Why I’m Not a VegetarianJuly 30, 2015
A few months ago, my husband went away on a zen meditation retreat. He returned with the awesome “post-retreat glow” I expected. He also returned with a completely shaved head and the announcement that he was now a vegetarian.
I’m no stranger to vegetarianism. Five years ago I was eating a practically vegan diet myself, hailing the virtues of a plant-based diet.
“Virtues” is the exact right word. Because in addition to the health aspect of a plant-based diet, there is the part that says “killing is wrong.” I’d seen all the movies. I’d read all the books. I was practicing and teaching yoga. I was sooooo there.
So why did I cringe when my husband announced his no-meat status?
Maybe because I had a $30 pork shoulder in the crockpot, awaiting his return.
Maybe because we have several dietary restrictions in our family (including a toddler who only wants to eat sausage) and meal planning is already a challenge.
Maybe because I’ve seen clients struggle as vegans/vegetarians and feel much better with some meat in their diet.
But, most of all, because I think vegetarianism may be a slightly misguided effort.
Whoa. I’m sure I just pissed someone off. Let me explain.
I don’t think vegetarians are wrong or bad. I applaud anyone who applies conscious choices to their diet.
But avoiding meat doesn’t always fulfill (or isn’t the only way to fulfill) the values most vegetarians are trying to uphold. I’ve traveled this road myself and come full circle back to being an omnivore.
In fact I’ve got word from an inside source that Pema Chodron herself is no longer a vegetarian.
What I’m writing here is my opinion and not meant to judge anyone. There are many perspectives. That’s what makes this an interesting topic to consider.
Is killing wrong?
The food chain exists as part of the natural world. Herbivores like sheep and cows are not morally superior to lions or birds just because they eat a plant-based diet. They’re all eating appropriate food for their bodies.
Humans have 32 teeth, including 4 canines. We are able to digest and enjoy meat. Listening to these cues from nature, it appears we are meant to be omnivorous. And sure enough, humans have been eating both plants and meat for a long, long time without any nutrition research to back it up.
But we have so many options now. Why kill? We have free will and can choose not to.
Tofu (as an example) seems like a good alternative to eating animals.
And this is where the story gets bigger than meat vs. no meat. Because soy is a commodity crop, grown in huge quantities. Same goes for corn, wheat, etc. Monocropping means that a crop is grown on the same large piece of land, year after year. That’s not how plants are supposed to be raised. It damages the soil (kills beneficial bacteria), leads to increased pesticide use (kills bugs) and harms the environment (kills surrounding wildlife and, heck, slowly kills all of us.) You can read more about monocropping here.
Is killing wrong? I’m not here to pass moral judgement but it seems like killing happens in lots of different ways, even when you avoid meat.
Should animals be treated poorly?
No way! I am ALL for not eating factory farmed meat. That’s why I buy my meat from a local biodynamic farm, where the cattle eat grass and the chickens peck bugs out of the soil. No one is crammed into cages or living with open sores. I think we can all applaud for that.
To me, the difference isn’t between eating meat or not eating meat. As with the soy example above…it’s about supporting sustainable, ethical farming practices. Regardless of what is being farmed.
Is a vegetarian diet healthier?
We should all eat lots of plants. Veggies, fruit, grains, beans, nuts…bring ’em on.
But when you rely on plants alone, it’s easy to become anemic. It’s easy to eat too many carbohydrates. You may not be getting the proper amount of amino acids to create the type of protein your body needs (more about that here.) It’s easy to become addicted to sugar. It’s easy to eat way too much processed food.
And for some people, it’s easy to use food restrictions like these as a type of eating disorder.
I’m not saying you can’t be healthy as a vegetarian – you absolutely can.
I’m just saying it doesn’t guarantee health. Ever read the ingredients on a box of frozen veggie “meat”? Yeah. That.
Again, the story is bigger than whether or not you eat meat. If you want to be more healthy, stop drinking soda. Eat real food that doesn’t come out of a box. You’ll see better results, I promise. Whether you eat meat at every meal or not.
Life isn’t black or white.
Food is not religion or sports. You don’t have to choose a side and stick to it for life.
Maybe you eat vegetarian this month, and eat animal protein next month. After that, who knows? Full on paleo? Macrobiotics? Raw vegan? I have tried them all.
You can experiment with how you feel. Listen to your body. And you can leave some room for enjoyment, too. Restrictive diets tend to backfire, which is why I don’t recommend them. You can turn the dial up or down on certain foods, but you don’t have to swear anything off for good (unless you have an allergy or medical condition).
Trust me, I feel a lot better without processed sugar in my diet. I’m much healthier without it. But when it’s my birthday, I’m having birthday cake. There’s something healthy about that, too.
If you are vegetarian and want to stay that way, it’s cool.
But if you want to stop killing and be healthier, there may be more pieces of the puzzle to look at.