What follows is an expose on my thoughts about Vegetarianism primarily from a health and wellbeing perspective, with hints of politics and religion:
As some of you know, the book that provoked this discussion was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair- a classic piece of American literature which, after reading, I find easy to imagine that it made even the great outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt become a vegetarian. It contains an account based loosely on the real experiences of the author as he observed living and working conditions in Chicago at the height of the meat packing industry's influence post-industrial revolution. It tells of the gruesome slaughterhouses that chewed up and spit out men as well as beasts and marketed to the world as Grade A what was really mixed with rats, the bread that the rats had eaten, the poison put on the bread to kill the rats, limbs of workers, bloody spews of workers with consumption, blood mopped up off the floor, fillers like potato remnants, animals with tuberculosis, and so on and so on and so on. Disgusting.
As is made clear in the documentary Food, Inc. (available on Netflix- watch it!), food companies market their products with tender farm scenes, nostalgic red barns, and rolling green hills when, in reality, there is nothing happy and farmy about where most of our food comes from. Animals are jam packed in crowded and sunless buildings, trampling over dead caracases as they struggle to get some festering water, many of them ill and dying, being shot-up with antibiotics, and living anything but a blissful Old MacDonald existance.
If you decide that enough is enough, and that you will no longer support an industry that is cruel to animals and unfair to its underpaid illegal immigrant labor force, then I applaude you. I am right there with you. But I'm not convinced that the answer is pure veganism. Instead, I have been really trying to buy local meat from Mennonites (that's the beauty of Pennsylvania) or other organic farmers in my area with actual FARMS, not puppy-mill style feed lots, and I've been eating meat hunted and prepared by Dan's uncle (that's as organic as it gets!), or at least organic meat that was not hormone or antibiotic treated that was fed with grass, not the cheaper corn which makes cattle fat, but ill. There are ways to still respect animals and to make sure that the animal products you eat came from animals that were treated humanely and were healthy themselves before they wind up on your plate. Fortunatley, we live in an age where there is the availability of organic, respectfully raised animals- you just have to be willing to pay for it. But, as demand increases and producers wise up, surely prices will decrease for all of us- so make it happen!
That being said, although Vegetarianism for a cause is noble, I have personally never known even ONE vegetarian who lived their lives the way they do as a political protest against the unsavory meatpacking industry. If that was their cause, then they would not have a problem eating meat that was raised with love by Mennonite Mo next door. They ignorantly munch on their artificial crab (you know that's just food colored fish, right??) yet shun the free range chicken fed quality food and treated well by its owners who bring it fresh to you from the next town over. This makes NO SENSE to me and to try to back themselves up for their illogical choices, there are a variety of other reasons that I have seen people give for their vegetarianism, each with varying levels of idiocy.
1. "After watching Bambi, I just couldn't eat meat anymore."
Oh, please. As the scriptures state, God has given man dominion over the animals- it is our right to have what we need. (see Genesis or Moses) That being said, scripture also cautions men to eat meat sparingly, for this is right in the Lord's eyes. (see Doctrine & Covenants 89) From that, it sounds like God isn't too fond of killing Bambi just for the sake of killing either. But if there is a need, which there is- we need at least 30 grams of protein everyday for our bodies to function properly- then there is no moral wrong to humanely killing the animals you need to sustain human life and then to make frugal use of the animal. And if you're so sad about bambi, why do you still drink milkshakes made from the milk of a sick old cow pumped up with hormones while its utters are jerked around by a machine? And yes, that same milk is dehydrated and made into the powdered cheese on your Doritos. You can't escape it. If you honestly can't stand the killing of an animal, why have you ever eaten a cupcake made with the unborn young of a chicken cramped inside a dark and dirty shed? Or used glue? You cannot escape the fact that we are surrounded by products with animal derivatives. Animals provide a useful means of creating the things that we need daily. Like you, I wish that they were treated better and killed in more humane ways, but not eating meat is not going to get your point across. You are still coming into contact with, using, and probably eating animal products everyday. A better route to vent your concerns would be through the political process, not naively thinking that you can change the world by eating grilled cheese (cow's milk) with mayo (chicken eggs) (+eggs and milk in bun) instead of a hamburger.
2. "It's a cool lifestyle, and yeah, I care about animals"
These are the people who become vegetarians to be (as they see it) cool. It seems like a nice thing to do since they like fluffy bunnies and blood grosses them out and besides, their best friend in junior high thought it would be cool too, and now it has become a part of their shallow identity. I have seen a lot of this with adolescent females. They are looking for a way to set themselves apart from their peers and think that being a vegetarian or, worse yet, a vegan, will make them seem edgy and interesting. Wrong. In my eyes you look uneducated and insecure. EVERY single girl I knew in high school who wanted to become a vegetarian, had absolutely no grip on the idea of her need for protein. There is a way to be a healthy vegetarian and to get enough protein. I know, because I actually get about half of my protein from plant sources- some of my favorites include black beans, pure almond butter, raw walnuts, lentils, edamame, organic soymilk, hummus, and so forth. But how many teenagers are packing their lunches with things like these that they need to sustain them? None that I've ever seen. Which leads me to...
3. To lose weight
This is the worst of all. Again, typically another teenage girl idiocy. They think that cutting out a food group and thereby throwing off their whole nutritional balance will somehow cause them to lose weight. If becoming vegetarian means eating a lot of fresh, unadulterated fruits and veggies instead of other processed snacks, then yes it's possible to lose weight. However, that is never what vegetarianism means to a naive young person. Rather, it means instead of a turkey sandwich, they get nachos with extra cheese (dont even get me started on how wrong nacho "cheese" is), it means instead of grilled chicken they have Cheetos and a few Little Debbie Snack cakes. There is nothing about this lifestyle change that is either a) weight loss promoting, or b) healthy in ANY way.
Most vegetarians really should be taking some supplements under the direction of a nutritionist to ensure they are getting enough iron, B vitamins, and other nutrients that they will likely be lacking without a significant source of animal products. However, not only are these pathetic teens and young adults (or older adults looking for a way to revamp themselves...keep looking, people) not very unlikely to be getting these vitamins and minerals, but they are likely loading up on saturated fat and simple sugars because they often turn to pre-packaged processed foods when they forego the regular meaty main dishes served in most public places. (For example, the extra cheesy french fries and sundae instead of the chicken sandwich.) Not only are many people who overlook meat often choosing poor alternatives (ie, my neighbor who eats Nutella for dinner, sorry, had to call you out) but they are also missing out on great nutrient-dense foods. Per gram, protein has the same number of calories as carbohydrates, so the same amount of trimmed lean meat is not going to deliver any more calories than an equal amount of plain bread. Not only that, but because meat products are often more expensive in general than plant-based products like bread, you will often see the portions of bread products being much larger than its meaty counterpart (chips vs. beef jerky in the vending machine), thereby delivering even more calories. Supersize Me (the excellent documentary) gives a great example of this when it shows that the average bagel, as I recall, delivers SIX full servings of bread (that's all you need for an entire day!)- weighing in at about 300 calories plus cream cheese (and, yes, even strawberry cream cheese is an animal product and loaded with fat and sugar) adding probably around 100 calories more. Compare to 2 hard boiled eggs which totals only 140 calories and 14 whopping grams of protein. Which seems like the healthier breakfast to you? The fact is, that most weight loss regimens recommend getting MORE protein and less of the other junk.
An Attempt to Practice What I Preach:
You dont have to read anymore, I've fairly well said my peace, but this is just me trying to justify to myself that I am doing enough to satisfy my own food concerns. I am a total omnivore. I love all good, REAL food. I pretty much eat only whole foods- fresh fruits and vegetables (farmer's market!), 100% whole grains, fresh lean meat, rich oils, spices, and herbs (from my garden!!). And I LOVE it. Whole is how nature intended our food to be. Of course, I'm not perfect, I indulge in the white pita or naan occassionally and I have a horrible sweet tooth (or rather, many sweet teeth) and I love to bake. But even so, I typically use honey or non-sugar sweeteners when I bake, oil instead of butter, unsweetened applesauce instead of oil, and white whole wheat flour. I have also converted to almond milk and organic unsweetened soymilk instead of cow's milk since I decided I wasn't too keen on the hormone shots given to cows to keep them producing and the fact that the government pays off farmers to dump HUGE quantities of milk every year to keep the supply lower so prices can be higher- such a waste, this infuriates me- but I'm admitedly not perfect on that either since I still use cream to make ice cream and eat high quality cheeses. I just already have enough hormones, I don't need to drink any more of them.
Food is fuel, but food should also be enjoyable. I eat a LOT, but because I'm eating the right things, I can (typically) get away with it. I can't remember the last day when I haven't eaten at least 3 servings of fresh vegetables and I have had to literally cut down on fruit since I was eating over 5 servings a day! Now I typically have 3 fresh fruits a day. And my body is happy :)
Arm yourself with some knowlegde about your food habits and learn how to manipulate the way you eat to reflect your needs. I highly recommend the calorie calculator which also breaks down your percentages of fat/carb/protein ratios and how much sodium and sugar you are eating at: www.livestrong.com/myplate
It is excellent. As my Dad always said when I was a chubby kid, "Eat to live, don't live to eat." When you are using food to your advantage, you can have mastery over your body. I have fortunatley been in sports for many, many years and have been able to develop a very accurate awareness of my body and its needs. I have also been able to take college classes on human nutrition, sports nutrition, and exercise science which taught me to use food to my advantage. As I moved from position to position over the years when I played rugby, my body would also change as I would fuel and work my body differently. In my final year playing rugby, I was pounding the protein (animal and plant) and working the weights much more than the cardio based on the needs of my position. Now that I'm a regular civilian again, I've changed to more veggies, less but still enough protein, and more cardio, less weights. Since my last rugby game a little over a year ago, I've healthily dropped over 25 pounds without hardly trying, just since I've been listening to my body and what it needs. (Don't worry, I basically look just the same, just a pointier chin and smaller shoulders, haha) No gimmicks, no deprivation, I snack constantly- but on whole, healthy foods. Control your body or else your body's illnesses and developed limitations will control your entire life.
Knowledge is Power.
In conclusion, stand up for what you think is right, but don't just be a rebel without a cause. Help effect realistic change by putting your money where your mouth is (literally) and supporting local organic farmers and using the political process to try to change the gruesome system we have in place. Treat your body well and it will treat you well.