Monday, February 14, 2005

Confessions of a Vegetarian

As last Thanksgiving Day approached, I was faced with a dilemma: would I eat turkey or not? Tempting thoughts of succulent, juicy slices of turkey (and the promise of triptophane-induced satiation) were hard to ignore. Given my short history of not eating meat, it was very appealing to just make an exception.

Last July I met a young man named Alex, who inspired me with his dedication to living his values, among them not eating animals. I had been leaning toward vegetarianism for a while, so I decided to try it for a week. I had already stopped eating beef several years ago, after reading Fast Food Nation and because I just no longer enjoyed the taste. For the next few years I ate chicken, fish, and seafood, and occasionally pork. I found it very easy to eat vegetarian for a week, but when presented with the choice of delicious fish at a restaurant, I became a “vegequarian,” eating fish and seafood but not meat. And so I was, until November.

I sat down to my daily pages on Thanksgiving Day with several questions on my mind: why don’t I eat meat? Is it consistent to eat fish and seafood, but not meat? Does that even matter? Should I eat (will I eat) turkey today? That of course was the real question. Ultimately I did eat some turkey that day. Although I enjoyed it while eating, I regretted it afterward, and that was the last animal flesh I’ve eaten. Here are my reasons for continuing my practice of vegetarianism.

One obvious reason not to eat meat is health. Red meat can have lots of saturated fat, and along with chicken and pork, potentially contains hormones and antibiotics from factory farming. There is also the risk that meat carries pathogens resulting from mass production slaughter and packing. Some fish, such as tuna, concentrate toxins like mercury. However, meat and fish are excellent sources of complete proteins, and it is possible to buy organically produced meat, which is less likely to contain hormones or antibiotics.

Eating a vegetarian diet, or “lower on the food chain,” is also more earth-friendly than the alternative. The practice of using grain to feed beef cattle, for example, wastes a perfectly good human food on fattening animals. The feed grain itself is typically produced using environmentally unfriendly fertilizers, petroleum, and insecticides. Most meat is produced by corporate “factory farms” that produce concentrated animal waste streams, damaging both air and water quality. While this method is prevalent in cattle, hog and chicken operations, there is also an increasing trend toward “factory fishing,” polluting coastal waters. Furthermore, overfishing has depleted the world’s stocks of many species, and escaped hatchery fish compete with wild ones for shrinking habitat and food supplies.

The morality of eating animals is a much more subjective and personal issue. Simply put, I don’t want to be part of the process of killing other animals for food when there is adequate nourishment available from plants. Although it is very natural to kill and eat other animals – humans have been doing so throughout our evolution - unlike other carnivores, we are self-aware and capable of having a conscience about killing.

Finally, my food choices also have a political and ethical component - I choose not to be part of the corporate takeover of the food supply. Factory farms keep animals in inhumane living conditions, and force them to grow and mature unnaturally fast with hormones and chemicals. Giant slaughterhouses, among the most dangerous and under regulated workplaces in the country, place both our food supply and the workers at risk. Workers in the industrial food machine are underpaid, often work without benefits, and are typically unable to organize.

My choice is presently not to eat animal flesh, but there may come a time in the future when I change my mind about this practice. If that moment comes, I hope it will be an intentional, mindful act, preceded by consideration and meditation. I would want to be mindful of the source of the meat, and honor the animals who gave their lives to feed me.

I want to acknowledge my vegetarianism (and this post) as a personal choice, not a judgment of those who choose to eat meat. As in all things, each individual must follow the dictates of her conscience and intellect. Perhaps these words will inspire mindfulness in your eating, and maybe even provide a little food for thought.


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