For five years I was a vegetarian. My veggie phase lasted from the time I started 4H Camp until my second year of High School. When friends of mine find out I use to be a vegetarian, they always ask me why I am not anymore. I find that this is a hard question to answer without offending them. If I lie and say that I “gave up” then they think less of me for not sticking it out. If I say I disagree with the premise of vegetarianism then they get offended because I’m disagreeing with their life choice.
My issue with vegetarianism is that there are too many “types” and too many reasons why different people pursue this dietary choice. This is the reason why the ethical support of being a vegetarian is hard to obtain. In order to address this I will make the assumption that vegetarians fall under three major groups: Those who are vegetarian because they don’t like meat, those who are vegetarian because they believe it gives health benefits that omnivory does not, and those who are vegetarian because they believe killing animals is wrong,
I don’t really have an issue with the first two groups. If you really don’t like the way meat tastes more power to you. I have met people like this in the past. For example, my cousin does not like the taste of red meat at all so she just doesn’t eat it. Don’t eat something you don’t enjoy. As for the second category, the potential health benefits of being a vegetarian cannot be ignored. However, research is still being conducted about the pros and cons of vegetarianism. I would encourage anyone thinking of making this choice for health reasons to investigate scholarly sources, and not just take word of mouth or the internet at face value.
However, here are my two cents about this point of view- Most of the health benefits that people believe vegetarianism grants them are really just benefits of eating low cholesterol and unprocessed foods. Online you can search for “health benefits of vegetarianism” and get hundreds if not thousands of websites leading you to articles about how being a vegetarian can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. However, one you start eating the processes vegetarian foods like fake chicken nuggets, the cholesterol levels are pretty much the same. Also, all the chemicals they put into that junk to make it taste like meat is probably much worse for you than just eating some chicken. Instead of going vegetarian to eat healthy, I would encourage people to eat healthy without it first. Proper portion control and understanding your dietary needs would provide pretty much the same benefits of vegetarianism without you having to take supplements for the holes being a vegetarian may leave in your diet.
The last category is the one that I come across most often and the one that I ascribed to while being vegetarian. It is also the one that I disagree with. When I made my choice to become a vegetarian, I was uneducated about physiology, I was young, loved animals, and thought I was doing a great service to the world by choosing not to eat them. However, today I would argue that vegetarianism is a misguided path for those who seek to help the animals we mass consume. The intentions of such vegetarians are admirable and deserve respect, but I feel they are addressing this issue the wrong way. I agree that life is sacred, but I also see that taking it is necessary to preserve balance in our world. It is true that there is great injustice occurring in the food industry. Most of the animals that end up on our dinner table were horribly mistreated before their deaths. They were most likely kept in cages too small for them, pumped full of antibiotics to make their meat safe to eat, and generally disrespected and abused.
No one understands the horror of this more than me. I come from a farming family where we treat out animals well. But because of my background I have also seen the other side up close and personal at farms not far from our own. Before taking charge of our family farm after my great uncle grew too old to manage it by himself, my father’s brother worked for the ASPCA in Boston rescuing abused animals. My uncle Steven is a great man and he taught my cousins and I how we should treat animals, humans, and the land. I grew up knowing that our cattle was well treated, but I know that not all animals are so lucky.
This is why I understand why people believe that being vegetarian is helping animals. However, most people are not truly appalled by eating meat, but instead by the injustices of the food industry as I have explained. Eating meat is natural and should not be considered wrong. Even recently we are learning how many animals we thought to be vegetation are actually omnivores. For example, most people think of deer as cute grass munching fuzzies, however, recent studies have proven that deer will eat songbird hatchlings and eggs from ground nests. Everyone needs protein, and meat is the best way to get it. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with killing other animals for meat as long as those animals are respected.
Therefore, instead of encouraging vegetarianism, I would encourage people to eat local foods from farmers they trust. This is true for every food group. It’s true that local meat is not as accessible as many other foods, but this is why I also would encourage people to speak out against the injustices occurring in the food industry. As I said earlier, I respect the spirit of vegetarianism, but if mistreatment of animals is the reason you are a vegetarian, I encourage you to seek a cure not a treatment. This issue needs a real solution and that won’t come out of a few people swearing off meat for the rest of their lives. The real solution is to end the need for people to be vegetarian by ensuring that the meat that ends up in our kitchens comes from animals that were treated with respect before their deaths.