People area always asking me why I’m a vegetarian. It comes up a lot, since so many social situations involve food. The year I lived in the middle of cattle country, I got the question from everyone I met. Since then, I’ve outlined a standard response to those who are curious about why someone would voluntarily agree to give up meat. So, to celebrate October, which is Vegetarian Awareness Month, I thought I’d share why I don’t eat meat.
It’s socially awkward to carry snacks with you because you never know what is going to be served at a party. Holiday meals with relatives are less exciting when the selections you can eat are limited to desserts and if you’re lucky, one or two side dishes. But I still can’t be convinced to eat meat.
I don’t really like meat. I tried, unsuccessfully, to give up meat when I was a kid, but my mom was baffled by my choice and didn’t know how to cook for me, and insisted it was a phase. The only temptations that I avoid because I know they will make me sick is my mom’s famous chicken salad on croissants, pork egg rolls from the local Chinese restaurant in my hometown, and pepperoni pizza. These are all more nostalgic cravings than a desire to actually eat the food.
But it isn’t simply a matter of taste.
The production of meat contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, more than transportation. Check out this article in Scientific American. Meat production uses up to 2500 gallons of water per pound. It simply isn’t an effective use of our resources.
Corporate meat production is just plain gross. If people want to slaughter, dress, and prepare their own meat at least once in their life, and still eat it, more power to them. But in my opinion, people who buy pork that comes from genetically altered pigs who live afloat a sea of their own filth should be made to live that way, too. I don’t have some belief that humans don’t have a right to consume animals or use them. I just think it can be done in a humane, safe, dignified way, not the way corporations do it. Mister BS does eat meat, and I don’t find him morally reprehensible for doing so, I just insist he buys from local, organic producers.
People are starving, and hunger isn’t something you only find in third world countries. 17 million kids in the US go to bed hungry at night. That’s one in four. Mister BS teaches high school (at an urban school where 75% of the student body is on free and reduced school lunch) and I work with teens at my local library (and it’s not the kids whose moms fix healthy after school snacks that come to the library every day after school). That means that we spend our days with hungry kids.
Land that is used to grow crops that feed livestock and graze cattle could be more efficiently used to grow crops for human consumption. For every step up the trophic ladder, you lose 90% of the energy. I can’t begin to tackle the political and social barriers to ending world hunger. But I can do my part by not eating meat (and also carrying around snacks and sharing with the kids).
Americans are obese. There are many causes: a sedentary lifestyle, artifical foods, MCDonald’s. But a big factor is the high consumption of meat, particularly beef. There are definitely ways to be an unhealthy vegetarian. I have a friend who eats nothing but cheese and candy, I kid you not. But a balanced diet heavy on vegetables, fruit, beans, and the right grains with limited animal products is the right choice for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheese and could never stick to a 100% vegan diet (I’ve tried). But I know that I eat a lot better when I plan out my meals and avoid fast food, and being a vegetarian forces me to do both.
Do I think everyone should be a vegetarian? No. But I do think that everyone should be more conscious of where their food comes from, what effect their eating habits have on the planet and their bodies.