Part-Time Vegetarianism

Always willing to join a conversation about (or over) food, I’ve been reminded by recent posts by Timothy and Crist of an interesting dietary strategy I discovered while living in Singapore: Meatless Mondays. I watched it as a news story over a year ago, around the same time I watched a TED talk by Graham Hill entitled Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian. Both of these programs helped me to find a compromise that reconciles the cognitive dissonance I have as a meat-eater aware of the environmental implications of the livestock industry. 

It’s simple: Eat less meat.

Historically, the common argument for vegetarianism has been for the benefit of one’s health. The perks of a garden-grown diet have escaped nary a nutritionist. Lowered likelihoods of being overweight, acquiring cancer or developing diabetes are just a few of the reasons you’ll hear if you grill a vegetarian about his leafy lifestyle.

In Singapore, the writing on the walls of one of Little India’s vegetarian restaurants even goes so far as to dispute our place in the food chain, comparing and contrasting humans’ long intestinal tracts and lack of claws and fangs with those of the herbivores and carnivores in the animal kingdom. But it is this very kingdom that now takes precedence as the heartstring of choice when pulling for a life of meatless meals.

These days, the earth beats out its anagram, the heart, when it comes to health concerns that convince the conscientious consumer to opt for the salad bar. For the sake of the ozone, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney promotes meat free Mondays, and Taiwanese school children follow a similar weekly regimen. Even at the age of 8, they can tell you why: livestock is responsible for an estimated 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It takes 1,000 times more water to produce a pound of beef than to produce a pound of wheat, and 1/3 of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to farm animals. As Tim outlines in his post, there are countless reasons to support a reduction in meat consumption – pollution, land use, water use, energy efficiency, carbon emissions, antibiotics, hormones, land degradation, etc. – and they certainly should not be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, if we continue to ignore the flatulent farm animals, we could end up in deep cow pie.

Considering the environmental impact of meat production, we could effect a reduction on climate change if we all pledged to let the grill chill and give the rotisserie a rest. But realistically, we may not all be able to commit to a meatless weekday – an irresistible rump roast will inevitably present itself on a Monday – but we can certainly reduce our intake. Although my body would never let me go all the way vegetarian (I’ve tried and it wasn’t pretty), vegetarianism for conservation’s sake is something I can support. That’s why a moderated, or even metered approach to consuming meat is the answer for me, rather than all-or-nothing.

4 thoughts on “Part-Time Vegetarianism

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