Back in 2010, Shannon Cottrell was just a few minutes into the film Food Inc. when the she felt the stirrings of a life-changing decision: she would become a vegetarian-immediately. The 2009 documentary exposes the cruel underbelly of the North American meat industry and factory farming.
“I knew this documentary was going to completely change how I saw the meat industry,” says Cottrell, 32, who is donor relations and volunteer coordinator, Resources for Mission Department, at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto.
Cottrell continued to consume eggs and dairy but avoided eating things that contained animal products such as gelatin. Although she flirted with the notion of moving to full veganism, she was daunted by the amount of energy and knowledge this requires to ensure a balanced diet.
But in October 2011, prompted partly by the fifth mark of mission-to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth-Cottrell made the switch to full-scale veganism, even eschewing honey. “I realized I was supporting the dairy and chicken-farming industries and these fed into the meat industry and factory farming,” says Cottrell.
That decision produced a ripple effect that soon extended to several non-edible products she used, such as animal-tested beauty and cleansing products. Now, she even tries not to buy leather shoes. “I am still in transition,” she admits. “I try to do the best I can one step at a time.”
Cottrell had never thought much about the large amounts of land and water needed to raise animal foods and the amount of waste and pollution created as by-products. But some numbers from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations confirmed her vegan resolve. According to UN figures, for example, livestock production is responsible for 18 per cent of climate change-more than all of transportation. A surprising 30 per cent of the earth’s land is used in some way for meat production. In Canada, 77 per cent of crops are grown to feed livestock. Then there’s the contamination of earth and water systems by pesticides and animal waste.
Although she concedes that social occasions involving eating and drinking with people who don’t know her can be awkward, Cottrell has no regrets about changing her lifestyle. “It’s not just that I want to be kind to animals, from large to small, because I love them. They are just one piece of the puzzle,” she says. “It’s about safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth. I have one life, and I realized at age 32 that I wanted be more mindful and to live life in a kinder and more conscious way.”