Ever since I began dabbling in vegetarianism my freshman year of college, I’ve received a lot of bewildered, intrigued, and defensive responses. Fluctuating between omnivorism, vegetarianism, and veganism, I’ve been a proponent of each group. Through the idealism and dogma bound up in each phase, I’ve come to believe that only honesty and critical self and societal reflection can bring any progress to this hotly contended, gridlocked debate.
My main reason for shifting down towards the vegan end of the spectrum is ecological. It is blaringly obvious that massive effluent-producing feedlots sustained by high-input conventional monocrops are inefficient and wasteful of resources and human ingenuity while being destructive to the ecology of the Earth. Therefore, I would not rationally support a consumer good that entails such destruction.
Another central reason comes from the unknowing and fear around death. The vulnerability of mortality causes me to tread cautiously when wishing death to other beings.
“Many that live deserve death, some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
An additional reason for my abstaining from animal-sourced food is privilege. I have had the good fortune in my life of being able to choose what I purchase and eat, in addition to accessing resources concerning nutrition and ecology. Therefore, I am facilitated in exploring less harmful modes of consumption while not risking my financial well-being.
Vegetarianism allows one to not see oneself as directly implicated in animal slaughter. However, knowing about the sacrifice required for commercial egg and dairy production can create a kind of mental dissonance as well as an incapacity to rationally continue consuming those products. For instance, the killing of baby chicks in egg production and the slaughter of young male cows for veal are confronting facts of these industries. An additional argument against vegetarianism as opposed to veganism is that we are still enslaving these animals and not recognizing their full sentience and potential, regardless of how much we pretend to be their caretakers.
The nutritional reasons for reducing meat consumption stem from concerns over increased risks of heart disease, obesity, and various other diseases linked to increased meat consumption. With less meat, vegetables are often emphasized and thus the plate becomes more nourishing and nutrient-rich. In addition, processed meat tends to contain additives and hormones that, on top of the animal’s stressful grain-fed existence, cause it be an unhealthy and even carcinogenic food.
The small-scale organic farmer I interned for this summer gave me his own unique and convincing perspective: that animals are the highest form of consciousness in the food web, and therefore we are taking on that consciousness and elevating it even further by consuming them while deriving energy from the niches otherwise unavailable to us (grass and forage). So, why not?
Furthermore, if animals are appropriately imbedded into an ecosystem and rotated on pastures to allow for a full freedom of motion and forage, then they only vitalize their environment. On a farm such as Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, the environmental argument against meat consumption no longer holds weight and we simply have to ask if willfully cutting an animal’s life short is righteous.
In my own experience, I notice an uptick in energy, strength, and intensity the day after consuming meat or animal products. My digestion improves, and I feel like something clicks into place in me. However, I’m open to the possibility that I’m not properly balancing my amino acid intake while excluding animal products or that I’m more psychologically fulfilled than I am physically.
The resistant forces that complicate my vision to lead a vegan lifestyle are the desire to be powerful and strong, to have a healthy digestion, and to not be a martyr in the sense that I’m taking on a huge burden that everyone else is ignoring and perpetuating. I recognize my tendency towards perfectionism and am therefore wary of self-imposed, intellectually driven life decisions. I also reel against any artificial supplementation due to a strong belief that nature provides everything we need naturally, including vitamin B-12 (though I do take B-12 supplements).
Having the privilege and time in my life to explore this topic, along with a keen, obsessive, and at times unhealthy interest in food, I will follow my firm belief that it is best for the biome to reduce human consumption of animals. My own sacrifice in mostly eliminating animal products need not be a cycle of guilt-tripping and endless striving. Rather, I wish to open the possibilities on the other side of our animal-centered diet to fill it with as much communal exuberance as possible and lessen the burden our food choices pile on us. There are alternatives and possibilities that can make such decisions less of a burden and more of a celebration.
Beans, legumes, and grains can be fermented to form meaty, digestible proteins. Nuts can be cultured into digestible, hearty cheeses (cashew cheese yo!). Vegetables can be fermented to enhance their depth and richness of flavor. Tomatoes contain huge amounts of glutamate (umami flavor compounds), while mushrooms can be roasted or dried and even turned into an umami-enriching powder. That’s not to mention miso and soy sauce. There is no need to mourn the absence of meat on the plate. Together, we can gather around and celebrate that flexibility and freedom, that openness to fruitful decisions around how we eat and interact with the Earth.