I quit eating meat in the summer of 2013, when I first published this article. In 2017, I’ve loosened up a bit - I now occasionally eat fish - but I still believe that a plant-based diet is better for your body and the world at large. So, I’ve updated this post to reflect my current values and reasons for not eating meat, but the bulk of my logic from four years ago still applies.
There was a time not too long ago when swearing off meat put you in a very strange, die-hard, animal-praising class of people. In 1970, only 1% of Americans self-identified as vegetarians. Since awareness of the health and environmental issues surrounding modern meat production has increased though, the number of vegetarians has risen dramatically (somewhere around 13% as of 2013).
People go vegetarian or vegan for a number of reasons, although it seems that they boil down to three primary ones:
- Better personal health
- To minimize their environmental impact
- To protect animals from abuse
In this post, I’ll outline my personal rationale for each of these reasons. While my views are not necessarily shared by every vegetarian, I hope it gives you some insight into why people choose to limit or stop their meat intake.
Reason 1: Eating Less Meat is Generally Healthier
There was a time when I neglected to take very good care of my body. I was overweight, I didn’t care what I ate, I drank a lot on the weekends, I smoked cigarettes, and I almost never exercised. Quitting meat was the first step I took in getting my health under control.
There are plenty of perfectly healthy people who eat meat, so I don’t think that going meat-free is the only way to bring about good health, but I do believe that our meat and processed-food obsessed country is the (second) most obese in the world for a reason. Striking meat from your diet completely and instead focusing on getting as much raw, unprocessed food as possible is a quick way to consume fewer calories and up your vitamin intake dramatically.
I won’t get into all the health benefits, but check out Forks Over Knives if you’re interested in learning more.
And before you ask me what everybody else does, yes, I do get enough protein and no, it’s not that hard.
The truth is that a healthy vegetarian diet will supply you with much more protein per calorie than most red-meat loving American diet will do. For example, kale (my favorite green vegetable) has 1 gram of protein for every 11 calories and lentils have 1 gram of protein for every 13 calories. On the other hand, ground beef has 1 gram of protein for every 23 calories. In addition, kale and lentils have essentially zero fat and a ton of vitamins and minerals, while one ounce of ground beef offers you over 12% of the fat you should take in every day and almost no beneficial nutrients.
Let me be clear here; not every vegetarian diet will get you the nutrition you need, just as not every omnivorous diet will get you the nutrition you need. I eat about 50% raw food, have removed almost all processed foods from my pantry, and eat out only when I have to. Making a “vegetarian” switch, and then just eating potato chips and french fries will not make you a healthier person than any decent omnivorous fare.
Reason 2: Meat is Destroying the Earth
My personal health is somewhat important to me, but even more so is the impact I have on the world around me. One of my goals in life has been to minimize the negative impact I have on the environment. In 2012-13, I sold my car, moved into an air-conditioning free apartment that’s about 350 square feet, and I committed to removing meat from my diet. If you’re like I was before I started, you probably don’t realize how big an impact your meat consumption has on greenhouse gasses:
Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling. - Mark Bittman, New York Times
That puts meat higher on the greenhouse gas offender list than emissions from traveling vehicles. Here’s another tidbit that made me stop and think:
Producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles. - Nathan Fiala, Scientific American
To think that a single hamburger makes that much impact on the environment is more than startling. It’s sickening. Now, I’m not naive enough to think that scientists won’t figure out ways to decrease meat’s environmental impact, but in the mean time what can I do besides vote with my wallet? It’s literally trading up to a healthier lifestyle in exchange for a healthier world, and in business we call that a win-win.
Reason 3: The Humane Treatment of Animals
Before you go thinking I’ve become a PETA-praising animal rights activist, let me just say that reason #3 means less to me personally than the other two. Yes, the pictures and videos from factory farms are difficult to take in, but I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong to kill animals for our own consumption.
I do, however, think that it’s wrong to needlessly torture or maim them. The meat industry is set up to encourage subjecting animals to horrendous conditions, and even terms like “free-range” can be misleading. I believe that it devalues all life to allow helpless creatures to be tormented just because it saves us a few dollars on hamburgers at McDonald’s.
But don’t you crave meat?
Oddly enough, no, and knowing what I know about the harm that our modern system of meat production causes, and the deliciousness of a wholesome, well-planned, home-cooked vegetarian diet, it’s hard to think that I’ll ever be tempted by the red stuff again. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you gone vegetarian and succeeded or failed? What motivates you to eat (or not eat) meat? Can you justify consuming something that contributes as much as meat does to the overall deterioration of the earth? Let me hear about it on Twitter.