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Becoming a Vegetarian: for Pollution, Poverty, and Pain

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Becoming a Vegetarian: for Pollution, Poverty, and Pain

Lee Vance

Friends and family are beginning to ramp up the questions and concerns related to my recent decision to become a vegetarian. I did not anticipate that making this decision would bring the level of attention that it has but I do suspect it creates some disruption in our shared social agreements and can be bothersome, especially to our local hunting and farming community. I think blogging about it gives me the opportunity to answer the question of "why?" and also helps to organize my thoughts for future conversations. My intention is to be compassionate and my reasons boil down to these three:

Pollution

Eating the large amount of meat that US citizens consume is bad for the environment. The world's largest producer of green house gas emissions (GHG) is construction. The second largest is the meat industry, which is followed by transportation. The energy necessary to raise, store, feed, transport, and slaughter animals has had an increasingly deleterious impact on our air, water, and land. This is a fact. Many of our rain forests and plant-life is shaved down (about 2 acres per minute; about 40% of our landmass in the world is used for animal farms) to make room for pasture and feed. The link above provides some detail about how these emissions are released and how they impact the planet. Reading such facts and understanding why over 1 million businesses involved in the meat industry would go to great lengths to keep this information outside of public awareness is understandable. The fact is that the mass production of meat is a major contributor to the destruction of our home.  

Poverty

The rich eat meat at the peril of the poor. Americans (the rich) consume about 200 pounds of meat per person per year. There are about 7 billion people on the plant. Approximately 1 billion are starving and are dying. These numbers are growing. There is enough food on this planet to feed everyone. In fact, there is enough to feed everyone every day this year and have leftovers. Instead, 1.3 billion tons of grain are consumed by the farm animals we eat each year. Nearly all of it is fed to livestock, mostly pork and poultry, in the developed world. This grain is rich in nutrients in the US - we spend excessive amounts of energy in fattening our food. The following fact probably upsets my belly the most. While people are dying from starvation, Americans (myself included) have consumed beef and pork in excess, assuring that our trips to the doctor and medical bills will increase. We Americans love meat so much, we are willing to become obese, become ill, and experience an early death while fellow human beings pay with their lives for us to be able to eat it. Once I accepted this fact, it made it much easier to enjoy tofu. 

Pain

Oddly enough, these facts didn't push me over the edge before I heard a scientist and Buddhist monk say, "animals are my friends, and I don't eat my friends." As a psychologist, I employ numerous and natural ways of calming, healing, and recalibrating the human nervous system. Animals also have complex nervous systems. The nervous system's job is almost solely to assist in the survival of the organism. Pain is the signal our nervous system's use. Animals are no different. Some are more evolved than others. For instance, its been well researched that pigs outperform 3-year-old children in cognitive tasks and are more trainable/intelligent than cats and dogs. We definitely aren't consuming the "lower" or "less developed" animals. We are eating the smart ones - the ones that register pain, that can actually communicate helplessness, sadness, and empathy. Many animal techs have long studied and argued that many species demonstrate signs of consciousness. I find it interesting, but not the most compelling reason for vegeterianism, that animals are smarter than I was taught in grade school. What is most compelling to me is that all sentient beings, all animals in particular, have the desire to live, the impulse to avoid suffering, and work hard to survive and thrive. This sounds eerily like my next door neighbors, my family, and my own wishes.

If I can live a longer, healthier, and moral life without consuming sentient beings because they taste good or because its a cultural norm: I'll take the hummus wrap, please. If the planet and the poor also benefit from that decision, that sounds like an easy decision to me. 

That said, almost everyone around me, including my children, eat meat. I respect the social fabric of which I was born. I respect everyone's ability to choose and I admit, I am frequently tempted by the smell of BBQ. Cattle ranchers are not my enemy and neither is my friend that continues to enjoy grilling (I love grilling). But, I have to be willing to allow facts to change me, otherwise I act complicit to the suffering of all living beings for the sake of not offending. Its not really that I made a choice, its that facts have changed me. I do not hope that others will adopt my choices but I do hope that others stay open to the facts, and allow truth to guide their behavior.