yanoff.org
Skip navigation.

vegetarian and vegan information

Going "Veg"

I believe people shouldn't eat animals any more

I believe people shouldn't eat animals any more. I always thought that I'd be the last person to ever give up meat. It always seemed the equivalent to giving up something for Lent, but rather than a 40-day respite, an eternal one. Cows seemed made to be turned into hamburger, I told myself. Why else would nature present us with such a slow-moving target?

For me, it all began with Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. The section of the book on slaughterhouses alone was enough to convert me. I remember turning to my wife, Kathy, after listening to the audio version of the book and simply stating "I don't think I want to eat meat any more."

Now, I've never been the most strong-willed person in the world, so going cold turkey (no pun intended) wasn't an easy thing for me. To this day, I actually have dreams about eating meat. Still, as each day went by, I began to feel less like I was giving up something and more like I was gaining something. I gained more energy, improved digestion, an inner satisfaction with my accomplishment, and an increased sense of my own willpower.

My decision to eschew meat can be summed up with three different reasons: health, environmental, and ethical. The health reasons are the most substantial. Statistically speaking, my pre-vegetarian cholesterol level was a respectable 186 but has now sunk to an impressive 133. The fact that vegetarians are about forty percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, and about ninety percent less likely to have a heart attack reinforces the health reasoning as well. Strokes, many degenerative diseases, and diabetes are all quite lower in vegetarians, too.

Now here's the real kicker — I think that the food we eat is the cause of a lot of diseases of the industrialized world, including cancer. This is pretty tough for most people to grasp, so I point them to the charts and graphs in Dr. T. Colin Campbell's The China Study. Is it no coincidence that in societies eating less-processed food and less animal-based protein have a lower incidence of cancer?

No one doubts that inhaling cigarette smoke can cause lung cancer, so I don't consider it a stretch that eating meat can cause cancer as well. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that most meat comes with a side order of growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides which certainly can't be beneficial to one's health.

So why should I personally care if someone wants to down a double-bacon cheeseburger? We all might pay a price for second-hand smoke, but isn't the biggest offense you'll get by being near a meat-eater simply the stench of cooked flesh? My argument here is that we're all paying the price because we're all paying for higher health insurance rates due to the nation's mounting obesity problem, coupled with more incidents of type-2 diabetes, and so forth. Sure, cancer treatment is getting better, but the incidence of cancer hasn't gone down. It's time to go beyond treatment and start talking about prevention, and that means less meat and more fruits and vegetables.

Beyond the health reasons are the environmental reasons. The real "inconvenient truth" here comes from a recent United Nations report that stated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes, and all other forms of transport put together. In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that switching to a vegan diet is more effective in countering global warming than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius. If you want to save the earth, start by saving that lamb, pig, or cow from your dinner table.

The tertiary reason for my going vegetarian is probably the most divisive reason of them all — ethical. Perhaps we really are meant to be omnivores, but how can one feel good about eating meat given the animals' current living conditions? Unless you're buying free-range chickens, pasture-fed beef, or cage-free eggs then the fact of the matter is that the animal you're eating suffered through cruel confinement with little consideration for its pain or comfort due today's modern factory farming practices.

If concern for animals' well-being is not enough to nudge your heart then perhaps concern for humanity is. The fact is, the wealthy nations of the world feed more grain to their livestock than the people of India and China (more than one-third of humanity) consume directly. Contrary to the common belief that our grain exports help feed a hungry world, two-thirds of our agricultural exports go to feed livestock, rather than hungry people.

When it does come to concern for human beings, my friends and family worry that by forgoing meat I won't get enough protein and will become weak. I remind them that gorillas don't eat meat, and no one ever had an image of a gorilla as being weak. Others doubt my resolve. "I went through that phase for about six months. You'll grow out of it." a co-worker informs me. It's coming up on two years for me now, and I'm still enjoying growing into it.

By Scott Yanoff, April 15, 2007.