I’ve been vegetarian for nearly half of my life. That’s over a decade of bare baked potato dinners at steakhouses, explaining for the umpteenth time what the difference between a vegan and vegetarian is, and clearing up misconceptions about whether chicken is meat. If you’re a long-term vegetarian like me, I’m sure you can relate.
But even though I’ve got all those years of plant-based living under my belt, I can still be a better vegetarian. There’s always room to improve — that’s what this is all about. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about trying your hardest to do the greatest good. Sometimes to be the best vegetarian we can, we have to look beyond what we eat. Check out this list of common areas where you might be able to improve your plant-based practice:
Overlooking Your Transportation
Being a good vegetarian means that you consider others who call this planet home, even if they can’t speak for themselves. That means protecting the environment in all the ways you can. A plant-based diet does great things for the planet, but stopping at what you eat isn’t enough.
Vegetarians, it’s time to eat a bigger breakfast. You need the extra fuel for your new bike commute. Your thighs and our atmosphere will thank you. If you can’t make it to work on your bike, look to public transportation. Those buses, streetcars, and subways are there for a reason.
It’s Not Really Meat-Free
Gelatin lurks. It’s in all kinds of unexpected places, like certain yogurts, Starbursts, and Taco Bell’s reduced fat sour cream. What makes gelatin so sly and evil is that it’s often undetectable in the foods that it’s hiding in. If you’ve been a vegetarian for a while, you’ve probably picked up an arsenal of tricks to help you identify sneaky sources of animal-derived ingredients, but gelatin notoriously slips under the radar of many an unsuspecting and well-intentioned vegan. That’s why veggie rule number one — check your labels — never stops being true.
Waste at Home
You’re not recycling. Your sink is leaking. You’re dumping chemicals indiscriminately down the drain as you clean the bathroom. You can’t remember the last time you brought your reusable bag. Where did you just put that cigarette butt?!
Your diet supports the planet, but your housekeeping has a lot of room for improvement. Don’t let your good diet pacify you into maintaining bad habits in the home. While you can’t deny that you’re doing more good for the planet than the average guy by being a vegan or vegetarian, that doesn’t mean you can overlook your other wasteful or polluting habits.
Poor Meal Planning
Poor meal planning doesn’t just mean you’re hungrier throughout the day. It also means that you might not be getting all the nutrients you need.
Now, I know you’ve heard this line so many times from your grandma, your nosy coworker, and a multitude of total strangers so many times that you feel like if you hear it again you might explode, but it’s actually true. When we’ve been vegetarian or vegan for a while, it’s normal to find a few easy favorite meals that you turn to time and time again. You’re probably thinking of your favorites right now — rice and black beans, pasta with tomato sauce, a great soup.
While there’s nothing wrong with having these easy meals often, our favorite foods can sometimes leave us in a nutritional rut if we don’t keep nutrition in mind. The longer we’re a vegan or vegetarian, the less likely it is that our diet is constantly on our mind, which makes it easier for this to happen. If you’ve been a vegetarian for a year or more, consider having your iron, vitamin D and B-12, and bone density levels tested at your next checkup. Check out this directory if you’re on the hunt for a good vegan friendly doctor.
Animals for Your Entertainment
They are saving endangered species! Staffed with animal experts! Centers of conservation!
You know what I’m talking about — the zoo. You’re an animal lover, so it makes sense that you want to view the beautiful animals housed in zoos. No matter how they’re advertised, don’t be fooled. These places are not sanctuaries. Zoos are businesses.
Similarly, you likely have a favorite dog breed because they’re just so darn cute. Don’t let breeders fool you with the sweet faces of the animals they’re selling. Selective dog breeding for human entertainment leads to harmful inbreeding tactics that cause health problems for many of these animals. And don’t forget that pets need regular medical care just as much as you do. If you’re not prepared for this investment, you’re not ready for a pet.
This list isn’t meant to make you feel guilty. I’ve never been one who thinks that the path to perfect vegetarian living is through endless penance and veggie-sin-confession. This is a guide to help you think about the things that slip between the cracks, so that you can better achieve your own goals towards living a life that reduces harm and helps make this planet a better place for others — even if they aren’t people.