I’m starting the 7-Day Vegan Challenge tomorrow. A week without any animal products in my diet. What will I miss? How will it benefit the planet?
I’ve been meat-free for three years now.
I want my meals to not cause suffering to animals or people. It was the Sikhs who showed me I could do it. For three days I was one of the thousands of gratefully-fed participants in the free Langar lunch they served every day at the Parliament of World Religions at the triennial meeting. Sikhs believe in doing no harm to any sentient being, so their menu is mostly free of any products that involve animals. The meals we were graciously served consisted of Indian foods and were so flavorful – and so filling – I didn’t need to eat the rest of the day. I started to realize – hey, I can go without eating meat! I’m not as addicted as I thought!
Going meat-free in a family of omnivores is a challenge, however.
They did come to accept substitutions of meatless crumbles in spaghetti, chili, and even nachos. We discovered that Morningstar meatless bacon is actually quite tasty. And my husband and kids ate chicken, beef, and pork only when we went out to eat, because I gave up cooking it.
But they revolted at the removal of fish from our family menus. So I settled for being a pescatarian and they were happy with the occasional salmon, tuna, shrimp, and fresh fish.
Yet I’m aware of the problems with the fishing industry. I’ve learned that fish do feel pain, so they do suffer when they are caught and killed for my consumption. Not to mention the slurry of waste and antibiotics farmed fish and shellfish swim in. And the way the fishing industry devastates ocean life. Oh, and then there was the time I opened a can of wild-caught salmon and found shards of very sharp glass in the meat.
So much for those salmon cakes.
So I’ve been cutting back on fish consumption in our family as well – as much as will allow me to remain married and a parent.
But being vegan – consuming no animal products – has not been a leap I’ve been willing to make. While I’ve cut back considerably on eggs, milk, and cheese, I still love to eat them. Yet I know how the hens are treated that lay the eggs for my consumption. And I know the way cows are treated for the milk and cheese and yogurt and sour cream and ice cream I so love. So my eating is still causing harm.
Then I saw that we have only ten years to get climate change under control.
The animal industry is a huge contributor to climate change and other huge environmental problems. From the methane, to the fecal waste, to the amount of water, land, and other resources used just to support these animals, plus the fuel needed to transport their chopped up corpses to supermarkets for consumption – all of it is making a hot mess of this planet.
So when my friend and colleague Emily Askew approached our Green Task Force at Lexington Theological Seminary with a challenge to each find a way to move down the food chain in our eating habits over the course of a month, I saw an opportunity. She said she was going to do the 7-Day Vegan Challenge. Just one week without consuming any animal products. She was already a vegetarian, but, like me, loves her dairy products.
I pulled out all the things I already have on hand that are vegan and was surprised how full my table is.
I’ll be able to make things like chili, spaghetti, salads, and soups with no problem. I’m going to try vegan cheese. And I’m going to experiment with some new foods, like spaghetti squash. And when all else fails, there’s always dark chocolate. Yep, no milk in dark chocolate, so I can always comfort myself with a square of my favorite treat, along with Trader Joe’s Spicy Pecans to balance salty/spicy and sweet.
But I was surprised to find out what products do have animal products.
That Morningstar bacon I love? Egg whites. The chai tea mix I crave? Milk. The pancake mix will have to stay on the shelf next Saturday when I usually make flapjacks. No butter, no Trader Joe’s Cheese Crunchies (now that one is really going to hurt). And while I already use almond milk, I do like a glass of cow’s milk once in a while. So that craving will need to be put on hold.
However, I’m going to treat myself to a meal at an Indian restaurant that serves a vegan menu, so I have that to look forward to. And the 7-Day Vegan Challenge website will send me recipes and tips each day. Plus, Emily and I will share ideas and bolster each other when we are craving yogurt and ice cream.
So I’m seeing this as a challenge. How can I cook creatively? What spices can I use? What new things can I try?
I’m also approaching this challenge from a biblical and ecotheological perspective.
My Christian faith informs my decision to do the 7-Day Vegan Challenge, and my eco-ethics undergird my rationale. My plan is to post a devotional each day to help myself and others who want to make the Vegan challenge a spiritual practice as well. If you’d like to try the 7-Day Vegan Challenge, join us! Here’s the link: http://7dayvegan.com/.
Here’s to a week where no animals will suffer by my menu!
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).