People are surprised to hear I'm a vegetarian. I guess I don't fit the stereotype - I'm 6'2, about 190lbs and when spotted in the wild I typically display bold, boisterous mannerisms and untrendy shoes. The idea that vegetarians are all hippies is an outdated one. I'm a living counterexample, out to show that vegetarians are everywhere. Sometimes we're not very preachy (nor downright extremist) but we're here nonetheless, and we look to help you into this lifestyle choice. No matter who you are - big, small, young, old, hip, not-so-hip - the arguments that I have consolidated here should apply to anyone looking to make decisions about their diet. Behold, 3 reasons why I am vegetarian:
1. Ethics. This is the classic motivation for vegetarianism and everyone's already pretty familiar with it. In summary: In order to produce meat on a large scale at competitive prices, virtually all modern farms have turned their production into a factory-like process. However, you can't just mutilate and slaughter animals like you assemble an inanimate object without incurring an enormous amount of suffering (I won't even link you to the horrific evidence - just look up "animal cruelty meat industry" if you're interested). If you wouldn't tolerate your neighbor abusing his dog, how can you pay someone to mindlessly torture other animals? The Wellcome Trust notes that pigs, as well as dogs, feature the "primitive areas of the brain" that process pain above the level of a "knee-jerk" stimulus-response. If you truly love animals, you cannot support the industry that is so devastatingly cruel to them. (As an aside - a meat-eating friend of mine refuses to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey because the production has been blamed for the deaths of up to 27 animals. Maybe I would have taken her boycott more seriously if she had not been chewing through a steak as she told me about it.) It's interesting how the meat industry has managed to hide most of the atrocities that they commit and desensitize us to the rest. So an animal killed as a direct or indirect result of a film is unacceptable, but millions of animals being tortured for our meat-eating pleasure is somehow completely ethical. It doesn't make any sense. Even if you believe that animals are immune to suffering, or that their suffering shouldn't matter to us, there are other reasons why you should consider giving up meat - most of which are less philosophically controversial.
2. Ecology. Meat is actually really hard to produce. You have to raise an animal, feeding it as it grows (bearing in mind that the additional trophic level means a 90% loss of nutritional efficiency), then you have to truck it off to be killed, then you kill it, process it, package it and then you can finally ship it. Meat takes a lot of transporting, and livestock is also pollutive in its own right. The United Nations estimates that "meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions" and cutting meat consumption in half cuts those emissions more than cutting car use by half. Swapping your regular car for a hybrid Prius can reduce your annual CO2 emissions by 1 ton, but replacing your meat with other foods could save 1.5 tons. Almost all human activity leads to some amount of pollution but aside from war, I can't think of anything else that we do that is so shamefully, meaninglessly wasteful of our resources and disruptive to our environment.
3. Economics. We saw previously that the production of meat is incredibly inefficient ecologically and it neatly follows that it's uneconomical. Raising, feeding, transporting and killing animals isn't cheap compared to growing other food. So how on earth is meat production profitable? Why is a salad at McDonald's $6.99 while cheeseburgers are $1.99? It turns out that meat production in the United States is subsidized hilariously disproportional to its role in a balanced diet. Why? Margins on meat production are a lot bigger than those on other foods so wealthy food corporations sponsor politicians who pledge to keep tax dollars flowing into meat production. Chalk it up to lobbying, corruption, and jelly-legged political will. I also think there's a cultural sense (especially in America) that "a meal isn't complete if it hasn't got meat" so we put meat everywhere - even resource-strapped places like schools and soup kitchens. It's as if we've decided the consumption of meat over other foods is a basic human right. But we can't evade the fact that we could feed a lot more people if we quit wasting our subsidies on inefficiently produced food.
Why am I not vegan? That is, why do I refuse to eat meat and yet I still eat other animal products, such as dairy? A lot of the arguments for vegetarianism should apply to veganism as well, right? My answer is a definite maybe, but probably not. I believe that animal products can be harvested ethically, economically, and ecologically. You don't have to tear beaks off chickens to mass-produce eggs and you don't have to mutilate cows to mass-produce milk. In fact, if we stopped slaughtering animals to eat them, it seems plausible that we'd have more animals that could produce eggs and milk, and we wouldn't even have to inject them with the usual hormones to get them to grow unnaturally fast and yield more product.
Finally, here are 2 suggestions for starting out if you're thinking of becoming vegetarian and it seems daunting:
1. Find out where all the good veggie food is. As a vegetarian, you just need to put the normal healthy amount of thought into your diet. Googling "vegetarian recipes" is one place to start. If you like burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches and the like, try out a million different meat substitutes to see which one you like the best. I personally like the Morningstar brand and I find them widely available and priced competitively. Lots of restaurants (even fast food joints like Burger King) have delicious veggie burgers. For example, Subway has the Veggie Delite which can have so many toppings that you probably won't even notice there's no meat on it. Some Subways even have the Veggie Patty, which is even better. I had a really good veggie burger at the Cheesecake Factory the other day, which had fewer calories than the other hamburgers. The infrastructure to distribute a wide variety of vegetarian food is there - you just have to look a little farther down the aisle.
2. If you're worried you'll abandon your new diet, try easing into it. Just eat vegetarian breakfasts. Then add veggie lunches. Tack on dinner once you feel ready. Or you can just be vegetarian on Fridays. Once you discover sources of vegetarian food that you like, you can expand your horizons a little more.
It'll be good, you'll see, just give it a try!