Sunday, May 20, 2007
Fish AREN'T vegetables, dammit! I tell people I'm a vegetarian, and then when we go out to eat, they always say something like, "Well, we could split the tilapia if you want..." (yes, being poor college students, we frequently split dishes when we go out to eat...the one or two times a year we do go out to eat and don't tuck in at the coop instead). Do fish have babies? Yes. Ergo, I don't eat fish. Everything in the kingdom Animalia, I don't eat. Seafood (besides wakame and nori--edible seaweed which is in fact quite delicious), chicken, and so on. Mollusks. All that.
The reasons for this dietary restriction (and I don't even think of it as a restriction anymore, to be honest--rather it's a way of being kind to myself and to Creation) are threefold:
1. Not eating meat is, in fact, healthier than eating it. Most meat has a fair amount of saturated fat, and though it's true that meat has a lot of protein, it's also true that most Americans get too much protein--which is bad for the kidneys and bones. It's also not at all difficult to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet, assuming of course that you are paying a modicum of attention to basic nutritional principles. If you think vegetarianism is a license to live on Doritos and grilled cheese, you're going to have problems; but if you eat beans and lentils, have soy or other veggie protein products (tofu, tempeh and seitan are the big three) and get in a dairy product or two a day, you'll be more than fine. Vegetarians are less likely to be obese than meat eaters, have lower serum cholesterol, and are less likely to suffer heart disease and stroke. The Denny's Grand Slam (or bucket-o-meat-and-eggs, as I like to refer to it) is named that because of the way your arteries slam shut after you shovel it in.
2. It's better for the earth. The amount of grain and water that go into producing one portion of beef is enough to produce 40 portions of grain-based food. The problem of starvation is not one of productivity; it's a matter of logistics. Overgrazing due to cattle ranching is also leading to desertification in many parts of the world. In South America, rainforest is often cut down to provide space for ranches. I don't want to support an earth-destroying industry, or an industry that injures other people (both directly--read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, particularly the section on the meat processing plants--or indirectly, as you can read in Diet for A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe).
3. In a related vein, I want to minimize the harm I cause to all sentient beings. That means that not only do I want to avoid participating in human suffering--ie, letting a child in Mozambique starve so I can have my Big Mac--but also that I want to minimize animals' suffering. I've always had dogs and cats; I visit cuteoverload.com obsessively to look at pictures of adorable puppies and ferrets and squirrels (yes, I have a soft spot. Eat me). I would never dream of carving up my cat Stella (though there are times--like when she surreptitiously peed in my suitcase over winter break--that it's crossed my mind); why would I treat a pig (which is about as smart as a dog, or so I've heard) so differently?
I don't want to be the asshole vegetarian, all high and mighty (is that just a Midwestern phrase, or do other regions use it too?), flaunting my superior karma as I eat tofu scramble. In fact, I have an active dislike for pleather-wearing, soy-cheese eating, Rice-Dream scarfing vegans for precisely that reason: they push their more-PC-than-thou habits in everyone's face and make you feel like shit for enjoying a piece of bread with honey and butter (Did the cows consent to be milked? How could you rob the bees of the product of months of hard labor?). I realize I may be being logically inconsistent, and I'm sure there's a way I could weasel out of it, but frankly it's late and I'm tired and I'll be sure to post a cogent defense of my simultaneous love of animals and avowed distrust of vegans soon. (Dilbert comic cheerfully lifted from http://www.happycow.net/)