In Which I Proselytize
I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a vegetarian. I have a hard time explaining this to people, because I am not your typical, “animals have feelings too and we shouldn’t eat them,” PETA-loving vegetarian. I often joke to people when I explain my diet choice that I don’t care how the cow feels.
Sorry cows. You’re cute, but that won’t stop anyone from eating you.
It’s not that I think animals don’t have feelings or their lives don’t have value — they do. Humans have profited from the work of animals for thousands of years and I think that’s pretty darn amazing slash lucky for us. It’s more that an animal’s feelings and life will never be as worth as much to me personally as a human life, and since eating other species is a natural part of the food chain anyway (you’d never tell a lion to think more about how the gazelle feels) there’s nothing morally wrong with humans eating meat.
No, my problem is with the WAY we eat meat, and the WAY we produce it and transport it and package it for consumption. Lately a lot of movies about the food/meat industry have been circulating on Netflix (I’ve watched Forks Over Knives and Fresh in the past two weeks, both of which I recommend) and it really got me thinking about what made me decide to become a vegetarian two and a half years ago, and whether those reasons still stand.
The answer is yes. The rate at which Americans consume meat and animal products is bad for both our health and our planet. People can argue about the degree to which this is true, but it’s still true. It takes 10 times as much land to produce animal products as it does to produce plant-based foods and 3 to 15 times as much water. Huge swaths of the forest both in the U.S. and abroad have been clear cut to make room for cattle farms. But none of that environmental cost is shown in the actual cost of the meat because the U.S. subsidizes the meat industry so heavily.
Even if you don’t care about the environment, eating most meat is bad for your personal health — especially in the quantities in which Americans consume it. Most American meat comes from huge farms where animals are bred closely together and given all kinds of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. All of those chemicals and drugs make it into your hamburger. Animal products, when consumed in large quantities, also can lead to health problems, from obesity to heart disease to cancer to acne.
Plus, vegetables are delicious! And beautiful! And colorful! I ate meat for 17 years, but no hamburger was ever as delicious or aesthetically appealing as a bowl of veggie curry or a colorful salad.
I don’t think that eating meat or dairy is across-the-board immoral. Blanket statements about morality are almost never true. But I do think that the system which produces our beef and chicken and milk and cheese is a bad one, and we need to opt out to the degree to which we are able. Meat and dairy shouldn’t be seen as forbidden, unethical foods — we just need to recognize their full environmental and biological cost and treat them as luxury items. I’ve never liked meat that much, so going whole-hog vegetarian was a personal decision that was no problem for me, though I don’t think everyone in the world necessarily needs to do the same. I do eat a lot of yogurt and a lot of baked goods, so cutting dairy is harder. But I have tried to cut down on cheese and I almost never drink milk any more (the regular stuff is full of additives and I can’t afford organic!).
Anyway, I’ve found that being a vegetarian comes with a TON of benefits. I’m a lot more aware of what I eat now, because I’m always trying to make sure I get enough protein and I can’t just revert to the easy chicken from the cafeteria. That means that I’m eating a much wider variety of foods — lentil stews, homemade black bean burgers, chickpea curry, etc. It’s been a ton of fun playing with different recipes, and realizing how delicious veggies can be has actually made me a much more adventurous eater. I was convinced that I hated mushrooms from ages 5 to 18, but now I love them. Same goes for a lot of other foods. It’s great! One of my favorite places to find awesome vegetarian recipes is tastespotting, which is basically a giant bible of food recipes and blogs. But I’ve also started experimenting with cooking a lot more, and cooking without any recipe at all. Since veggies won’t make you sick if you don’t cook them right, it’s a lot easier to just make dinner up out of your own head!
Okay. I think that’s enough for one day. But I want to hear about you guys! What kind of diet do you have? Do you think you eat too much meat/dairy? Not enough? Do you like to cook your own dinner?