Why I’m [kind of, mostly] a vegetarian.

Let me start off by saying that I like eating animals. In my early university days, I probably ate a bacon sandwich at least four times a week. This was on top of my regular meat-with-every-meal intake. I come from an Italian family. Growing up in South Africa, these two cultural combinations meant that meat was always very high on the meal priority list. But it has been a while since I last had a bacon sandwich.

Now, I still like eating animals. Yet, I am [kind of, mostly] a vegetarian. I’ll get to [that part] in a bit. Firstly, let me try explain why I, a meat-enthusiast, choose to abstain from this age-old human practice. No, it’s not because I think we shouldn’t eat animals at all, which I’m sure you’ve gathered by now (although there are many who do believe this, for valuable reasons, and I have immense respect for such an ideal). Initially, it was also not because of how our fast-paced, profit and efficiency-driven society tends to treats animals (although, this naturally became a strong cornerstone to my continued no-meat commitment, as I have found it cannot actually be separated from my first reason).

My initial, and foremost reason for quitting meat was this:

* Curbing the world’s huge and increasing appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change… The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in the report finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming. The Guardian

* Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Fao.org

* Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Richard Oppenlander

I could go on, but I know that it is likely you skimmed over those and rolled your eyes a little. Just like we did when we were first told about global warming, or that the earth was round, or that smoking causes cancer. Its uncomfortable. And it’s certainly not the easiest conversation to have at dinner parties. It’s long-winded and almost always sounds just that little bit pretentious. But, for me especially, it’s undeniable.

It started when I watched Graham Hill’s TED talk, Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian, back at university. I was deeply compelled by his argument, and, aghast at the very idea of giving up meat altogether, I began with the ever popular ‘Meat-free Mondays’ and ‘Vegan Wednesdays’. However, the more I researched, read, watched, listened and discussed, the more I knew that simply eating less meat was insufficient. Before I start to sound like one of those “annoying environmental hippies” (although I am tempted to break out into an entirely separate argument about everything that is wrong with that statement), I do not lead the perfect ‘green life’. I smoke (ugh). I probably still use way too much plastic. My job requires that I do a lot of traveling. My carbon footprint is, sadly, still very much existent and a work in progress, which often feels quite overwhelming.

Especially when I read about 21 year olds in New York who haven’t made any garbage for two years. But, although not disregarding other ‘green actions’, which are still vitally important, I determined that the biggest impact I could have on reducing my environmental heaviness was through monitoring the food I bought and ate. In fact, quitting meat altogether has a greater impact on reducing one’s carbon footprint over and above anything else. I have seen that this is an action that is becoming increasingly undeniable to many the layman, not just those ‘annoying environmentalists’.

In a lot of my conversations, many people have asked me why my commitment has to extend to chicken or fish. The problem lies with those big lumbering cow things that fart all the time, doesn’t it? If only. Fish are a no-brainer. The depletion of our oceans and the very nature of the fishing industry today are having dramatic consequences for our future planet. And, no, not our far-off future planet, but our immediate one. And chickens? It’s a much larger web of interacting factors. Most chickens are mass-produced in disgusting conditions – whether this offends you or not, this kind of care is not environmentally friendly. Mass production means mass transportation, excessive consumption and waste, and much more. This sadly means curbing my desire for a cheeky Nando’s (which, if I’m honest, has been a stumbling block for me). The hard fact is, if you cut out red meat for environmental or moral reasons – well, chickens and fish pretty much have to follow.

But, why the [kind of, mostly] bit? Well, because I do still like meat. I just have a problem with how it is produced and consumed. And so, when I am able to access meat that is a) entirely organic (I mean really, really organic), b) locally produced, c) has come from an animal well taken care of, and d) as a result of a, b and c, has limited environmental impact, I will happily (if not ecstatically) eat it. But, believe it or not, this is actually a rare opportunity. Woolworths ‘organic’ simply does not cut it. Also, the problem has gotten so bad that in order to make an environmental difference, we need to go back to eating meat like we did many years ago – where it is something special, a treat rather than a regular part of our meals.

I could go on and on about the facts and figures, but I am a firm believer that “bible bashing”, if I may borrow the term, gets you nowhere. People have the right to choose. That being said, there is nothing I struggle with more than people who make uninformed choices. I will respect almost any decision, if it has been backed it up with thought, research and accountability. Mine led me to a certain path. But I also know many amazing individuals who have responded to these findings differently. The point is to respond. How you chose to do so lies with you. But not responding, well that’s a choice too.


The arguments…

* Graham Hill – Why I’m a weekday vegetarian

* Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.

Red meat…

* Cowspiracy

* Guardian: Eating less meat essential to curb climate change

Food (in general)…

* Food, Inc (full online documentary here).


* The End of the Line (full online documentary here).

* TED ideas, Interview with Sylvia Earle, Should you stop eating fish?

[For the story of Amy Benn who was a vegetarian and then wasn’t and may be again, click here]