By: Alisha Durbhakula
Hey everyone! My name is Alisha Durbhakula, and I’m part of the Program Development team. I chose to write this month’s newsletter on Veganuary, an initiative shining light on veganism for the month of January. Veganuary has been trending all over social media platforms and people are challenging themselves to eat a vegan diet during this month! So why do people choose to go vegan? Everyone has different reasons for being vegan. For example, I became vegan recently, after learning I developed a dairy allergy. I wanted to get an “expert opinion” and share information about a vegan diet! I decided to interview my brother, Navin Durbhakula, who recently converted to 100% vegan after eating partially vegan for about two years. He is the founder of the Harvard Plant Futures Initiative and Harvard vegan society which seek to raise awareness about the plant based food system. Additionally, he is a member of the Harvard council of student sustainability leaders and leads the food waste reduction plan, which works to expand plant-based food options in the dining halls.
Alisha: So Navin, why did you decide to become vegan?
Navin: There are definitely a lot of reasons why I decided to become vegan. One big reason is the environment. Most evidence suggests that we cannot reduce climate change without dealing with the impacts of animal agriculture and meat consumption, since they contribute about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of land used. Another reason is animal welfare. During the fall, I took a class on animal rights where I was able to uncover the cruelty of the animal-based food system. Did you know that 99% of meat in the US comes from factory farms and 10 billion animals are slaughtered per year in the US alone? After doing some research, I realized how important of an issue this is, and I felt that me becoming vegan was a way to make a small dent in the issue.
Alisha: Awesome. How does being vegetarian differ from being vegan, since being vegetarian still doesn’t hurt animals?
Navin: That’s a good question. While it might seem like being vegetarian doesn’t hurt animals, the problem is that the meat industry and the dairy industry are so intertwined. In order to provide dairy, animals have to be cramped into super tight spaces where they suffer harsh treatment and abuse. In addition, the dairy farms still take up a ton of space and resources and contribute to climate change. So while being vegetarian is definitely a step in the right direction, becoming vegan is the only way to fully end these problems.
Alisha: Why do you think that veganism is growing in popularity, so much that people have decided to dedicate this month to it?
Navin: I think that a lot of people are finally starting to realize the truth behind the animal agriculture industry. It is simply inefficient and impossible to feed the world this way. Animal agriculture is responsible for over 80% of agricultural land used around the world, but it only accounts for less than 20% of our calories. In additional, the food and water required to provide for the hundreds of billions of livestock is more than the food available to humans.
Alisha: You bring up some interesting points. If this is all true, how come the average American ate 220 pounds of meat in 2018?
Navin: Well, one thing to point out is this is not the case in many other countries. The US consumes the most meat of any country by far. Many Eastern diets consume meat very sparingly, and don’t consume red meats like beef and pork. In the US, the meat industry has become so influential due to the overproduction of livestock. This is why meat is always available and cheaper than other alternatives.
Alisha: You brought up how veganism is a good way to be environmentally conscious. Could you expand on this point?
Navin: Sure! In one of the biggest studies that has ever been conducted on climate change, they found that being vegan is the single greatest way to reduce your environmental footprint. It’s more significant than switching to an electric car or not using electricity. You might be wondering how this is possible. It’s because the amount of space and resources that go into growing livestock and the energy required to produce meat and dairy is the biggest contributor to climate change.
Alisha: Are there any other reasons someone should consider becoming vegan?
Navin: There are definitely some other reasons. First, meat (red meat in particular) raises risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, so becoming vegan is the healthier option. There are a lot of other health benefits like reducing unhealthy fats and improving skin. Second, animal agriculture is a huge cause of pandemics throughout the world. When animals are crammed into tight spaces, it allows for easier spread of diseases like SARS and the Spanish Flu, which both came from animal farms. Third, if we stopped producing meat and instead, converted meat and dairy farms to crop farms, we would be able to feed the entire world population, which is much better than the hundreds of millions that currently go hungry…
Alisha: It can be hard for many people to transition to becoming vegan. What are some difficult parts of becoming vegan and how do you deal with it?
One of the problems people bring up is that plants don’t have enough protein. But alternatives like tofu, seitan, and tempeh have just as much protein as meat, without the health problems. In fact, around the world, meat provides only 35% of protein. Most protein comes from other sources like lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds, which I make sure to include in my meals.
Another problem is that it can be hard to find good tasting and cheap plant-based alternatives. However, there are many good options nowadays. Trader Joes and Imperfect Foods are my favorite places to shop!
Alisha: Do you have any other advice for someone considering it?
I think there are two main pieces of advice I would give.
First, keep in mind that you don’t have to become fully vegan to make a difference. Many studies suggest that even switching to eating meat once or twice a week can reduce most of the harms of eating meat.
Second, the transition can definitely be difficult but if you just stick it out, I promise it will get easier and be very worthwhile!