Choosing a Vegetarian/Vegan Diet? Motives and Opportunities

There is no one answer to the question “Why should I be a vegetarian or a vegan?”, but an increasing number of people around the globe are finding good reasons to embrace a meatless diet.

Most people in industrialized countries who have chosen a meatless diet do so for complex reasons. In some parts of the developing world, there is no choice. There is neither the money to buy meat nor the natural resources to raise animals for human consumption.

In most developed countries, however, eating meat or not eating meat is a conscious choice usually made as a result of a combination of factors including inhumane treatment of animals, an interest in a healthy and affordable diet, and the impact on the planet of widespread meat consumption.

The proliferation of factory farms or Concentrated (or Confined) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), as they are called by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has led to an awareness of conditions for animals that are generally considered inhumane. Many who choose a vegan lifestyle do so after learning about conditions in factory farms. A simplistic definition of a vegan is one who avoids eating, wearing, or in any way exploiting any animal. For those who are simply vegetarian, organic animal products such as eggs or cheese from free-range (non-confined) birds and animals that have not been fed or injected with hormones or antibiotics are acceptable for a healthy diet.

For those who are vegetarian because of the desire to enjoy a healthy diet without spending the money necessary for the comparatively high cost of organic or free-range meat, plant protein is a viable alternative. A diet that includes properly prepared beans (including lentils and black-eyed peas) and grains such as rice, wheat, or corn provides a low fat complete protein. In addition to a complete protein, beans provide a high level of dietary fiber, a wealth of trace minerals, and tasty food with a very low glycemic index. Typically, dry beans and grains such as rice are available in markets around the world for a fraction of the cost of factory farm animal protein, much less organic or non-confined meat protein.

The environmental impact of meat and animal products for human consumption is a consideration for many who chose either vegetarian or vegan diets. One of the consequences of pasturing animals for either dairy or meat is the degradation of the land. In parts of the world, irreplaceable rain forests are cut down to introduce additional pasturage for grazing animals. With the removal of trees for pasture, water erosion can further degrade land already considered marginal. Often, overgrazing can degrade agricultural land to the point of desertification.

Waste disposal from factory farming operations is a major contributor to environmental destruction. Odors from waste lagoons are noxious and unwelcome environmental “gifts” to neighbors from feed lots, factory hog farms, or any highly concentrated animal production site. Run-off and seepage from lagoons pollutes streams, rivers, and ground water where precautions are not taken or monitoring is lax. Crowding and an unnatural diet is the occasion for the spread of such diseases as E. coli.

The opportunities that exist for vegans and vegetarians include eating a healthy diet, saving money, and making a positive contribution to a healthy planet. Gardening vegetables and buying local produce allows consumers to choose food that is fresh and healthy. Growing one’s own food lowers the household grocery budget and buying local food stimulates local economy. Through conscientious gardening or supporting small local farmers selling wholesome food, food transportation costs and pollution are reduced.

By Laura