Every year, 39 million cows are slaughtered in the United States for food. What might surprise you is that I’m not vegan or vegetarian, and my goal is not to convince you to go vegan. My mission in life is not saving the environment. The truth is, I love cheeseburgers. I drink cow’s milk for breakfast every morning. My clothes are from the biggest retailer in the country. I take really long, hot showers, and the Amazon delivery guy is basically my best friend.
Despite this potentially harmful lifestyle, I understand that wildfires, hurricanes and high temperatures plague our planet. And I want to help the environment without sacrificing my other priorities: time with family and friends, grades and happiness.
Some might call my reasoning self-centered, but the reality is changing every aspect of our lives all at once is unrealistic, unnecessary, time-consuming and dangerous to our mental and physical health. Instead of promoting this toxic mentality about environmentalism and lifestyle, we should encourage an inclusive and collaborative effort to help the environment through small changes most everyone can implement.
In the past, I didn’t make significant changes to my lifestyle because I didn’t know where to start. According to social media, I needed to transform every aspect of my life at once without being overwhelmed. In fact, I was supposed to do it with an organic matcha latte in my hand. And I felt that if I didn’t, I might as well have not bothered trying because a failure is weaker than an apathete.
I believed that if I was going to change, I had to do it perfectly, and perfection scared me.
To add to this fear, changes I made were not enough for society, which discouraged me from making any adjustments to my lifestyle. People assume that less significant changes should lead to larger, more drastic ones, otherwise those small changes are a waste of time.
In the vegan community, many influencers view small changes, such as replacing a hamburger with a veggie burger, as training wheels to help people transition into veganism. There is an assumption that at some point, the training wheels come off, and that person can happily ride off into the sunset with a diet entirely composed of whole, unprocessed vegan food.
Small changes or food substitutes should not be perceived as a stepping stone to a greater lifestyle and a high ground, moral or otherwise, because every step, small or large, should be considered part of an environment-conscious lifestyle.
Creating the impression that a person is not complete or worthy until they are as eco-friendly as possible is dangerous, as is sacrificing your relationship with food and happiness along the way.
Even then, someone might face criticism and be perceived as a work in progress if their ideal environmentalist lifestyle is not the same as someone else’s. Not only does this mindset cause fear and discourage an attempt at change, but it fuels a culture of comparison and competition.
In addition, the idea that everyone’s end goal must be entirely plant-based isn’t right for everyone; food restrictions can lead to an unhealthy relationship with eating and dieting.
According to Owensboro Health, restricting meals implies food is good or bad, rather than nourishment for our bodies. This can lead to cravings, binge-eating and poor mental health.
To avoid jeopardizing our mental health, we need to focus on doing what we can at any given moment, no matter how insubstantial it may seem. If everyone contributes, our actions will make the planet a cleaner place. We need to avoid guilting people into becoming eco-friendly and equating self-worth to quantity of service.
According to international environmental organization The Nature Conservancy, if the majority of the American population implemented small changes, we could accomplish up to 37% reduction in admissions by 2030. To help, buy cleaner food, eat out less, shop local or second-hand and walk or bike more.
To encourage people to continue to make positive changes, we should celebrate those who choose to help the environment in any way they can. Just like any other challenge we face, environmental progress only comes if we lift people up instead of tearing them down.