Students

Three reasons for going meat-free

Hip, healthy, ethical

Supermarkets offer an increasing range of ‘faux’ meats; cafés and coffee shops offer vegetarian fare; the university provides soy milk for your coffee. There’s even a vegan student association. Being vegan is hot. Why?
By Joas de Jong / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Why do people swear off all animal products? Are they extreme moralists? Do they want to make the world a better place? Is it just hipster-cool? Three RUG vegans explain the reasons behind their diets: health, the climate, and ethics.

The vibrant vegan

First-year psychology student Maxi Bauerschmidth stopped eating animal products in her last year of high school. ‘The first week I felt like I was high all the time; I was so excited’, she says, laughing. ‘It was right before finals, so people didn’t understand why I was smiling all the time.’

‘Once you understand the correlation between your health, the climate, and ethics, becoming vegan is easy. Some people have such a negative attitude towards veganism, though; vegan men are nicknamed “soy boys”. Of course, in Western culture meat-eating is seen as somehow masculine. The problem is mainly with people’s mentality.’

It surprises Maxi that the media often reports on the unhealthy aspects of animal products, as if it’s news. ‘It’s not like that’s new research.’ So that’s weird, she thinks. ‘Just like doctors hardly ever recommend that people stop eating meat.’

There is plenty of vegan junk food

‘I use this app called Daily Dozen to track what I’m eating. If I’m missing anything, I can put it in a curry for dinner’, she says, laughing. The idea that vegans don’t get sufficient nutritional value from their food is nonsense, she says. ‘I do spend a lot more time thinking about food, but there’s plenty of vegan junk food.’

Overweight

It’s also an inexpensive diet. ‘I spend like, twenty to twenty-five euro on groceries a week, and that’s all I need. Supermarkets sell a broad range of vegan products, but some clever market shopping gets you really far.’

Maxi even managed to convince her father to change his diet. He was overweight, and her family has a history of heart problems, so she worried. ‘I made him read How not to die by Michael Greger. He became a vegan overnight and was at a healthy weight within the year. He even learned how to cook!’

The vegan activist

Nele Grabow is an activist and works for several organisations involved with feminism, anti-racism, and veganism. She feels the three are interconnected: ‘People used to do things that we don’t have to continue doing.’

The third-year student of psychology is trying to show people that it’s easy to make a difference, even as an individual. ‘We need to keep talking about this. Yesterday, I showed images of what goes on in an abattoir to this old man. He kept cursing under his breath as he was watching it. I thought he was going to hit me. In the end he had tears in his eyes, though; he asked me what was going on and why the animals were treated like that.’

I want to show people they can make a change

She also managed to convince an older woman: ‘When I ran into her a month later, she proudly told me she had gone vegan three weeks before.’

Inappropriate

Nele has learned that people are interested in what she has to say and that they think it’s important, but that many of them never really thought about the issue before. ‘They do want to know what’s going on, but they don’t really know where to start.’

‘I’m personally disgusted by animal products, but I don’t judge people who do eat them. I used to be them. I just want to show people they can make a change. I want to show them that they can be compassionate.’

Here and there in Groningen, someone has affixed stickers that say ‘Meat is murder’ to public property. Nele doesn’t approve of this particular approach. ‘I don’t think it’s appropriate to conflate the meat and dairy industry with murder and genocide. That’s an insensitive approach to this kind of problem.’

The climate vegan

Another first-year psychology student, Anamika Saxena, thought being a vegetarian was enough to prevent animal suffering and pollution.

But then she discovered that the processing of animal products is also very harmful. ‘The media always reports on plastic and transport, but veganism plays a really big role in preventing harm to the environment’, she says.

Your carbon footprint decreases by 73 percent

‘I get so angry at the way the food industry lies to us. This is often addressed in Netflix documentaries, but they can be a bit extreme, so I take them with a grain of salt. They do hold some truth, though’, she sighs. She thinks economic interests stand in the way of societal changes, just as they do with efforts to address climate change.

A veil was lifted

And many of the current climate issues can be traced back to the meat and dairy industry, Anamika says. ‘If you switch to a vegan diet, your carbon footprint decreases by 73 percent.’

‘Many people counter this by saying that the production of soy is a huge strain on the ecology, but most of the soy we produce is used as feed for the animal we eat. In the United States alone, 41 million tons of food are being fed to seven billion animals, which only leads to seven million tons of food for people’, she says.

‘It’s this mental block that people just need to break through. For me, it felt like a veil was lifted; as though everything I saw before was distorted.’ Her goal isn’t to yank other people’s veils off: ‘My motto is to live and let live, but I do hope other people understand the choice I made.’

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