Transitioning to veganism at Queen's opened my eyes to sustainability

My journey to a plant-based diet proved the power of individual change

Tegwyn was not concerned with the climate crisis until she went vegan and realized her actions have an impact.
When I tried going vegan at the end of my first year at Queen’s, my motivations were mostly personal. I’d never been bothered enough by the concept of factory farming and animal abuse to stop eating meat, and I didn’t know much about the environmental reasons for veganism. 
Initially, I tried the lifestyle because I wanted to challenge myself and prove to my friends in residence that I could last as a vegan. I was also revolted by the amount of Location 21 four-piece chicken strips and fries I was eating every week.
Clearly, my journey to eating plant-based grew from my individual needs, but those motivations were soon overshadowed by the real importance of my new lifestyle.
I didn’t try a vegan diet because I wanted to talk about it at length or be the figurehead for plant-based eating. But when I switched lifestyles, a lot of people asked me questions about veganism, and I realized I didn’t have the knowledge to talk about its benefits. 
That’s when I turned to YouTube videos, Netflix documentaries, and published studies for more information. Watching the documentary Cowspiracy by Kip Andersen was the final straw that changed my worldview.
I realized the animal agriculture industry, and its emissions, was going to be my hill to die on.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the global livestock industry. This doesn’t include the amount of water wasted to grow plants that feed livestock—29 per cent of the water used in agriculture is directly or indirectly used for animal production.
When you learned about environmentalism in elementary and high school, chances are, you were told to reduce your shower time, turn off lights, and bike to school. You probably weren’t told that reducing your consumption of animal products is the number one way to shrink your carbon footprint. 
As a caveat, any one of my friends will tell you I’m a so-called “cool vegan.” I won’t turn up my nose at you for digging into a delicious pepperoni pizza, sipping your favourite flavour of milkshake, or going through the McDonald’s drive-thru for a Big Mac. 
I really couldn’t care less what you decide is best for your lifestyle—as long as you do so with the awareness that these foods have larger emissions and greater consequences, along with an open mind to the alternatives out there.
Sure, if everyone in the world who had the resources and ability to change their lifestyle went vegan right now, we could set the climate crisis back a bit. But I know that kind of mass change isn’t realistic. Some people just like to eat animal products, or don’t think they could eat happily and healthily on a vegan diet. 
However, you also have to confront the reality that our planet is dying, and animal agriculture is a part of that. Some studies have found non-vegans eat more protein than the daily recommended amount, which means that omnivores could cut out some meat and dairy from their diets without compromising their health concerns in the slightest. 
It’s small, sustainable lifestyle changes like these that will actually show a remarkable reduction in individual carbon footprints, not shorter showers. 
The sustainable journey doesn’t stop with animal products. I’m a vegan, but I by no means live a carbon-neutral existence. I love ordering things from Amazon, despite the ample packaging I throw out when my mail arrives. I try to buy as many used clothing items as I can, but can’t resist the pull of Urban Outfitters when I walk past. Sometimes, when I eat in the dining hall, I grab more food than I want and end up throwing out a ton of food waste. I’m still learning.
Going to university is another hurdle to making environmental changes that has set me back. I wish I could buy food in bulk and cook sustainably, but I live in residence and eat in the dining halls. The vegan options there aren’t the tastiest, so I often find myself buying food in plastic containers from Grocery Checkout and Booster Juice.
At the same time, vegan university living isn’t as hard as many of my friends think. Kingston has amazing restaurants with endless plant-based options. Atomica’s vegan menu is to die for, Harper’s offers a mouth-watering burger selection, and Copper Branch is heavenly.
Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to meet fellow vegans and sustainability activists at Queen’s. I’m proud of how vocal our student body is about the climate crisis, from championing fossil fuel divestment in our student paper to participating in climate strikes, like the one coming up on Sept. 27.
At the end of the day, going vegan opened my eyes to the ways people can transition to more sustainable lifestyles.
I’m not denying that the real cause of our climate crisis is the emissions of major industries. But individual change is so much more than we give it credit for—it means there’s another person making a commitment to sustainability and proving to others that the climate crisis is worth changing for.
When I went vegan, it was for selfish reasons. Now, two and a half years later, I choose to use my vegan lifestyle to inspire myself and others to effect change in our communities. Going vegan has helped me to explore the areas of waste I had never even thought of before. Reducing food waste, excessive plastic use, and fast fashion are my new personal challenges.
Anyone can make a change or champion a cause, no matter how small, and create a ripple effect on others. They don’t need to completely overhaul their entire lifestyle to make a difference. That kind of oppositional thinking is the reason many people vilify vegans for never shutting up about slaughterhouses, and meat-eaters, for never shutting up about the joys of bacon.
I chose to write this piece not because I think I’ll magically convert all of Queen’s student population to veganism, or zero-waste living, or vocal protesting. Instead, I chose to write this piece to show sustainability isn’t a black-and-white issue. 
If at least one person reads my story and reduces their animal product consumption by even one meal a week, it’ll be enough for me.

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