Lisa Taylor | Sunday, December 8, 2013
Over two-and-a-half years ago, I ate the last steak I’ll ever eat in my life. I distinctly remember cutting into that medium-rare steak, slicing it into small pieces and eating every single tender bite. It was delicious, but I felt ambivalent at the time. I had just started researching vegetarianism, and for the first time, I was looking at that steak not simply as a piece of food, but as a product of violence. I looked down at something so common to the average American and thought about the destroyed life represented in this small chunk of protein. Could I really ethically justify my consumption based on the fact that it tasted good?
Two weeks later, I finally made the decision: I was going to go vegetarian. At the time, even I was surprised by this decision. As an incredibly picky eater, somehow I’d managed to survive on a diet of turkey sandwiches, pasta, chocolate, hamburgers and Ramen noodles for 19 years. I threw fits as a child when Mom put chicken pot pie on the table. But being the stubborn person I am, I’d made up my mind and taken the vegetarian plunge. I told myself presumptuously that there wouldn’t be any more hidden violence on my plate, thank you very much. Since then, I’ve followed a meat-free diet for over two years, enduring many awkward dinners where people challenged my eating choices and repeatedly hit me with the protein question (let’s clear that one up once and for all: Meat is not the only protein source, let alone the healthiest source. The world is full of beans, soy products, nuts and seeds, quinoa, vegetable proteins, lentils, whole wheat grains and dairy products, if you eat those). So here are a few reasons why you should consider vegetarianism, even if it’s just for one day a week.
First, respect for life. Most people disassociate their meat from the animals that provide it. Most meat, at least in the U.S., is produced on gigantic factory farms where animals are mistreated, violated and murdered. Industrial chicken producers keep the birds in cramped, excrement-filled pens where the birds cannot even spread their wings. Due to hormone injections and unnatural fattening, many chickens cannot support their own weight and their vertebrae snap, causing paralysis. On pig farms, sows spend their entire lives confined without being able to turn around, and male pigs undergo castration without anesthetic. Cows are similarly miserable. After spending their entire lives knee deep in manure, their murders are carried out in a cursory fashion, as cows are strung up, thrashing in pain for extended periods of time as they bleed profusely and die. We must realize that humans are not the only organisms that form friendships, have families, work together, pursue projects, grieve over death or suffer in pain. If we truly respect life, we ought to work to stop animal suffering. And even if animals are treated “ethically” before being murdered, can we really justify killing them when humans clearly do not need animal proteins to survive?
Second, health. The average American, according to the movie Food, Inc., eats over 200 pounds of meat each year. This incredible rate of carnivorism has resulted in the rise of a variety of diseases that could be easily fixed with a healthier diet. Meat-eating is linked to heart disease, multiple types of cancer (colon, prostate, ovarian and breast), kidney stones, osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. While there are healthy meat-eaters and junk food vegetarians, eating a more plant-based diet can lower your risk for an array of diseases and improve life expectancy. And there’s a bonus. No animals had to die for that rice and beans dinner.
Third, environmental stewardship. According to an investigation by the Centre for Agriculture and Environment, one cow produces the equivalent of 4.5 cars in greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This is higher than the emissions produced by cars, lorries, ships and planes combined. Moreover, pollution and manure run-off from factory farms seeps into water sources, the air and our bodies. Instead of exploiting the rest of creation and the environment for tasty food, we must consider more sustainable and ethical ways of consuming.
In sum, everyone has to eat, but not everyone has to eat meat. I challenge you to try vegetarianism, even if it’s just once a week. Go meatless on Mondays. Think about the food you eat, and don’t let it escape the ethical standards you uphold in other areas of your life. Let’s move beyond surface explanations for eating meat (“It tastes good” and “I need protein”) and critically think about what we put in our bodies.
Lisa Taylor is a senior studying
political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.