I have always wanted to be a vegetarian. When I was younger, it was because I thought cows were cute, and I didn’t much like the taste and texture of meat. Back then, my mom wouldn’t let me. She didn’t think I would get enough protein to grow properly.
In veterinary school, I finally understood what she meant. A lot of my classmates were vegetarian and they weren’t healthy eaters. They didn’t eat meat, but they did eat a lot of junk food. I think a lot of people who become vegetarian young, when their families aren’t, eat a lot of unhealthy foods because they aren’t served vegetarian diets at home. They just eat the side dishes and whatever else they can scrounge themselves, namely cookies, chips, soda, and French fries.
Veterinary school also actually got me over thinking food animals were cute. They are still, kind of, (ok, only cows and sheep are cute, pigs and poultry are not), but through my exposure to food animals in school, I found I’m really not that bothered by the slaughtering process. Besides, before livestock were mass produced, people hunted. I don’t hunt and am actually against guns in general, so I wasn’t about to start hunting for my meat. Plus, in this country, people used to eat squirrels, deer, and rabbits when they hunted, and I still think they’re cute.
Besides my vet school experiences, as I got older, I learned to appreciate a good, juicy hamburger. I kind of gave up on the idea of ever becoming a vegetarian. I ate vegetarian sometimes, but I wasn’t going to commit to no meat ever.
The last couple years I’ve been thinking about it again. I’m old enough now to know how to prepare vegetarian meals and eat healthfully. I think a vegetarian diet, at this point in my life, would probably be overall healthier. Plus, there’s the green factor (bet you wondering when I was going to get to that).
In this article in Vegetarians in Paradise, a 2006 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cited these statistics,
“The document revealed that livestock cause 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, more than that coming from all the airplanes, automobiles, and trains combined.
- Accounts for 9% of carbon dioxide from human related activities
- Generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide that has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Most of this is from manure.
- Produces 37% of human induced methane that is 23 times as warming as carbon dioxide. This methane is from ruminants like cows, sheep, and goats.
- Creates 64% of ammonia that contributes to acid rain
- Uses 30% of the earth’s land surface for grazing
- Includes 33% of the planet’s farming land to produce feed for livestock
- Has resulted in massive deforestation in Latin America with 70% of former forests in the Amazon cleared for grazing”
That’s a lot of greenhouse gases and pollution resulting from livestock production. The animals we raise for food are also a significant source of water pollution.
This article by Lisa Raffensperger sums it up,
“Anyone who’s ever seen a cow pasture would likely recognize some of the most immediate environmental impacts of large-scale livestock farming–trampled ground, eroded stream banks, lots of manure. However, a less visible but equally worrisome effect appears thousands of miles from the Midwest’s muddy cow pastures, in the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Amidst increasing concern for the growing ‘dead zone’ where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf, livestock farming practices are increasingly coming under scrutiny. In fact, the FAO says, the livestock sector is the major driver of increasing water pollution in most geographical areas.”
From an environmental standpoint and a health stand point, going vegetarian makes sense. I still had a couple concerns. One, my family. My husband is not a vegetarian, at all. He eats more veggies than he used to because that’s what I cook, but I don’t think he’d groove on full time vegetarianism. I also think humans are omnivores, not vegetarians, and we do need some meat. Most of the vegetarians I know have commented that their doctors tell them to at least eat fish once in a while because they aren’t getting enough protein. I want to be healthier, not protein deprived, and I certainly don’t want to affect my children’s growth and development by restricting their diets. I thought about becoming a pesca-vegetarian (fish only), but that lead to my second concern: I really do like a good hamburger every once in a while. The thought of having my very last burger ever is just sad.
Then I saw this video:
In it, Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com talks about his conversion to vegetarianism. Well, actually, his conversion to a weekday vegetarian. He eats vegetarian five days a week, then eats what he wants on weekends, maybe vegetarian, maybe meat. Doing so, just like any diet, he gives himself some days to cheat, making him more successful in sticking with the diet. He improves his health by decreasing the amount of meat he consumes. He also decreases his personal impact on the environment, and he saves some cute cows in the process.
Aha! I could do that! I took a look at our typical weekly menu. We don’t eat meat at breakfast or lunches, so that wouldn’t be a big change. Turns out, we’re eating vegetarian (kids included) three to four days a week. I could add another day or two for myself pretty easily. My husband brings his own lunch to work, so I figure he could just buy meat filled things if he wants. For my kids, I decided to make sure they get eggs at least once a week (good source of protein), and occasionally buy some sliced turkey from the deli counter to supplement their lunches. On Friday nights, we have movie night. The kids eat mac-n-cheese and Sean and I fend for ourselves. I’ll just stick with vegetarian options and that gives Sean another night to eat meat if he chooses. One day a week we eat fish, leaving me one day to have a burger or chicken or not, whatever I want.
I think this is doable for me. It gives me the flexibility to become mostly vegetarian, but gives me a cheat if I need it. Maybe sometimes, like holidays, I’ll eat meat more than two days a week. That’s okay. I’ll still be reducing my meat consumption overall. I’m thinking of it like any other thing I do for the environment. I do the best I can and make the impact I can. For example, I recycle. Do I get every single scrap of paper into the recycling bin, nope, but I get most of them. So I may not be able to call myself a true vegetarian, but it should make an impact.
Maybe in a few months, after Penny is fully weaned, I’ll go vegan a couple days a week. That would entail giving up cheese twice a week. I’m not sure about that. Cheese is really good.
On a related note, if anyone has some good vegetarian or vegan recipes or cookbooks that kids will eat, let me know.
Do you eat vegetarian/vegan? Do you go meatless some days?