Mary Tuyetnhi Tran
How are you sensing climate change?
Growing up, I saw that at this time in history, people are uniquely aware of the effects of climate change yet at the same time strangely resistant to change. In elementary and middle school, the image of pitiful polar bears on melting ice caps, disappearing rainforests and biodiversity, and smog obscuring the night sky were drilled into my head in science classes. Reduce, reuse, recycle, I was taught.
When I made the switch to a vegan lifestyle, my family initially resisted. They worried about my protein intake, warned me of nutritional deficiencies, and were upset that I could no longer eat their food. The cultural foods I grew up eating — rich bone broth, steamed fish, and coconut-braised pork — were now off the table, and I struggled with participating in Vietnamese culture and cuisine.
I went vegan not only for the animals but also for the environment. My home of the United States, along with its peer countries, are by far the largest contributors to climate change. And yet, it will be my ancestral home in Vietnam, my friends and family who toil in the rice fields, who will suffer the consequences first. Worsening droughts, powerful typhoons, and rising sea levels all threaten the coastal country.
My experience of culture transcends ingredients; it is shared memories and passed down flavors. Though I could no longer eat oxtail soup or indulge in coffee sweetened with thick condensed milk in the same way as before, going plant-based was not my way of rebelling against my cultural heritage but rather a product of my deepened understanding and love for my ethnic background. Visiting Vietnam for the first time, I was awestruck by the rich history of vegetarian and vegan cuisine from Buddhist and pre-colonial traditions. I was also struck by the sweltering heat, the powerful gusts of wind on seaside port cities, and the drowsy lull of the rising and falling river.
Going vegan is my way of being a part of Vietnam away from Vietnam — protecting the future of my ancestral homeland, and the homes of others in the Global South whose ways of living are threatened by climate change. Scientists say that the world’s leaders only have until 2030 to halve emissions and until 2050 to reach carbon neutrality. Those in my generation will still be here by then, just half of their life lived. It may be selfish, but I’d like to have a home in Vietnam to return to.
Browse All Stories