Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Evolution of a Vegetarian (Part 2): Why I Am a Vegetarian

I don't believe that we are isolated consumers, alienated from what gives life, and condemned to make a terrible mess of things on this planet. I believe we are human beings, flawed but learning, stumbling but somehow making our way toward wisdom, sometimes ignorant but learning through it all to live with respect for ourselves, for each other, and for the whole Earth community. - John Robbins

Yesterday I wrote about the reason that I became a vegetarian - - the gut reaction that I had to learning about the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals on the standard industrial factory farm. (If you want to test your own reaction, check out this or this.) Over the six years since I stopped eating meat, the reasons that I am a vegetarian have strengthened and broadened. It's no longer just factory farming at issue for me.

A lot of people asked a lot of questions about my vegetarianism. Some I could answer easily: Where do you get protein? Beans, tofu, eggs, nuts, etc. Don't you think that humans occupy a higher rung on the food chain because we're supposed to eat animals? Um, I don't have a problem with eating animals per se. But unless you're in the Vice President's office, being in a position of power doesn't justify systematic torture that is nowhere close to being natural .

Other questions made me realize that I wanted to learn more about where our food comes from. John Robbins' book, The Food Revolution, was an enormous help in connecting the dots for me. Robbins' description of the knowledge that led him to a vegan lifestyle echoed the path that I (quite unexpectedly) found myself on:
I was learning that the same food choices that do so much to prevent disease - that give you the most vitality, the strongest immune system, and the greatest life expectancy - were also the ones that took the least toll on the environment, conserved our precious natural resources, and were the most compassionate toward our fellow creatures.
I learned about the antibiotics fed to livestock and the pesticides that accumulate in grain-fed cattle. I learned that we're feeding nearly half of the grain that the world produces and 70% of America's grain production to livestock in return for only a tiny fraction of nutrients at the same time that we think about hunger as an intractable problem. I learned about the land and water use from meat production. (As compared to the resources used to make pasta, meat uses 20 times the land, and generates three times the greenhouse-gas emissions. Check out this Ask Umbra column.) For more background information on the environmental and health benefits of a vegetarian diet, check out the list of my favorite vegetarian resources below.

I discovered delicious vegetarian meals. I became more confident in my decision to exclude meat entirely from my diet. While much of the reading that I did also implicated dairy farming practices, I still eat dairy and eggs. Logical fallacy, perhaps? I admit that it would be ideal if I could eschew those animal products too. But life is a contiuum and a series of steps. The step that I can do and have done joyfully for six years is not eating meat. Becoming a strict vegan would require a drastic lifestyle change for me (no goat cheese! no omelets!). Instead, I try to be especially careful to buy dairy products that are produced in a sustainable way that doesn't harm the chickens or cows. Small, local, organic family farms are always the best and tastiest choice. I also really enjoy soy products, so switching from cow's milk to soy milk was pretty easy for me.

Being a vegetarian isn't a sacrifice for me. It's a way to align my values with the food on my plate. But I don't think I could do it without truly enjoying an abundance of delicious vegetarian food. Is being a vegetarian the answer for everyone? Probably not. Others may find a different place on the contiuum is right for them. Maybe it's eating one less meal of beef in a week. (According to New American Dream, for every 1,000 who do that, we save over 70,000 pounds of grain, 70,000 pounds of topsoil and 40 million gallons of water per year.) Maybe it's eating humanely-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat as my husband does. Maybe it's referring to a handy wallet card that helps you choose fish responsibly. The point is that we can all be aware of how our food choices have a profound impact on the web of life and then do what we can...joyfully.

A Few Favorite Vegetarian Resources:

On the big picture: The Food Revolution; Hope's Edge
On nutrition: Becoming Vegetarian
On yummy cooking: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone; Moosewood Cooks at Home; The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

10 Comments:

  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger breadchick said…

    Well written Lauren. I've read other peoples reasons for being vegetarian and even spent 3 very long months working with a militant vegetarian and no one has ever explained their reasons in such a non-judgemental towards us omnivore/carnivore types. I am in your husband's camp and MBH is now and forever firmly in the carnivore camp but I appreciate the point of view and it does make me think about how to add more vegetable products in my life.

     
  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Siel said…

    Ditto on the nonjudgemental thing :) I still eat fish, but do have a handy card! :)

     
  • At 8:33 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    As someone who has flirted with vegetarianism, I appreciate your thoughtful, thorough (lots of reading for me to do) discussion of the vegetable way. I've been thinking about heading this direction again recently; perhaps a little more reading will end in different behaviors. I don't eat too much meat as it is (I have allergic reactions to pork and beef at times), so it wouldn't be a stretch to cut out chicken.

     
  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Thanks guys! Being judgmental or preachy just doesn't make sense. I can understand how it happens though - - someone feels so much passion for what they believe in that they can't find a productive, collaborative way to share it. Living joyfully is so important, and deprivation gets us nowhere.
    That said, I'm always up for sharing some veggie recipes and meal ideas if anyone is interested! :)

     
  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger Roger, Gone Green said…

    Here is a question for you -- not as any sort of baiting, but just for understanding. Where would organic eggs from Free Range, non-drugged chickens fall for you? Some do not want the animal protein feeling that it is bad for health; some would not be unhappy about these eggs because all the objectional factory farm elements have been removed, as well as most of the health and environment issues. Note: These could be small-commercial farmer eggs, or eggs raised on a suburban lot, like at Path to Freedom.

    Just curious . . .

    R.

     
  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Hi Roger,

    I do eat eggs. When shopping, I buy eggs that meet the criteria that you outlined. I won't buy the "conventional" eggs from chickens that are pumped with hormones and antiobiotics and live in factory farming conditions. I try to get eggs from sustainable sources, but I wish that I knew of a local family that sold eggs from free ranging chickens like the folks in your neighborhood at PTF do. That would be ideal in my book.

    Of course, it's a different story when I eat prepared foods or foods that others have made. When given a homemade cookie, for example, I don't question the baker about the source of the eggs. I know that this is not necessarily logically consistent with the fact that I will ask if the minestrone contains chicken broth. Maybe I just like find cookies harder to turn down than soup! Kidding aside, I do the best I can in a way that isn't a grave sacrifice. For me, that means no meat or fish, but does allow for non-factory farmed eggs and dairy on occasion. (I eat far less of both of those categories than most people that I know.) If I had to be completely vegan, however, I think that I would risk falling off the wagon entirely. I don't have that risk with the lacto-ovo diet.

    Thanks for your interest! :)

     
  • At 7:49 PM, Blogger Roger, Gone Green said…

    Cool. Thanks. As an aside, the Buddha, who advocated non-killing of sentient beings, neverthelss ate meat. Since he and his disciples made rounds with their begging bowls daily, they would accept (in the long standing Indian tradition) whatever food offerings locals would provide. If that was vegetable, then the bhikus (monks) ate vegetarian. If meat, they ate it. The Buddha asked that animals not be killed for his food; but if a householder had eaten meat and offered some to him and his sangha he felt it was worse to waste the food and the being's sacrifice.

    {shrug}
    {gasho}

     
  • At 6:10 PM, Blogger SustainableGirl said…

    Lauren,
    I echo the seniments above - thank you for your thoughtful example of why you've made your choices. I have stopped eating meat since getting serious about environmentalism and being exposed to the truth about how animals are treated .. so it's been about 6 months or so. Much easier than I though it would be, actually. Like you, I am not a picky eater and I enjoy most foods, including tofu and veggies. Also, my sister keeps chickens (for eggs) and when I saw firsthand how animals can be cared for well and respected (and tasted the eggs that came from such a lifestyle ... what a difference!) ... I knew that I couldn't eat a product that came from the torture of defenseless animals. Like you, I eat eggs and dairy from organic, free range sources. What I miss the most is sushi, which is my very favorite food. But in my town I can't get it, so it's only a temptation when I head over the mountains to Seattle.
    I applaud your choices and the way you've shared them with us. It's reinforced the path I've been taking myself.
    Thanks,
    Maria

     
  • At 6:50 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Maria - Thanks for your kind words! It's funny - - sushi is the thing that I most miss too! I do enjoy an avocado/cucumber roll, but it's just not the same...

     
  • At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi,

    There is sometimes too much intolerance and pressure on the part of some vegetarian groups, you cannot force someone to give up meat; it is a journey and people need to do what is right for them. I believe vegetarianism is a higher level of consciousness, but that doesn't mean they are better than meat eaters. Only through education and patience can we teach others...not through intimidation.

    Jen
    Author of Vegetarian Cooking Made Easy
    www.d-vegetarian.com

     

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