How I (Almost) Became a Vegetarian

My recent initiative to eat healthier, my work with healthy eating in Chester, and the realization that the incidence of almost every chronic disease can be reduced by (1) exercising and (2) eating well led me to some interesting statistics surrounding the consumption of meat.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, eliminating livestock production would eliminate nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases—more than that caused by transportation. An interesting comparison posed by Drs. Eshel (Bard Center) and Martin (U-Chicago) calculates that if we all reduced meat consumption, we would have each essentially switched from a standard sedan to an ultra-efficient Prius. According to Dr. Naylor at Stanford, if I abstained from eating one cow, the energy from the grain used to feed that cow could be used instead to feed people suffering from malnutrition—with a 10x multiplier effect. (If you want more, here’s the article)

But wait a minute, I tell myself before I get too caught up in this liberal mumbo jumbo. Let’s be rational. You can’t say that just because carbon emissions are bad for the environment, we should destroy our cars and let our roads fall into disrepair. You have to always balance the costs of something against the benefits that it brings you.

So then I considered what benefits eating meat were bringing me. Eating meat seems to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. It’s also associated with a decreased life expectancy (Frazer, 2009). It is a great source of proteins—but then again, so are beans, nuts, soy, and whole grain (Harvard School of Public Health). It’s also a great source of saturated fat. After a few intense bouts of thinking, it seems that the only thing eating meat has going for it is simply…because it tastes good.

I suppose you could make an argument for the psychological strain that eating less meat would have on my poor mind. But psychology has something else intriguing to say as well: taste preferences can be learned and unlearned. The social factors surrounding coffee and beer can make teach us to enjoy the taste of bitter substances (Brug, 2008). I haven’t gone all-out vegetarian, but I’m certainly eating less meat and more vegetables/nuts than before, and strangely the knowledge that I’m putting something healthy into my body makes that previously-unappealing salad taste better than before.

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