featuring the Sandy Ridge Bird Sanctuary in NE Ohio
Here I am with a blog // Insta // tumblr // pintrest board // FB page and yet I would claim I am no web fanatic. Only a casual fan. I don’t ‘hang out’ on social media in my free time. I don’t shop or browse for fun. And I dodge clickbaity pages like sh!t on the sidewalk. So for me the month of December resulted in an acrobatic feat of a sidestepping act to avoid all of 2016’s 'best of’s' and 'worst of’s' and recaps. Talk about an exercise in tactical maneuverability.
But it can’t be ignored, nor should it – not by me or anyone else – that 2016 was a really tough year. Like, really, really tough. Some are calling it the worst year ever [ speaking of worst of’s ] . Ever, capital E. It was a year rife with political turmoil. It was a year of celebrity deaths, rising sea and atmospheric temperatures, terror strikes, invasive drilling, and unchecked police brutality. Violence and more violence, compounded and multiplied by humans' incapacity to accept each other’s differences. Plenty of people were less than thrilled by the outcome of votes in Britain and the United States, reinforcing this notion that we are purposely and divisively ripping nations in half just so he can keep his differences further away from hers and his and theirs.
However, as awful as 2016 seemed [ or was ] , I learned something important. For me, 2016 was focused primarily on my recovery from 13 years, give or take, of eating disorders. This year I aimed significantly more intention and healing attention toward the mental side of my health. And it’s from that deep self-work – and thanks to the many wizened authors, psychologists, Buddhists, and thinkers from whom I learned – that I discovered an important idea: You must choose to find the good. Fixate on it if possible. Not in the sense of willful ignorance, nor to the neglect of civic duty or activism, not at all. Instead, it's to keep the mind free of too much negativity, too much nihilism. How incredibly easy is it to dwell on the bad? The bad and the ugly shows up everywhere, unavoidably. Yet it is always possible to choose to see good.
So with that in mind I want to offer you some of the good that’s happened in 2016, for the animals, for human health, and for the planet. Here are my top 10 wins for the vegan movement this past year:
10. Household brand names launched vegan alternatives
Ben and Jerry’s and Hellman’s were among a number of brands to launch healthier alternatives to common products in 2016. Offering delicious dairy-free ice cream (try Coconut Bliss and Almond Dream brands, too) and egg-free mayo not only helps the animals, but it’ll definitely help out your heart and your waistline. None of that awful cholesterol or mucus for us, thanks!
9. Beyond Meat + Impossible Foods
While Tyson didn’t exactly convert to tofu-nuggets yet, they actually did support the fundraising efforts for the latest meat-alternative that garnered a good bit of attention from vegans and non-vegans alike, called Beyond Meat. Just like the burger meat alternative by Impossible Foods, Beyond meat is made from 100% plant protein that actually looks – and [ apparently ] tastes – just like cow meat. Personally that grosses me out [ my body and palate prefer whole plants ] , but despite my own reservations these products could open up an entire meat-craving portion of the population to a cruelty-free alternative. Sure, there will be those meat-heads who never convert out of principle, god love ‘em, but if this catches on we could see a trend toward improving human health, improving animal welfare, and openly addressing global resource constraints.
8. Vegan became fashionable
Vegan leather is definitely the next in thing. I am a huge fan of faux-leather bombers and jackets; I’ve owned 3 in the past three years. This season, I’m sporting a black moto jacket by Jou Jou for Macy’s and it’s my go-to addition for every outfit, every day. My favorite feature is its band collar. I just bought an Urban Outfitter’s faux-leather jacket for Andrew for Christmas. A serious design student needs a well-designed wardrobe, you know. Vegan leather materials come in all sorts of mattes, glosses and colors [ black, of course, is always best ] and they’re endlessly more affordable than animal skin leather, expanding fashion options for vegans and non-vegans alike. Not just coats either; faux-leather shoes, bags, and accessories [ I have a black Sephora makeup bag in vegan leather ] are increasingly common. To top it off, even top brands like Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and Stella McCartney are pledging fur-free collections. The cruelty-free movements in fashion and design are gaining momentum and recognition. These options are more sustainable, too!
7. Vegan athletes made headlines
Olympians at Rio spoke openly about their plant-based diets in 2016 and vegan athletes made headlines on a number of occasions, reestablishing veganism as not only safe but a valid dietary option that may be healthier than the average SAD [ standard American diet ] eating pattern. After all, if superstars like Venus and Serena Williams can dominate internationally recognized tennis stars while subsisting on plants alone, and if ultra-marathoners like Rich Roll can run 100+ miles as an herbivore, surely your average couch potato can survive without that animal protein.
6. Celebrities promoted veganism
Athlete // body-builder turned celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up with James Cameron to tell YOU to go vegan. You may not believe that the terminator is a veg-head, but this tank of a man is actually vegan! “Less meat, less heat, more life,” is their slogan to promote going vegan, for the animals, for the environment, and for better health. Meat is often associated with body building thanks to the false belief that meat is the best source of protein and that protein is a must for bulking up. Despite there being no evidence for protein deficiency in the West – in fact most people get too much [ even if you ate nothing but fresh fruit you would still never suffer a protein deficiency ] – there are even better, denser, safer plant protein alternatives, like lentils, seitan, and chickpeas. I love this article from aforementioned ultra-marathoner Rich Roll who slays the protein myth. Other celebs to tout the veg movement in 2016 included DJ Khaled, Miley Cyrus and Stevie Wonder [ for even more on ultra-famous celebrity vegans, check out Glamour ]
5. China banned the domestic ivory trade by 2017
In a historic announcement, China pledged to cease their domestic ivory trade in the upcoming year, signaling the end of the world’s largest legal ivory market. This is a move that will majorly impact poaching in Africa, making it much more difficult for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stock. Although elephant poaching peaked in 2011, approximately 20,000 elephants are killed for their tusks each year to feed the primarily Asian demand. Now that the world’s three largest legal ivory markets are being phased out [ US, China and Hong Kong SAR ] activists are hopeful that others will soon follow the example.
4. Vegan medicine went mainstream
Perhaps some of the last places to endorse a plant-based diet are the most surprising: medical centers. I work as a researcher at a major U.S. hospital and have met with probably 20 doctors internationally during my recovery, so I can attest to this. You walk to the food court or cafeteria of most hospitals and you’re hard pressed to find foods that don’t come in a wrapper, aren’t fried in oil, and are free of additives. It wasn’t too long ago that McDonald’s was still on the campus where I work. Thankfully, thousands of publications later, hospitals and their staff are starting to catch up to the science. The irrefutable facts are these: a whole food, plant-based diet will lower cholesterol, prevent or reverse heart disease and insulin resistance, reduce cancer risk, reduce body mass index, and reduce lifestyle-related mortality risk. With heart disease still in the lead as our number one killer in America, shouldn’t doctors be prescribing whole plant foods as preventative medicine, if not a first round of treatment? For those slow on the uptake, at least there are already some health insurers who are joining the cause, offering lower premiums for vegans and vegetarians.
3. 100 doctors rallied in front of the White House for veganism
Urging America to break the meat habit, a call to action lead by well-known vegan doc Neil Barnard, MD, over 100 physicians posed in front of the United States' most iconic house to promote healthier plant-based eating for all Americans. This team advocates veganism to their patients, discusses the misconceptions of the meat-heavy Paleo diet, and shows how meat is as much to blame for obesity as added sugar.
2. When this study garnered due recognition
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States published a review in 2016 openly stating that if the whole world went vegan by 2050 we would  prevent 8 million deaths,  cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70%, and  save $1 trillion in health care costs. Need I say more?
1. President Obama protected more natural habitat than any other president in history
One of president Obama’s lesser known legacies is as a conservationist. During his eight years in office, he placed 548 million acres of natural habitat under protection including territory in the Arctic tundra and mountainous woodlands. He also safeguarded coral reefs and created the two largest marine reserves in the world, and the second largest desert reserve. He added 22 new parks to the United States’ National Park system. Collectively, these efforts protected land and sea area equivalent to nine times that of the United Kingdom. He’s set the right example and raised the bar high for the rest of the world to match. Now, if only we could catch up with Bhutan...