Meat Me Halfway: Veganism and the Nonprofit Sector (aka, Worst. NAF Post. Ever)

[Image description: An adorable little baby pig. They are pink with black/gray patches.]
Hi everyone. I’ve been bringing up a whole bunch of controversial things on this blog, but this may be the one that makes people rush to my office and kick down my unicorn shrine. Yes, there is a unicorn shrine at my office; let’s not criticize one another’s Feng-Shui-based fundraising strategies, OK?

But put on some calming Kenny Loggins music and hear me out for a second. This post is not going to shame you for eating meat, and it’s not trying to get you to become vegan. It will, however, attempt to get us all to recognize the challenges and dissonance posed by meat in our work fighting for a better world, and maybe persuade you to cut down a little bit on that delicious meat and scrumptious cheese as you are able. That’s all. Please put down the broken bottles of gala wine.

First of all, let’s get something on the table that most of us can agree on: meat is delicious. I’ve been a vegan for 22 years now, and I still on occasion miss it. Growing up in Vietnam and then Memphis made it extra hard to give up meat, because eating pho and/or BBQ ribs is like being slapped in the mouth by general operating funds. And that is the thing: Practically all of us have been conditioned by our society, cultures, media, and our own taste buds. I don’t blame anyone for loving meat, cheese, and other animal products. Some of my best friends are omnivores. 

As I’ve been doing this work, however, I’ve noticed a lot of discrepancy in the things we are trying to do, and the things that run counter to our missions of making the world a better place. For instance, many of us still require formal education as a default when hiring people even as we fight education inequity. Some of us pay our staff poverty wages while we try to tackle poverty. Some funders still refuse to fund fiscally-sponsored organizations, while complaining about there being too many nonprofits.

Meat is one of those things, and I’d like for us to have a thoughtful, open-minded conversation on it as a sector. I’m going to talk about a few of these challenges below. Again, this is not to shame you if you do eat meat, because meat is such an ingrained part of almost every culture. But still:

Meat is really, really bad for the environment. Many of us work for environmental organizations, and most of us are trying to reduce our harm to the environment by recycling, using public transportation, etc. But, according to countless studies, as discussed in this documentary:

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean ‘dead zones,’ and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.”

Cutting down on meat consumption is the single biggest way to reduce our impact on the earth.

The pain and suffering inflicted on animals are in conflict with our sector’s mission: I think there is a dissonance we must acknowledge with our sector, which attracts extremely compassionate people who strive to make the world better, yet except for maybe animal welfare organizations, we as a sector do not have a stance on the treatment of animals, and many of us prefer not to think about the suffering we cause to other living beings. But to achieve our vision of social justice, the well-being of animals is something we all need to talk about, as one of the things our sector does is lift up the voices of those who may not yet be able to speak for themselves.

The suffering caused to humans also run counter to our mission: The effects of killing animals day in day out are pretty horrifying  for the  people who have to do it. According to this article,

“Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders, including PTSD and the lesser-known PITS (perpetration-induced traumatic stress). It has also been connected to an increase in crime rates, including higher incidents of domestic abuse, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.”

Many workers also face terrible work conditions. Many are immigrants and refugees. I know there is a complexity there, because meat processing factories and slaughterhouses are providing jobs for people who might otherwise be unemployed. But we should also acknowledge the role we play in contributing to the challenging dynamics caused by meat consumption even as many of us fight for workers’ rights, work to end domestic violence, help people with alcohol and drug problems, etc.

Meat and dairy often negatively affect our self-care. While our sector often talks about self-care, we don’t often bring the role that our heavily-meat-based habits contribute to the health problems nonprofit professionals may be facing. There are numerous studies now that link consumption of meat and dairy products to various diseases and lowered mortality, as well as those showing the significant benefits of a plant-based diet on health, including the reduction of stress and anxiety. Of course, we still have plenty of other stressors, including being under-resourced, overworked, etc. But lowering meat consumption is something to consider as we try to take better care of ourselves so we can take better care of others.

I’m not advocating for everyone in our sector to go vegan. As a vegan myself, I know how hard it is, because I like the taste of meat and dairy products and still find myself looking longingly at the perfect one-inch cubes of cheese at community gatherings. It is also not a matter of purity. I fly around the country frequently, which greatly contributes to pollution. I don’t always eat local and organic, and I consume horribly processed vegan junk food all the time, including mainlining entire packages of Oreos when getting grant rejections…or acceptance.

And of course, due to economic, geographic, cultural, and other variables, it is not easy for everyone to adopt a plant-based diet.

I am not trying to get you to eliminate meat completely from your diet (though that’s good too), but rather encourage you to try to cut down on it as you, and your organization, are able. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage your office to go meatless one day a week as a team challenge
  • Provide healthful, plant-based snacks for the office like nuts and fresh and dried fruit
  • Reduce meat and have more plant-based dishes at community events
  • Attend a plant-based cooking class as a team-building exercise
  • Explore plant-based restaurants around your office with your teammates
  • Watch “Cowspiracy” and “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix
  • Make this ridiculously delicious “Vegan Glam Chowder” 

Meat and other animal products are ingrained in our culture and society. They’re delicious, I know. But it’ll be good for our animal friends, our health, and our world if we all just cut down a little when we can. As Kenny Loggins sings in one of his famous songs before he changed the lyrics to be more commercial:

Meat me halfway

across the land

decrease the ribs

and supplement with some seitan.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be eating some Sweet Spicy Chili Doritos while scanning feedback about how this is the worst NAF blog post ever. 

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