*This began as a response to a comment posted under Sandra's recent entry, Climate Change - what YOU can do.
"There is no justification for raising animals for human food." - Hayduke
This week marks my first full year as a vegetarian. Prior to last year, I had been eating mostly processed meats: Frozen chicken patties, the "on-sale" bologna from the supermarket deli, and whatever comes inside those frozen burritos at the gas station. I'd tried vegetarianism before, but would only last a few weeks before the sinful smells of sizzling bacon would lure me back to the dark side. Eventually I arrived at the realization that I could not bear to kill an animal with my own hands, and that it would be wrong for me to continue to let animals die at the hands of others for my benefit. However, while eating my fill of soy, broccoli, rice, and beans over the past year, I've had some conflicting thoughts about the benefits of a meatless diet.
I'm convinced that we have progressed, as a society, to the point where we can delete meat from our diets without any great nutritional sacrifice. Our diets are no longer limited by the regions we live in. We can find foods grown around the world sitting right next to each other on a shelf at our local supermarket that offer similar nutrients, without the death part. The versatility of soy and the abundance of legume varieties make protiens easy to find, while also encouraging a more varied diet. Since becoming vegetarian, I've been introduced to foods (like portobello mushrooms) that I would never have bothered with if I were still ordering hamburgers. I know I'm getting a better selection of nutrients from vegetables than I was from frozen corn dogs. Today's global marketplace has essentially thwarted any nutritional excuses for eating meat.
However, the creeping flaws of globalization have begun to erode the solid moral foundation of vegetarianism. The family farmers of the world are loosing the battle with transnational agribusinesses. The many thousands of independent farms of yesteryear have been replaced by the few dozen corporate food giants of today. These small farmers are struggling to stay afloat while their neighbors are consuming ultra-processed, genetically modified foods that have been shipped back and forth, from plant to plant, for miles and miles, consuming precious petroleum every step of the way. The meat industry represents a highly inefficient use of resources, but the global food market is hardly green. The delicious avocado on my sandwich has done more traveling than I have, thats for sure.
I think about how ethnic cuisines developed. Centuries of civilizations assembling healthy diets with the means they have available to them. Some regions can only accomplish this by eating meat, while others can thrive on vegetables and grains alone. It's interesting how the staples of modern American cuisine (burgers, hotdogs, and mac n' cheese) are primarily processed animal products served on "enriched" bleached flour. If it weren't for apple pie, I don't know how we could have made it this far. But there are people who are choosing to eat locally again, and, for the most part, they've been successful. It may not always be cost effective for the consumer, and the local vegetarian may have to cave in and eat some locally raised beef, but it can be done. Indeed, that's how it was done before the age of supermarkets and ethical vegetarians. The fuel savings alone are incentive to buy locally, but it also benefits the growers. A farm in your area that sells locally is likely independently owned, and not managed by a larger out-of-state company. This promotes a fair profit for the grower, while keeping your hard-earned money within your community. The recent emphasis on eating local has thrown a fairly large stick into the smooth-rolling wheels of my moral vegetarianism.
So do I start eating meat again? Maybe, maybe not. I want to act responsibly, but I still shudder at the notion of bleeding a fresh kill, and hacking off the choicest cuts for my supper. I think I'll choose a bean burrito instead . . . and a glass of local apple cider.