When Western students gather to talk about if honey or oysters are vegan, they also keep in mind the environmental costs of the food choices they make.
Eating With Heart: Vegans and Friends, an Associated Student club on campus, seeks to provide a space for students to address these topics.
The club is for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike who want to learn more about the plant-based lifestyle and find a supportive group of students.
“I don’t like to call it a diet, I like to call it a lifestyle,” Taylor Flanagan, one of the leaders of Eating With Heart, said.
A vegan is someone who does not consume or utilize any animal products, meaning they do not use wool, silk or leather in clothing, nor do they eat food produced at the expense of an animal’s well-being, Flanagan said.
Nick Borkowski, one of the leaders of the club, has been vegan for almost six years and said it has been a big part of his life for a while. He wanted the club to be a place for a mix of both fun and meaningful conversations about veganism.
“I personally wanted to have a place where I could discuss the ethics of veganism,” Borkowski said.
Flanagan became a vegan in August 2015 after being vegetarian for about two years already, she said. She became a vegetarian after watching the documentary Food Inc., which looks at the food industry, in her environmental science class in high school, she said.
She helped found the club in fall 2015 because she grew up not knowing many vegetarians, but after coming to Western she met more people and saw it was easy to be vegan in Bellingham. Flanagan said after she made the switch to becoming vegan, she realized she did not know any other people who were vegans, too.
“It’s really hard to [be vegan and] keep doing something you’re passionate about,” Flanagan said. “Its really hard to keep up when you don’t have a support system.”
She said that when she came back for her sophomore year of college in 2015, she started the club through the AS so there would be somewhere for people with questions about being vegan to get information and have an open discussion about the topic.
Flanagan explained that the club does a variety of activities at their meetings; they watch videos, share websites with information about being vegan and have open discussions comparing ideas and opinions.
Borkowski explained that at one meeting students might share their favorite recipe, and another week they discuss the issue of animal experimentation or non-vegan clothing.
One of the goals she had for the club was to help people share recipes because she found that when she transitioned to veganism, the hardest part was figuring out what to eat.
“It doesn’t have to be restrictive if you know how to expand your horizon a bit with food,” Flanagan said.
The people involved are really open and willing to share their ideas, Flanagan said,
“It’s like this little family,” she said.
One reason that some people choose to become vegan is because of the environmental impact. Food production is hard on the environment, Flanagan said.
The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted from animals to produce food is actually more than the amount emitted from transportation, including cars, trains and airplanes, Flanagan said.
Ryan Gluckman, president of Students for Sustainable Food, also addressed the environmental issues of producing animal products for people to eat. He is a business and sustainability major and in his research found that the livestock sector is a major part of climate change, emitting 18 percent of greenhouse gasses, compared to the 13 percent emitted by transportation.
Producing meat also requires a lot of water.
“When you look at a pound of beef at the grocery store, you’re actually looking at 2,500 gallons of water,” Gluckman said.
Meat is not the only animal product that uses a lot of water, he said that one gallon of milk requires about 1,000 gallons of water to produce, according to the documentary Cowspiracy.
Flanagan hopes that the club will be able to travel to VegFest in Seattle this spring. She attended the one in Portland in 2015 and said VegFest is a festival for vegetarians where there are different food companies and brands that come to share products that people can sample. The event is for all-ages, and has a special section for kids, according to the VegFest website.
A lot of guest speakers at the festival present throughout the day for people to learn more information about vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.
“Guest speakers talk not only on the compassionate side [of veganism], but also the environmental and health side of it,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan said Eating with Heart invites people who are not vegan to come to the club, join discussions and eat food.
“We don’t really care if an omnivore comes and eats with us, if they are interested, then that’s awesome,” Flanagan said.
The club meets every Monday at 4 p.m. in Miller Hall room 103.