Last July, I approached my wife with what I thought was a radical proposal: that we should give up eating meat for an entire month. We were already sort of observing Meatless Mondays (or, if not Monday, usually one day per week) but I wanted to try an entire month. I knew that this was the kind of thing that I couldn’t do on my own. If she weren’t willing to do it with me, then it was pretty much hopeless for me.
To my surprise, she readily agreed. I suggested October. Why October? Well, we had a big vacation planned in August where I knew I’d want to relax and eat whatever I wanted. September was packed with birthdays and other events. So October it was. As the final days of September approached, I made sure to visit my favorite hamburger joint, my favorite pizza place, and generally ate as much meat as possible in preparation for what I thought would be a grueling ordeal.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I love to eat meat. I do. If I had to choose a last meal, it would be a thick steak, maybe wrapped in bacon, with a shrimp cocktail as an appetizer.
Secondly, I don’t feel that there is anything at all morally wrong with eating meat occasionally. Humans are omnivores and animals are muy delicioso. While I certainly respect anyone’s decision to not eat meat for moral reasons, I don’t share their moral aversion to eating animals that were raised or caught for food. This isn’t a story of how I went on a vacation cattle drive and helped deliver a calf named Norman and decided to give up eating meat because cows are cute. Cows may or may not be cute, but they are definitely an essential ingredient in filet mignon, so there you go. I wasn’t persuaded by a PETA ad, although some are more persuasive (NSFW link) than others.
So October comes around and we stop eating meat. Now, we didn’t go vegan or anything. I still eat eggs and cheese, and have milk on my cereal, but for that entire month of October we ate no meat.
And it was easy.
I mean, at no point during that month of October did I ever think to myself, I have to get a burger, a real burger, or I’m going to murder someone. My wife made awesome pasta dishes; she made wonderful lentil soups. She experimented with tofu and soy meat-replacement products. Some of those meat-replacement foods aren’t great, it’s true, but we found quite a bit of stuff that we really liked. More than I expected. We ordered our pizza with onions and bell peppers and it was delicious.
Ruby’s Restaurants now feature the GoFit Burgers on their menu. These things are delicious and I honestly can’t tell the difference between these and a real beef burger. I’m sure I probably could if I was just eating them by themselves, but on a bun, with cheese, and other condiments… they just taste like burgers to me.
So October ends and… we don’t go back to eating meat. And it was still easy. Now anyone who knows me knows that there is absolutely no way that I would go without turkey on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is absolutely my favorite day of the year and every other day is tied for second. Yes, we had a big turkey on Thanksgiving, but up until then we did not eat any meat. So from October 1st through November 23rd, no meat at all.
After Thanksgiving (and Christmas too) we have pretty much maintained our no-meat lifestyle. We occasionally have meat now, but it’s due to external circumstances. We went to a birthday party where there was nothing else for us to eat. No big deal. We had family visit and stay with us and had meat for dinner. On average, once, maybe twice a month now we have meat, and this is pretty much how it will be going forward.
Anyway, back to the reason. This wasn’t a decision motivated primarily by health. I didn’t read a book about the risks of eating meat, nor was I urged to give up meat by a doctor. I think there are plenty of ways to maintain a very healthy lifestyle eating meat, and there are certainly unhealthy vegetarian lifestyles. I didn’t expect to lose a bunch of weight after making this change, nor have I. It would have been nice if becoming a (mostly) vegetarian had resulted in dramatic and noticeable health benefits, but that wasn’t the expectation or the reality.
So then why does a meat lover, unimpressed with the moral arguments of animal lovers and not looking for a new health plan, decide to (mostly) give up eating meat? If you answered, “because you’re a liberal douchebag who delights in every new tree-hugging fad that comes along” then you are only partially correct, and I look forward to our next family get together.
My liberal friends probably think they know the answer; however, if you answered “Global Warming” then you are also only partially correct. You have probably already heard that the UN has said that eating less meat is the single-most effective thing that individuals can do to decrease carbon emissions. In fact, one report says that if every American were to reduce meat consumption by 20% (just over one Meatless Monday per week) it would have a bigger impact on greenhouse gases than if they all replaced their current vehicles with hybrids.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea to use Global Warming as the main reason to cut down on eating meat. For one thing, distressing as it may be, there are still many people who either don’t believe that Global Warming is a problem, don’t believe that humans are causing it or that they can prevent it, or don’t believe the evidence is strong enough to warrant making a major change in their lives.
There are many people in my life who are skeptical about the threat of Global Warming who are religious and consider themselves morally obligated to help the unfortunate. So while Global Warming might not be a compelling argument, world hunger is. So for them, I point out that the mathematics of meat production means that we grow an awful lot of food for no other reason than to feed it to animals that we will later eat. And it’s not a one-to-one ratio. If a cow weighs 1,500 pounds when it is brought to market, it will have consumed about 7,000 to 15,000 pounds of plants in its lifetime. A single cow might produce enough meat to feed ten people for a year, but 15,000 pounds of grain might feed 50 people for a year.
Similar arguments can be made for energy independence. Think of all the energy and fuel we use to transport the food that we eat. Now factor in the fuel that we use to transport the food that our meat sources (cows, chickens, pigs) eat. Reduce meat consumption and we reduce fuel consumption.
And while I said earlier that I think it is perfectly moral to eat animals, no one should feel good about the lives that some animals “live” before they are slaughtered. The abuses that factory farm-raised animals suffer before their short, miserable lives end should give anyone pause. These conditions are a result of the high demand for meat. Reduce meat consumption and you will reduce the need for factory farming.
So that’s my giving up meat story. I consider myself a vegetarian (mostly). There are occasions where I will eat meat, and I don’t feel bad about it. I find that this actually makes it easier to continue living this way. (I guess I’m a social carnivore.) We decided to take Meatless Monday a little further, obviously, but if everyone just reduced their meat consumption by one day per week, it would have broad effects on hunger, energy, and the environment.