Big

I was wearing a white collared shirt and a blue tie.

I find myself sitting in an auditorium at an awards ceremony for creative academics. All of the smart people in the crowd want to do big things in this world. They play a video of a hovering metal drone with eight compartments that releases blue balloons into the air that are filled with an element that reverses climate change in places like India and China that are full of smog and smoke and pollution.

I left the auditorium and I wandered around the city feeling depressed.

I walk down the street and stop at an Asian stir fry takeaway shop with a keno style video lottery screen and something compels me to put down some numbers.

1, 3, 6, 9, 46.

The screen keeps flashing 1, 3, 6, 9 and I knew I won big.

The payout was up to $1,000 then it kept going to $10,000 then to $100,000 then it stopped at $76 zillion.

I left.

I wandered around the dark city at night. I looked around and everywhere I looked were skyscrapers. The air is thick. Dark and ashy. Smoke and pollution from the underground vents blackened the already dank buildings. The streets are empty. I sit there looking all around me, knowing I just won an incredible amount of money and all of the sudden a behemoth of a construction vehicle drives between the two buildings before me.

The ground shakes.

It is like a big tractor trailer but way too big. It fades from my view and then another drives by, even bigger. More massive and the ground shakes again. The Earth trembles. It is not natural. Another truck. This was the biggest I have ever seen and it is hauling a truck that appears to be the same size as the first truck. It must be seven stories tall. There are big rubber tires and then there are little wheels coming down on stilts for extra support. It is like The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seus. It is going slow and it is as big as the entire road and I don’t know how it can make turns.

Then there are different kinds of machines that don’t have wheels, they walk like lizards.

Mechanical lizards with armored feet.

They can climb up the sides of buildings. I follow them to the construction yard. I float around on a grappling hook and no one can see me. And I observe everything. Workers. They look different, detached from me. Different from me. Sad. I float up past the scaffolding on my grappling hook going up and looking down at the construction and I can hear them. I hear pieces of conversations and they are all the same. They are talking about what they want to do with their lives if they weren’t in construction.

“After this job I’m going to…”

They talk like they have dreams. They talk like they are stuck here. In this life. They talk like they have no control.

I find myself back at the Asian stir fry takeaway shop where I won the keno outside on the street. I stand in line and order the tofu or the miso soup. She takes out a bag and it says it is tofu but it is filled with prawns and insects and maggots. She says the miso soup has meat in it. She says all of the food has animals in it.

I walk along the street after seeing this pollution and broken dreams and all of the food is animals and I won all this money and I’m walking along with my shirt and tie after going to the award ceremony with all the smart people with big plans and here I am with 76 zillion dollars and I can do anything and help anyone and while I’m thinking this I’m walking and I start to float up into the air while the city sits in darkness as a slight gradient of sunrise starts to shine above the skyscrapers and I just float up in the air and my blue tie is flowing in the wind and I just float up with my eyes closed and that’s how it ends.

Then I wake up and look through the window of my van to see the sun rising over the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

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How Cowspiracy made me go vegan

I never thought a documentary could convince me to change my lifestyle.

One week ago, I attended a lecture about the unsustainability of climate change and then watched Cowspiracy on Netflix.

In one night I learned that the global temperature is expected to rise by two degrees Celsius from 1995 to 2100 and the No. 1 contributor to climate change is agriculture and livestock and the easiest, most cost effective, healthiest, health-care saving way to save the world and prevent cardiovascular disease is to just eat plants.

For the first time in my life I am free of meat, dairy and eggs and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Why did I switch to a vegan diet?

Just like Cowspiracy producer Kip Andersen, I always thought the main contributor to climate change was fossil fuels. Not even close.

All global transportation — including road, rail, air and marine — accounts for 13% of global greenhouse emissions. Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse emissions.

Do you take shorter showers and switch the tap off when you brush your teeth? Thanks, but that burger you’re eating used 660 gallons of water. Private homes account for 5% of water consumption in the US. Meanwhile, 55% is used for animal agriculture.

Raising livestock takes up a crazy amount of land. The current livestock system occupies 45% of global surface area. To do this, we have to cut down trees. Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon deforestation. We are destroying the Earth’s lungs in order to eat meat and drink milk.

Cows are terribly inefficient. An average milking dairy cow drinks between 30 and 50 gallons of water, eats around 33 pounds of dry matter and produces 120 pounds of wet manure every day. Why don’t we just grow food for humans instead of going through the worst middleman ever?

Our current addiction to meat and dairy is not sustainable. The UN projects the global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. We don’t have enough room for all of those people to eat meat and dairy.

A vegan needs just 1/6th acre to produce enough food for a year. A meat eater needs 18 times as much land, for a more expensive and unhealthy diet.

I made this change for the environment. Veganism means living in the future. In a future with more people, higher global temperatures, more global inequality and more greenhouse gasses, veganism is the easiest and most sustainable option.

Well, shit, why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?

Lobbyists.

Cowspiracy shows how nearly every environmental non-profit is eerily silent on the effects of animal agriculture.

Here’s a taste:

The dairy lobby, the meat lobby, and the incredibly powerful prescription drug lobby want us to keep eating animal products and, in turn, destroy the Earth and kill ourselves. They don’t want these environmental charities to be spouting off the truth about the cause of climate change. They want to make money.

As Bill Maher said on his HBO program, “There’s no money in healthy people, and there’s no money in dead people.”

The money, he says, is in people with chronic conditions who eat fast food and take prescription drugs everyday of their lives. If everyone ate plants, everyone would be healthy. That’s not good for business.

You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’ve never worked on a farm!

Over July and August of this year, I worked on a 230-cow dairy farm just down the road from the Hobbiton movie set in the heart of Waikato, New Zealand.

Out in the paddock.
Out in the paddock.

On my first day on the farm I had to hose down the massive amount of shit and piss the cows left in the shed. I was shocked by how much water I had to use. It takes about 5-10 minutes running a high-powered hose to clean the shed after milking. Every other day we had to hose down the entire yard, which took at least 15 minutes. I was told to not worry about it.

This is the standard practice done on every farm, after every milking, twice a day. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Is it worth it?

During calving, the newborn are throw into the trailer and taken back to the shed while the mothers follow, wanting to nourish and care for their young. The most heart-breaking moment is when the cows are led up to the shed for milking. They moo and yell to their children, who are confined in a crowded pen. They want to be together. I’m sorry, but we need protein.

Our first calf, getting some love from mom.
Our first calf, getting some love from mom.

All of the cows and heifers are impregnated so they can lactate. We had around 200 calves. About 30 of the calves were kept on the farm as replacements. The other 170 were sent away in the “bobby trucks” were they would either be chopped up for dog food or fattened up for a few months and then sold as veal. We need protein.

Yeah, what about protein? Don’t you feel malnourished?

When I used to lift weights, my diet was mostly meat, dairy and whey. There’s no protein in plants, I always thought.

Ha. In the past week I have been astonished to learn that nearly every plant has protein. Then there are super foods, ancient grains and multipurpose cereals.

All of these contain protein: Broccoli, spinach, peas, sweet potato, soybeans, soy milk, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, whole meal flower, nut butters, hemp seeds, chia seeds, linseeds, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, bean sprouts, tofu, tempeh, edamame and kale.

I’ve been eating plants for a week and I don’t feel malnourished. I actually feel better than I ever have.

My skin is glowing. My stomach is happy. My brain has more power. I feel more awake. My sinuses feel more open. My poop has been a thing of beauty. My body is working better in every way. I can feel it.

Still not convinced? Check out this list of vegan athletes.

Was it difficult to completely change my diet overnight?

It was incredibly easy. The morning after watching Cowspiracy, I tipped out my milk and gave away my cheese, butter, ham and salami. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Every meal I’ve cooked since then has been fun and exciting. I made curry for the first time ever. Throw a bunch of vegetables in a skillet with a bit of oil, add curry paste and coconut cream and eat over jasmine rice. Amazing.

I made ramen with organic noodles containing 12 grams of protein per serving. I never thought noodles could have protein. Add some tofu, steamed veggies a hoisin sauce and it’s the bomb.

Even before this transition I ate vegetables nearly every night, but now I am thinking outside the box. I’m no longer just throwing a pat of butter in a pan and adding veggies and meat. I can’t wait to learn new recipes and experiment with different spices, cuisines and techniques.

You’re just a fucking hippie! Get a job, eat meat and shut up!

I do have a job, thank you very much. I fold sheets and towels, clean the kitchen and slice the bread every afternoon in exchange for accommodation at a beautiful hostel in Nelson.

That doesn’t count, does it?

You’re right. I’m a bearded, yoga-practicing, pot-smoking, anti-capitalist-writing, Dr.Bronner’s-for-everything vegan, traveling around New Zealand in a 1987 Mitsubishi campervan.

And I couldn’t be happier.

But, seriously, man. What’s next? Barefeet? Actually I have been walking barefoot around the hostel and the park for the past couple of days and my calves and feet feel so much stronger and I feel like I am walking more naturally than I have in years.

Oh Jaysus. Just don’t grow dreadlocks.

No one else is vegan. You’re going to be forever alone.

During my first three days of vegan cooking, people in the hostel observed me and asked what I was doing.

Matias, from Uruguay, and Angela, from Argentina, were speaking ultra-fast Spanish as I sliced tempeh.

“Sean, is that cheese?” he asked me in English.

It’s fermented soybeans I tell him, lots of protein. This was my first time cooking with tempeh so I had no idea what to expect when I put it in the skillet. I added some soy sauce and sweet thai chili and, god damn, it was so tasty.

The next day I joined the South American table with a heaping plate of brussel sprouts, mushrooms, tomato and tofu. They all examine me.

“Porque, Sean?… What about vitamin B12?… Necesitas carne,” the girls interrogate me.

I don’t know! I just started doing this I don’t know what I’m doing or anything about vitamin B12!

Giovanni from Italy looks at my plate.

“Chickpeas, broccoli, cabbage… Are you vegetarian?”

“Vegan,” I reply.

“You poor guy.”

And then I met John.

I brought a joint into the smoke-O room on Friday night to share my favorite plant. Around midnight at the hostel, everyone who wants to keep drinking has to go into town. As the exodus began, I started talking to John. After a half-hour, everyone was gone and we were still talking not giving a fuck about what anyone else was doing.

He has thick-rimmed glasses and shaggy ginger hair. He wears linen pants and a loose fitting red collared shirt. He is from England and we both manage to squeeze in, “man,” into every sentence.

I started telling John about Bernie Sanders, because that’s what I do. I was explaining his platform when all of the sudden it clicked for both of us. Bernie is the American Jeremy Corbyn. An old-school leftist, populist politician who sticks to what he believes in and knows that his way will bring prosperity and peace to the people.

Then I asked if he’s seen Cowspiracy.

“No, but I’ve heard of it. Why, are you a veg?” John asked as he smiled.

“I’ve been vegan for three days,” I said

Instant best friends. He’s been a vegetarian for two years and has been vegan for three months, ever since he couldn’t finish eating a slice of pizza in Auckland. We talked about how much better the body feels on a plant-based diet. He said his acne vanished once he dropped meat.

The following evening, we had a little dinner date and now I’m sure everyone thinks were gay. Nope, just vegan.

He showed me one of his go-to meals. Cauliflower, onion, chickpeas and tomato sauce with fresh spinach wrapped in a tortilla served with wedges.

We ate a lot and talked about what we couldn’t recall from our conversation last night. I felt so full afterwards.

He said when he used to eat meat he would want to put his head down and rest after such a meal. But on a plant-based diet, he has never felt sluggish. If you eat a lot of plants, you’ll just a have a really good poop later.

The next day I showed him the vegetable green curry I was cooking. We are both staying at this hostel for a few months, so we will have plenty of time to share recipes and ideas.

It’s so good to have someone to share this with.

You’ve only been vegan for one week. You won’t stick with it.

I realize seven days is not a lot of time to really gauge how this will affect me. But I don’t see any reason why I would ever go back.

When I walked through the meat section of the grocery, I felt a sudden burst of anxiety. I felt bad that I ate these products for so many years without a second thought. I quickly moved on and picked out oranges, bananas, broccoli, onions, capsicum, carrots, cabbage, muesli, quinoa, linseed, curry paste, coconut cream, organic brown sugar, psyllium husk, tofu and sultanas.

I really don’t think I can eat dairy or meat or eggs ever again. I can’t do it. Something has clicked inside of me.

It’s easy to do this living at a hostel with a kitchen and a health-food store in town. The real struggle will be from going out to eat with friends and family and having to make sure everything is free of animal products. I’ll have to talk to every waiter and read every ingredient when I shop.

I’m not a true vegan, however, because most of my clothing is merino wool. This is going to be a much more difficult transition. I’m a budget traveler and I don’t own much clothing. My socks, underwear, top and bottom base layers, sweater, t-shirt, singlet and gloves are all wool. A few weeks ago, I bought $300 leather hiking boots. I would be naked if I gave up my animal clothing. I posed this question to the vegan subreddit and they said I shouldn’t worry about it, just replace it over time. Phew, at least they won’t look down on me for not being pure.

One person going vegan isn’t going to change the world.

My generation is different. My generation has the Internet and Netflix.

At the time I watched it, Cowspiracy was at the top of the “Popular on Netflix” queue. Then there’s, Forks over Knives and Food Matters, both very convincing scientific accounts of the benefits of a plant-based diet. If you want to be disgusted by how humans treat other animals, watch Earthlings.

People are watching these documentaries and becoming interested in how to live better lives.

My generation cares about the world. We are tired of extreme inequality and careless disregard for the Earth. With President Bernie Sanders, we will start a revolution. We will reverse climate change and reduce poverty and humans will become happy animals living in balance with the world we share with so many others.

All we need is information and social media.

Everyone has to do something.

I can’t pretend to be an ethically-grounded, environmentally-conscious human and writer if I’m eating eggs for breakfast, sliced ham for lunch and 300 grams of neatly packaged boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a glass of milk for dinner.

This is such an easy thing to do and if everyone puts in a small amount of effort, we can shift the way people view animal products.

The truth is, meat and dairy production is killing the world. And it’s killing humans. And it’s killing animals.

We don’t need it. All we need is plants. We can live very happy and healthy lives on vegetables, legumes, grains and cereals. It’s so easy. Grow stuff in the ground and eat it. It’s cheaper, easier and healthier than raising livestock. And it doesn’t involve torture and pain.

We have to live like it’s 2100 or 2200. We can’t just live until the next election cycle. Live in the future, be vegan.