Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dusti Arab of Minimalist Adventures. While I (Christianna) currently follow a vegan diet, I was a vegetarian for 30+ years prior to making the switch and I applaud anybody who makes a the conscious shift toward a plant-based diet. I recently met Dusti over iced-coffee drinks in Portland and was charmed by her energy, enthusiasm and intelligence. She was very interested in vegetarianism at the time but had not yet made the switch. As you will see in her post, her research into the issue resulted in a personal call to change.
In Dusti’s words:
I was not a vegetarian when I started writing this post.
Christianna invited me to write a post regarding all of the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet. This was no small task, considering the amount of information on the topic, all of the fad diet sites, and my lack of knowledge of what it is like to be a vegetarian. To be sure, I have been living mostly meat-free for several years. I’ve been living by these silly, arbitrary rules I made for myself when it comes to buying meat. I only buy meat once a month, it is always free-range chicken, and I always feel guilty about it.
In a country where we are regularly bombarded with commercials of who is offering the latest, juiciest, most massive burger or that rugged, manly voice telling us, “Beef is what’s for dinner,” it can seem very odd indeed for one to say that eating meat isn’t a part of their lifestyle choice. However, more often than ever, this is a common thing to hear among friends.
Being vegetarian or vegan is as a much a way of life as it is a way to eat, and therein lies the difficulty for many would-be herbivores. But, why become vegetarian at all? Is it just a fad? Is it a way to lose weight? There are many questions regarding vegetarianism that I wanted to investigate.
There are three main reasons to choose a vegetarian lifestyle.
Personal health is a major motivating factor for many who become vegetarians. A little bit of research yields astounding results regarding the links from one’s health to a vegetarian diet. Rather than repeat all of the health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet, I will highlight some myths about veggie eating.
Myth: Vegetarians don’t get enough protein or calcium.
Wrong! See the protein myth debunked here and the calcium myth disproved here.
Myth: You can’t get a complete set of nutrients from a vegetarian diet.
This is way off base. In fact, most vegetarians consume a much more balanced set of nutrients with the help of charts like these.
Myth: Athletes need more protein than a vegetarian diet can offer.
There are lots of outstanding vegan athletes. Check out this guy. He’s awesome.
Sustainability and the environment are two major reasons for leaving out the meat. The meat industry pumps more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere than even the transportation industry, and that doesn’t even account for the thousands of miles it has to cross before the meat reaches the supermarket. The amount of grain fed to cattle is enough to feed the entire global population.
Can you imagine the implications of that statement? If we stopped eating meat, we could theoretically feed the world’s population.
While that is an ethical issue, it cannot be ignored in the sustainability factor either, because right now, we are not sustaining the human population, all other definitions of sustainability aside. Cattle are such a resource intensive food source, that eating it is the antithesis of any sustainability effort. If you were to do only one thing on your road to veggie living, I would recommend cutting out red meat. While chicken is resource intensive in comparison to vegetables and fruit, it is much less so than cattle.
As has already been pointed out in the discussion on sustainability, the link between sustainability and ethics is unavoidable. Having an environmental ethic regarding the eating of meat cannot be fully brought to surface without acknowledging the unsustainable nature of the meat industry. However, the sustainability factor is not the key motivating ethical issue for many vegetarians. The treatment of the animals in these factory farms is atrocious. For more gruesome details, watch Food Inc. There is little more saddening than our treatment of other members of this planet in such a dehumanizing way, and the irony in that statement is intentional. We have no word to adequately describe what happens to those animals every single day.
While it is discouraging and overwhelming to consider all of the effects of where are food comes from, it should also give us pause, because out of new knowledge can come a better understanding and change. By knowing we can change the way we live and eat in the name of the planet, respect for its other inhabitants, and the heath of our bodies, we can press forward with confidence as we pursue a vegetarian lifestyle.
So, how do you get started with your vegetarian or vegan journey? Start here.
Vegetarians, and especially vegans, can have a really difficult time finding support in their transition to meatless living. It’s ingrained in our culture to eat meat as part of our blatant, consumerist lifestyle, and choosing to refute such a basic cultural belief can be met with derision and a lack of understanding. Coming from the suburb of a suburb, I am familiar with not being able to find some unknown ingredient in a vegan recipe I found on the internet that the store clerk has never heard of. You usually get a funny look, and “If it’s not in the natural foods section, we don’t carry it.”
I would like to invite everyone who reads this post and finds inspiration to join me in beginning a vegetarian journey. During this journey, there will be trials and perhaps strife in areas of our life that no longer match our beliefs, but it will be so fulfilling as it progresses. By embracing a way of life that respects the earth and its creatures, we may find ourselves living more in line with our ethical beliefs, in a way that benefits the planet and our own bodies.
Dusti Arab is a student, mother, and writer of Minimalist Adventures.
image: Broadway Bowl at Native Bowl Food Cart, Portland, OR © 2010. Christianna Pierce.