November 12, 2018

A Month of Being a Vegetarian

On the 1st of October 2018, I spotted a sweepstakes advertisement from the North American Vegetarian Society for World Vegetarian Day. If I pledged to be a vegetarian for a day, a week, or a month, I would be entered into a random drawing worth $250, $500, or $1,000, respectively. This meant, obviously, that I had to abstain from eating all meat, fish, and fowl. If I received an email at the end of the sweepstakes period, and verified that I hadn't broken the conditions of the contest, the money would be mine! I thought, "Why not?!" I'd give it a go! One day seemed a bit short, and I knew I could manage a week without meat easily. To my wife's dismay, I chose to go the full 31 days!

Over the last couple of years, I've greatly reduced my animal protein intake, only consuming such with evening meals at home, and sparingly at that. I have ocassionally ordered a fish-and-chips or have had a greasy, bacon and cheese burger, but these were exceptions rather than the norm. I was no longer a die-hard carnivore, so the challenge seemed a logical step along my journey away from meat.

A growing concern of mine is anthropogenic climate change, otherwise known as Global Warming or Global Climate Change. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a U.S. based agency charged not only with exploring space itself but also with studying this great planet upon which we reside, has an outstanding resource for examining and understanding the science behind it all: a site called "Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet". On this site, you will find a quote:

In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet. PDF of the Assessment

In this report, one of the overlapping approaches prescribed for curbing these effects is looking into new crops and animal varieties that reduce their impacts. Animal husbandry is one of the largest producers of green house gases1, and scientists are actively working on abatement processes2 to reduce this impact3.

Although we can acknowledge that this is a problem, and that there are people working on technology and policy solutions for it, I had been asking myself, "What can I do as an individual to curb my own impact on the environment?" One thing that I have direct control over is how I spend my money. A great influencer of our society is our economy, and if my microeconomics course from college taught me anything is that the laws of supply and demand will always apply.

If I purchase a veggie burger instead of a hamburger one day of every week, that impacts the meat industry by a little over 14% of my expected consumption. If everyone were to participate in "Meatless Mondays", we might have a lasting impact on our planet's future. I doubt that without major economic pressures or policy influence from our governments, global "Meatless Mondays" won't happen until we physically cannot sustain the level of farming necessary to keep animal meat on our daily menues.

There are other reasons for being a vegetarian or vegan that seem completely logical to me, but that might take longer than I have tonight to explain them in detail. For example, I find it interesting to examine the energy conversion efficiency of the food I eat, or how close to the sun it is. With each organism in the food chain, energy is lost, and sometimes the biproducts of their lives are more impactful to the ecology as we humans displace the balance of oxygen breathers to carbon dioxide breathers (cutting down forests to make way for agriculture and animal husbandry). Why not consume food that is closer to the sun as source of our energy and cut out the intermediary steps? How much food does our food require to grow?

And what about the ethical concerns around eating animals? There is an amazing website that creates structured discussions around the pros and cons of a statement, allowing one to dive in constructively to big questions. "The Ethics of Eating Animals: Is Eating Meat Wrong?" is an example of such a discussion. Personally, I may be swayed toward sparing higher intelligence animals, cows included.

So, the best thing I can do is to continue on my path of being a "sometimes vegetarian". The funny thing is that somewhere along the way, I lost my appetite for most meat. I still love a good fish fry, and hot bacon fresh out the pan is hard to beat. I've progressed to the stage of "mostly vegetarian" and "kind of a vegan". There are so many great dishes that don't involve meat, and some of the analogs are better than the originals.

Did I stick with it? Yes, indeed I did! Did I win that contest? I doubt it. Today is the 12th of November, and I still haven't heard back from them. Regardless, it was a good experience that reinforced the observation that we don't really need meat to enjoy what we eat, and that it's certainly not necessary for survival given the global economy around agricultural today. I won't get into the Anti-GMO and "Organic" bologna that's been going on lately. I need to get to bed!

  1. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 May; 116(5): 578–582. Published online 2008 Jan 31. doi: (10.1289/ehp.11034)
  2. "Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock can be cut by 30%, says FAO". The Guardian. 2013 Sep; Published Online;
  3. (Paywall) "Greenhouse gas abatement strategies for animal husbandry". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment; Volume 112, Issues 2–3, February 2006, Pages 163-170.
Tags: food vegetarian