Recently a good friend of mine, also vegetarian, asked what it was that made me stop eating meat. I have to say, it was not easy for me to answer.
There had been a few red flags lately in the news on topics regarding hormones causing early puberty in young girls, food contamination and GMO‘s (genetically modified organism) that had caught my attention. With a 2-year-old and a baby on the way I wanted to educate myself on what I was eating, how it was made and where it was coming from. We have always eaten healthy, but I never thought twice about where it came from and how it got to my plate.
It started out by educating myself about the hormones put into the feed given to the cattle, pigs and chickens. Which led me to the difference between grain-fed and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. That was in January and I haven’t gone to get that meat, or any other, since.. So, I visited my local butcher and Whole Foods and talked to the meat guys themselves. At the butcher I learned about where their meat comes from and how local it is, and at Whole Foods I learned about grain-fed vs. grass-fed. Hungry for more information I started reading some articles and books about the topic. Clearly, the grass-fed benefits out-weighed the grain-fed, which seemed, and is, unnatural for cows. I was all ready to go get my grass-fed meat at my local butcher, but before I did, I started reading the book,
The book focused on some of the main differences between locally raised meat and large companies whose meat are from factory farms. After learning about how factory farms treated and slaughtered their livestock, I was horrified. Even more so when I opened my freezer to find a large bag of Tyson’s (one of the largest supplier of our nations meat) chicken nuggets that I had been feeding to my daughter. That is when I vowed to support local farmers. Then I learned about the conditions and methods in slaughterhouses and I was appalled. Not only are the animals given horrible, unnatural feed and living conditions, but they weren’t even guaranteed a successful, painless death. I didn’t think a steak that would take me 10 minutes to eat was worth the hell that these animals go through from the moment they were born to the moment they were killed. I then made the mistake of watching a few documentaries on the topic. Once I was face-to-face with it, there was no way I was going to enjoy a hamburger again.
The book also talked a lot about the ecological footprint caused by factory farms. They produce 18% of greenhouse gas emission worldwide, which is more than the carbon footprint of the transportation industry .
“Emissions from industrial farming aren’t just caused by cow burps. They are also caused by the one billion tons of waste (including 64 percent of ammonia emissions, the primary producer of acid rain) produced by suffering animals held in extreme confinement. Containing high levels of hormones and pesticides, this untreated toxic waste is converted into concentrated liquid sewage, known as “slurry.” Stored in vast 25-million-gallon lagoons, this endlessly increasing waste releases gases into the atmosphere before it is used to fertilize feed crops. The leading cause of soil and groundwater contamination, lagoon breaches and fertilizer spills are incredibly common.
Even as industrial farms produce more emissions than transportation, they are also responsible for a majority of emissions produced by all transportation functions. Animals raised for food can travel hundreds or thousands of miles in their lifetimes as they are transported between various operations such as stockyards and slaughterhouses. Maintaining the support industries of factory farming also takes a toll on local environments. Planting, fertilizing, irrigating and harvesting feed crops, continually pumping water and sewage, running packing plants and slaughterhouses, (which kill 250 cows an hour), all rely on heavy machinery and fossil fuel consumption.” – Farm Sanctuary
After learning about the life, or lack their of, for animals raised for meat and dairy, and the environmental aspect of it all, I felt I was at a cross-roads. What was I going to do with all this information. Honestly, it wasn’t a hard decision. In the end, organic or not, I didn’t think a pig, cow or chicken had to be killed so I can eat them. As a well-known vegan, Kathy Freston, recently said “it felt right in her soul” to not eat animals. I now understand where she is coming from.
I sat down with my husband and told him I was no longer choosing to eat meat, but that he could. He read the book and stopped eating meat one week after our talk. We have both been meatless since mid-January and are surprised at how much we do NOT crave or even want it. We have had fun coming up with new vegetarian recipes and trying new foods.
Now our challenge is becoming vegans. We LOVE cheese. There is nothing like a good bottle of wine paired with manchego or gruyere. And I love milk. I would have 2-3 glasses of milk per day just to have it. But I’m fighting my love for cheese and milk with my belief in how animals should be treated. A dairy cow has a worse off life than a cow raised for its meat. How can I choose not to eat meat because of how the animals are treated, but turn around and eat dairy products? It’s hard, but we are weaning ourselves from it.
I do hope this is a permanent change in our family. I know Tom and I will never preach to meat eaters why they should or shouldn’t eat meat. It’s their choice, just like it’s our choice to not eat meat. And if our girls want to grow up eating meat, that will be their choice as well. All we can do is educate them on healthy eating habits.
If you are interested more on the topics of sustainable eating or vegetarianism, the following websites, books and documentaries are a few that have helped educate us along our journey.