I rarely say I am a vegetarian. It doesn’t even seem to be clear to people what that is in the first place. “Do you eat fish?” people ask. I’ve never seen fish growing out of a terra cotta pot. I am pretty sure it’s not a plant. There seem to be all manner of “vegetarians.” Vegans who eat no animal products whatsoever. I question whether or not they can have beer (yeast) and I know that many don’t eat honey. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt. Then there are folks who call themselves lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarians. They eat vegetables, eggs, dairy and, well fish.
I just don’t eat meat. I don’t want to get caught up in all confusion and implication. I live near Boulder, Colorado and vegans and various forms of vegetarianism are all popular here. As with any population, however, the more numerous it is, the greater the likelihood of extremes. The problem with calling myself a vegetarian comes from another rule from statistics: the 80-20 rule which goes something like 80% of your trouble will be from 20% of the causes. In other words, those few bad apple vegetarians spoil the bunch for the rest of us.
Yes, I wear leather shoes sometimes. Perhaps thanks to those few outspoken vegetarians, many people feel so threatened by the mere mention of my dietary preference that they feel they have to point out some unnoticed hypocrisy in my world view. Except that just because you’ve learned I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you understand what my reasoning was. (Reading this blog is a good way to find out if you want to find those hypocrisies though!)
In fact there are three popular reasons why most vegetarians make the choices they do. The reasons can be summed up as health, animal rights and environment. Vegetarian diets are low in fat and high in fiber which has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of heart failure and certain cancers. Avoiding meats eliminates exposure to mad cow or increased mercury levels in fish. The majority of meat available in the U.S.A. is from animals in factory farms are tortured in ways that few of us ever wish to hear about. Finally, the environmental impact of raising cattle, for example, compared to the same amount of food from grain is staggering.
Still, I think humans evolved eating occasional feasts of meat and it’s entirely natural for us to continue doing so. Factory farming is beyond defense but monoculture vegetable and grain farming are hardly a boon to either our health or the environment. For me, any single reason to abstain from meat isn’t sufficient, but all of them together was enough to convince me. Indeed, most of my reservations about eating meat would be solved if everyone simply ate less. The environmental impact would be lessened and there wouldn’t really be a need for factory farms. Still, I stopped eating meat because changing everyone else’s habits didn’t seem likely. Nothing short of refusing the stuff outright seemed convince people to stop serving me huge portions of the stuff. (By the way, of the three big reasons, it was the environmental one that was the biggest for me. While you may doubt the health benefits and may not even care about animals, it’s difficult to argue that raising cows and chickens in huge numbers is good for the environment. The impact to our water supply alone is huge.)
In the end each of us decides whether these reasons are important enough for us to make a change. It’s my decision not to eat meat and I feel great about it. The only health effects I ever noticed was that it was easier to keep thin. I don’t miss meat and I feel much better when a truckload of animals making their way to the slaughter house drives past me. It is egotistical to imagine that others would change their eating habits because of me. The worst thing I do to force my decision onto others is that dinner guests at my home won’t get a meat entré but it is my sincere hope that they’ll leave satisfied just the same. I’m embarrassed whenever restaurant menus are perused and my fellow diners look at the at me wondering if I am going to find anything. It turns out though, many friends and acquaintances have thought a lot more about giving up meat than if I had preached to them about it and for some my choice was the first step in their change of habit.
Decide for yourself. You can learn more about why people don’t eat meat, or call themselves vegetarians, or vegans by following the links below.
A thorough description and more links at Wikipedia.
Go Veg.com is a professional site with concise resource with info about health, animals, and environment.
Kid’s Health.org has some information for parents.
Vegetarian Resource offers many links for further information.