I never thought I would become a vegetarian. To be honest, I used to think vegetarians were snooty people with "holier than thou" attitudes, and I cheerfully ate bacon, chicken chili and rib-eye steaks in spite of them. I never sought more information about their reasoning behind their diet. I never asked the questions I was afraid to know the answers to.
I used to think -- partly from ignorance and partly to reassure myself that I was doing nothing wrong by eating a steak -- that a cow lived a nice cushy life on a farm with plenty of grass to munch on and space to roam, before it was humanely slaughtered and made into filet mignon.
Now, I know the truth.
Conventional livestock farming is cruel, revolting and gruesome. The documentary Food Inc. shows how chickens are kept in dark houses where they never see the sunlight, and even if they had room to walk, they can't, because their skeletons cannot support their bodies which have been engineered to grow as rapidly as possible before they are slaughtered.
Cattle are packed to the gills in warehouses and fed a diet of cheap corn which they cannot digest, making them grossly overweight and more likely to be infected with E. coli. With all conventional meat production, you see similar conditions. There is no regard for the animals' quality of life. They are forced to endure pain for the sake of profits.
"Justifying man's domination over the rest of the world by citing 'the word of God' is old news. It's time to use common sense."
We live very cushy lives in our developed world, where we never see what goes into the process of making the meat that ends up on our plates. We have the privilege of forgetting that those legs and thighs were once part of a living being that endured an awful lot of suffering so that we could enjoy some chicken soup. The doctrines of our western religions reinforce the idea that the world was made for us, and the animals are there for no other purpose than to feed us. But justifying man's domination over the rest of the world by citing "the word of God" is old news. It's time to use common sense.
If you saw an animal, right in front of you, suffering from the conditions it suffers in a factory farm, you would likely feel a desire to help relieve its suffering.
It is possible to buy humanely raised meat, but it's expensive, and it actually increases your carbon footprint. Producing pasture-raised, grass-fed beef requires more land, and more resources because the animals are alive for longer. To produce grass-fed beef for everyone in the country would require more land than we possess.
This leads into the second major reason I'm giving up meat: a vegetarian diet dramatically reduces your impact on climate change.
The documentary Cowspiracy explains how animal agriculture is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) causes of pollution, resource depletion, and climate change. To raise an animal requires tons of energy and resources, because it must be fed and given water throughout its lifetime. To produce one quarter-pound hamburger requires 660 gallons of water. And cattle produce methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. They also produce a tremendous amount of waste.
Comparatively, producing one calorie of plant food only requires about one tenth of the fossil fuel energy required to produce one calorie of animal food, and produces no methane and much less waste. To feed an omnivore for one year requires six times the amount of land it takes to feed a vegetarian. Veganism is even better for the environment -- to feed a vegetarian who still eats eggs and dairy requires three times the amount of land it takes to feed a vegan who eats only plant foods.
"To feed an omnivore for one year requires six times the amount of land it takes to feed a vegetarian."
I'd recommend watching Cowspiracy to get more of the alarming statistics, but the bottom line is this: if we all got our protein only from plant sources rather than animal sources (which is easier to do than you might think), we would dramatically reduce the amount of resources we consume and the amount of fossil fuels we burn.
We do a lot of damage to our planet for the sake of our comfort. We keep the thermostat at 75. We take twenty minute showers. We toss our garbage into landfills where we don't have to look at it. Acquiring knowledge about the ways we hurt the earth with such routine habits creates a cognitive dissonance. We don't want to accept that we can do such harm with no malicious intent whatsoever. We don't want to give up our luxuries for the sake of an ideal that we cannot necessarily see or feel.
But if we stay in denial, we will destroy the earth and destroy ourselves.
I think what prevents a lot of people from at least trying vegetarianism is the idea that it has to be all or nothing. You either quit meat completely, or don't bother, and people don't think they have the will power and the dedication to quit it completely, so they don't bother.
In an ideal world, rooted in sustainability, everyone would eat a plant-based diet. But I don't want to discourage people from participating in any way by maintaining an "all or nothing" attitude. If everyone at least reduced their consumption of animal products, say, by eating vegetarian or vegan three days a week, that could have a significant impact on our greenhouse gas emission and resource consumption.
So I want to challenge everyone reading this to make at least one small change. I started with three vegetarian days per week back in November, and was surprised how easy that was to maintain. Now, two months later, I've completely cut meat out of my diet. When you challenge yourself to do good, the feeling of pride in your success motivates you to do more. Once you have met your goal, continue to challenge yourself. Ask yourself: How much of my comfort can I relinquish, for the sake of the greater good?