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Balance vegetarianism with meat-eating habits

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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The time has come to take a look at vegetarianism again. Vegetarians and vegans have earned a reputation for being preachy, a stereotype that derives from its grain of truth. But just for a moment, let’s put aside the stigma and reevaluate the facts.

Vegetarianism is often portrayed as an extreme life choice with supporters who impinge upon the freedoms of meat-eaters, but this notion can be mitigated if the choice to eat meat is balanced with vegetarian habits.

Contrary to popular belief, vegetarianism is not a herd mentality. Rather, it is better thought of as a population of individuals with different motivations guiding them toward the same lifestyle choice.

The range of incentives for vegetarianism is wide indeed. First, plenty of people make the switch for their health. This makes sense when it is considered that vegetarianism has been tied to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, as well as a longer life span in general, according to the American Cancer Society.

On the other hand, the most commonly cited motivation for vegetarianism is that the meat industry is institutionalized animal cruelty. Of course, there are arguments about evolution and the natural hierarchy of the food chain, but there is nothing natural about engineering chickens to grow so fat so quickly that they suffer crippling health defects. It is also not natural to cram pigs so tightly into cages that they go virtually mad from lack of stimulation. Early mutilation, life-long suffering, and a bloody death is the fate for many animals that Americans will later have on their dinner plates.

These facts are indisputable, and most meat-eaters are knowledgeable of them. However, being able to enjoy meat must involve separating the dining experience with the awareness of where the food comes from. This enjoyment comes only through a silencing of the moral compass. The moral compass usually makes people empathize with the suffering of any living creature and tells them that taking life is wrong.

Additionally, there is a kind of hypocrisy to the arbitrariness with which we assign certain animals to be loved and others to be slaughtered in mass. All of these factors makes it difficult to be an omnivore with a clear conscience.

The most persuasive argument for vegetarianism is also perhaps the least well-known. In addition to murdering animals, the meat industry plays an enormous role in killing the environment because of the huge amount of resources it takes to raise livestock: The meat industry uses 30 percent of Earth’s total land mass, as well as 70 percent of all grain, 50 percent of available water, and 33 percent of all fossil fuels in the United States, according to ChooseVeg.com.

These statistics do not even begin to cover the water pollution caused by runoff of animal wastes and the methane emissions from millions of cows. Methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide, is responsible for nearly half of the world’s human-induced global warming, and animal agriculture is the number one source of it, according to nonprofit organization EarthSave.

Perhaps the reason vegans and vegetarians get a bad rap is because they like to speak in extremes. They push forward with harrowing information about the meat industry and demand immediate and total conversion. They wonder: if the facts are in their favor — as they clearly are — why isn’t everyone jumping at the opportunity to better themselves, other living creatures, and the planet?

The answer is that meat tastes good, and vegetarians always seem to brush over that small point. What might surprise both the vegetarians and the omnivores, however, is that the argument is not black and white. Moderation is an option.

According to Vegetarian Times, while only 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians, 22.8 million more follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. This diet doesn’t entail giving up meat entirely. Even small lifestyle changes can have an enormous impact on a large scale.

The Environmental Defense Fund has estimated that if every American went vegetarian for just one day a week, it would be equivalent to taking an incredible 8 million cars off of the road for that week.

So, try breaking the assumption that meat has to be the default for every meal. Try dubbing certain days each week “Meatless Days”. Try opting for no protein or hitting up Evgefstos for their awesome spinach-artichoke dip. Maybe, with time, you’ll experience a gradual shift — so slow you hardly notice that it’s happening — to something increasingly resembling the vegetarianism you were so positive was not for you.