If I told people who I haven’t seen in a while that I am not eating meat anymore, they wouldn’t think I was serious. Me, the passionate meat eater has suddenly become part of the poorly understood, annoying group of lettuce worshipers who try to spoil your meal? In fact, if somebody had told me about a year ago that I would decide never to eat meat again in the near future, I probably would not have believed it myself.
So how have I, the guy who usually ate two steaks and two sausages at a barbecue, become a vegetarian? It is crucial to understand that it probably would not have happened without my two flatmates. They have been the influence that ignited my own thoughts. My girlfriend, who has been a vegetarian now for about a year, was the first to eliminate meat from her diet. Being a passionate meat eater myself, I neither supported her vehemently nor did I try to ridicule her or make her eat meat again. I accepted her decision and played along, even though it meant cooking twice every evening. As a biologist, I was well aware of the ability of animals to feel and suffer. However, I have never had the balls to actually do something against their suffering. As time passed, I decided to support my girlfriend a bit more by adding meat free days to my schedule. In addition, my meat consumption decreased automatically simply because we started eating dinner together – without meat. During that transformation, our flatmate decided to reduce his meat consumption as well, only to remove meat from the menu completely shortly there after. Then, in December 2010, I decided to go veggie for the first time in my life after an operation which had nothing to do with the issue but which I used as the cause for this groundbreaking decision. Ironically, I did the research against meat consumption after I had made the decision to live without it. Therefore, the reasons for being a vegetarian which I am going to mention here had little to do with my own decision.
The Emotional Reasons
As stated earlier, there is no way to deny that, just like humans, animals are also able to feel pain, fear, discomfort, sadness, and all the other emotions that we consider as being negative. It is nothing but an old, romantic remnant of past farming methods when people think about cows, pigs, and chickens frolicking over green pastures, living happy and carefree lives. The truth is that thanks to industrial farming, the meat on your plate was part of an animal which had hardly seen the sunlight, which had never felt soil or grass between its toes or hooves, which could never properly socialize with the likes of it, and which had to face a horrible and gruesome death. Put aside the tiny cages where those animals are held in their own feces; forget about the horrible treatment involving kicks and beatings and shocks; deny the horror of overstocked transports with terrified animals smushed to death; turn a blind eye to the mental effects caused by such treatment, including cannibalism. If you could manage to know about these things but still overlook them, it should be the actual process of slaughtering those helpless creatures alone that should make you stop enjoying meat. Cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys alike are hung up on their legs, paralysed by previous electro shocks or bolt shots to their heads if they are lucky. Either way, they are fully conscious when they have their throats slit open. Being in agonizing pain fighting for their lives, some of them live to witness how their legs are cut off and their skin is ripped of their bodies. Finally, when they are cut in two, even the longest struggle finally comes to an end. How can we decide to treat animals the way we do just for our selfish purposes? Is it ok because they don’t have a voice? Strangely, many meat eaters would be offended if you suggested such treatment for their pet. We don’t want our pets to suffer because we know that they have feelings too. Why isn’t the same true for other animals? After all, could you slaughter your meat yourself?
The Rational Reasons
People are starving all over the world – the UN estimated about a billion in 2010. It is a simple fact that more people could be fed if there weren’t any meat eaters. Why? Most of the energy we get from food is used to keep our body temperature up independent of the temperature of our environment. The same is true for the mammals and birds that we eat. Some estimates say that a cow needs 16 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of meat. What could satisfy the hunger of a human being longer? 16 kilograms of grain or 1 kilogram of meat? If you consume a living being, about 90% of the energy you take up will get lost and only about 10% will be transformed into your own tissues. Hence, a vegetarian needs considerably less agricultural space than a meat eater.
Bacteria which are resistant to applied antibiotics are going to be one of the biggest challenges of modern medicine in the near future. The problem is simply that people could die of rather harmless diseases just because no drug will get rid of the pathogen. What does it have to do with meat? The pace of evolutionary change, such as the development of resistances to drugs, is always set by selection pressure. Animals are constantly fed antibiotics in industrial farming since most of them would die under the horrible conditions they have to live in without the drugs. This excessive use of antibiotics is keeping the selection pressure high and therefore enables the bacteria to adapt more and more to current drugs. The result is that the efficiency of those drugs is decreasing when they are actually needed for the sake of man.
A recent UN report stated that industrial farming might be responsible for up to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Senior official for U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Henning Steinfeld reported that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions (source: peta). The bottom line is: If you want to fight global warming, don’t eat meat. In addition, huge amounts of manure are poisoning our water and our soil.
If all human beings were vegetarians, many health problems would be less dominant in our societies. As a vegetarian, you will have a better chance of not being obese and not suffering from a variety of diseases, ranging from diabetes to heart defects. After all, haven’t people said forever that you should eat your vegetables in order to be healthy? So far, there has been no conclusive evidence proving that we need meat to live healthy. The only difference is that as a vegetarian you are more conscious about the food you eat because you have to make sure that you still get all the nutrients that you need.