Brand New Plastic-Free Vegetarian
I stopped eating animals two months ago.
The decision was personal. I hadn’t planned on writing about it here, and I realize that the topic of whether or not to eat meat can elicit strong emotions on either side of the argument. I would just ask that if you feel the urge to comment, please wait until you’ve read this entire post. It might surprise you.
So what happened?
Two months ago, I read the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, whose novel Everything is Illuminated is one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t choose to read Eating Animals because of the topic but because I loved its author and because it was a BlogHer book club selection; I honestly didn’t expect to learn anything more about the meat industry I hadn’t already read about in The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or seen in the film Food Inc. I knew how bad the conventional meat industry was. I knew that the conditions for chickens, cows, and pigs were abysmal and that raising them, as well as overfishing the oceans, was wreaking havoc on the environment.
And yet, I loved cheeseburgers.
I mean, I really really loved them. And believe it or not, the cheeseburgers I craved were not even made from organic, humanely raised meat, but came from McDonald’s. I loved McDonald’s double cheeseburgers, to be exact. And I also reserved a special place in my heart for McDonald’s Egg McMuffins with their slabs of Canadian bacon. I mostly resisted these “foods” and felt extreme guilt when I occasionally succumbed to the urge. But the negative consequences of eating that kind of meat were purely intellectual to me. In practice, I had a hard time connecting that burger with the animal it had been. Eating less meat, especially less factory farmed meat, was something I did because I knew I “should.” I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it.
And I should have known. I used to drive past the Harris Ranch feedlot every time I visited my brother in Coalinga. The rank smell preceded it for miles. And when you finally came upon the “ranch,” the sight was appalling. Thousands of cows jammed together, feeding from troughs, and standing and lying in their own shit. It was depressing. And yet still, there was a disconnect in my brain between the cheeseburger that tasted so good, and this:
According to Wikipedia, Harris Ranch keeps about 100,000 cattle on 800 acres. That’s .008 acres per cow. Compare that to the 1-2 acres per cow needed for pasture grazing, which is how calves are raised before they are weaned and forced to spend the rest of their lives in these deplorable conditions. Passing the feedlot, I would feel a momentary twinge of sadness and guilt before turning my head to look away.
If seeing a sight like the Harris Ranch feedlot didn’t stop me from craving meat, perhaps my knowledge of the environmental damage resulting from the meat industry should have.
Environmental Consequences of Industrial Meat Production
Consider the following points from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization’s 2009 report: The State of Food and Agriculture — Livestock in the balance (PDF):
- Livestock production generates about 18% of human-derived greenhouse gas emissions.
- Animals confined in feedlots produce a larger concentration of waste than the environment can absorb, resulting in pollution runoff into our waterways and groundwater.
- The grain and forage required to feed livestock has led to the destruction of large portions of the world’s forests for crops and grazing land, forests necessary to sequester carbon dioxide and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Industrial meat production requires huge amounts of water — for feed crops, for animals, for cooling and cleaning facilities, and for processing the meat itself. For these reasons, the livestock industry accounts for 8% of global water use.
- Cattle contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions directly through exhalations of methane gas (burps and farts) as well as nitrous oxide from their manure.
- Illnesses such as swine and avian flu are more likely to mutate into more aggressive diseases in intensive feed operations where animals are crowded together and pathogens can gain access to an abundance of susceptible hosts.
Those are just a few of the major environmental effects of the industrial meat industry. And the industrial fishing industry contributes to the destruction of entire marine ecosystems. Knowing these facts prevented me from eating flesh foods on a regular basis. I resisted those cheeseburgers the best I could and mostly stuck to chicken here and there. I didn’t keep meat in the house (except for what we fed our cats), and I tried to patronize restaurants that claimed to serve local, humanely-raised meat. But I wasn’t strict about it. I rationalized that I ate so much less meat than the average American that it really didn’t matter.
And then I read the book.
Near the beginning of the book, Foer presents a case for eating dogs. It’s a thought experiment, nothing more. But his arguments are pretty reasonable. There is a huge population of stray and unwanted dogs and cats (3 to 4 million) that are euthanized annually. Right now, the flesh of these dogs and cats is sent to rendering plants where they are converted into food for farmed animals. Why not skip that step and eat them directly? It would create much less environmental impact. It could, in fact, be argued that eating stray dogs and cats is actually a very eco-friendly thing to do.
After reading that section of the book, I looked up at my kitties Soots and Arya sleeping peacefully in the window, enjoying the sun. I love those little beings with all my heart. Even though they were littermates (born at the same time to the same mother), they have completely different personalities (or as Michael says, “felinalities.”)
- It’s Soot’s job to walk on my chest and nip my nose and chin every morning at precisely 9am, breakfast time, (yeah, I stay up late and get up late) while Arya waits expectantly at the foot of the bed. How did they come up with this arrangement? I have no idea, but it seems to work. It’s Arya’s job to explore every surface that holds stuff and to test the laws of gravity over and over and over again. “Will it fall? Yes! It WILL fall!”
- It’s Soot’s job to lie on Michael’s lap and allow himself to be combed until his coat is so shiny and slippery he sometimes slides off furniture onto the floor. (Sooo funny.) Arya, on the other hand, is the punk rock chick, the scruffier the better. No combing for her.
- Soots hides under the bed when strangers visit. Arya climbs on their laps or sniffs the inside of their shoes.
- And of course, it’s also Arya’s job to hunt down and eat plastic.
Am I anthropomorphizing them? Of course I am. I’m human. What else can I do? And that’s actually kind of the point. I couldn’t eat Soots or Arya unless I was starving. Fortunately for all of us, I am not starving. (This reminds me of a certain South Park episode, but now I’m getting sidetracked.) And thinking about the animals I love and would fiercely protect, I had to ask myself:
What’s the difference between this…
How is a dog or cat any different from a cow or a pig? Why shouldn’t cats and dogs be included in our dinner options? In many countries they are routinely eaten. But I wouldn’t eat a dog. And suddenly, in light of this comparison, cows and pigs didn’t seem so much like food to me either.
And then the cruel realities started to sink in.
I have to clarify that I didn’t actually read Eating Animals. I downloaded the audiobook and listened to it through headphones. So it was like being strapped into a roller coaster seat. You can’t skim past that first big drop and move on to less terrifying parts of the ride. You have to let go and experience every moment of it. So it was listening to the litany of every day horrors associated with farming animals.
I heard stories about farm workers administering daily beatings to pigs, bludgeoning them with wrenches, putting out cigarettes on their bodies, sawing off legs and skinning them while still conscious, basically taking out their own frustrations on these animals that had no real way to fight back. What caused me the greatest pain was not hearing about cows that had their bodies cut open and skin flayed while still conscious because the stunning equipment had malfunctioned, although that was hard enough to imagine, but the stories of deliberate cruelty inflicted on purpose. Temple Grandin, designer of “humane slaughterhouses,” argues that ordinary people “can become sadistic from the dehumanizing work of constant slaughter.”
Many of us have seen the images of downer cows being prodded and dragged to the slaughter house. But did you know that in most states, it is very common and legal to simply leave them to die of exposure over several days or to toss them alive into dumpsters? Last night, in doing some additional research for this post, I stumbled upon a photo that I can’t get out of my mind. A cow whose neck had been broken due to rough handling was left to suffer on the ground until she died. But according to Foer, not all of these downers are animals that would have died anyway. Some of them are simply dehydrated, but the pace of the factory system does not allow for the individual care of such animals.
And what about poultry and fish? It was just as hard to hear of chicken farm workers who must grab and toss live chickens into trucks at such a fast pace that they often feel the leg bones crack in their hands — chickens who had lived most of their short lives in an area that afforded each one floor space the size of a sheet of paper and were mercifully on their way to slaughter. And surprisingly to me, it was equally difficult to hear about farmed fish forced to live in spaces so crowded they begin to cannibalize one another, in water so dirty it’s difficult for humans to breathe, before being slaughtered while still conscious and convulsing in pain as they died.
If anyone treated my cats this way, I would rip their face off and feed it to them.
Of course, not all farms are torturous and not all farm workers are cruel. Those who eat meat can look for the “Certified Humane” label for assurance that the animals were not subjected to some of the worst conditions. And the argument can be made that on some farms, the most humane farms, many animals have lives that are far safer and more comfortable than they would have in the wild.
After all, animals often kill each other in ways that are far from humane. And in fact, for a long time, that was my main argument FOR eating meat. Animals kill each other for food. Humans are animals. Therefore, we have the right to kill other animals for food. I argued this point with a friend of mine several months ago, and I felt pretty darned self-righteous about it.
Little Furry Killers
Soots and Arya, those two little warm beings lying in the sunny window, don’t go outside. But if they did, they would surely hunt down birds and mice and other small animals and kill them. And not only would they kill them, they’d probably toy with them unmercifully. I’ve seen a cat I loved batting around a little mouse whose hind legs were broken so that all it could do was squeal and suffer. The cat appeared to be fully enjoying itself.
What’s more, I feed my cats other animals. Every week we buy ground turkey from the butcher shop for our homemade cat food. We do this knowing that we are trading one life for another. I understand that there is at least one brand of vegetarian cat food, but from my research, I am convinced that cats are obligate carnivores and that they only truly thrive on protein from meat. So I make the choice to sacrifice a turkey’s life for a cat’s life. It’s a conscious, fully-informed decision.
Nature isn’t cruel, and neither are the animals in nature that kill and occasionally even torture one another. Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty and the ability to choose against it or to choose to ignore it.
Let me repeat that. “Cruelty depends on… the ability to choose against it or to choose to ignore it.”
Unlike my cats, I am not an obligate carnivore. And while I realize there are people whose bodies require animal protein, mine apparently does not. I can thrive easily without meat, double cheeseburger fantasies notwithstanding. So why should I eat it? Why ignore the potential cruelty in eating animals when I can choose not to eat them at all?
The precautionary principle, which is often invoked in arguments to ban chemicals that, while not conclusively proven to be unsafe, are generally considered to be risky, states that:
if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those who advocate taking the action.
I now see eating animals in the same way. Do farm animals suffer the way humans do? Do they feel fear the way we would being shipped to the slaughter house? Do they experience pain? Foer suggests that they do, and based on my own personal experiences with animals, I assume that they do too. It sure looks like it to me. Once again, I’m anthropomorphizing. I only have my human experience to draw on. Can I know for sure how animals suffer? No.
But can I be sure that “certified humane” animals have not suffered? There are some farming practices that are beyond the purview of certifying organizations. The fate of male chicks from laying hens, for example, that are routinely macerated at birth. Or the fate of animals from humane farms after leaving for the slaughterhouse. Or the simple fact that animals are raised and destroyed before they have completed their lives.
How can I take the chance of inflicting suffering on another creature, another sentient being, one that might not be as unlike me as I had thought, when I don’t have to? I, personally, do not need to eat animals. And as a human, I can make the conscious choice not to. So I have made that choice.
Or it has been made for me.
Animals and Plastic
I guess it really comes down to what my gut tells me. Three years ago, I had a profound, life-altering experience. I saw a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic pieces and read the story about how our everyday plastic use was harming animals in ways I hadn’t imagined. Suddenly, I was changed. From the inside out.
Two months ago, it happened again. Reading Eating Animals hit me in the gut in a way that no other argument against the meat industry ever has before. Was it because I listened to each word without looking away? Was it hearing page after page of horror described in specific detail? Or was it simply that it was the right moment for me to hear those stories that had previously left no lasting impression? A month ago, I tried nibbling a tidbit of cooked turkey meat as I was making cat food, and I simply couldn’t swallow it. So the question for me has become:
What is the difference between this…
For me, the answer is nothing.
I just became a dietary vegan this year after watching cowspiracy and BiteSizeVegan videos on YouTube along with lots of praying & thinking about the idea I stopped eating meat, dairy, cheese, egg, & honey. I also don’t use non-vegan heath & beauty products & try to avoid unnecessary leather, wool, silk… by trying to buy these used before looking for them new.
@Sudha The answer is that these animals (cattle, poultry, pigs etc) are specifically bred and raised to be food. They simply would not have life, they would not exist at all if they were not “produced” to be a source of nutrition. I say, “Look at our teeth”, herbivores, cattle for example, we have flat teeth designed to grind vegetable matter & grains. Similarly, carnivores, lions for example, we have incisors and sharp teeth designed for ripping and tearing flesh. WE ARE OMNIVORES!
Stop with the delusion that there is an oil, water, electricity or whatever shortage. Stop thinking of Global Warming or other such nonsense- The Earth’s temperature has been fluctuating since the beginning of time, we only have records from the last century or so…the mean temperature on Earth changes on the order of 100,000 years or more. We are actually entering a new Ice Age. The REAL problem is OVER POPULATION!!! Just think in 1804 there were 1 Billion people on Earth. Not until 1927 were there 2 Billion! We did not reach 3 Billion until 1960!!! In 1999 there were 6 Billion people! By 2010 there was nearly 7 Billion and there are 7.25 Billion now!!!
These are largely children birthed by the least capable, the most poorly educated people on the Planet… These dolts are not the type who are going to drop and Einstein! The most intelligent people on Earth have the lowest rate and numbers of reproduction!!!
These rapidly increasing numbers all require housing and thus, man has paved over much of the most productive farmland in the world, namely the Central Valley in California! Yep, just to house those yards sitting on your couch picking their nose while they watch Barney and eat your veggie crap!
I also never understood why people are soooo against eating veal??? If the poor cattle are subject to a miserable existence, is it not more humane to dispatch them as early as possible thus saving them from enduring that harsh treatment of living until full grown?
Eat what you want, there will be some sort of pandemic that will extinguish the whole of mankind within our lifetime. Besides, aren’t all you worried about the scary Chemtrails and the evil Illuminati that are conspiring to kill us all right this minute???
The day after I read this post I saw a t-shirt and immediately thought of you. The text on it was: “Eat like you give a damn.”
Oh… and you must also add Happy Herbivore to your blogroll!! Her recipes are really really YUMMY :) She’s also doing a bloggers whole foods challenge for 30 days right now…
(Once again… in case you don’t get my comment from my blog… I am extremely grateful for your kindness and commitments :))
I have been an avid reader of “Fake Plastic Fish” for quite some time… and have been eliminating plastic…
Nearly 8 months ago, I made the conscious decision to stop eating animal meat. There were several months where I kept having “signs” put in front of me… I’d stumble upon videos, I’d pick up a magazine… random thoughts started popping in my head about how I could justify eating cows, turkeys, pigs and chickens… and “Why should there be a differentiation between my pets [4 dogs, a cat and 5 egg laying hens] and ‘farm animals’??” I couldn’t do it anymore…
http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2010/01/friends-not-food.html (my post isn’t quite as eloquent as yours ;) )
One of the immediate benefits of choosing not to buy meat is that I no longer have styrofoam trays or plastic wrap to toss!!!!
I have trouble calling myself a vegetarian… I feel like it carries such weight and expectations. I’ve instead opted for calling myself a “conscious” eater…. hmmm… doesn’t sound grand… but it’s how I eat… consciously. While I don’t eat any animals, except for fish on occasion (which makes it easier for going out and having a protein option).
Oh… my fav cookbook at the moment is “Veganomicon”… you must get it!!
Congrats on taking this step! I’ve been vegetarian for 4 years.
I’ll be interested to read about how/whether your food choices as a vegetarian are affected by living plastic-free. I enjoy the occasional tofurky breakfast sausage or gardein fake chicken breast, both of which come wrapped in plastic. Certainly, there are lots of recipes for fake meats that you can make using bulk items.
Hi Kaylen. I expect that nothing is going to change on the plastic front. See, I already don’t really buy meat to have at home. So I don’t think anything is really going to change in the way I cook meals. I’ll still avoid all processed foods that come in plastic. I’ll buy bulk tofu, beans, lentils, etc. I’ll make my own veggie burgers. But these were things I was doing already. I really only ate meat in restaurants or during group lunch days at work.
Thank you for sharing your story. I have struggled with my feelings about eating animals for years. Recently I have been thinking seriously about how I could make some changes with eating meat. Your story has helped me make a jump. I have made changes with eggs buying only cage free eggs and recently did some research to find local farms where i can buy my eggs and actually see the chickens roaming free. I love cheese and some dairy products and choose to continue to research places to buy from clean healthy humane farms. My struggle has come with meat. So, in reading your post I feel I have come to another level of change in eating meat. It may not be as complete as some would like to see made. I have always enjoyed the taste of some meat, my body responds well to meat and I enjoying cooking what ever recipe strikes my interest, as I so enjoy cooking. Then, I have noticed lately that often I am not enjoying the taste of the meat I am eating, and so I take note of inner changes. Fortunately for me, and the animals, I do so love vegetables and beans and legumes and fruit and basically all kinds of food. I feel that I have come to a new resolve to practices changes to eat at least mostly vegetarian and only buy from humane farms on a special occasion. I do believe that gratitude and respect for life is an essential part of consuming not only animal food but all foods. One might look to the American Indians in how they would hunt and use all of the animal in purpose and gratitude. Our American ways have become an industry of disrespect, abuse and greed.
Your sharing has helped me in finding my way. And what I know about change is that it leads to more change.
Congratulations and welcome to the Vegetarian club. I’ve been a member for more than half my life and am thankful every day that we live in a society that makes it easy to make the choice to be a vegetarian. I have been reading your Fake Plastic Fish blog for a couple of years and find it quite inspiring. I’m not off of plastic, but I try to reduce my consumption of plastic and make smarter decisions. I tried to go poo free, but have often broken down and bought Pert Plus…but usually a big bottle to assuage my guilt. I have been trying the shampoo bars and really like those for my long hair….
anyhoo, I really just wanted to say, keep up the blogging. You really are an inspiration!
Oh Beth – very poignant. But now you’re never going to sleep!
Thank you for writing this. I have been a vegan for 2 years and a vegetarian for 4 years and this article clearly explains my reasons for choising this dietary lifestyle.
Initial I stopped eating my telling myself I’d just eat “less meat” but it’s been 4 years since I’ve eaten any meat and I don’t miss it.
Some of the commenters have said that “it’s not the eating of meat but the treatment of the animal that matters”. It sounds like a reasonable argument but If we use animals for our own ends there will be some level of cruelty involved, even if they’re organic free range, etc. Is it cruel to stun them and kill them? I don’t know but not eating them removes the question entirely and seems to me to be the safest way to go.
I stopped eating all meat except fish/seafood about 3 years ago, making me a “pescetarian”. I was already following a mostly vegetarian diet at the time — I had stopped eating pig-meat and veal and had reduced my beef-intake to a small amount of steak every 4 – 6 weeks. (I had read an article about how the U.S. tests less than 1% of it’s beef for Mad Cow, etc., and the most likely candidates for possibly diseased and/or contaminated meat is sold as ground because only the “healthy-looking” parts are sent to the market. I actually felt safer eating beef during my visit to the U.K.)
Anyway…I admit that I never made the ethical decision, though I understand and relate to it. The decision to cut out meat was made for me…by my doctors. It turns out that I have a kidney disease that is worsened/inflamed by meat proteins. If I want to keep my kidneys, I need to keep my protein-intake and omega-6s down and my blood pressure down. (The current diets of factory-farmed animals result in unnaturally high omega-6s — since animal feed usually contains the remains of other animals, the bits that aren’t considered good enough for human consumption, making them unwilling canibals, the omega-6s are simply recycled.)
I probably would have cut out the fish/seafood too but the doctor actually insists that I partake of some 2 – 4 times a week to increase my omega-3s.
Whenever I consider how nutritionally bad meat is in general and how it is like a slow acting poison for me, I can’t help but want to discourage others from eating it.
It really isn’t just about the ethical treatment of animals; it’s about the health and wellness of a population that is killing itself by gorging on something their body needs very little of, if any. There are plenty of protein sources; in fact, even without adding cheese or eggs to my day, I can get the daily minimum of protein just from vegetables, fruits and grains. I just have to choose wisely, which is something we in America are not taught how to do — even when the schools were teaching nutrition (4 basic food groups?), they were basing it on decisions made by politicians influenced by agricultural lobbists. There is so much data out there that indicates that the current daily intake of meat is hazzardous to our health. We aren’t going to die by global warming but by unknowingly poisoning ourselves.
I think that the best option is for us, as humans, to eat invasive species (canada geese, deer, carp) and lower the surplus population instead of supporting the waste of livestock management.
I do, however, say this as a vegetarian of over a decade who has gone so long without meat that I wouldn’t eat it even if it were morally appropriate.
Nice article! Like the spectrum of families, our farmers and ranchers can be cruel or kind. We can’t characterize all of them by the nasty ones.
I was vegetarian for 2 weeks, 20 years ago. I worked myself down from full omnivore diet to no red meat, to just egg sand dairy. Then, for 4 weeks, I managed only veggie. I had to expand my diet because my physical activity (work + school) made a huge demand on my energy level and I was always light-headed. Without meat, I was either cooking, eating or cleaning dishes during my time off. Hunger would ensue shortly after finishing a meal.
Also, some people have a medical need to consume large amounts of easily digestible protein. Consider old age, tissue trauma (burns, infections, surgery) and early life growth as high protein populations.
Too much of any food is going to be unhealthy. Moderation in all things. I respect the ethical decision to avoid meat. I also encourage less meat (than our American average) to have a healthy balanced diet.
*18% of human derived greenhouse gasses are from livestock production*
Please do note this is “production” and not just the animals. This point gets lost in many various references. It’s not the animals “burping and farting” that makes 18%, it’s the electricity and oil used to create fertilizer, feed, medicine; and the transportation of these pre-products and the transportation and refrigeration of animals and the meat itself. The animals themselves create <5% of our greenhouse gasses.
If anyone can go veggie, I honestly praise your health and fortitude. Immoderate meat eaters will suffer clogged arteries and increased risk of cancers. If antibiotics are freely used in livestock production, then we will all suffer the 'wrath' of resistant bacteria.
If you can maintain/regain your health on a veggie diet following major surgery/trauma, then I eagerly await your story. If you should have to revert to omnivore mode in such a situation, then I would like to hear the prayer you spoke to forgive the animal you needed to eat in order for you to survive.
Hmmm. I sound like a bit of a prick. Sorry about that. Just trying to point out what is, apparently, not so obvious about the 'morality' of vegetarianism. If we could all 'self-actualize' the world would be a better place (morality). We don't all self-actualize. All Life is precious. But Human life is more precious than bovine, porcine, poultry, fish.
If it is ok to make any exemption: "This cow (pig, dog, cat) is more precious than that human." then the argument that follows is valid, too: "That human is more precious than this cow (pig, dog, cat)."
When speaking of entire populations, however, we are using different logic.
PS: the photo of the bird skeleton pulled me onto this page. Scary, sad, frightening, unappetizing. Will we ever be able to clean up our collective mess?
I am 33 and have been a vegetarian all my life…i cannot relate to meat eating friends.. ihave had discussions with them but end up frustrated not because i did not force my point, but because i m unable to get more convincing. It is strange though that survival of the fittest works its way into everything in our lives. I have always asked this question – if dogs and cats are pets and are lovable, then how come cows, sheep, goats and pigs become food? I guess we try the more humane approach when we eat plants. We have to eat to live and plants dont bleed or make heart wrenching noises when slaughtered…so we are fine eating them…No offense but, i dont if im the only one put off by ads for these animal rescue groups who show bleeding cats and dogs to garner sympathy…but arent pigs and cows which are reaching ur food plate the same too?
Thank you for an excellent, well thought out post. I am really happy that it has sparked such a civilized discussion in the comments.
Best wishes to you as you continue on this path.
Kudos to you! I don’t eat much meat and what I do eat I carefully source. Most is from local farms where I have talked to the farmers. I have given up meat before but with my food allergies have a hard time getting enough protein. Again I eat very little though and only organic, humane (truly!!) meat.
“One of my concerns is B12. If we have to supplement by going vegetarian then is that what nature intended for us? Dairy products have some B12 and so do eggs but eggs have something in them that inhibits the B12 absorption. And aren’t dairy farms cruel too? And where does that B12 supplement come from? Isn’t it sourced from bacteria (from animals).”
Actually, there are plenty of nutrients omnivores don’t get enough of without taking supplements, Vitamin D being just one example. I wrote a post linking to a discussion of B-12 in particular here:
Point just being that I see little difference between using nutritional yeast to get my B12 vs. someone else buying fortified cereal, dairy or even orange juice with calcium in it. ‘All of that is equally natural or unnatural.
I stopped eating meat nearly 20 years ago for environmental reasons. The books that did it for me were “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins and “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe. After the environment, came animal rights, and then workers rights. All of these things help me to continue on the meatless path and I feel are good arguments I can provide to my children (in an age appropriate way) about why we don’t eat meat.
I feel the same way you do. Knowing what I do about the production of meat — and the toll it takes on the environment, animals, and people — if I don’t have to eat meat, why would I? I understand that there are people who eat meat. My only hope is that they have thought about it and are acting consistently. If I say to someone “This is how meat is produced” and they say “I don’t care, I’m eating it anyway.” That is really fine with me. But it drives me nuts to hear my mother describe herself as an animal lover and close her eyes to what happens before those animals get to her plate.
I think it’s all about educating yourself and making decisions based on what you learn. It’s also baby steps. Of course, there are both things we are reminded of with every blog post from you.
It goes without saying that I’ll be subscribing to your new blog. I also have a lot of new books on my library list based on this post and the comments. :)
Thank, as always!
What a wonderfully thoughtful post, Beth. I’m not vegetarian, but my consumption of meat has gone way down since I started eliminating single use plastics. I very rarely prepare meat at home because it is too hard to find it without plastic wrapping (and I haven’t had the courage to try your method of bringing my own tiffin to the meat counter yet!). And because I know that restaurant foods are prepared with a lot of plastic, even though I don’t see it in the finished meal, I’m trying to eat more of my own cooking. Eating at home is cheaper anyway. But I still buy lunch a few times a week and have the occasional meal out, and eat meat then.
By the way, I’m so with you on the McDonald’s thing. Even though I know how bad it is–I’ve seen Food Inc. and King Corn, read Fast Food Nation, heck I even spent a summer working at a beef packing plant in college (which thankfully was nothing like The Jungle) — after all that I still give into the craving for burgers and fries. My head totally gets the ethical and environmental reasons for not eating meat, but my gut just isn’t there yet.
The thing that may get me there eventually isn’t the anthropomorphizing of animals, but the issue of waste. As several commenters have pointed out, tons (literally) of meat is constantly wasted just to have an ever present appearance of abundance at our stores. It is bad enough that we do this with grains and vegetables- in terms of wasted human labor, wasted natural resources, and wasted opportunity to feed those in need- but when you add the lives of animals to it… it is that much worse.
Still, I’m not there yet. BUT I have had this thought many times in the past year and a half of living with less plastic: this would be a lot easier if I were vegan. My biggest food challenges in finding plastic free alternatives are meat and dairy. (and snacks- see my recent post. :)
Thank you for the very thoughtful post. I love your writing and the way you think. I have been vegetarian for almost 5 years. I have occasionally indulged in Christmas Turkey, and Easter Ham, but other than that, I’m meat free. I do eat dairy products, and fish here and there. I came to vegetarianism because of health issues, not mine- my daughter who was a baby at the time. I had a good knowledge base about the animal issues before this. When I came at it from the health perspective, I “got it” and changed the way I eat, permanently. I do eat organic or local dairy (I am so glad I just found a local raw milk provider down the road from my house! ) Yay! Anyway, it has been a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Each new thing I learn, I find that, I am glad I eat this way. It confirms for me, I am on the right path. From my perspective (Christian) if I look to the bible I find the people eating meat only on feast days, and eating fish as a part of their regular diet. Goat milk was used for cheese and drinking- and now I found it’s one of the best milks for you. Interesting. In the beginning (according to my belief) Genesis 1:29 “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” later it says in the bible that we are to eat meat as well, however, no one ever ate meat then, like we do now. It’s not natural, and not the way I believe we are designed.
Just thought a different light on this subject would be interesting. It is funny how people of different walks of life, can come to the same conclusion, based on entirely different answers, with the exact same outcome.
Congrats and good luck with your new lifestyle diet choice. i look forward to following you on your vegetarian journey. I consider myself flexitarian, while I mostly eat vegetarian I still like a good steak every now and again. But the ag-industry is completely different here in NZ. We don’t have factory farms (except for some pig and chicken farms, disappointedly) and all our beef and sheep are free range and grass fed.
Just adding to your note on eatting dogs, my East Polynesian ancestors considered dog meat a delicacy, and dog fur cloaks prestigious. They don’t anymore ofcourse probably due to the Polynesian dog not existing anymore and it being considered unacceptable in western european society.
just my two cents anyway.
I wish I had more time to read the comments here. I didn’t eat much meat for a very long time for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I have trouble with “personifying” meat. As I said in my post, I prefer to think of meat appearing in my freezer via the meat fairy instead of somebody that I looked in the eye a few weeks ago. it’s a struggle, but I believe God gave us the animals to eat, so…
Not sure how to close and my laptop battery is about dead anyway. :>) Thanks for sharing your story!
I’ve lived on both sides of the meat/vege aisle and think if more arguments for a meat-free diet were written by people who admit to ‘really really loving’ double cheeseburgers, more readers might stop and think about the food they eat (and what it was before it went from pig to “ham”, or cow and “beef”).
The adorable kitty pictures and the pug (!) were a nice touch too.
Amanda! I almost, almost put Puglet’s video up here, but the post was getting too long and I didn’t want to get off track. I’ll probably put it in another post. Maybe tomorrow’s even. :-)
That little pug in the photo is Sadie, who belonged to my brother and sadly died from heat exhaustion after getting out of the house in the middle of the Coalinga summer and crawling into a neighbor’s garage for relief. The garage, of course, was even hotter. We all still cry when we think of her. Poor little Sadie.
Looking forward to the new blog. I’ve been vegetarian about a year and I’m leaning vegan, but get distressed by all the plastic packaging with “fake” meat products. Not than I’m eating them everyday, but sometimes you need something quick!
Thank you for such an articulate post Beth! You should be writing for the Huffington Post or The New York Times!
I don’t have a label for myself. I gave up all meat when I was 23. After a year I was a bit sick and added fish and chicken back in. Today (at 41) I still eat fish and organic poultry. I decided that I couldn’t eat mammals. And as far as other animals, if I couldn’t kill it, then I had no right to eat it. Not that I have to kill the animals myself. I don’t have a farm, I only grow veggies. But I’ve been fishing and I could humanely kill a chicken or turkey. I have been cutting back on the poultry lately though. Not sure how to get enough protein into my 3 year old without chicken and fish. He hates beans!
One of my concerns is B12. If we have to supplement by going vegetarian then is that what nature intended for us? Dairy products have some B12 and so do eggs – but eggs have something in them that inhibits the B12 absorption. And aren’t dairy farms cruel too? And where does that B12 supplement come from? Isn’t it sourced from bacteria (from animals).
Great post to give pause. I’d like to read the book you read. I just got my Mom “The World Peace Diet” for Mother’s Day. Have you read it?
Oh – and I hated driving from LA to SF past Coalinga. I got depressed for the rest of the ride thinking about those poor cows.
I eat meat. I eat significantly less meat than I did 3 years ago but I am not likely to give it up. I have also changed to ethically raised meat whose price pretty much limits me to about 1 (sometimes 2) lbs a week. Perhaps something about me is deficient in that it doesn’t particularly bother me that I can eat chicken but I don’t want to eat my cat.
Welcome to the herbivore side, Beth.
I’ve been on this journey 30 years and it is new every single day.
Pollan makes much of nutritionism, and I agree that it is the reason food and diet fads are so common in America.
Many times veg diets look like a list of, “oh, get your vitamin B from…” Useful, but dull.
It can be hard to sync local and vegetarian, but it can be done, especially if you think in terms of percentages.
I eat 70 percent local (defined as 200 miles or in my same state of Colorado).
I will eat local over organic.
When I’m in Oakland (moving in the fall, so I get to relearn all this stuff), local seems so easy, and I get close to 90 percent.
Where my choices get hard is with animal byproducts.
Down comforters make the winters bearable when you only heat the home to 55.
I have a down parka, wool socks and some errant silk.
I also don’t use the label ” vegan.”
These items a) break down after their useful life (excepting the shell of the parka) and b) are not using petroleum in their formation. They also allow me to use far less / fossil fuels to heat my home.
Each of us makes their choices, and everyone lives with them, from industrial agriculture to plastic bottles of water, to organic farms that ship all over the world.
Thanks for speaking out… on all your passions.
Beth, you could write an interesting post (with supporting pictures) on the surface imperfections of barnacle shells!
This one on eating meat opens a whole universe of issues.
In foregoing meat you are attempting to live in harmony with what you know to be true. You make your case easily because it is a clear case to make. To take the direction you are moving to the limit, we would live like Gandhi or the Buddha who realized that satisfying our every desire is not the road to happiness. That would be no bad thing for us and absolute deliverance for every other form of life on planet Earth.
That the mass of humanity will ever approach that I am sure will not happen because humans are far more emotional and needy than they are rational. Satisfying a momentary desire for a burger is easy. Contemplating one’s situation in the world and practicing self-denial for the attainment of peace of mind take conscious effort and vigilance over the long term. Animals in general do not pause and reflect but act on the moment. Give humans some cash (even borrowed cash) and they will leap to have stuff NOW!
Capitalism in America promotes satisfaction of every desire, no matter how trivial, and we can see how effective this has been to the point of people making themselves overweight and diabetic from over-consumption of food. Our way of life would end if we followed your lead. Look at what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, what happened with the Exxon Valdez, yet we will continue to drive. Those spills are far away and meaningless (unless you live on the Gulf coast!) and our desire to get to the mall quickly and in comfort is here and now.
Beyond the meat issue, can a person be wealthy when so many are poor? This is really just an expansion of your topic only replace the suffering animals with suffering people. We know that it’s not only possible but common. I like to use Oprah as an example because of the extremity of her case. She does lots of good with her money, but only after she has purchased everything she could desire and then some. Even so, for the 1,000 personal trainers she can hire, the exercise equipment she can buy, etc. etc., she cannot control her own weight! This isn’t to start an argument about why people gain weight, but to show that all the money in the world doesn’t bring satisfaction…as Joni Mitchell sang, it all comes down to you.
So how about me? I eat meat, but try to limit my consumption. I have a weakness for a Whopper once a month or so but I get the Whopper Jr. : )
My big thing is litter and recycling but I take care not to denounce people if they drop litter because we all have things we need to work on and I’m no exception. I do, however go after local government for not providing recycling bins! Oh, and if I were starving, yes, I’d eat a dog. That would truly be back to nature.
Regarding what Eleanor said, I have a friend in the same situation, but she will not admit it. She is very underweight with many health issues but refuses to eat any meat. I think she would (and may) die before she would eat meat. It seems the height of irony to eat only food said to be healthy but to be unhealthy as a result. Mortification is not what we should be after.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing such a well-organized, cogent, thoughtful, dramatic, convincing, true story.
Bravo Beth! I’ve been a Lacto-Vegetarian for over 15 yrs. I do it for the animals and the planet.
I recommend my first – go to book – > Becoming Vegetarian” by Versanto Melina
(A registered Dietitian.)
PS> And thanks for promoting the book ”Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer EVERYONE should read it!
Beth: I’m suprised you weren’t already veggie bc of your Buddhist practice (no judgement, just an observation). JSF’s book wasn’t anything new, but I think it’s important to get that info out in as many formats as possible to educate as many segments of society as possible. I’ve been a veggie for about 5 years now, although I do slip-up w. the occasional club sandwich or burger. It’s really hard for me bc I love anything made w. rare beef and I constantly crave it. I won’t give into those cravings bc I know the cruelty and environmental issues behind my delicious rare cheeseburger.
nice post, articulate and thorough (I have come to expect that from you, I admit you spoil us!).
I do eat meat. I have gone vegetarian and even vegan many, many times. I paid super close attention to what I ate every single time, to make sure I didn’t miss out on any nutrients every time, but every time my health would go down hill. I think I’m one of those obligate omnivores – I can’t go herbavore.
So I do what I can. I eat VERY little of any meat. I stick to local sources. But I have to listen to my body. Most days it says no meat. It likes eggs almost every day, and having visited the chickens I get my eggs from, I’m ok eating them. It says goat’s milk cheddar cheese is a fantastic treat, so I have it a couple times a week. Everything else is less than once a week, but not eliminated entirely. I would love to go vegan – not only are the animal friendly dishes my favorite dishes, but the kitchen clean up is soooo easy! (animal fats are harder to scrub off than vegetable oils imho). But my body says no, even with super good vitamins. After years of trying to fight my physiology, I’ve accepted that the gentler approach is the best I can do. I can neither eat too much meat/dairy (my gut rebels violently) nor can I eat too little meat/dairy (I get really run down and sick).
But Beth, you’re awesome. I’m both inspired and jealous of your new found vegginess! May it bring you much good health and happiness!
The difference between cats, dogs, and cows? Diet and potential parasites and diseases for one. Cats and dogs are carnivores, cows are herbivores.
Many cultures have domesticated and eaten herbivores. Herbivores can fill a real niche in agriculture if used carefully and consciously. Modern ag does neither.
I haven’t eaten any animals but a very occasional bit of fish for over 30 years, still I think animals can have a place in our lives. As long as we do it right and in moderation.
Like most people have said, we’re trying to find a balance too. We’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll eat local sustainable red meat and poultry and since the cost is high we tend to eat a lot less. Then we ventured into fish as I was paralyzed with the meat/poultry decision and we only buy sustainable fish. We’re also cooking more vegetarian meals. It’s hard to always stay on track but the thing that has become more and more obvious is our choices when eating out. This was always been the point I could ignore but over the last six months it’s becoming more difficult to ignore the hypocrisy of my actions. I know that when I eat meat outside of my house (where I control what I bring in) it is most definitely factory farmed. So I’m finally aligning my knowledge and my actions and not eating meat outside the house. As this happens it’s becoming more difficult to continue eating anything except fish even if I know it is healthy, sustainable, and relatively humane. Thanks for going through your decision making process because I think it’s one many of us will finally get to when we have the knowledge and it’s the right time and place in our lives.
Years, ago, I read John Robbins’ Diet for a New America, and almost overnight adopted my mother’s lifelong lacto-ovo vegetarianism (she remained a veggie because she just didn’t like meat).
I went a step further and adopted the practice for ethical (an ethic of care) reasons (which was my grandfather’s premise in raising his 8 children this way). I backslid over the years…but am now coming around to it again, and toying with veganism (this time, as much for environmental reasons as ethical ones).
Your argument is excellent, beautifully constructed and powerful.
Can You Tell The Difference?
Debeaked with a hot bloody blade at one day old with no anesthetic.
Force molted (intentionally starved to shock the body into another laying cycle).
Violently packed into a semi and trucked hundreds of miles to an agonizing slaughter when considered spent (unable to keep laying eggs at a fast enough pace).
Denied the opportunity to live a natural life in truly humane care.
All of her brothers (roosters) are brutally killed as baby chicks simply because they can’t lay eggs.
Battery Cage Hen
Debeaked with a hot bloody blade at one day old with no anesthetic.
Force molted (intentionally starved to shock the body into another laying cycle).
Violently packed into a semi and trucked hundreds of miles to an agonizing slaughter when considered spent (unable to keep laying eggs at a fast enough pace).
Denied the opportunity to live a natural life in truly humane care.
All of her brothers (roosters) are brutally killed as baby chicks simply because they can’t lay eggs.
Great post, Beth. Congratulations on your decision and on the many lives you will save, maybe even your own. While some farming situations are certainly better than other, to me, “humane slaughter” is an oxymoron. Would I be okay with a quick, painless death to suit someone else’s taste preferences? Heck no. I want to live out my natural life, and allowing others to do the same seems the least I can do.
I have a taboo to admit: I don’t feel that connected to animals. I’m ashamed to admit this, because it is so frowned upon. All my environmentally concious decisions were made because I like plants, not animals.
However, I try to cut my eating of animals. I eat meat only during the weekends, and only organic meat from ‘free-range’ animals. This is not the perfect solution, but I’m not trying to be perfect. I just want to cut my influence on my pollution of the earth.
Just posted this to show not everyone is sensible to the ‘good treatment of animals’-argument. That being said, it was a good post.
Oh geesh, I mean: :)
Well said, says the vegan. :o)
Laura, eating carrots is definitely murder. We should all learn to live on air.
As for that slide, OMG. That is exactly why Soots and Arya are:
2) Not allowed to go outside and kill wild animals.
Michael too. (Always trying to do my part.)
Thank you for such a thoughtful and well written post. I can tell that you have, and are, thinking about the issue of what to eat and that is awesome. I think about what to eat pretty often myself. I am an omnivore. I aim to eat sustainably, humanely raised meat but often fall short. I read this post out loud to my boyfriend (also an omnivore, less diligent about but interested in choosing sustainable/humane) and we had a long and meaningful conversation about animals’ feelings and emotions, whether or not we could eat our family dog, pros and cons of anthropomorphizing and overpopulation.
Keep thinking, keep questioning, both are so important. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver was a great read. She talks about harvesting (killing) some kind of poultry (turkeys, I think?) and how it affected her. She is an omnivore but has sworn off CAFO meat.
And now for a bit of levity (hopefully everyone will see it that way, probably not, c’est la vie): Arrogant Worms – Carrot Juice Constitutes Murder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmK0bZl4ILM
Thanks for another thought provoking post and for talking about an issue that can often be difficult to bring up.
Also, on the topic of overpopulation, which relates to our destruction of everything including animals, from my boyfriend:
Specifically, the bit starting just after 9:54 and going through 14:30.
Said to be the “most important slide you will see… ever.”
As I said the other day, congratulationson becoming vegetarian, you will never regret this.
Just a while ago I was talking to a friend of mine who is vegetarian (I am too) about how some people brag about having eaten a variety of wild animal’s meat! In Argentina some people eat vizcachas (this cute little rodents ), carpinchos (biggest rodents in the world ) or yacares (as we call alligators here), as well as llamas, andues (south american ostrichs) and so on. Some of them are also hunted for their fur. So they don’t only eat horribly raised animals, they also slaughter animals that are endangered and ilegal to hunt.
Just when I was saying that to my friend, a guy shows up and says “we don’t say it because we’re proud, we say it because it tastes so good!! I once ate a wild cat…” and so on.
Thank goodness I then saw your post!
I eat tuna once a year in Christmas (we make a food that has tuna in it, and I absolutely love it so I eat just a little). But I always have problems to find cookies and snacks that are free of cow fat. I try to avoid it but sometimes I just give up, I feel guilty but it’s hard because the taste and look of cookies and crackers is the same when it has fat, as when it has vegetable oil…
I’m not normally one to proselytize on the subject of vegetarian diets (I expect just about everybody else feels the same way I do about proselytizers in general), but you pushed a button and I feel the need to call “BS” on your post. Tell yourself what you like about your current dietary choices, but the whole “it’s worth remembering that vegetarian sources of food take their toll on the earth too” claim sounds like nothing so much as a nice phrase one might tell themself to feel better while they go on hiding their moral conscience in the sand.
I’ve been an ethical vegetarian for a total of about 24 years now, and I didn’t give up meat because of a dislike of the taste. Actually I loved the taste and the feel and even now these many years later I still sometimes find my mouth watering when I smell ribs or the like cooking on a BBQ. I also didn’t give up meat for “health reasons.” I gave up meat only because I was feeling depressed, and I couldn’t continue to delude myself about what my diet was unnecessarily doing to other living, sensing, feeling creatures as well as to the biosphere.
Yeah, we can talk about the costs of producing foods, including fertilizer runoff and algae blooms and migrant worker exploitation and all of the birds poisoned by the pesticides (if you don’t eat organic) and all of the bugs and rats and bunnies and moles accidentally squished by the combines and plows, etc., etc., if you like. Those costs are present even in the production of all-vegetarian/vegan foods.
What it comes down to is the fact that it takes many pounds of protein in the form of grains and many more gallons of fresh water to produce every single pound of meat. (*) That simple reality remains even if we conveniently IGNORE the cruelty and suffering that’s inherent in factory-farming, the ongoing creation of nasty human pathogens that factory-farming is responsible for, the greenhouse gases produced by factory farms, the farm subsidies and the ongoing corruption of our political process by agribusiness, the excess cancers and osteoporosis and the healthcare costs, and probably a few dozen other problems that smarter people than me can list off the tops of their heads.
For a refutation of some of the arguments you might have heard, I invite you to see:
(*) I concede that there are exceptions to the “every pound of meat” generalization, but at a guess the number of grass-grazed herd animals, hunted wild animals, pet goats and home chickens that live off table scraps, etc., in aggregate account for maybe 1 percent of American meat production.
While it may be Anthropomorphizing to place our emotions on pets, it is undeniable that animals experience pain. There has been much work done to prove, too, that animals do experience a full emotional life. They most certainly have memories – look no further than the dog who cowers years later at the sight of a human who has abused him/her. I also argue that I can clearly differientiate the moods my dog and two cats are experiencing.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13, and it remains the best decision I’ve ever made concerning kindness, my health, and the environment.
Thanks for your response. I was afraid I had sounded harsh when in reality I am so impressed. The consignment store is a great idea. I hate plastic clothing and the lightly used goods would bet a good alternative.
Maddie, I actually hadn’t thought as far as leather, but my first reaction would be to look for used leather if necessary. I have a few really nice consignment stores near me that sell shoes in almost brand new condition. What a waste. I’d rather get use out of the leather already in the world than to a) buy new leather or b) resort to plastic. No way!
What an excellent post. I eat very little meat for a number of reasons but do wear leather shoes and use leather bags/purses. I have the Eating Animals book on hold at my library. I, too, know the deplorable conditions of livestock so I’m curious as to what my reaction will be.
Do you plan on forgoing leather shoes? While I can totally envision going vegetarian for myself, I don’t see myself giving up some leather goods because they are so durable. I inadvertently purchased a couple of faux leather pairs of shoes. One pair didn’t last any time at all and the other outgassed so badly that I tossed them.
How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman is a great cookbook. He a has a chapter devoted to sauces and condiments. I also like his book Food Matters.
Thanks for all the great information you provide. I’ll be following your new blog.
I have been a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish) since I was 18, and it’s worked out well. Beans + sweet potatoes have a lot of protein–I would recommend that combination to anyone having a hard time thinking of protein-rich vegetarian meals.
The reason why I still eat fish is for the iron content–I was born anemic and don’t appear to absorb iron from plant-based sources very well. Clams have the highest iron content (it even beats out beef!), and I always look for the ones harvested off the Florida coast, a few hours away from me. (But, since the oil spill, we’ll see…)
I really enjoy conversations that involve a thoughtful examination of our food choices. The only wrong choices are thoughtless ones.