Editor of the Reformer,
What you eat for supper, or during the day matters, and not just for the individual but for the entire planet. Whether we choose to eat or not to eat the flesh of other animals is something on which our future as human beings rests, and the future of most species of animals as well.
I'll start with the arguments against eating meat, or maybe better put, the arguments for eating only plants. Basically, there are three: cruelty, the environment, and health.
First, the cruelty argument: when we consume meat, most people are not eating animals that have been killed in a painless humane fashion, after having led lives of contentment in lush green pastures. No, our beef, our chicken, and our pork (and also our fish) come from factory farms, and the animals are killed after living lives crammed together in unspeakably miserable conditions. Hopefully their deaths bring some relief, but I believe people who continue to eat meat would no longer do so if they had to visit a factory farm and watch these animals being killed. Such cruelty can and will continue to exist only as long as it remains hidden away so we can ignore it.
The second argument for a plant-based diet is the environment. Raising animals for food uses too much carbon, too much energy, and that has an effect on the environment. In addition, cows emit many greenhouse gases, methane among them, and we feed them the grains that could have fed us. Raising animals — cruelly, for the most part, mind you— just so that we can eat them is a huge waste of time and money and involves the expenditure of excessive carbon energy.
The final point is health. Many people would argue that eating meat is necessary for one’s health, insisting that without meat one cannot get enough protein. But that is not true. Yes, animal flesh contains “complete protein” but our bodies have to break this cow or chicken or fish protein down to its amino acids in order to re-construct the proteins in human bodies. What is more, every species of vegetable and all the grains contain amino acids, these same building blocks of protein. As vegans and vegetarians have shown for a long time, one need only prudently combine them to get “enough protein.” In fact, we have seen how often eating meat causes problems, as it contains too much cholesterol, too much saturated fat and not enough vitamins and fiber for anyone’s good health. It is precisely because of these factors that when we eat meat we risk heart disease and blocked arteries.
Why eat meat? There is only one reason today: the taste (called umami) and mouthfeel of meat is undeniably unique. Those who grew up as I did, eating meat, learned to love it. But appreciating the taste of meat is just something one learns, just as one learns to love vegetables — by familiarity. One can learn to prepare vegetables just as lovingly as meat; it is a choice we make, but one with profound consequences. We need to learn to enjoy the taste of meat or fish only on special holidays like birthdays and just like birthday cake, meat or fish should become a rare treat in our lives, not something consumed every day.
In the end, one can choose for a kinder life, for good health, and for the planet, or one can choose to eat meat, to consume the flesh of animals raised and killed for that purpose, and everything that follows from such a choice.
What are you eating for dinner tonight?
Phoebe Sparrow Wagner
Brattleboro, Nov. 1