Now, that is a good question… I keep asking myself every now and then whether I should take the plunge and just forget about meat and fish completely. Becoming vegetarian is such a great achievement, really, it takes a lot of strength and self discipline.
Well, at least, for carnivores like me.
If I close my eyes I have visions of smoky BBQ ribs with chipotle, Southern fried chicken, grilled hamburgers, or my mother-in-law’s signature rabbit stew with polenta. I could go on forever, fully immersed in an ecstatic multi-sensory experience. No kale, no quinoa, no azuki could ever make up for that…. granted!
And I think to myself, how in the world am I going to give it all up?
Then my rational part sets in and I start thinking about why I should become a vegetarian. And I come up with so many compelling reasons that it’s hard not to be unsettled and not so sure anymore about my omnivore diet.
So is a vegetarian diet really all that and a bag of chips? Let’s find out…
First of all, let me be clear. I consider vegetarian a diet which excludes animal flesh of any kind BUT includes food derived from animal farming such as eggs, dairy and honey. In other words, I shouldn’t have to kill an animal to feed myself, but I can use what they have to offer. I know different people might have different definitions, but that doesn’t change much the discussion that follows…
The most important reason to embrace a vegetarian diet is in the health benefits, as evidenced by a number of scientific studies. Because of the lower intake of animal fat and higher intake of minerals and vitamins, vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, leading to prevention of heart diseases, but also a lower incidence of certain kinds of cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis.
And because you are fit and full of energy, you are also in a better mood! What more could you ask for?
Newcomers are often concerned that a vegetarian diet might not be adequate from a nutritional perspective and it’s true that a non-planned diet can result in nutrients deficiency, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and calcium. But if you eat eggs and dairy on a regular basis and vary your food accordingly, a vegetarian diet will provide everything you need and is suitable for the kids as well. Just talk to your dietitian and you’ll be fine.
A second reason to embrace vegetarianism is your love for the environment. You do love it, don’t you? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, modern livestock farming is one of the key contributors to pollution, climate change and land degradation. We can’t cover the details right now but if you want to go deeper you can read the full study here. Also, considering the growth in world population and the land necessary to produce animal feed per capita (a lot), the current meat consumption is just not sustainable in the long term.
The last argument to give up your beloved meat and fish meals is a little more controversial and it boils down to just one question: is it right to kill for food? And I’m not talking about religious beliefs, that certainly have an influence. I’m talking about choice: we can choose NOT to kill. Animals don’t have a choice, they have to follow their instincts or die otherwise. We are conscious of our behavior and can dominate our instincts. We know we have better alternatives and we can decide to act rationally.
That’s what sets us apart from animals.
And you know what the conclusion of all this is? You may not be ready to become 100% vegetarian, I certainly am not. But why not try the “flexitarian” route? Try to reduce meat and fish consumption gradually over time. Maybe schedule one or two meat-free days each week and tap into online resources, like the excellent The Flexitarian, to get in the mood. Also, visit the local organic greengrocers, excellent places to linger, and learn about seasonal produce. You will be surprised by the variety of fruit and vegetables available each season.
Explore, experiment, be creative. Share your adventure with your partner, family and friends. It will be much easier. And most importantly, always enjoy what you are doing. After all, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures…