I have always had a soft heart for animals. My heart bleeds when I hear a story about animal abuse. So it was only natural that, as I grew older and learned where the meat I ate came from, I was turned off by it. Around the age of thirteen I started toying with the idea of giving up meat in my diet, but my mother was adamantly opposed to it, worried that her growing daughter would miss much-needed nutrients and not develop properly. However, as time went on, my conviction grew, and finally she agreed to let me try it - with one caveat. I had to see a dietician in the early stages, to make sure I was eating properly.
So, at age 15, in the year 1995, I decided that my New Year's Resolution would be to cut meat out of my diet. Gradually at first - I planned to allow myself meat 2-3 times per week. However, upon making my resolution known, I never again felt the need to eat it, had a craving for it, so just like that - cold turkey - I became a vegetarian.
I did it because I didn't want to be part of the populace who inflicted cruelty upon animals. Not because I think it is cruel to eat animals; I have no problem with people who humanely (and legally) harvest animals from the wild for meat, or who raise meat in a humane and sustainable way to eat. However, the meat produced for our grocery store shelves is anything but raised this way (a series of posts on that to follow soon). And I did not want to play a role in their horrible treatment.
After seventeen years of being a vegetarian, reading more on the subject, earning two science degrees, and becoming generally more worldly than I was when I was fifteen, I have become further convinced that this lifestyle is the right way to go, and have more reasons as to why.
1) Whether cage confinement of chickens, mass crowding on feedlots of cattle, poor treatment of pigs, or lack of compassion towards dairy cows, the conventional method for raising mass amounts of meat for human consumption is cruel and inhumane.
2) Raising feed animals is extremely environmentally destructive. Some examples are in order (with sources at the end of the post):
Livestock accounts for as much greenhouse gas emissions as transportation.
The sheer amount of pollution coming out of feed lots is devastating to the local environment (air and water).
The production of food animals consumes a vast amount of natural resources (such as water, fossil fuels, and topsoil).
Vast tracts of rainforest are being clear-cut to make room for raising food animals, erasing valuable wildlife habitat and causing species endangerment and extinction.
Switching to a plant-based diet is the single most important thing one person can do to help the environment.
2) Antibiotics given to animals are creating drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
3) Meat is an extremely inefficient way to feed people. There is enough food on this planet (currently, at least, though if we continue growing at this rate...) to feed the entire population. However, there are the haves and the have-nots. Many survive on one meal a day, if they are lucky. And they do not have meat in that meal. Few survive on a diet consisting largely of meat. And it has been reported that you could feed ten people on the amount of grain it takes to produce enough beef to feed one (not to mention the amount of water livestock uses, when water is so precious and scarce in many places). When there are so many in this world who are starving - how can one consciously eat meat? I can't.
I strongly suggest you read this article in the New York Times titled "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler". I found it staggering.
But to revisit the "why sometimes I'm not" statement...
I can't honestly state that in 17 years I have had no meat. The first time I was 26 (11 years after becoming a veggie) and on a tropical ecology course in Costa Rica. We were staying at a high mountain cloud-forest farm where the owner raised trout on his sustainably-modeled eco-farm. Because I strongly believed in what he was doing, I opted to taste some of his home-grown trout.
The second time was when my husband was about to throw out some deer chili that his best friend had made (with a deer he had shot) because he didn't like it. I hated the thought of that deer going to waste, so for the second time made a conscious decision to eat some of the meat. I wasn't contributing to the take of the animal, and it had lived a good life - I could feel good about it.
The third time was shortly after. My husband (who is a hunter, though VERY selective and ALWAYS humane, only taking certain shoot-to-kill shots) made some deer jerky, and really wanted me to try it. I did.
After that, I quit counting, though I can say it has been less than ten times I have partaken. And only in circumstances where the meat was humanely taken, and when it was not taken on my behalf (in other words, the animal would have died regardless). I never purchased it, contributing to the demand for food animals.
I am not raising my daughter vegetarian. I want that to be a choice she makes. I do not feed her a large amount of meat, and when I do, it is always organic, environmentally friendly, and humanely raised. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, organic free-range chicken, local grass-fed organic beef, etc. And sometimes she doesn't finish it. And lately, I've been known to take the last couple of bites, rather than throw it in the trash (after, of course, I've frozen and preserved and reheated and just feel I can't do it anymore).
Because, I do NOT have a problem with people eating meat. As long as it's humanely grown and harvested, and grown with minimal impact on the environment. However - by definition, it is hard on the environment, even when that effect is maximally minimized, and it does use resources that could be more evenly distributed to the world's hungry. So, for this reason, even if you decide not to be vegetarian, I encourage you to eat less meat.
Thus, I begin my weekly series of "Meatless Monday" posts. Every Monday I will post a vegetarian recipe. Hopefully, you will give some of them a try (or other tried-and-true veggie recipes you have) and try to go meatless, at least once a week!
If you partake in Meatless Mondays, I would love to know! Please leave your comments! And, to get you started, here is a link to past veggie recipes I have already posted!
Sources (I encourage you to take a look for some sobering statistics):