| photo, National Geographic
I’ve become a big-time walker. This fall, I’ve spent a great deal of time walking at a good clip for the physical exercise and also to help clear my mind of the stress and busyness that can creep into my world. Unlike eating cheese popcorn or watching The Simpsons, it is one of my healthier habits that I especially look forward to doing almost every day. During this time, I often think about the pup I miss, and yet how she still inspires me to lead a better life. Even though I have been actively involved in animal welfare since I was a kid, I know that that there are always new ways we can improve our lives that will have a positive impact on animals.
An obvious path to helping animals is to practice a more vegetarian or vegan diet. Vegetarians don’t eat any meat but may consume dairy, eggs, and other animal-derived ingredients, like honey. Vegans go a step further by not eating or using anything derived from an animal, such as dairy products or honey. Although I have been somewhere between a vegetarian and vegan for over thirty years, some members of my family are not. When my carnivore (meat-eating) son comes home from college, I try to buy only humanely-raised chicken and beef for his dinner and serve it with a variety of delicious vegetarian sides. Meat that is humanely-raised is produced by animals who live more “normal” lives; they spend time outdoors or in larger cages, receive better quality food, have more social interaction between animals, and have a less stressful end to life. Humanely-raised foods are more expensive and a bit harder to find, but the more we ask for these foods from our local grocers, the more readily available they will become. If you cannot or do not want to become a vegetarian, you can still make a great impact by choosing to consume fewer animal products. We can all be healthier by eating more vegetables and fruits. Instead of using cow’s milk, choose soymilk for your cereal, or try a veggie burger or salad instead of a fast-food hamburger. Start by making one meal a week vegetarian---it’s not that difficult! Theoretically, if everyone ate half the number of burgers or steaks, then perhaps half the number of cows would be saved.
Being mindful of what we wear and use in our daily lives can also help our animal friends. Animals should never be harmed for fashion. Anything made with animal furs is clearly a horrible choice, as the only ones that furs should be keeping warm are the animals to whom they belong. But what about choices that are less apparent---like leather and down? Leather is skin or “hide” that can come from many different animals, like cows, pigs, and deer. Down is the soft, fine feathers usually taken from ducks or geese who are killed for this purpose. The feathers add warmth or fluff to jackets, vests, and some pillows and comforters. When we are choosing what we are going to wear or use, a more humane approach is to consider faux-leather, environmentally friendly man-made alternatives, and organically grown fibers. If we all look a little harder, we can find many humane choices in stores. I haven’t bought anything with leather in many years, and yet, my feet are still happy, and my car drives exactly the same with cloth seating. My family doesn’t use down and still sleeps well on our super-soft bedding made mostly from organic fibers. And it isn’t difficult to move towards a more humane wardrobe. There are fabulous fashions made from fleece, organic cotton, hemp, and humanely-grown wools. Some clothes are even made from recycled plastics and previously-used textiles. You just have to look for them.
Every one of us has the power to make a difference with the foods and products we choose in our daily lives. Each decision we make can have a rippling effect that can benefit ourselves and others. By leading a more vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, we are not only making healthier choices for ourselves but are choosing to make a more humane existence for animals.
THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO:
1. READ. There are a lot of books and articles about moving towards a more vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. Start with small steps; you don’t have to make drastic changes to make a difference for the better.
2. TALK WITH YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. It may seem difficult to move towards a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle while you are young and still living at home with your family. Talk with your family and explain why leading a more humane lifestyle is important to you. Offer to help prepare a vegetarian meal once a week…it’s not that difficult! It is important to know how to nutritionally balance your diet, so having your family on-board is important. You may also want to talk with your doctor. Perhaps the information you then share with your family and friends will help change minds and hearts for you and animals everywhere.
3. BE A CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMER. Educate yourself by reading labels on foods and clothing. Buy organic whenever possible to cause the least amount of harm to animals and the environment. Take the time to think before you buy. If we all take a bit more time to decide what we truly “need,” we will ultimately use fewer animal products, waste fewer resources, and be better guardians of the planet.