This blog post reflects the personal journey of one of our Education Interns. Potter Park Zoo and the author respect the rights of every individual to make diet choices that work for their lifestyles. This blog is intended to present information and raise awareness of conservation topics that led this particular individual to make changes to her diet.
As someone who has been a meat eater for their entire life, the transition to becoming a vegetarian has greatly changed my perspective on how my eating habits can affect the environment, and it has presented some challenges as well.
This lifestyle change all started when I had my first plant-based burger. I was shocked to see how much it resembled real meat because I instantly realized that I could not tell the difference between the two!
Simple Diet Changes You Can Make
After my experience with plant-based meat, I started to do some research about the benefits of a plant-based diet on the environment. As someone that cares deeply about protecting the environment and conservation efforts, I was happy to discover that I could make small changes to my diet and still have major impacts.
Some of these changes include:
- Going meatless for only a few days of the week, like meatless Mondays.
- Reducing the amount of one type of meat that you eat, like cutting out red meat and allowing yourself to still have chicken.
- Trying new and exciting foods! There are tons of different plant-based foods that resemble meat, or delicious veggie dishes that are good too.
- Take a break every once in a while! Making such a big transition can be difficult at times so if there are situations when you feel like it becomes too hard, you can reward yourself with your favorite snack or dessert.
How Being a Vegetarian Helps Animals and Conservation
Although there are times when I miss certain foods with meat, I like to think back to myself about WHY I started this all in the first place. Being a full vegetarian, or starting slowly with reducing meat consumption, both significantly help nature and can indirectly help the animals at the zoo too! Here are just a few of the many reasons how this happens:
- Being vegetarian can help slow climate change and its effects on the environment.
- Raising livestock animals for consumption creates more greenhouse gasses than all of the cars and trucks in the world, so reducing livestock production greatly reduces these emissions. Reduced demand for meat leads to reduced livestock production.
- Climate change can cause severe weather, like droughts causing forest fires or storms that are harmful to animals and humans. This directly harms animals and destroys their habitats.
- Climate change changes habitats too. For example, the Arctic fox faces threats of melting sea ice and tundra habitat due to the rise in global temperatures.
- Being vegetarian helps reduce pollution of our streams, rivers, and oceans.
- Pollution from livestock production largely comes from animal waste, which can runoff into our waterways and harm aquatic ecosystems, destroy topsoil, and contaminate the air – which all have harmful effects on wild animals AND humans. Reducing the demand for meat will ultimately reduce livestock pollution too!
- Water pollution can affect animals like our North American river otters, causing negative effects on appetite, pup survival, and reproduction.
- Being a vegetarian reduces wildlife habitat destruction and deforestation.
- Thirty percent of earth’s land surface is used for livestock and most of that land is used for grazing. The need for more grazing lands leads to the destruction of vital habitats for wild animals. Decreased demand for meat can help slow deforestation and protect the habitats of wild animals like the ones you see at the zoo! Deforestation is a major issue facing red panda habitats and can cause problems such as reducing food sources and isolating populations in small fragments that are separated by harsh habitats.
My Review of Being a Vegetarian for One Month
So far during my journey to reduce my meat consumption, I have found it to be an experience where I have learned more about myself and my eco-footprint. It has been fun trying different foods and cooking for myself! So far my favorite dishes include anything with tofu in it, fried rice, or vegan chicken nuggets (which are surprisingly identical to real chicken nuggets in my opinion).
My overall transition has been pretty smooth, and I always let myself know that it is okay to have some cheat days or take a break. What’s most important to think about is that it is not wrong to have a diet that includes meat. Making a huge adjustment to your diet is a big change and everyone that starts the switch to being a vegetarian does it for their own reasons. I do it because I know about the positive environmental impacts, but there are many other ways one can help the environment and help with conservation efforts! This is just one way that I found I can easily incorporate into my life.
During my time working at the Potter Park Zoo, I personally felt that making this change to my life and helping wild animals like the ones at the zoo in their natural habitats was an important choice for me. I am happy to continue doing it knowing that my small changes are making big differences!