Eight years ago, Ricky Gervais convinced me to become a vegetarian. Not him personally, but something he said. At the time, he was tweeting about a dog meat festival, calling the practice cruel and unethical.
Like (I suspect) many of you, my knee-jerk reaction was "vehement agreement", but it it left me with another nagging feeling. Something felt hypocritical. I walked through my reasons why this festival felt wrong:
The problem, dear reader, was that each of these objections had an analog my culture found perfectly acceptable:
I spent days examining those feelings. Why was the nature of the animal's relationship to humanity important? Why were some domesticated animals elevated over others in the culture I knew? Why did intelligence matter? If it truly did, what about eating pork? How smart are cows, anyway? Wait, chickens can do what? What parts of what I eat are governed by culture versus necessity? Where does the moral line lay? Why shouldn't I eat meat?
Troubled, I tried to turn the question on its head: why should I eat meat?
Well, as a serious power lifter2 I needed a lot of protein; turns out I could easily get protein elsewhere. I had a dim recollection that meat had some kind of chemical or amino acid I couldn't find elsewhere; I couldn't find any conclusive research that backed that up2.
In the end, I realized that I ate meat because it was convenient and delicious. The only thing really stopping me was self-control. Was I really unable to stop?
"You're not the type of person to let something like this go," I remember Libby telling me as I shared what I was going through. We were on a long drive, headed home from a vacation in North Carolina. Just a few hours later, a highway stop on that same drive pushed me over the edge. Behind the counter, floor to ceiling, were baskets and baskets of fried chicken.
After a week confronting these thoughts, the sight disgusted me. I walked out, ashamed.
That was the moment I knew I wasn't eating meat any longer.
Being a vegetarian has been challenging in ways unexpected and expected. I'm needled with embarrassment whenever a loved one prepares a "special meal" for me3. My B-12 levels needed supplementing. Vegans have acidly (and correctly!) pointed out that eggs and cheese don't come without suffering. Fast food becomes essentially inaccessible4. Gelatin5 is in a shocking amount of things.
But there are upsides that don't get enough press. Everyone knows about the health benefits6 of vegetarian diets. There's some other pretty nice benefits that get less coverage.
One of my favorites has been watching the people around me give vegetarianism a go. I'm not a vocal advocate7; despite what I've said here, I firmly believe it's a decision for everyone to make as an individual and not my place to scold or coerce. To that end, I still feed my dog meat, will prepare meat dishes, or complain if my food is cooked alongside. I also keep it under my hat; I only share my dietary preference if someone needs to know or asks me directly. Despite my lack of activism, I've had more than a few friends give vegetarianism a go and cite me as an example. It's humbling.
Eating plants is also a lot cheaper, it turns out. In particular, the rising costs of meat haven't hit our budget; beans and rice have remained as affordable as ever.
Speaking of, you get exposed to a lot more variety - you get more creative at home and you'll definitely try stuff you wouldn't otherwise have eating out. In particular, Indian, Ethiopian8, and Latin American cuisine offer a dazzling array of flavor and texture.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, livestock are far less efficient in terms of energy and carbon per calorie. I claimed I don't proselytize, but allow me this one exception: as the climate crisis becomes worse and worse, there are few things you can do as individual more impactful than cutting down on the meat in your diet. Allow me this one-time plea to consider injecting more greens in your menu.
It's tough, I 100% get it - but plant-based diets are significantly better for the environment. And if you haven't already heard, plant-based meats have come a long way in terms of taste and also less expensive to produce.
At the expense of beating few dead horseradishes, you don't have to go full-on. "Meatless Mondays", no more beef/pork/veal, whatever it might be - any little change you make can have a huge impact. Feeling like you're part of the solution is a very rewarding part of the experience. I hope you give it a go!