Flashback to Summer 2016: I am enjoying yet another beautiful night with my family on the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus — the country my father was born and raised in. Both of my sisters had adopted a vegan diet at this point in time, and the suggestion was made to watch a documentary on Netflix called “Cowspiracy.” My younger sister tells me that this was a significant influence on why she went vegan, and I jokingly snicker, “Maybe I’ll become vegan, too.” Little did I know the Greek Mac I was eating during the documentary would be the last time I consumed meat.

If you would have told any of my friends, family members or anyone else who knew me that I would adopt a vegan diet, they would have either laughed in your face or thought you had mistaken me for someone else. I had always eaten meat and never questioned why I ate it. I was raised in a Greek family, and eating meat was a tradition. Why would I ever question it? After I watched the documentary, I was exposed to a few ideas I had never considered: animal agriculture’s environmental footprint, the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, and the inhumane and unethical treatment of animals. And, based on my own research, the answer felt obvious to me.

Here are some non-alternative facts that helped me justify giving up meat for good and why I encourage others to do the same: According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times, “One pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water, which includes irrigation of the grains and grasses in feed, plus water for drinking and processing” compared to “One pound of wheat requires 132 gallons of water.” The sheer amount of water that can be saved by refraining from eating meat is immense. Along with this, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a report in 2006 that stated, “The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in [carbon dioxide] equivalent — 18 percent — than transport.” How could I keep eating meat knowing the harmful environmental impacts I was contributing to? The answer again was clear: I could not.

As I began the journey of a plant-based diet, I quickly noticed the health benefits. I was forced to cook more, largely because of the lack of vegan options in Cincinnati. I started to eat a diet rich in grains, fruits and vegetables. I began to think more about what I was putting in my body, choosing more foods that were organic and rich in vitamins and minerals. I still have not gotten any type of illness — not even a small cold — since I became vegan.

The final reason why I adopted a vegan lifestyle was my love and compassion for all life, including animals. My parents taught me from a young age to treat everyone the way you want to be treated, and I believe this statement applies to all living beings. According to an article from The New York Times, “The almost 40 land animals each American eats every year have their bodies mutilated without pain relief. They're given growth-promoting drugs that often cripple them and are cooped up in their own waste for their entire lives, denied even a modicum of pleasure. They're slaughtered in ways that would be illegal in the European Union.”

With that being said, we should not choose which animals should be eaten and which should be treated as companions. All animals feel pain and suffering, not simply the dogs and cats we keep as pets.