Being Vegetarian

Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight TableAs most people now know, Juliette and I decided to go vegetarian a couple of months ago. I was a vegetarian before and neither of us ate much red meat, so it wasn’t much of a leap. In fact, we both just fell into being vegetarian without much conscious decision. We had decided to try to add a few more vegetarian meals each week and eat less meat, but after a couple of weeks we found that we weren’t eating any meat anymore. So in the end, we decided to stick with it. Juliette has decided to continue eating fish (as I may) and we both eat dairy products.

The last time I was a vegetarian, I was very strict about it and it became very stressful wondering if any meat products were in my food. That and the difficulty of being vegetarian in the military is why I went back to meat then. To prevent that stress, I have decided not to beat myself up if I mistakenly eat some meat. It is just too hard in our fast paced lives to worry if there is chicken broth in a dish at a restaurant and to me it doesn’t really matter that much. What does matter is that I try to live by my values.

This leads to the common question as to why one would choose to become vegetarian. For me, it is a mix of health, environmental, ethical, and religious reasons.

Health – Since I have been eating vegetarian, I feel that I have more energy and think more clearly. A vegetarian diet is also much lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein, reducing the risk of heart disease. I have also been losing weight and am down to my recommended weight again, something that I haven’t seen since I left the military.

Many people worry about getting enough protein, but recent studies have shown that concern has been greatly exaggerated. Vegetarians that eat a healthy variety of food have no problems getting a good balance of protein.

Environment – Each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 lb. of meat per year. Modern, intensive farming practices consume large amounts of fossil fuel and water resources and lead to emissions of harmful gases and chemicals. Growing the crops to feed farm animals uses half of the U.S. water supply and 80% of the agricultural land.

Large amounts of antibiotics and growth hormones are used in meat production. Concentrations of environmental toxins like pesticides and heavy metals also tend to be high in meat. The higher up in the food chain you go, the higher the concentrations, so if you remove a few layers, the concentrations drop.

Ethical – We are a long way from the idyllic farms of the past where animals are treated humanely. Today’s industrial farms are huge, environmentally unsound and inhumane.

Religious – I am a Buddhist and I try to live by the Five Precepts, the first of which is refrain from killing. Not all Buddhists are vegetarian, but many are.

As you can see from the size of my comments on each of these reasons, I am mainly a vegetarian for health and environmental reasons. The other reasons are definitely a factor in my decision, but may not be enough in themselves. Lately I have been trying to evaluate and reduce my impact on the environment as much as possible and this is just one more step.

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