I believe I shouldn’t eat animals any more. I always thought that I’d be the last person to ever give up meat. It always seemed the equivalent to giving up something for Lent, but rather than a 40-day respite, an eternal one. Cows seemed made to be turned into hamburger, I told myself. Why else would nature present us with such a slow-moving target?
My decision to eschew meat can be summed up with three different reasons: health, environmental, and ethical. The health reasons are the most substantial. Statistically speaking, my pre-vegetarian cholesterol level was a respectable 186 but has now sunk to an impressive 133. The fact that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, and about 90 percent less likely to have a heart attack reinforces my reasoning. No one doubts that inhaling cigarette smoke can cause lung cancer, so I don’t consider it a stretch that eating meat can cause cancer as well. Oh, and I can’t forget that most meat comes with a side order of growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides which further helps me to skip the meat.
Beyond the health reasons are the environmental reasons. The real “inconvenient truth” here comes from a recent United Nations report that stated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes, and all other forms of transport put together. In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that switching to a vegan diet is more effective in countering global warming than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius. Since I want to “save” the earth, I’ve started by saving lambs, pigs, and cows for the fields rather than for my dinner table.
The tertiary reason for my going vegetarian is probably the most divisive reason of them all – ethical. Perhaps we really are meant to be omnivores, but how can I feel good about eating meat given the animals’ current living conditions? Since I cannot guarantee that every chicken I’m served is free-range or every hamburger came from a pasture-fed cow, then I’d most likely be eating an animal that suffered through cruel confinement with little consideration for its pain or comfort due today’s factory farming practices. I’ve decided that even though I’m not the one putting these animals through this, in an indirect way I am still responsible. Remember – every purchase you make is a vote for the type of world you want to live in.
Meanwhile, my friends and family worry that by forgoing meat I won’t get enough protein and will become weak. I remind them that gorillas don’t eat meat, and no one ever had an image of a gorilla as being weak. Others doubt my resolve. “I went through that phase for about six months. You’ll grow out of it.” a co-worker informs me. It’s coming up on two years for me now, and I’m still enjoying growing into it.
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