The Sudden Vegetarian

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN, quoted in Sinfully Vegan

I have always been an omnivore. Growing up, my family ate mostly vegetables. Milk and yogurt were always in the house, and eggs and meat were “sometimes foods”. I never really appreciated that until last year when I began reading more about the food industry and various healthy living techniques. Regardless of the genetic risk of heart disease that runs in my family, I knew that our diet was pretty healthy. After reading books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc., I figured if I at least ate the organic, free-range, twice-as-expensive animal products, I was doing my part to thwart my genes and also help the planet. It wasn’t like I loved meat so much that I wanted to look for a way to keep it in my life. Not at all. I just didn’t think that what I was doing was bad for me or the planet.

I have been toying with the idea of being a vegetarian for sometime now. Perhaps being at least a pescetarian would be healthy option.  And I really don’t meat so often in the first place…so maybe it’s not that big a deal, right?

But it’s one thing to read some facts in a book, and tell yourself that you know better in theory and another thing entirely to see the truth with your own eyes…

Last night I was looking through my Instant Queue on Netflix, trying to pick a documentary to watch. But it was getting late, so I simply picked the shortest one on my list: “Vegucated” (2010), directed my Melisa Miller Wolfson. The summary described a light-hearted tale of three New Yorkers who attempt to go Vegan for six weeks, along the way learning more about the Vegan movement, their own health, and the environment. I expected funny moments of cheeseburger-cravings and some crazy tree-hugger trying to push her political agenda on me.  I wasn’t expecting it to change me, my diet, or how I felt about anything.

What I got was a gut-wrenching, graphic depiction of the American meat industry, from the factory farm to the fridge. No politics, no hippies, and very little tofu. Just plain horror. As I said before, I’ve read several books on this issue, and like to think of myself as fairly informed. In high school I read about MadCow Disease, which was caused my Cannibalism by humans in Papua New Guinea but also by feeding cattle meat and bone meal to other cattle (how horrible!). I had no idea that the food industry hadn’t changed since then. In fact, it had gotten worse! But I had no idea the extent of the madness.

This blog post is not to make you feel guilty about eating meat, or preach about animal rights. Up until yesterday I didn’t give a damn, myself! If you’re like the old me, chances are you care at least a little about the environment: maybe you don’t drive a hybrid, but you recycle when you can and you try not to waste. If you’re like the old me, animal rights wasn’t your scene: you don’t enjoy watching animals suffer, but you also know that you have to feel your family and would rather not “suffer” a vegetarian lifestyle. And that’s perfectly okay. But what if this lifestyle actually was harming YOU and not just those farm animals?

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”  -Paul McCartney

For me that was the icing on the cake. Sure, I wanted to throw up when I saw those chicken cages, but more significantly I was turned off from consuming any meat that has been exposed to that. Maybe the chicken suffers, but we suffer too! It’s not just about the rights of animals. It’s about the rights of people to know where their food comes from. Most people who eat meat do so ignorant of these conditions, and what they do with the information once they get it is their decision. But wouldn’t you at least like to know?

When the film was over, I powered down my laptop. I lay awake for an hour trying to calm down and get my stomach to stop doing cartwheels. I felt sick, angry, and emotionally exhausted. But mostly I felt determined to change. At 1:00am I crept downstairs for some water to find my mother (a vegetarian!) watching soap operas. I put my head on her shoulder and announced calmly, “I’m a vegetarian now.” She made me some toast and sent me back to bed, but tbefore applauding my decision (and very pleased to no longer be the only vegetarian in the house!).

I’m a very rational person. I know that there are many parts of the world where meat is fresh and chickens are happy before they’re eaten, and that’s wonderful. But it’s not happening here in the states as much as it should. I know that eating a little bit of chicken or fish or even steak once in while will not kill you. I know that there are parts of the world, like in the arctic, where people have no choice but to eat animals, and that’s fine. I know that the government has standards, however lax, for organic agriculture and laws of food safety, and will recall products that are contaminated. And that’s great.

I’m a very rational person, and I know that watching ONE documentary is rarely a sound reason for doing anything.  But it’s not just one documentary…if you look an inch closer, you’ll find articles and news stories about this everywhere. I’ve mentioned Pollan’s work several times for a reason, and I encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to read his material. Also Food, Inc. which I read as a book, but is also available as a documentaryThis particular documentary is very accessible, but keep in mind that it is graphic.  I did a quick search on Goodreads.com and there is a list of some great books on food, health, and vegetarians!

Wishing you all health and happiness!

1. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

2. The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell

3. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser

4. Slaughterhouse, by Gail A. Eisnitz

5. The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer