A few weeks ago, my family and I celebrated my brother’s high school graduation by going to a steakhouse for dinner. Josh is a stocky, muscular lineman; needless to say, the boy loves his meat. I, however, have been a vegetarian for a few months now, so meat isn’t quite up my alley. Luckily the restaurant was extremely accommodating and made me a delicious veggie pasta. My family and I had a wonderful evening filled with reminiscences of Josh’s baby days, and it ended with Dairy Queen ice cream cake– a celebration staple in our family. Since vegetarianism is a new phase in my life, I thought I’d share why I decided to make this change.
My decision to become vegetarian started in the spring of my freshman year of college. First of all, one of my friends is vegan and three other of my close friends are also vegetarian. I know, it definitely is odd that so many of my friends follow a vegetarian diet, but all of our stories for choosing this lifestyle are different. None of them pressured me to become vegetarian; however, they are awesome resources for information as well as amazing support systems for me. I actually chose to become vegetarian to reduce my ecological footprint. This past semester I was in General Biology 121, which focused mainly on biodiversity and ecology. It was shocking to see how much energy we waste simply by consuming meat. In addition, I’m passionate about social justice issues on various topics. To me, it just seems wrong to be using water and nourishment for cattle, poultry, etc. when there are people around the world starving of hunger and thirst. Since I didn’t eat a lot of meat before, I ultimately came to the conclusion that becoming vegetarian was a simple change that I could make to decrease my resource consumption for the benefit of an individual with greater needs.
I did a little bit of research and found some startling information about the effects of the meat industry and how becoming vegetarian could help protect the earth.
- In its 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.
- Cows and sheep are responsible for 37% of the total methane (23 times as warming as CO2) generated by human activity.
- Estimates of the water required to produce a kilo of beef vary, from 13,000 liters up to 100,000 liters. Whichever figure you use, the damage is plain when you consider that the water required to produce a kilo of wheat is somewhere between 1,000-2,000 liters.
- Thirty percent of the earth’s entire land surface—a massive 70% of all agricultural land—is used for rearing farmed animals. Much of this is grazing land that otherwise would host natural habitats such as valuable rainforests. And, of the entire world’s land suitable for growing crops that would otherwise directly feed humans, a third of it is used to produce feed for farmed animals.
- Livestock production is responsible for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon region of Latin America, where rainforests are being cleared to create new pastures.
That being said, however, I don’t think I will be a strict vegetarian. When I am at home and at school, I will eat a vegetarian diet. When it comes to traveling, though, I will probably eat a small amount of meat if my digestive system allows for it because food is such a critical part of anyone’s culture. If I travel abroad, I want to be immersed fully into the culture of that place, so if eating meat is a part of the culture, you bet I’m going to at least sample dishes with meat in it.
So I guess that makes me a “flexitarian” (please don’t roll your eyes at this). Vegetarianism is just a season of my life. If it goes well, I’ll keep living this lifestyle in the attempt to use less and give more. Giving up meat isn’t for everyone, but for me it is a small act of self-discipline that I can do to try to make this world a cleaner, greener, more prosperous place for everyone.
Lots of love,