Growing up, I took for granted the amazing food I ate. Besides the fact that my family ate delicious Arab food nearly every night, 95 percent of all our fruits and vegetables came straight from our yard, meats came from local farmers who raised animals the all-natural and humane way, and fish came from our local rivers. I grew up with a local, organic diet without realizing its significance for years. When I finally left the great state of Washington to move to DC a few years back, I found myself really detesting buying meat from the grocery store. Thoughts of hormone injections, beakless chickens, and salmon filets artificially dyed pink grossed me out to such an extent that I just stopped eating meat. This lasted for about two years, when I finally gave into my cravings and went to an Indian restaurant for kebabs. While I would say I currently eat a reduced meat diet, I've been haunted over these past few months by the research we've been doing about the meat industry—and more specifically the beef industry. I decided to ask friends why they decided to stop eating meat to see if it would inspire me. The following are their reasons—you’ll definitely notice some themes.
Check out Cater to the Earth for the facts and figures on how eating beef affects the environment, health, and social justice issues. Though these stories are about giving up meat in general, beef is the most detrimental meat in every category. We'll be adding information to Cater to the Earth about other landgrazing animals and fish soon. We'll also be providing vegetarian recipes to inspire you to eat less meat, and ask for your favorite dishes too.
Chime in! Let us know in the comments why you made the choice to reduce your meat eating.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to come up with an intellectual-sounding explanation for my vegetarianism. I’ll spout off about the resources invested in animal feed that could be used for human consumption, about land use, about greenhouse gas emissions… and I mean all of it. But the honest, unbridled truth? I just really, really like animals. Even the not-so-cute ones and those with teeny tiny brains. So about ten years ago, I simply decided that I wasn’t comfortable eating something that was once living. And I haven’t looked back. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to learn more about the impacts of the meat industry on both human and environmental health, and am constantly reaffirming my decision to choose quinoa over crab. I’ve come to discover that my choice to live meat-free is about more than protecting Bessie—it’s about wanting to eat responsibly, for the sake of my body and the planet. -–Michele, Washington, DC
The most important reasons I went veggie are because of the industrialization of meat. I feel most concerned about working conditions within slaughterhouses, the use of immigrant labor, as well as, the unnatural and cruel ways that animals are treated (lack of space, lack of interaction with nature) and forced to eat other bits of other animals (pigs eating chickens, cows eating pigs!--its just wrong). I also feel the whole meat industry is very seriously not regulated--not regulated from labor to the amount of hormones and antibiotics animals are fed, to what ends up in the meat, to how FAR meat travels to get to your table. The other reason is--with all these concerns and the availability of other options these days it’s EASY to not eat meat--so it was easier for me not to feel guilty about supporting this super industry because I've got tofu, and wheat gluten, and garden burgers, and awesome veggies, and big salads.... and on and on...like eggplant parmesan pizza! --Roberta, Brooklyn, NY
I became a vegetarian for "ethical reasons", though really it's just one reason: I think killing is wrong and I want to minimize my participation in it. I first tried vegetarianism way back in middle school, but my parents made me quit after a few frustrating months. For the rest of my adolescence, I continued to eat meat, but the nagging feeling that I was doing something inappropriate never abandoned me. Finally, soon after graduating college, I found an old Peter Singer textbook--Practical Ethics--in a used bookstore. I was familiar with Singer from some of my philosophy classes, but I hadn't read much of his stuff. A good portion of the book addressed animal rights issues, and by the time I finished reading I was convinced I needed to stop feeling guilty and start being a vegetarian. I've been happier and healthier ever since. It's often awkward explaining to people that I'm a vegetarian for ethical reasons; it's easy for them to imagine that I'm judging them about their own ethical principles. Nowadays when someone asks why I don't eat meat, I've taken to saying it's for health reasons. This always puts them at ease. Then I add: "you know...the health of the cow." -–Dave, New York, NY
After I was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable bowel condition (ulcerative colitis) in 2003, I read up on foods that contribute to autoimmune diseases. Numerous reliable medical-health sources recommended cutting down on animal products, and meat in particular, because these products are often infused with chemicals, pesticides, and nitrates (which are used in curing meats like deli ham). These additives may play a role in triggering the body's inflammatory process. Some studies suggest populations converting from low-beef diets to Westernized, high-beef diets, like those in some Asian countries, now experience a significantly increased rate in diagnosed bowel disorders. After reading additional works about the inhumane slaughter of animals and filthy conditions in U.S. factory farms, the decision to become vegetarian was made quickly (and easily). -–Britt-Marie, Portland, OR
1. Land/energy use issues. 2. Don't like bones in meat. 3. Corporate practices of industry where meat was readily accessible from at the time (options of free-range, cruelty-free meat sources are a lot greater now!) -–Stephanie, Boise, ID
Initially I made the decision based on the practices of farming/raising/slaughtering of animals and being engaged to a vegetarian, and now after five years I have lost any desire for the taste. I think in current times land/energy use is a supporting factor. I still eat seafood, because 1. I live in Seattle and 2. the farming practices seem to be more humane (free until caught). -–Erik, Seattle, WA
Vegetarian [for] twenty years, now. I decided that if I wasn't comfortable preparing a meal totally from scratch, then I wasn't going to eat it. -–Callum, New York, NY
I went veggie in undergrad. Had always been uncomfortable with eating meat, but hadn't been particularly in a position to control what I was eating (parents with strong objections to vegetarianism - my sister tried going veggie once and got grounded for a month). Once I was in charge of my own eating habits, I stopped eating meat. In my case, it was purely an animal rights issue. Everything else sort of helps reinforce the decision, but I came to vegetarianism purely because I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of something dying for me to have a meal, when I could just as well have a meal without any animals needing to die. -–McLean, Seattle, WA
Originally started for healthy eating and food preferences (meat has fleshy texture that is not appealing to me). Gave up red meat in high school and then the others in college, but still eat seafood like it's my job. I'll have white meat on rare occasion if I'm really low on protein/energy but still choose to stay away from it. I do respect the natural hierarchical food chain for meat-eaters but am very turned off by the level of chemicals in meat (and some seafoods) and the way that animals are raised commercially and without naturally developing their fat and muscles (which conflicts in my mind with the natural need to eat it for energy if it's not in its natural form). Also, and this one is funny, my OCD tendencies freak out about touching raw meat so I never have cooked it (I can't even stand picking up the meats in packaging in grocery stores... crazy, I know!) -–Jessica, Arlington, VA
I’m on a “reduced meat” diet. I was vegetarian through college, and when I gave it up I went all out. I realized at some point last year that I was eating meat almost every day so I decided to scale it back. Now I try to buy only one type of meat each week when I go to the grocery store and use it in lots of different meals (i.e. roasting a whole chicken and then using its stock for soup) or cooking one meat meal and making the rest of my meals vegetarian. I like using 101cookbooks.com to find interesting new vegetarian dishes. --Kacey, Charlotte, NC
My family became vegetarians about 18 years ago, for environmental reasons. We were influenced by the arguments in Diet for a Small Planet that the production of meat uses too much of our planet's resources. We were also influenced by a son (then about 17) who had just never learned to eat or like meat, and one (then age 14) who announced he wanted to give up meat. For the kids at the time, it was more about their feelings for animals. I thought of it as probably a temporary choice, but we have never wanted to go back. My husband and I eat dairy and eggs, our adult children eat some dairy, and I eat fish occasionally--but don't cook it at home. -–Betsy, San Francisco, CA
I made the decision to avoid meat years ago for health reasons, and because I was hanging around with a lot of vegetarians at the time. Before, I was eating way too much fast food and generally feeling pretty sluggish. As I learned more, I became motivated as much by environmental reasons as the personal health reasons. -–Dave, Takoma Park, MD
When I was younger, I became a vegetarian because I was concerned with animal cruelty. Since then I have learned about the many health benefits of avoiding meat. Now I also avoid meat because of the environmental toll livestock take on the planet. –-Kim, Takoma Park, MD
Two words: MICHAEL POLLAN. -–Destinee, Seattle, WA