Why eat meat?

I grew up as a vegetarian.  My mom had a strict no-meat-in-the-house policy and we all honored it.  Growing up, I remember eating a lot of beans and rice, broccoli and peanut butter satay, dahl, and tofu.  Because we lived in a small town in northern Michigan, we didn’t have lots of salad in the winter time, but we did eat seasonal vegetables.  Exciting sweets were canned peaches (as a huge treat) every blue moon.  As far as I knew, vegetarianism wasn’t political or nutritional or religious, it just was the way it was.

 

When I was 17, I moved abroad and it suddenly became far more difficult to maintain my vegetarian lifestyle.  In many developing countries, meat was the everywhere AND it was rude to turn down any offer of food.  In order to make the most of my surroundings, I started eating meat.  For years, all I could eat was chicken and fish (and even then, sparingly and in tiny portions).  While living in Kenya, I had my first brush with red meat: Nyama Mbuzi, grilled goat.  It was stringy and old and muscular and the whole time I was eating it, I imagined the goat who had died so I could eat.

 

I remained a carnivore of convenience for a few years.  I would eat meat when it was cooked by roommates or friends, but didn’t know how to cook it myself (nor did I care to learn).  I found that I would feel slow, heavy, and lifeless after eating meat.  After eating vegetables, legumes, grains, or fruit, I feel energized and (as long as I don’t eat a lot) light.  When I am living alone and cooking for myself (or living with my sister who shares my eating habits), I eat salads, light pastas, and lots of beans and veggies.  I’m not a huge fan of spending long hours cooking, except on winter weekends.  I don’t bother buying bread or milk, as I don’t consume it quickly enough.

 

I’ve subsequently returned to my vegetarian roots for a number of reasons.  On a totally personal level, eating a vegetarian diet makes me feel better than eating meat.  On a broader level, I don’t think it’s fair for me to expect something else to die so that I can eat, especially since it’s possible to get all the nutrients you need without eating meat.  The meat industry (and today it is an industry, nothing less) is one of the more destructive environmental forces operating today– huge swaths of forest around the world are being burned to make room for grazing cattle, runoff from chicken and pig farms are polluting rivers and streams, and the emissions created by all these endeavours more than negates their worth.  On a humanitarian (or animalitarian) level, the indignities and physical pain that meat animals are subjected to is enough to turn anyone off meat.  I would highly recommend that everyone read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

 

I think that a vegetarian diet makes sense for everyone, not just yogis, buddhists, statement-makers, etc….  In order to be successful, happy, and healthy as a vegetarian though, it is essential to do it for reasons that matter to you.  I know so many people who decided to be a vegetarian because it’s cool or PC.  Their vegetarian diet lasted a few weeks, then they went back to eating meat.  As with anything, living a vegetarian lifestyle must come from within.  If it is the right thing for you, then it will work.  If vegetarianism isn’t your thing, that’s cool too–my least favorite vegetarians (or eaters in general, I guess) are the ones who want to convert you, to judge you, to tell you why EVERYONE should be a vegetarian.  I choose to be a vegetarian because it feels right to me emotionally, politically, spiritually, and physically.