August harvest

Why I Am Vegetarian

Today marks the fourth anniversary of vegetarianism for me. I last ate meat on Thanksgiving Day of 2014. Well, except for one momentary departure when friends served chicken and I did not wish to disrespect their hospitality. Otherwise it’s been four years of a non-meat diet.

I had been leaning toward vegetarianism for awhile, but I couldn’t find a convincing justification for making the change. The two reasons I kept running into were better health and principled ethics. The arguments for the health benefits made sense, but those who were partial to health reasons tended to rely on an old Puritan denial-of-pleasure principle that was never too convincing to me. All that religious moralism about denying the goodness of this life to gain rewards in an afterlife rings false to me, a sort of ironic hubris. Whatever better health my body might gain in a vegetarian diet would certainly be offset by the psychological toll of puritanical self denial.

The ethics of vegetarianism, specifically about refusing to participate in the morally reprehensible industrial slaughter of animals, also had its problems. Yes, I am uneasy with killing any kind of animal. But life requires killing to maintain itself. And if we are not killing animals, then we are killing and maiming plants. They may be more distant from us and lack the nervous systems that produce conscious awareness, but plant suffering is real just the same. In my way of thinking about it, eating plants is as morally unjustifiable as eating animals.

Sustainability made a more convincing argument: meat production to feed the world’s growing population is simply not sustainable. Arguments on both sides quibble over how many pounds of corn it takes to make a pound of beef, but no one is saying that a vegetable diet uses more resources than a meat diet. Economic realities will eventually catch up with us, and meat will become a wasteful luxury at some point. Being a mostly frugal person, I am uncomfortable with wasteful luxuries. But meat didn’t seem the most wasteful element in my life. I still didn’t make the leap to an all-vegetal diet.

In the end, it was nothing rational at all. It was a feeling, one of disgust at the gluttonous appetites of consumer culture. Or maybe just exhaustion. All that chewing, all those decisions about what to eat, what to buy, what to prepare. Vegetarianism has made my life simpler. Not surprisingly, it also has made me healthier. And even though I cannot claim the moral high ground, I feel less culpable in our culture of slaughter.

August harvest
August harvest (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2013)

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