Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I'm Going Vegan

First, let me explain that this is not a judgmental, preachy blog about why everyone should become a vegan, or how I’m somehow stronger or wiser for deciding to do so. How and what you eat is a very personal decision, and one that should never be forced. My husband is not becoming vegan, although he has drastically cut back on his meat and dairy intake (and feels better having done so). I’m only writing this to explain why I have made this decision—for me.

I have been a quasi-vegetarian for years. Growing up, I never liked meat, and always felt a little guilty eating it. But, I was raised by my Polish, meat-loving, grandmother who loved to cook goulash, pierogi, golonka, meat wrapped in bacon (any kind of meat really), and pork chops. (She is now 75 years old and has severe heart disease and corroded arteries). Being a vegetarian in her house was not an option. But, when I could, I would sneak meat to my very appreciative basset hound, or throw it in the trash when my grandmother wasn’t looking. (When I recently told my grandmother that I was a vegetarian, she in her ever-strong Polish accent declared, “Ahh, sh**, I always knew you’d grow up to be a hippie.”)

When I moved out at 15, I ate anything I could afford. And while that diet typically consisted of ramen noodles and tortilla chips (not healthy, but vegetarian), I definitely wouldn’t turn down a free burger if it was offered. And while I was in college, working at a Chinese restaurant to pay the bills, I ate whatever the owners would let us have for free. If I had to buy groceries, a pack of hotdogs for 99 cents would often make its way into my cart. (I don’t even want to think about what’s actually in hot dogs). I knew I wanted to avoid meat, but at that time in my life, it just didn’t seem like an option. (I know now that I could have easily eaten a vegetarian diet on very little money. But, we’ll just add that to the long list of things I wish I had known at 15).

As I got older, I stopped eating red meat (except for the rare burger every five years or so), but would allow myself the occasional chicken or turkey sandwich, justifying that I needed the iron because of my anemia. I didn’t want to eat meat, but I had to. Or, so I thought. The funny thing is that meat really doesn’t contain as much protein or iron as people think. And when you factor in how much fat and cholesterol you’re taking in along with that iron, it’s really not worth it. I am now perfectly capable of getting all the iron and protein I need from beans, vegetables, nuts, and whole wheat. My iron levels are as high as they’ve ever been on a meat diet, and I feel much, much healthier.

I’m not morally opposed to eating meat or dairy, and no, it’s not a religious decision. Well, not really. What I’m opposed to is inflicting senseless torture upon living creatures. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the state of our food supply in America. We no longer live in a society where farmers simply raise and slaughter animals and go out to milk the dairy cows each morning. We live in a society of large scale factory farms where unspeakable horrors happen to animals every day. I’m not going to go into the details of the violence or suffering that happens to animals, because I’m not here to guilt anyone into a meatless, or even reduced meat, lifestyle. But, it doesn’t take much to learn more about what really happens, if you choose to. I will give you something to think about, though. A dairy cow is expected to produce approximately 80 gallons of milk per day. The only way for a cow to produce that much milk is to be continually pregnant. What do you think happens to the babies once they’re born? I find it interesting that people are outraged when they hear of puppies or kittens being slaughtered—and rightfully so. But, every day, people turn a blind eye to the same happening to calves. I’m simply not willing to do so anymore. As a mother, I can’t justify any mother or child suffering—even a four-legged one.

Let me clarify that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat or dairy. I have heard many people say that it’s part of the natural food chain; the way it’s meant to be. And, if we were only eating what we needed to survive, I would agree. But, let’s face it, Americans are eating far more meat than we would ever need. Americans eat one million chickens every hour. Every hour! We kill over 10 billion animals a year. I’m not even going to go into how much land, gas, grain, and other resources are used in this type of production. Most of the world’s grain is going to feed cows in the U.S., so that they can quickly become plump and ready to be slaughtered—rather than going to feed the billions of people who are starving in the world. We’ve just gone way…too…far. We don’t need to eat sausage for breakfast, a big mac for lunch, and steak for dinner, and wash it all down with a milkshake. We don’t need fast food. We have become so used to it that we want it, maybe even become addicted to it. But, we certainly don’t need it.

There are ways to ethically consume meat and dairy. Find a small farm and buy a half a cow. Yes, even if you live in a large city, there is a farmer within a few hours of you. You’ll save a lot of money, and that one cow will feed your family for months—as opposed to the thousands of cows that are mashed up together in the meat you buy at the store or the drive thru window. I admire people like my friend Mary who get eggs from their own chickens. I’m not really ready to commit to being a chicken momma just yet, but I will buy eggs for my family from a local farm, not the grocery store. And yes, you can find milk from a local dairy farmer, too. Although, I will tell you that soy, rice, and almond milk are much, much better for you. You’ll notice an instant change in your weight, complexion, and energy level if you eliminate dairy from your diet. But, if you have to have it, try to find a local producer. Then, you can check out the operation and make sure you’re comfortable with everything you see. And most of all, we can all just cut back.

You don’t have to have meat in every meal, or even in every dinner. It’s not about depriving yourself. It’s about being honest with ourselves about what we truly need to eat, and being mindful of where that food is coming from. That’s it.

Before anyone says that you can’t afford to be a vegetarian or a vegan, let me assure you that you will actually save money. Vegetables, fruits, whole wheat, beans, and nuts are much less expensive than meat. Since I’ve stopped eating meat and dairy, my husband has drastically cut back, and our daughter has been a strict vegetarian for over two years, our grocery bill is lower than ever. And, if you factor in how much you’ll be saving on health care down the road, cutting back on meat and dairy is a much more affordable way to live.

I’m not asking anyone to stop eating meat or dairy. I’m just urging everyone to be more mindful of what you eat, where it came from, and how much of it you truly need. If we take charge of what we’re eating, we’ll be healthier, weigh less, feel better, reduce suffering, and change the world. I’d say that’s at least worth considering, right?

A few resources to check out:

Kathy Freston, author of The Veganist:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

Suggestions & recipes for one meatless day (Meatout Monday) per week:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This was a fantastic read. I will not become a vegan or vegetarian (I so appreciate how you did not come down hard -or at all even - on meat eaters) however I will cut back on meat. Thanks to you Jerome and I will be eating much healthier. Also, I will look into local farmers for our dairy and meat. Now that I don't live in a concrete jungle anymore and am surrounded by farms, I simply have no excuse to continue getting meat from the grocery store. I did not know that you could get dairy and meat directly from a farm. I thank you very much for letting me know that there are better and more humane ways to be a carnivore.