There are hundreds of reasons why the meat industry is problematic. Most people are either unaware of these or pretend ignorance, because thinking about industrially farmed meat is disturbing. Obviously the easiest way to avoid these problems is to give up meat altogether. It gives you a clean conscience and a healthier lifestyle.
That wasn’t why I became a vegetarian.
I first gave up meat because I didn’t like the taste. I grew up eating chicken a few nights a week, and went through a phase of loving baby-back ribs when I was about ten, but meat always had a very small role in my diet. As I grew older, I became a pickier eater, and the texture of meat began to disgust me. So I stopped eating it, unless it was directly served to me. I resisted giving up meat altogether, because I didn’t want to become one of those better-than-thou vegetarians, the kind that sneer at people who enjoy meat and take pleasure in being difficult at restaurants and dinner parties.
When I officially decided to call myself a vegetarian, I was joining my mother and sister in a decision that had been a long time in coming. They had noticed my avoidance of meat, and realized that we had no reason to continue including it in our diet.
Now I feel good about myself for cutting meat out of my diet, but I would be a hypocrite to scorn omnivores, because I don’t have the willpower to give up anything I truly love. Cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs—these come to stores with a footnote of animal suffering, and I know as much, but I can’t give them up outright.
Even so, I can’t discount the accumulated benefit of small changes over a lifetime. Becoming a vegetarian—or even cutting down on meat consumption—is positive in so many ways.
The benefits of going vegetarian:
- The meat industry is one of the biggest polluters, worse than any form of transportation. By cutting out meat, people can significantly reduce the CO2 emissions they contribute to.
- One person giving up meat for a long period of time will save thousands of animals from unnecessary torture, suffering, and death.
- Factory farms concentrate huge amounts of animals in small spaces, and these animals produce a ton of fecal matter. This waste is left in toxic sludge pits that contaminate the land and spread disease to anyone living nearby. People who give up meat are no longer paying companies that use sloppy and dangerous practices like this.
- Eating a well-planned vegetarian diet can help prevent illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
- Bacterial contamination inevitably happens during meat processing, so avoiding meat protects you from potentially life-threatening sicknesses that can result from eating unclean meat.
- Finally, avoiding meat allows more people to be fed with less damage to the land, because instead of channeling a huge percentage of our crops to animal feed, we can use it for our own food.
According to PETA, I’ve already saved 560 animals in the two years I’ve been vegetarian. Of course, that’s a huge overestimation given how little meat I ate to begin with, but imagine what it would mean if more people made this choice. For someone who eats meat regularly, giving it up will save over 16,000 animals and more than 190,000 pounds of CO2 in a lifetime. That’s huge.