I am not a hippie.
I do not enjoy yoga, and I do not wear flowy clothing. I do not appreciate the smell of patchouli, journal, or use words like "journey," "aura," and "vibes." (At least not without irony.) I do not care if my food is organic. I barely even care if my food is healthy. In fact, my all-time favorite meal is pizza, beer, and chocolate chip cookies.
But, I am vegan. I am fiercely, passionately, unapologetically vegan. Eating a plant-based diet is probably the most important thing in my life. And it has nothing to do with living a "natural" lifestyle or eating "clean."
Sound like a contradiction? It's totally not. Let me explain…
First, I just want to say that I grew up Jewish, and sometimes I joke that "vegan Jews" has the be the smallest demographic on the planet, because not only is less than 0.2% of the world population Jewish but by and large, Jews do not understand veganism. I've actually had more than one of my people tell me, not even joking, that they "hate" vegans. My Jewish friends and family members from back home seem to buy into every vegan myth that irks me most: That we're obsessed with our health, that we're living this lifestyle just to be difficult, and that we're all a bunch of woo-woo L.A. freaks.
Everyone has a different reason to go vegan, of course. But what motivates me to avoid meat and dairy like the plague has nothing to do with dieting and everything to do with these three things: The environment, the economy, and the questionable ethics of our country's modern slaughterhouse system. Allow me to state my case…
In the current political climate, people are distressed over climate change more than ever. And that's great: People should be concerned about how each of us can take personal responsibility for protecting our planet. I've witnessed discussions on Facebook about installing solar panels, taking shorter showers, and riding the bus to work instead of driving. These are all awesome ways to conserve. But you know what would be even better for the environment? To stop (or at least cut way down on) supporting the meat and dairy industry. This is my number one reason for being vegan.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), global agriculture (which is dominated by the production of livestock) is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions. That includes the grain that must be grown to support livestock production—4.5 pounds per one pound of chicken meat, a shamefully unsustainable ratio. In 2013, a study conducted by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions come directly from livestock production. Scary, but true: That is about the same amount of emissions as is from the whole transportation industry.
Animal agriculture is harmful to the environment not only because it contributes to climate change: It is also one of the primary causes of overfishing, deforestation, wildlife destruction, and gross reduction of fresh water resources. Goodness knows our political administration doesn't find these phenomena a priority. So it is up to the citizens to make changes happen. This, my friends, is why I'm vegan. Not because I want to do yoga and be skinny.
There are other motivations behind my veganism, of course. As I mentioned, our debt-ridden economy is also a consideration. A study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conservatively estimated that if Americans continue to follow their current patterns of meat consumption, it could cost us between "$197 billion and $289 billion each year—and the global economy up to $1.6 trillion—by 2050." Out of every country in the world, the U.S. has the most to save by reducing its meat cravings. "Due to its very high per-capita health-care costs, the country could save … $250 billion if it eschewed animal food products altogether—more than China, or all of the EU countries combined," The Atlantic reported about the study.
All of this goes without mentioning the unspeakable conditions of our country's colossal slaughterhouses. When we buy our pristinely packaged steaks in the grocery store, we are so far from seeing where our meat came from that we are able to ignore the fact that it began as an animal kept in a cramped, cruel, oppressive environment, born and bred to die. People who love their dogs and at the same time have no problem eating a hot dog baffle me. A review from 2015 showed that pigs have intelligence similar to canines: They can comprehend simple language, have complex social lives, and like to play. Watch this footage of how despicably they're treated in slaughterhouses, and imagine your beloved house pet in their place.
These are the notions that plague me every day. These are the reasons I'm vegan.
People like to argue that they could never go vegan because it's too inconvenient, or they like eating meat too much to give it up. But if you care about the environment, the economy, and the animals as much as I do, that stuff becomes so insignificant.
In the end, what many don't understand is that veganism and religion, including the Judaism I grew up with, have more in common than one might think. My decision to go plant-based is as much about dieting as keeping kosher is—which is to say, not at all. For me, the food aspect of veganism is merely a small part of a large set of beliefs. No, there is no god in veganism. But, just like religion, there is a set of values and ethics, practices, and traditions that you follow to support those values, and, naturally, misconceptions and persecution from others who do not understand or agree with you. Plus, vegans are passionate, just as members of any social or religious group are passionate about the things they sincerely believe in. Passion scares people. And in the case of the meat and dairy industry's massive impact, the truth scares people, too.
To get a better understanding of why I'm vegan, I highly encourage you to watch this video of Mayim Biyalik, who follows a plant-based lifestyle for all the same reasons I do. She is rational, calm, and totally non-judgmental. I admire her so much.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Global greenhouse gas emissions data. 2014.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Tackling climate change through livestock. 2013 (Updated October 21, 2014).
Springmann M, Godfray HC, Rayner M, Scarborough P. Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2016;113(15):4146–4151. doi:10.1073/pnas.1523119113
Marino L, Colvin CM. Thinking pigs: a comparative review of cognition, emotion, and personality in Sus domesticus. Int J Comp Psychol. 2015;28.