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May 28, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Cheese Vs The Environment: A Vegan’s Take on Climate Change

Since I can remember I have always cared about the environment. This dedication probably came from my growing up on a patch of land with a small flock of sheep surrounded by native bush. Like many other New Zealanders, my weekends as a kid were spent riding my bike around the neighbourhood, enjoying the fresh air and beauty of the countryside.

I was introduced to the effect humans had on the environment when my intermediate school started teaching the effects of climate change. I knew that I had to recycle whenever I could, and as I grew older I started to eliminate the amount of plastics I used in my everyday life. I bought metal straws and drink bottles, and am currently the proud owner of two KeepCups. Though these were awesome steps, it never really seemed like enough. I continued to read article after article and watched documentary after documentary, each showing the drastic and downright scary examples of polar ice melts, and rising sea levels. It seemed to me that the world really didn’t stand a chance against how we were treating it.

I got angry. I got really angry. It was unfair that we had to be the generation to clean up everyone else’s mess. We were already growing up in a destroyed housing market, with little to no job prospects, and student loans weighing us down. To find out that the world that we knew wouldn’t be around for the next generation made me simultaneously scared and furious. But out of this anger came determination: I was going to do everything I could to make sure I wasn’t contributing to the destruction of our planet. This was when I came across the documentary Cowspiracy. I know, I know… It has been highly debated and ridiculed within the last year or so, but at the time it opened my eyes to the fact that, in simply changing my diet and the items I chose to purchase, I could live a “modern” life that contributed the least amount of harm to the planet.

So, as I spiraled helplessly into the world of environmental heartache, I found out that animal agriculture was a leading cause of deforestation, greenhouse gases, and ocean acidification. These big three environmental issues are also linked to animal extinction and Indigenous peoples’ loss of land, depletion of food resources for impoverished communities, and horrendous welfare issues, connected to not only the creatures being slaughtered but also the workers within those industries. As I came across fact after fact, I started tallying up the real destruction this industry was causing our planet. It turned out that animal agriculture contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gases, consumes up to 33% of all freshwater in the world, and is responsible for 91% of rainforest deforestation.

I’d pretty much decided to change my purchasing habits to veganism or a “plant based” lifestyle, but it wasn’t until I read that we would likely see fishless oceans by the year 2048 that I knew I had to really stick with the change. Our agricultural based industries were actively destroying the oceans I’d grown up with, polluting freshwater lakes I’d swam in as a child, and devastating communities along the way. Soon, all I saw was the destruction animal agriculture was causing. Maui dolphins were being killed as bycatch for fish and chips, and run off pollution was causing illness within our communities. Not to mention the dark truth of our colonial past: the fact that the land we use for grazing in New Zealand was stolen to begin with.

So when I was shown that in changing the way I eat I could actually make a real and symbolic stand against the effects these industries had on our country, I practically jumped towards the lifestyle change. Since adopting these practices, however, I often have people ask me how just one person can really make a difference. Nothing will really change, will it?

I see it like this: given that these industries and corporations are run by supply and demand, with each purchase we make, we vote for how we want the world to be. In a culture where protests are harder to support due to our incessant need to work and study just to get by, changing how we eat is an everyday act of defiance towards those who are destroying our environment for economic gain. The cool thing is that you don’t even need to go all in. If you just start limiting your meat and dairy consumption to a few things a day or week, or if you choose to “go vegan” in every way apart from cheese, then great. Each time you decide not to purchase animal products, you vote for the world you want to live in, the world you want our next generation to live in. Not to mention you’re no longer contributing to the death of millions of animals, as well as gaining an array of potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Personally, I’ve found living a vegan lifestyle pretty easy. I took it slow at first, gradually eliminating animals products from my diet, swapping out everyday items such as makeup or leather shoes for plant based and cruelty free alternatives. I had been vegetarian on and off for years previously, so swapping out dairy and eggs for plant based versions was undoubtedly easier than someone who goes vegan overnight. I was really lucky when it came to how my family or friends interacted with my change of lifestyle. My family were accepting from the start, and try their hardest to provide lots of options for me when I go back home. Though I may miss the convenience that comes with eating animal products, being vegan has broadened my palate, advanced my baking skills, and introduced me to a community who are both passionate and supportive. Knowing that I am taking a stand against environmental destruction and animal cruelty with every meal makes each day a little better than before.

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He Tāonga

:   I wanted to write this piece, in order to connect to all tauira within the University, with the hope that we can all remind ourselves that we are a part of an environment which is valuable, no matter our culture, our beliefs or our skin colour. The ultimate purpose of this