Anthony Elder is a junior journalism major writing for KentWired and The Kent Stater for the first time. Elder grew up in Reno, NV; however, moved to Ohio a few years ago to pursue an education here at Kent because he has several family members that are Kent alumni. Initially, the move was a little jarring, but he has grown to love Kent quite a lot and think of it as a second home. You can often find him downing coffee and buying too many books at Last Exit in Downtown Kent, as well as spending exuberant amounts of time loitering in Off the Wagon toy/gift shop. He is an animal lover as well as an enthusiast for all things related to conservation and climate health. Essentially, he is a huge tree-huggin’ hippie. This means that his column will likely center around animal rights, environmental issues and culture surrounding movements such as veganism. Don’t worry, he will try to make the vegan spiel as tolerable as possible for the meat-loving readers out there. His column will be bi-weekly and hopefully he can offer up some interesting environmental information, fun animal facts and the occasional heated vegan rant that some of the KentWired audience is hungry for. 

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If you find yourself making cute sounds like “awwwww…” when you see any animal, whether it be a newborn kitten or a barnyard pig, it is probably safe to call yourself an “animal lover.” If you find your admiration of cute barnyard piggies turning into guilt when you realize they may one day become your breakfast bacon, it is probably safe to say you need to consider a meat-free or entirely plant-based diet.

For years I found myself fighting with the same conundrum. I’m the weirdo that didn’t mind holding the 10-foot python at the reptile sanctuary, and the daring kid that wanted to kiss the banana slug in the woods near San Francisco (it’s a tradition that brings good luck, don’t judge us West Coast natives). But I always felt guilty when I thought about animals dying for my sustenance.

When I was 12 years old, my little animal-loving self decided to try plant-based eating for the first time. It was the sixth grade and I was probably inspired by Aang from “Avatar: the Last Airbender”: a vegetarian hero from a harrowing cartoon that everyone needs to enjoy if they haven’t already. Back then my big dream was to become a veterinarian and I took vegetarianism as a logical expression of my appreciation for animals.

Naturally, I couldn’t stick with it. Not back then, anyway. I lasted a few months, would drop it, and then try again for a few months. This cycle went on for the entirety of my teen life.

I’ve met vegans and vegetarians that have been plant-based for their entire lives, but more often than not they are from families that raised them that way. For a 12-year-old with a Midwestern parent and access only to the groceries available at Walmart, becoming plant-based proved a pretty intense challenge. At least, it felt that way.

At that age, I was frustrated spiritually when the adults around me told me there was nothing wrong with eating meat, that it was natural. At 12 years old, my moral compass was just beginning to develop, and it was hard to deny the alleged “truths” that the adults I respected were peddling 24/7.

Another looming difficulty was finding tasty food that my young palette could tolerate. When I was in sixth grade, nearly 12 years ago, plant-based meat tasted like cardboard and sand. That is, if you could even find that cardboard and sand to try at your local Walmart. Back then grocery stores just weren’t very concerned with the whims of us outrageous hippy animal lovers.

Luckily for whoever is reading this, quite a lot has changed in 12 years.

These days most grocery stores offer an entire three or four windows’ worth of frozen plant-based delights, and those delights are lightyears tastier than sandy cardboard. Several brands, like Gardein, Sweet Earth and MorningStar Farms are here for you in your time of meaty need. Gardein makes crispy mandarin chick’n on par with any Chinese place I have ever tried; SweetEarth offers a frozen mac and cheese that will make you question how it could possibly be vegan; MorningStar Farms will lovingly cuddle your hungry tummy with the warmth of meatless chicken nuggets (try the buffalo flavor). 

For those that fancy themselves a kitchen aficionado, a slew of plant-based creations is at your disposal. The cookbook “Seitan and Beyond” will teach you how to make any vegan meat you could ever desire and there are dozens of amazing YouTubers and bloggers like Bitchy Vegan Homo offering up tasty veggie-based recipes every day. I have even found a video recently that detailed how to recreate a Raising Cane’s chicken tender meal that was entirely vegan. Yes, they figured out how to make the sauce too.

Of course, there will always be the healthier side of plant-based living. Some enjoy eating a raw diet of uncooked veggies and salads and I absolutely applaud those titans of veggie glory. But if you’re like me and you find yourself needing something salty, crispy and covered in grease on a regular basis, the items I have listed above are here for you and many more I didn’t mention.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten dessert for the ones that choose the full vegan option. Oreos, Sour Patch Kids and Nutter Butters are all “accidentally” vegan. And if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and your kitchen messy, you can recreate anything from cakes to cookies with a little egg replacer and oat milk.

In 2021, there’s no need to keep feeling guilty about the cute little piggies that end up on your plate because you can pop a few pieces of delicious plant-based bacon on there instead. For the animal lovers, you should try it not only for your mental health but for the well-being of those adorable little furry and feathery friends we all adore. 

Anthony Elder is an opinion writer. Contact him at aelder4@kent.edu.

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