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Why I Don’t Like Vegetarians

October 7, 2008

(Note: This is a personal rant of David Thier’s and does not reflect the views of the Yale Sustainable Food Project)

If one more person, fresh from skimming the first chapter of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, tells me that they’ve become a vegetarian for “environmental reasons,” then I will break their malnourished nose.

“Meat just isn’t sustainable” is a sentiment I hear a a lot these days, and it is inaccurate.

Certain kinds of meat are the most unsustainable foods available on the market. They’re fed off of bushels of fossil-fertilized corn, shipped halfway around the country and then back again before being shrink-wrapped with styrofoam. Still, refusing to eat meat because particular meat products offend you would be like me refusing to eat all vegetables because the shape of zucchinis makes me uncomfortable.

People are so quick to draw arbitrary lines about what is sustainable, what is “green,” and what is not. But that kind of thinking is dangerous – it represents an unwillingness to actually engage with the world on a case-by case basis, and instead assume the power to make sweeping blanket statements that ignore the complexities of real life.

Grazing cattle, for example, can be one of the best ways to use large plots of land to produce calories without the work associated with intensive agriculture, and with no other input than solar energy. If you follow those same cattle with pasture raised chickens, you have a system that can regenerate soil that would have been lost to natural forces. Pigs and chickens both can turn what are essentially waste products into valuable protein. A national buffalo commons may be the only way to maintain The Great Plains without draining the Ogalla aquifer.

Animals can be an essential way to cycle nutrients on a farm trying to minimize inputs, and it does the agricultural economy a disservice by preventing farmers from profiting from those pieces of a sustainable system.

Not that meat is always a good answer: even grass-fed cattle will still fill belch out methane that contributes to global warming. Blanket acceptance of meat is as dangerous, if not more than blanket rejection, but rules aren’t the answer here. What’s needed is thought, flexibility, and adaptability.

Making rules will just keep us on the path we’re already on. Reducing plants to Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium yielded the industrial corn economy, and reducing diets to calories, proteins, fats and sugars has done nothing to staunch obesity. Reducing food to such broad categories as meat and vegetables could be just as damning in creating a food system that does not cooperate with nature.

For those that have a moral problem with killing animals, you are missing out on some good meat, but I can’t judge, because I do not have a moral problem with killing animals. I do feel like I haven’t done my complete duty in making that decision, which is why I’m making plans to have a chance to kill a chicken, then eat it. My views might change after that.

However, for all those who feel that all meat is environmentally unsound, just give it a little bit of thought. Don’t think of the steak in front of you as just “a steak,” but think about where it came from, how it was raised, who it was raised by, and how it is seasoned. If the stripe of this particular steak doesn’t meet your standards, don’t eat it, don’t buy it. But don’t reject it just for being a steak.

Don’t even get me started on vegans.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2008 2:00 pm

    Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

  2. Conor permalink
    October 8, 2008 3:24 am

    follow the money!
    ~cc

  3. October 8, 2008 5:20 am

    I disagree. There are many things I would argue with your blog, but everyone has their own personal view. Here’s my two cents: First of all, the comparison between the shape of a zucchini to the entire meat industry is ridiculous. Generally, the supply of meat coming into the world’s grocery stores does so like a huge meat assembly line, cows are kept in 5 foot stalls their entire lives until they are slaughtered. Chicken’s beaks are cut off so they don’t kill each other in their extremely tight quarters. Often they break legs because they have been given so many hormones to fatten them up.

    I think most people are not vegetarians SIMPLY because they think it is unsustainable, just as you mention the issue is complicated, so is the decision to become a vegetarian. I agree that if you are going to eat meat, go for organic, free-run etc. I would never preach to someone about becoming a vegetarian, but knowing both sides of any topic always helps a person come to their own decision.

    For me, I could not fathom slaughtering a cow, pig or chicken myself; just because I liked the taste of it’s flesh. We are a developed enough society that we can choose not to eat animals. We can survive just as well on other nutrients.
    I think the statistic was that meat production uses 8 units of energy to get one unit of food. If we all were vegetarians we would put an end to world hunger several times over (hypothetically, of course). The land we use to raise animals can sometimes be fertile forests that are chopped down specifically for animal grazing. If we hadn’t of chopped down the trees in the first place, we wouldn’t need animals to make the ground fertile again!

    I would love to hear the story of you killing each of the animals you eat and then seeing what your perspective is.

  4. cody webb permalink
    October 8, 2008 6:03 pm

    i love it Dave, love it.

  5. Alex permalink
    October 8, 2008 9:36 pm

    Factory farms are evil, horrible things. They are unfair to the animals, they are terrible for the environment. I almost never eat factory farmed meats. Yes, I can take you to the farms where my cow/chicken/pig comes from, and you can pet the animals if you want – that is, if you can catch them in their pastures.

    You can EASILY (most places in the US) get ‘good’ meat. Meat that was raised on a farm, in a field, that had a farmer scoop out their grain feed by hand. Most supermarkets now offer a premium/organic/local version of every meat they sell. You can ALWAYS ask the butcher at the store where the meat came from. In every city and town, there is a butcher shop. They probably aren’t as cheap as FactoryFarmFood BUT they enable to you to get actual answers about the quality of life enjoyed by your chosen type of animal-based food. Most of these shops are proud of the fact that they buy their meats from local farms and will joyously direct you to ‘good’ meat.
    (Animals that are sad, suffering, sickly, etc. taste bad. The hormones that transmit misery change the chemicals found in the muscle tissue, and make the meat much tougher. Also, these animals are more prone to carrying disease. You can be guaranteed a merciful, painless death for your food if you buy kosher.
    Any half-decent butcher is aware of this fact and will respect your request for cruelty-free food for this reason – even if they don’t care about animal rights.)

  6. Bella permalink
    October 8, 2009 2:13 pm

    Okay, okay- I agree that everyone has their own personal view of the world, and for one i agree that eating meat is good for you because of the protien thats in them, but how some companies process their meat is just inhumane.
    There has been this saying from people who DO eat meat:
    “God put animals on this earth to eat and survive” and frankly- i agree with this, what is the point of having cows or chicken if all we do is raise them on the farm and do nothing with them, hello people! eat em, they’re there for a reason, and eating meat does not mean your inhumane and it certainly does not mean your cruel. But everyone has their own way of living life, and if your a vegan- go for it! (:

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