Every other Tuesday, Veg Out, Wesleyan’s “food justice and sustainability student-led organization,” or as I like to call it, the vegan club, organizes a meatless lunch in Usdan. Veg Out Tuesday has become a highly polarizing topic on the Wesleyan campus, often pitting otherwise amiable meat-eaters against their vegetarian and vegan friends. To a meat-eater, such as myself, the idea of a meatless lunch sounds, well, absolutely terrible. Except it isn’t. Veg Out Tuesday is awesome! And here’s why you should support it even if you aren’t a vegan or a vegetarian.
When I first came to Wes in the fall, I struggled with not being a vegetarian. Veganism was and still is definitely out of the question for me. Not for lack of trying, however. (I just love cheese too darn much.) As a fervent environmentalist and animal rights supporter, I had a hard time swallowing (no pun intended) the chicken or beef I ate at Usdan. To make matters worse, it seemed like all of my new friends—who care about the environment as much as I do—were either vegetarian or vegan. I had difficulty explaining to them that I was an environmentalist, as I continued to eat meat.
Although I’m trying my best now to limit my meat intake (which is not difficult since the vegan line at Usdan definitely serves the best food), that does not mean that you necessarily must as well. I strongly believe that we should not try and force our values onto those around us. To my vegetarian and vegan friends, please do not judge the meat-eaters in your life or make them feel guilty for their choices. You simply cannot force someone to share your values. Except, there is one thing. And that’s where Veg Out Tuesday comes into play.
Veg Out Tuesday is the perfect compromise. It only asks you to give up meat for ONE meal twice a month. How hard is that? Veg Out Tuesday is one of the many on-campus initiatives that helps to make a concrete impact by addressing environmental issues directly within our community. It gives meat-eaters like me the chance to see that slightly limiting their meat intake is not as hard as they might think. It opens them up to the possibility of phasing out meat occasionally by presenting flavorful plant-based food alternatives. Instead of forcing, it suggests. Plus, it’s a fun opportunity to try new, exciting foods!
As many of us already know, the cultivation of livestock is extremely resource-intensive and requires a lot more land, water, and energy than does the production of plant-based products. Yet, many will still be shocked by the numbers. According to FoodTank Summit, one pound of beef requires a whopping 1, 799 gallons of water or 576 gallons for pork, compared to a mere 216 gallons for soybeans. And that doesn’t even include the animal’s waste or the methane emissions from its digestion. These horrifying numbers haven’t stopped American meat consumption from tracking to reach a forecast record high in 2018, with the average consumer eating 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry. For these reasons, replacing meat with plant foods is a simple and fairly easy way to reduce your carbon and water footprints dramatically.
I’m not saying that Veg Out Tuesday is the be-all and end-all answer to all of our environmental problems. In fact, there are a lot of inherent issues with veganism itself, mainly that eating all vegan and ethical foods is a luxury for most. This “vegan elitism” means that only those who are financially privileged enough and are food secure can afford an all plant-based diet. That being said, we are all lucky enough while we are here at Wesleyan to make variations in our diets to try and change some of our consumption patterns since we have opportunities such as Veg Out Tuesday.
I’ve already anticipated some other criticisms of Veg Out Tuesday. Sophie Hamilton ’21, currently the head coordinator of Veg Out, told me that a lot of the backlash comes from members of the athletic community who are concerned about their diets and their protein intake. So much so, that according to Bon Appétit, on the average Veg Out Tuesday, Usdan loses a very large percent of its usual meal swipes to other dining facilities like Swings and Summies. But what most people don’t realize is that Americans are currently over-eating animal protein; the average person consumes 10 ounces of meat and poultry per day, compared to the government suggested amount of only 5 to 6.5 ounces. So, skipping the chicken or beef for one meal might actually do you some good! If you’re still not convinced, there are many plant-based high protein foods that you can eat if you’re cutting back on meat. These include tempeh (fermented cooked soybeans with a nutty taste), beans, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, spinach, corn, avocados, brussel sprouts, and a variety of nuts.
Hopefully, this article has sold you on at least trying Veg Out Tuesday. In the future, don’t head to Summies or Swings as you have in the past, but make a commitment to try and enjoy the food at Usdan and support Veg Out’s effort to make the school more sustainable! I recommend checking out the meatless “Grill” section at Usdan; the vegetable dumplings, samosas, and spring rolls are to die for!
Veg Out Tuesday is coming up this week! I expect to see you there.
Sarah Backer is a member of the class of 2021 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.