I've been cooking and eating vegetarian for a little while, and I promised I'd unpack the reasons in a later post, so let me keep that promise now.
1. Health Reasons
It began simply enough, with a lot of research on what I should eat for better health— as I've said before, most of my research on food and eating has been from a nutrition standpoint. The first stage was a mostly-veggie or "flexitarian" diet. I had previously been consuming a lot more meat than necessary to get my daily protein and fat, and not enough whole fruits and vegetables, so it seemed like a great idea to start replacing some of the common meat-centric dishes I ate with veg-centric ones. Slowly but surely, I was only eating meat (more likely poultry or fish) a couple times a week, usually in the form of a whole cooked chicken or soup stock.
2. Ethical Reasons
Part two of my descent into eating less meat happened when I crossed the boundaries of nutrition and started researching where food comes from.
This research eventually raised my consciousness about Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and the myriad negative health impacts those types of facilities have on the animals and the land. I'd never focused on rights issues regarding animals in factory farms, but once you make the effort to look into it, it doesn't take much digging to understand what's going on every day on industrial animal farms that we're pleasantly shielded from in suburban life. To name just a few of the major problems, when you keep thousands of the same animal together in tight confinement, the living space becomes a serious breeding ground for disease (hence the increased need for antibiotics in non-organic farming), and because of increasing demand for cheap meat, living spaces have become tighter and tighter over the last few decades. Manure lagoons form and, instead of getting recycled as fertilizer, they become toxic waste sites that can contaminate rivers and ground water. CAFOs and other factory farm facilities can also become havens for animal physical abuse and neglect, to say nothing of overlooked cruelty during the slaughtering process later. And understanding that it's our demand for more, bigger, and cheaper cuts of meat that's promoting these practices finally made me say enough. I don't want my dollar going toward institutionalized animal cruelty.
After that decision, it was surprisingly easy not to buy meat from the supermarket. Kind of like how easy it was years ago to stop eating fast food (except for the occasional roadside slip-up) after learning about what it's made of and how devoid it is of nutrition.
I Still Have So Many Questions
I start to think that I could switch to eating meat from humanely-raised animals, but that prompts more questions: Why eat meat at all if I don't have to? I'm getting along splendidly with the other food groups- feeling and looking amazing, in fact. And how can I know which animals were humanely raised and which ones weren't? Do I need to visit the farms, or raise the animals myself for that guarantee? Eating vegetarian is the best I can do right now to get my money out of a sick system and satisfy my health requirements at the same time.
Since I'm still eating eggs and milk, I've been looking into what companies to buy from that are cruelty-free, but finding those is sometimes problematic, too. I thought simply buying organic was a good solution at first, but it's not the whole answer, since it turns out many organic farms use the same confinement practices as conventional ones, just minus the antibiotics and growth hormones. So now I'm on the lookout for better options. For example, Whole Foods Market carries some pasture-raised eggs, which is a quality of life upgrade for laying hens above designations like cage free and free range. The Cornucopia Institute, which researches and qualifies organic food brands based on ethical criteria, gave a 4/5 rating to Wegman's Organic brand dairy, and amazingly the last time I shopped there, their organic cream was the same price as the non-organic. You can read the Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard and Dairy Survey to find out how brands sold in your area rank.
So for the time being, I'm going to continue focusing on cooking without meat, researching and talking about food from the perspective outlined above. On a positive note, cooking vegetarian after almost 30 years of being a meat eater is an interesting challenge, and I'm really enjoying sharing the recipes and the process.