For myself, 2019 has been the year of environmental sustainability. I have witnessed the astonishing rise of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. I’ve watched my local grocery stores surge with both milk and meat alternatives. And I’ve noticed the growth of environmental causes in everyday conversations and politics. For a fun example, my mother loves to text me updates when the neighborhood coffee shop starts carrying paper straws or when her friends’ children participate in a stream clean-up.
These steps are all great in battling the impending threat of climate change, however, I have personally struggled with how I can join the fight. Like many of my friends, I recycle in my apartment as much as possible and I am figuring out how to compost (however, composting is admittedly a work in progress at the moment.) Recently, I only buy clothes from thrift stores or in small doses at retail stores so that I don’t contribute heavily to the fast-fashion market. Some of my peers have chosen to remove single-use plastic, animal products, and fast-fashion clothing from their lives altogether. However, I am not as fortunate at the moment. I cannot afford to be environmentally conscious as I would like, because living in New York City on an unemployed college student’s budget is not ideal.
Even though I can’t give my full 100% right now, I know that giving 50% is still helps the greater cause. I would call this in-between lifestyle of mine “eco-conscious.” I am not completely eco-friendly, but I use my own guidelines that I believe in the long run will help the planet. Besides thrift shopping and recycling, the majority of these personal guidelines revolve around what I eat. The environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry is overwhelming and anything I can do to diminish its effects is great!
1. I only eat meat for one meal a day
I started limiting my consumption of meat last spring. After a conversation with a friend, I realized that I could probably go about my day only eating seafood, instead of chicken or red meat. Unfortunately, being pescatarian was more difficult than I thought. When I wanted to go out with friends for dinner or I was scrambling for a meal in the school’s cafeteria, I struggled to choose the meat free option. Now, a couple of months later, I am no longer pescatarian. But I am always thinking about those options. Now I think strategically about my meals. I try to have a meat-free breakfast and lunch (maybe oatmeal for breakfast and vegetable pasta for lunch). This allows me to be guilt-free for dinner. Or if on a weekend I have a burger lunch date with a friend, then I consciously choose something with less meat for my other meals.
2. I choose non-dairy options when possible
Having non-dairy options is much easier for me than going meatless. I switched to coconut milk in my coffee. I buy pints of Oatly’s oat milk ice cream for those midnight cravings. I have struggled with not adding cheese into my favorite foods, but I have slowly transitioned to adding avocado or whole grain mustard onto bread for my sandwiches. I still have not come around to actual vegan cheese: the texture of it scares me! But these baby steps should make a difference.
3. I focus on fruits and veggies
By focusing on fruits and vegetables in each meal, I forget about how much meat I eat. In the school’s cafeteria, I always scope out the vegetable options first. If there’s marinara pasta or farro with mixed vegetables, I’ll grab those foods first. Then if I feel that I will still be hungry, I can search for other options later. Usually, I am full from the vegetarian options that the school offers. A few years ago, I would have gone straight for the braised pork and not even considered the nutritious vegetarian options available.
4. I don’t stress
My last guideline to eco-conscious eating is to not worry. With the weight of climate change, I sometimes forget that I am just one person. If I mess up every once in a while, it will not be the end of the world. I still want to live my life. I want to hang out with friends, go to parties, and explore new restaurants without the stress of being environmentally friendly with every bite. There are some days when I eat salads and quinoa as if I was absolutely vegan. Some days I have a fried egg burrito, a burger, and a milkshake all before 2pm, and that’s okay! Most days are a combination of the two.
My journey to a more environmentally sustainable life is just beginning. Eco-conscious eating is just one step that I want to take to help climate change. Each day I will hopefully learn more so that I can become the best environmentally conscious citizen I can be!