easy to throw stones. It’s much harder to look at my own actions and see where I can improve. Because ethically speaking, I know that taking care of the environment is just as important as taking care of the animals.

Earlier this year I changed the header on my blog from simply It’s Easy Being Vegan to It’s Easy Being Vegan and Green. It’s a step in the right direction, even if I don’t yet believe it. In terms of change, I’m in the early stages of Action, just not entirely committed. As for the long showers and air conditioning? I still take long showers but not nearly as many, and we live where we no longer need air conditioning (lucky break!). I also no longer buy produce from the other side of the world. I sometimes bring my own containers to the grocery to buy bulk foods, and when I don’t, I use paper bags instead of plastic.

The more I move in the direction of being an environmentalist, the more I understand how we are all connected and how my actions affect others, including the environment.

Do you think there is a gap between the animal welfare and environmental movements?