Five Years of Vegetarianism

I can’t believe five years ago this week I became vegetarian.

It started in my environmental science high school class, where we talked about the environmental effects of meat and watched a documentary called Food, Inc. After the viewing, my classmate Roxane and I decided that the day after Thanksgiving, we would both give vegetarianism a try. Long story short, she never started (as far as I know), but I never stopped. My main reasons for going vegetarian are about 70% environmental reasons, 20% (animal) ethical reasons and 10% because my favorite band at the time (and still today), Rise Against, are meat-free, as well.

Admittedly, I have cheated (on average) once every three months, but I read that satisfying a craving every now and again is better than having no meat whatsoever and eventually giving up vegetarianism entirely because you were so hard on yourself.

I recently read The Ethics of What We Eat and while about half the book was assigned reading for coursework, this topic has really interested me, so I read the whole thing. It really opened my eyes to animal conditions (although most of it already knew), environmental impacts (again, most of which I already knew), worker conditions, corporate leaders in the environmental movement (which, surprisingly, included McDonald’s) and finally, presented alternatives to factory-farmed methods such as buying locally or buying organically. This book has made me want to be more mindful about where I get my other animal food products such as egg, milk and cheese, which can be as surprisingly harmful as the meat industry.

Here are some quick bits from The Ethics of What We Eat that have really resonated with me:

  • Veal calves are subject to diets of low iron so they will develop subclinical anemia, which makes for the most desirable meat.
  • Male pigs are castrated without any anesthetic.
  • Turkeys are bred to have such oversized breasts they cannot mate naturally and must be artificially inseminated.
  • Not only does industrial agriculture use up almost 75% of the world’s freshwater resources, agricultural runoff can lead to a nutrient surplus is water ecosystems to create dead zones.
  • In the egg industry, male chicks are often simply thrown in the dumpster as they are not of us to neither the egg nor broiler chicken industry.
  • The ingredients from a single meal could have traveled as far as tens of thousands of miles, with air transport being the most devastating form of transport.
  • Bird flu, which can be transferred from birds to humans and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, finds its source in intensive chicken farming.
  • The Coalition of Immokalee Workers presented evidence to the U.S. Department of Justice that they had been made into slaves, working on as little as $20 per week and threatened with death if they tried to escape.
  • McDonald’s is a leading corporation vouching for animal’s rights, requiring their egg suppliers increase the space given to their hens by 50%.

Today, I say my reasons are 100% ethical because it’s not right to treat animals as property when they are just as sentient as you and I, it’s not right to impose environmental costs on others, ourselves and our planet and it’s not right to contribute to a system that abuses its workers.

Meat, especially beef, has a devastating environmental impact and those who eat a lot of meat should consider at least cutting back (or at least switching from beef to chicken) to help heal our dying planet. The bottom line is that although your favorite Walmart brand chicken nuggets are cheap and convenient, the externalities of animal welfare (or lack thereof), environmental damage and worker’s rights are incalculable. The biggest difference you can make is deciding where and what you spend your money on. The choice is ours as consumers to demand ethical farming practices.

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