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Credit: Jess Tan

I’ve never had bacon. I’ve never eaten a burger. I’ve never had spaghetti bolognese, a ham and cheese sandwich, or a steak with a side of gravy, and I’ve never wanted to. Growing up, the little meat I did consume was in the form of Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches and the occasional turkey dinner. My mom thought it best for us not to eat meat, and when I became old enough to make that decision for myself, I agreed with her. Vegetarian and vegan diets come with a plethora of benefits, not just for the one consuming them, but for this increasingly damaged planet we call home. Vegan diets can conserve clean water typically relegated to livestock, as well as reducing energy consumption necessary for the raising and processing of said livestock. So don’t get me wrong — I’m all for vegetables, but having the privilege to choose a vegan diet is something that needs to be recognized. 

Not only have Penn students and reality stars recently hopped on the vegan bandwagon, but popular celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Mayim Bialik have publicly shared why they choose vegan diets, with animal rights being a motivating factor for both. However, both of these celebrities made millions working in the acting industry, and thus, have the resources to choose whatever they want to eat. For many people around the world, living in poverty prevents this level of choice. Instead of shaming those who can’t afford to always pick the organic and cage-free options, we should focus our anger at the infrastructures that have built a system corrupt enough to offer dollar hamburgers yet twelve dollar salads. 

The other day I went to the grocery store to buy avocados and milk. I paid $1.50 for my avocado, and about three dollars for my carton of milk. Had I purchased the Oatly brand oat milk, my total would have gone from a respectable $4.50, to $7.50, which is 25 cents more than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. Popping to the health food store, or the dramatically over-designed Whole Foods on 21st Street isn’t a viable option for people who don’t have the extra money to spend on food. 

Focusing one’s frustration on someone who doesn’t have the resources or privilege to live a vegan lifestyle assumes that everyone is in the same economic or dietary position. People are expressing concerns all over social media due to the fire blazing in the Amazon, set to clear land for livestock. But vegans and vegetarians aren’t exempt from causing the continuous deforestation of the Amazon, seeing as the soy or palm oil present in a lot of vegan foods is another major moneymaker for farmers in that region. Penn students need to be more mindful of our waste, and this translates into using recyclable silverware and reusable bags, not demonizing the carnivores on our campus. 

When families are struggling to put food on the table, the last thing they need is to be shamed for what kind of food that is. Sure, a head of iceberg lettuce only costs 99 cents, but a single mom working to support her growing twin girls isn’t going to slap some lettuce on the table and call it a night. I support going vegetarian or vegan if you have the privilege to do so, because I truly do believe it can make a positive impact on our environment, and that one person’s decision to cut meat out of their diets can start a ripple effect throughout their entire group of friends or surrounding family. I am also in the privileged position of never having had to give up the taste of a juicy steak or crispy bacon, because I never had it to begin with. 

J. Samuel Burner [CC BY 2.0]

College students are busy, and many don’t have access to full kitchens, or the time to make all their own meals. I enjoy baking, so I find the time to do that, but baking doesn’t tend to be a college kid’s priority. Having the time and money to make strict choices about your diet is a privilege that we all need to be aware of and celebrate. I am thankful that I can go to the grocery store and buy ingredients for myself when I want to make oatmeal raisin cookies. But not everyone has that luxury.

I think it would be great if everyone stopped eating cows, because, come on, they’re adorable and our earth is suffering, but it is unrealistic to expect this drastic and expensive shift in the diets of all people. Assigning blame to vulnerable people who are most at risk is the opposite of showing them necessary support. We all have to live on this burning hunk of rock, and doing that harmoniously will perhaps help us keep it alive for a little bit longer. I think we should all eat more vegetables and less furry friends, but the judgment passed on those not in the privileged position to choose a vegan diet needs to end. Ordering a latte with almond milk at the Starbucks on 34th Street is a great way to cut down on your dairy consumption, but it’s also an extra 60 cents for a milk alternative. A lot of people on Penn’s campus don’t need to think twice about an extra 60 cent charge, but that’s a privilege, not a given. 

SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu

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