Founder of Tenderly, Summer Anne Burton, writes about going meatless, choosing sustainable living and the possibility of future pandemics.

Going vegetarian was simple. I was obsessed with animals as soon as I was old enough to be obsessed with anything. At age 5, I received a shelter kitten for my birthday and fell in love for the first time. By the time I was 8, I was arguing with adults about the ethics of factory farming. By 12, I vowed I’d never eat meat again. I made the decision right before Thanksgiving, figuring that if I could get through the holiday, I could abstain forever. My plate piled high with sweet potato casserole, green beans, and copious rolls was more than enough.

I grew up in Austin, and the comfort food of my young adult life was found at the Tex-Mex restaurants near my home, just off of South Lamar. Luckily, my devotion to the cuisine revolved around one ingredient: cheese. From diving into greasy spinach and cheese enchiladas at an oilcloth-clad table, to being hungover and inhaling three egg, potato, and cheese tacos from Taco-Mex (aka “Taco Window”) —cheese was everything to my vegetarian diet until 2013. I never missed eating animals at all.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I finally went vegan while living in New York City, where the pull of sweet cheese kolaches and queso-covered fries was not so omnipresent. I’d spent years of my 20s justifying my attachment to cheese, but after watching one particularly brutal “behind the scenes of milk production” investigation video, I commit- ted to veganism. I really missed cheese.

I got lucky when I stumbled upon a cashew-based queso recipe and splurged on a high-powered blender. After mastering the dip, I began making my own rejuvelac, a kind of sprouted grain water that stands in for the complexity of cheese cultures. Learning to experiment in the kitchen was how I came to enjoy vegan eating, and I haven’t missed “real” queso since.

In 2013, the same year I went vegan in New York, Austin was declared PETA’s most vegan-friendly city in the U.S., thanks mostly to the growing number of food trucks that specialized in plant-based cuisine. By the time I moved home in 2017, I was relieved to be returning to a city that could sate almost any vegan craving imaginable.

Breakfast tacos? The tender tofu scramble tacos at Vegan Nom are the best I’ve ever had. A fancy wine and cheese date? Mueller’s Rebel Cheese, which opened in 2019, offers artisanal nut and seed cheeses, plus melty sandwiches and vegan wine. Via 313’s non-dairy cheese is perfectly paired with tempeh and arugula, and there’s always Sweet Ritual milkshakes for dessert.

 

An assortment of tofu scramble tacos at Vegan Nom on E. Cesar Chavez St.

 

This city makes eating plants so accessible and delicious that it can be hard for me to relate to Texas’ reputation as a place where an unquenchable appetite for beef runs through the blood of every man, woman, and child. In 1994, I was one of the only vegetarians I’d even heard of (shout-out to Jonathan Taylor Thomas), but these days I know as many people who don’t eat meat as people who do. My omnivorous Texan friends are enthusiastic about vegan food—never rude or close-minded—and as we all experience the various far-reaching impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, I sense a desire to re-examine individual priorities, lifestyles, and the impact of our choices.

The origins of COVID-19 are still being studied, but it’s clear that it is almost certainly a zoonosis, an infectious disease passed from non-humans to humans. This strain may have come from trafficked wildlife, but most zoonotic diseases come from livestock. According to the CDC, three out of every four new and emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Many of the infectious diseases that have made headlines in our lifetime, such as anthrax, the H1N1 influenza virus (or swine flu), and mad cow disease, can be traced back to the “production” of animals most Texans are accustomed to eating.

Slaughterhouse workers are particularly vulnerable to these diseases. Poultry plant workers were already five times more likely to experience workplace illness than the national average, and now, in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, workers at those facilities are in more danger than ever. Meatpacking plants have become intense coronavirus hot spots around the world, but especially in the U.S., where President Trump labeled the employees “essential workers.”

Back in May, Amarillo logged more than 700 new cases in a single day after tests were widely distributed to slaughterhouse workers and their families, and at the time of writing, more than 33,000 cases have been linked to meatpacking plants in the U. If the next few zoonotic diseases leave humanity intact, we’ll still be facing the ongoing global climate crisis.

Here, our current course of accelerating factory farming and global meat consumption is proving untenable. The United Nations estimates that 15 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. Nearly a third of the land on earth (41 percent in the U.S.) is devoted to producing meat and animal products, from the industrial pig farms in North Carolina whose stench permeates the air in nearby Black communities to the rainforests burned down in Brazil to make room for cattle grazing.
When I first became a vegetarian, I was barely aware of the environmental impact of industrialized agriculture or the health risks and human exploitation associated with meat production. I had a single motivation: I loved animals, and I could hardly imagine a crueller place for any sentient being to live and die than the cramped, painful conditions that make cheap meat possible.

I’ve spent a New York–pizza-sized slice of my life making a case for animals, and sometimes it can feel hopeless. Living through a pandemic isn’t exactly hopeful, either, but aspects of recent months have granted me an unfamiliar optimism. The shock of seeing the coronavirus unfold has many of us questioning what we thought we knew about our future, and the scale of our grief has us asking what we can learn so this never happens again. As we all imagine a better future and our place in it, I hope that more folks ask themselves whether the taste of meat is worth the cost.

Original source: https://www.austinmonthly.com

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