When I reveal to new acquaintances that I’m meat-free, the most common question is – why?
For me it’s simple. If I couldn’t kill it myself – I shouldn’t be eating it. Period.
In my life, going vegetarian was a gradual process. At 14, I gave up beef, pork, lamb; a few years later, poultry; and most recently, sayonara seafood. I still consume dairy, though I’ve made an effort to minimize and purchase from small farms.
The transition wasn’t easy. With a chef mother and carnivorous, food-loving family, I got a lot of weird looks and snide comments. Not to mention that I love the taste of meat. I choose not to eat it based on my overriding love for animals, but it is a sacrifice.
In the grand scheme, though, it’s such a small price to pay. Who am I to cause another creature to suffer? Just so I can eat something completely non-essential? How can I “awwwww” over a baby pig, then proceed to eat a ham sandwich? It’s impossible to reconcile.
We live in a country where most of us have absolutely no idea where our food originates – and we don’t want to. Factory farms, mass-produced meat, chemicals, hormones & pesticides – these are the realities of American cuisine. If the average meat-eater were to witness the horrors of a factory farm, they’d likely never eat an animal again. Unfortunately, this disconnect is the status quo. Establishments like Whole Foods (who sell only humanely raised meat) are too few.
The cruelty that animals undergo at the hands of our nation’s factory farms is hideous beyond all comprehension (Google undercover farm footage for the grisly truth). No, they’re not humans – but they are sentient beings capable of emotional depth and intense suffering. And if we can’t face where our food is coming from, do we have any business eating it?
Despite all this, one key aspect of my vegetarianism is this: I do not force my beliefs on anyone. I don’t judge meat eaters, wax unprompted about animal rights or make my carnivorous friends feel uncomfortable.
If asked, I will educate people on my choice – and on the reality of the meat industry. I will encourage meat eaters to stick with humane sources and implement “Meatless Mondays” and other small sacrifices that will impact this industry in the long run. I will spread the word about the sanctity of animal life. I will do all of those things. But being abrasive, judgmental or violent with my beliefs isn’t my style – and those tactics won’t convince anyone.
We’re on the right track to diminishing cruelty. Awareness is growing. Sadly, it’s extremely slow-going. But each of us who makes the choice to go vegetarian or (better yet) vegan minimizes the suffering in our own small way. And that’s absolutely worth it.
Photo credit: Christa Richert