I have been vegetarian for about three years now, and that may set off some alarm bells for the average meat eater. Despite the bad reputations vegetarians and vegans can have for being judgemental and hyper-critical of meat eaters, I try to be very open about my diet and look to help others. I grew up in Texas where barbeque and meat are king, but taking environmental science my junior year of high school pushed me to try out vegetarianism. I had always loved animals growing up, but I always said things like “I wish I could be vegetarian!”. When I decided to try it out, mostly for reasons of animal ethics, I realized vegetarianism has many environmental and health benefits as well. Although I understand that a full vegetarian diet is not desirable or doable for everyone, I believe adopting casual vegetarianism can benefit even the most devout meat eater.
There’s a cheesy environmentalism quote that I always cite when encouraging people to eat a little less meat or animal products:
“We don’t need a handful of people being perfectly sustainable, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly”
This essentially captures my perspective of meat eating and vegetarianism. I don’t want to shame people into not eating meat, or guilt them into a diet they aren’t interested in. Food and health are so personal, but our environment is not. The meat production industry is a huge producer of greenhouse gasses and also uses vast amounts of water for their operations. We all share the world around us, and incorporating a few vegetarian meals in your week can reduce your negative impact on the environment. This doesn’t require a whole reorganization of your diet, and it can even be a fun way to try out new foods and recipes.
There are also numerous health benefits to vegetarianism and reducing meat intake. A vegetarian diet can help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer. The common argument that the vegetarian diet lacks protein is also simply untrue. Numerous vegetables, beans and legumes, and meat alternatives, like tofu, have plenty of protein to keep the average meat eater satisfied and healthy. Diversifying your diet with vegetarian meals and protein sources can help keep food exciting, and it’s an easy way to eat healthier.
The bottom line is that vegetarianism does not have to be a polarizing topic. Doing your part to help ease the load our environment bears should not be controversial. Diet-shaming in any capacity isn’t cool, but being more mindful of your impact on the environment and your health sure is!