Why This Vegetarian is Considering Eating Meat Again by This Original Organic Life

 

My name is Rachel, and I’m a vegetarian . . . who is considering eating meat again.  I’m going to have a little debate with myself here.  I became a vegetarian for a number of reasons years ago, and still stand by all of these reasons.  But since this time, I’ve also begun questioning whether eating meat would be the “right” thing for me, for a number of different (but connected) reasons.  

Read on to hear more about these two sides that I’ve been struggling with recently. . . 

 

Why I'm a Vegetarian

 

 

Positive Change

I first vowed vegetarianism after I spent some time in El Salvador in college.  It took me being thousands of miles away from my home to learn the life-changing lesson that what I (little ol’ me) do impacts others not just in my own circles and close to home, but those I’ve never met halfway across the world.  

I didn’t know exactly how or why at the time, but I strongly felt that if I gave up my own consumption of meat (among other life changes I’ve made), I would be lessening my harmful footprint even just a bit (especially being that the US is the 2nd highest consumer of meat in the world).  This was an important step on my journey toward environmental & human health.

 

Environmental Health

When I “converted” to vegetarianism 7 years ago, I didn’t have a strong scope of understanding when it came to the environmental impact of my decision.  I knew there was something to it; so I decided to put the cart before the horse.  I gave up meat in all forms, and then I researched the heck out of my decision.

I devoured books by Michael Pollan, Jane Goodall, and others on mindful eating and food systems.  I discovered that there was a lot more to the meat issue than I first realized.  I didn’t know a lot about the terms “organic” or “grass-fed” when I gave up meat; in fact, I’d never eaten organic meat (to my knowledge) or wild game.  It’s here that I want to make clear that I don’t think meat is “bad” or those that eat meat are “bad” or even that the action of eating meat is “bad.” 

It’s here that I also want to share some of the environmental impacts that affirmed my decision to forego meat consumption:

  • 338 gallons of water are used to produce one serving (3 oz) of beef (source).
  • Raising & processing poultry uses about 88 gallons of water per serving (3 oz) (source).
  • If recent world harvests were equitably distributed with no diversion of grain to feeding livestock, the World Hunger Program at Brown University estimated that a vegetarian diet could feed 6 billion people, whereas a meat-rich diet like that of people in the wealthier nations could support only 2.6 billion (source).
  •  Livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers and contaminated groundwater in dozens of states (source).
  • Factory farms in the US generate 130x the waste that humans do (source).

 

Kale Cuts via This Original Organic Life 

Human Health

It’s important to take into consideration that all of the above stats are representative of real impacts that affect not only our environment, but us, the inhabitants of this environment.  So in addition to the industrial raising of meat polluting our water, air, and soil; it is also doing so within our bodies.  Here are some other ways meat consumption impacts human health:

  •  In 2011, drugmakers sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for livestock — the largest amount yet recorded and about 80% of all reported antibiotic sales that year (source). 
  • Historically (aka throughout millions of years of evolution), our diets were higher in omega 3s and quite low in omega 6 seed oils.  It was actually at the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry that we began our influx of omega 6s.  With this, we began feeding livestock corn & grains that are high in omega 6s.  Without getting to complex here, having so much omega 6 in our diet is not healthy.  When you consume an animal who’s lived primarily on corn & grain (much of it genetically-modified), you are taking on a great deal of omega 6. This imbalance of too much omega 6 & not enough omega 3s has been linked to inflammation (at the heart of many illnesses, cancer, & disease), heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more (source) & (source).

And what about how health is impacted by being a vegetarian?

What I do know is that veggies are good for us!  I’m not going to get into breaking down all the different plants that are full of nutritious goodness, as I think we all have a pretty clear understanding that vegetables (when grown organically, in healthy, rich soil, eaten & prepared in proper ways) are great for our bodies.  I know that we all need a diverse diet rich plant matter whether or not we eat meat. 

 

Morals/Ethics

I feel pretty strongly about nonviolence.  There’s a lot behind this that I’m not going to get into here, but suffice it to say that I believe humans are intelligent, compassionate, and evolved enough to solve problems in other ways beyond resorting to violence.  This is really complex stuff.  I still don’t know how this applies to the slaughter of animals as I can see both (or many) sides.  

I do know that there are humane, loving, beautiful ways of raising, killing, processing, and eating animals.  Still sometimes I do wonder, if I’m taking this nonviolence stuff pretty seriously, should I be eating animals?  Should I even eat plants – I mean, hey, they were alive once too!  Okay, moving on. . .

 

Intrigue

Part of my entering the world of vegetarianism was in response to a deep intrigue over this untouched realm.  I hadn’t quite found “my life’s passion,” and really felt that there was something calling me toward creating a healthier world.  I decided to follow this calling in my own unique way, my first step of which was becoming a vegetarian. 

 

Why I Might Eat Meat Again

 

 

Positive Change

Because I believe this:

Vote with Your Dollar

 

I want to support all the farmers that are growing meat humanely, with care & concern, the way nature intended.  I want to vote with my dollar by purchasing healthy animal products.  

I want to be part of the positive transformation of farming the natural way (while using much of the technology and information learned in recent years), as it was for a long time before industrial agriculture blew up.

As writer Christine Lennon explains my sentiments so well, “eating sustainable meat purchased from small farmers is a new form of activism—a way of striking a blow against the factory farming of livestock” (source).  That is exactly what I’m talking about.

 

Environmental Health

When animals are raised in a way that’s in sync with the natural world – as many small-scale, organic, permaculture, or naturally-minded farmers are doing – the environmental impacts are minimal; in fact, they can even be positive.

Here are some ways  these farmers are working with the environment to reduce the impact:

  • Using animal waste to grow food.  Rather than being a source of pollution in our water & air, manure can be used as a natural fertilizer to enhance plant growth – thus decreasing the use of chemical fertilizers and diverting the waste from pollution all at once.
  • Letting their creatures forage, as nature intended. For cows & other ruminants this means munching on grass – they are built to consume this kind of diet rather than grain.  For chickens, this means rummaging through the grass to eat insects and worms.  
    Of course, we can’t assume that any package of eggs stamped with the “organic” seal of approval means that those chickens were running around foraging wildly.  But many farmers are giving this lifestyle to their animals, so it’s our job to learn who these farmers are.
  • Foregoing the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, or any other kind of unnatural additive to raise their animals. 

 

Human Health

Healthier animals = healthier people.  When cows & other animals are eating a diet heavy in grains, it throws things out of whack in their systems and thus in ours.  

The health benefits of eating healthfully-raised beef (as one example) include:

  • Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef (source)
  • Grass-fed beef has the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats (3:1) (source)
  • It can help strengthen the immune system and decrease the risk of heart disease  (source)

Additionally, many vegans, vegetarians, and raw foodists have introduced meat into their diet after struggling with health conditions or simple lack of energy/weakness, etc.  Now I don’t think I fit into this category, as I feel pretty healthy and my recent blood tests have shown this, but hey, there is an element of “you never know” that I’ve been wondering about.  I also fully understand that not every vegan, vegetarian, and raw foodist has health issues and in fact, feels on top of the world!

 

Morals/Ethics

I’ve never felt strongly against the killing of animals if it’s done in a humane way.  To me, this means the animal lives as good a quality of life as possible for the entirety of its walking around on this earth.  So I don’t see anything “wrong” with eating meat on a moral level if all these other pieces of the puzzle are honored – environmental &  human health, humane treatment of the animal, etc.  

 

Intrigue

With all this paleo talk taking over the universe lately, I’ve found myself wondering . . . 

  • Will eating meat make me feel better?  I don’t feel bad that I’ve noticed, but what if introducing meat into my diet again made me feel amazing!?
  • Will I have more energy if I eat meat? 
  • Is eating meat morally, environmentally, and healthfully the “right” path to take?

I have learned a lot since I became a vegetarian.  I’ve learned about our food system, about food politics, about how food is grown & how animals are raised, about health & nutrition, and about people.  I’m intrigued and wonder how what I’ve learned over the years can best apply to my diet beyond just my usual concern for eating locally-grown, organic plant-based goodness. 

Side note: this is a good read on How to Argue Against Vegetarians.

 

Conclusion

It’s no doubt that the omnivorism vs. herbivorism debate is a complex one.  There are people on both sides that feel 189% positive that their way is “the right way.”  And honestly, I don’t know.  

I don’t subscribe to a belief that either way – eating meat or not eating meat – is “right” or “wrong.”  I do, however, believe that there are “right” and “wrong” ways of eating meat and even vegetables – if we’re talking about caring for the earth, ourselves, and others.  I also believe that everyone is different and we each have to find what works for us.

I know ultimately it’s my own decision, but what are your thoughts?

Vegans, vegetarians, paelo peeps, real foodies – show yourselves and share your best pros & cons.  I’d love to hear more sides to this great debate that I didn’t even touch on here.

 

 Peace & Beets - or Meats?
  

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Why This Vegetarian is Considering Eating Meat Again

  1. Dayna

    Hi Rachel!

    I know we’ve talked about this before, but here’s my own personal experience with meat-eating. First of all, I TOTALLY agree that there’s no “right” or “wrong” in terms of eating meat or not, and I also agree that raising meat should be done humanely and that the animals should be well-fed (grass-fed) and cared for. I also do NOT believe that meat=energy. In fact, the lightness of vegetable matter often makes me feel more energetic than heavier meat products.

    However! There are a couple of ideas that intrigue me about meat:

    1- I believe we are what we eat. That obviously means nutrient-dense vegetable matter has a huge structural role in creating lean, strong, capable bodies. BUT, if we’re talking about nutrient-dense food, I believe meat has an incredible role to play. A small portion of healthy red meat is dense in protein and iron. I know a lot of young women that have low hemoglobin, and after years of food journaling I’ve discovered that allowing myself to enjoy some well-prepared meat (along with dark leafy greens :) is just the ticket to feeling satisfied, happy and healthy– especially around a certain time of the month!

    2- I’ve heard a theory that certain blood types digest meat better. I happen to have one of those (O-) and I’m also a universal donor. I have a tendency to get pale and lethargic. Red meat helps keep my iron up, allows me to give blood if I want to, and I don’t have a problem digesting it (in moderation, obviously). That said, I bet there are certain constitutions (dosas, blood types, whatever) that DON’T need meat. Who knows?

    3- I don’t know a ton about the paleo diet, but I do know that I live in Minnesota and it gets darn cold up here! Meat (and the fat in meat) is a tremendous source of comfort for me as part of a meal. It leaves me feeling more satisfied and I can eat LESS overall than if I were to try and rely on piles of dark greens and black beans to get the same nutritional effect. And I don’t think a lot of studies disagree on the fact that eating less is better for you in general, as well as giving your body time to digest. I don’t fully understand the economy of digestion, but I think if you listen to your own needs, eat your meat mindfully, and allow your body to soak up the nutritional benefits, you’ll be just fine.

    4- The human body is totally incredible and can adapt to crazy environments and diets. I think focusing on the spirit in which you eat is just about as important as what you eat, and it seems to me that by experimenting about what’s best both for you and the rest of the world- that you’re doing all the right things.

    Love you Rach!

    PS- My mom is a fan of meat. So I’m sure that also plays a role in my opinion :)

    Reply

  2. Vikki

    I hadn’t been a vegatarian for 7 years, only since last spring, but when I became preganat I began craving meat to the point that it became an issue with my diet. After research and a lot of discussion I decided to allow some meat.

    I don’t think meat is bad. I also believe that meat was put on the earth for us, but we need to respect it and treat it kindly and humanly. Commercial meat is not raised in the way that is aligned with my beliefs so I try hard to not ‘vote’ for those actions which is why I originally became vegatarian.

    Still since allowing meat in my diet I still eat many vegatarian meals. Meat is more like a occasional treat in addition to the vegatarian options.

    Reply

    1. This Original Organic Life Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Vikki! I’m glad to hear your perspective as a (former) fellow vegetarian :)

      I resonate with how you feel about meat & eating. I think I, too, would still eat lots of “vegetarian” meals even if I ate meat. One of my concerns about transitioning is simply the cost of introducing real, healthy meat into my diet again – though there’s always a trade-off isn’t there :)

      It’s great to hear your experience – thank you!

      Rachel

      Reply

  3. Jo

    Hi Rachel,
    I read your post after seeing it on Instagram and I just had to comment. It’s honestly the best, most thought-felt and honest piece I have read in a long time. I felt so emotional at the amount of connection I felt from hearing your thoughts! I had been vegetarian from about age 8 when my parents went veggie, and was brought up to believe that eating meat was wrong. I went vegan in my early 20′s and have been following a high-raw diet over the past 8 years. My cafe focuses on vegan and raw foods, which are still a huge part of my life and make up a big part of my diet. However, when I fell pregnant last year, I suddenly had urges to try meat again and as my partner is a meat-lover, having expressed these thoughts to him led to him coming home one day with some wild venison he had got from a friend. I tried it and it felt good in my body. I felt it sustained me throughout my pregnancy and ever since then, I have eaten wild game about twice a month at home and the occasional meat meal at friends. Having opened up to it and discussed it in depth with my partner, I have come to the realisation that, as you wrote, spending my money on ethically raised and wild meat is a step in the right direction for what I believe in. I think that a free-range life that ends in no suffering, as is the case for game and wild meats is a better ethical choice than eating a diet high in exported fruits and vegetables or non-organic processed vegetarian foods. I do not eat factory farmed meat and never will. I think that there is so much more to consider when buying our food than whether it fits into a ‘label’ or belief system. Thanks for sharing, you are wise and I hope that you continue to feel good about your compassionate choices!

    Reply

  4. Sari

    Thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt and well thought out post. I’m trying to decide which path I will take for now and reading about experiences like yours is contributing to that debate in my head- in a good way!

    Reply

  5. Amy

    I really enjoyed reading this post, it is very relatable to me. I became a vegetarian around 17 years ago after my school showed a video on factory farming. I was so traumatized I still don’t remember watching it…but a friend from then reminded me how they showed it. Through the years the hardest thing about being a vegetarian is turning away food cooked by friends and family. They often cook as an act of creativity and love and I hate the feeling that I am insulting them. However, it is pretty simple to say something like “No thank you, I don’t eat meat”. Usually they understand. Now I am a mother to baby twins and my meat eating husband wants to feed them meat. I agreed on the condition that it must be organic, humanely raised meat, and I am considering eating some myself if it becomes the right choice. Already my mother (who has always supported my vegetarianism!) has tried to feed them non-organic, grocery store turkey. Because she spent hours cooking it, and because she felt they would enjoy it, and because I have not labeled them as vegetarians, she feels entitled to feed them the meat. This is an issue that I foresee occurring again and again, due it it being such a grey area. Honestly, how do you tell your family and in-laws, “Oh no, we only eat organic, pastured, humanely slaughtered meats”? Logically it is so much more ethical and yet it still comes off sounding so haughty and entitled. Are you really going to ask your barbequing uncle the origin of his award winning ribs, and turn them down if they came from the grocery store? I am not trying to be snarky, honestly I could use some tips on dealing with this issue myself. It just seems like such a slippery slope.

    Reply

    1. This Original Organic Life Post author

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for sharing! I resonate so much with what you’ve said – especially the part about telling your family & in-laws “Oh no, we only eat organic, pastured, humanely-slaughtered meats.” That is one of my biggest barriers to making the switch – because I feel that if and when I eat meat again, I will want to have those standards 100% of the time, and many people will think “Oh, she eats meat again.” And I don’t want to have to explain that the kind of meat I eat is pretty specific and I’ll likely still have to turn down whatever others are cooking! It does feel elitist, even though it really shouldn’t and isn’t about that for me. Phew, we should start a support group :)

      Reply

  6. Lynell

    What a thoughtful and intelligent perspective! I absolutely agree with you that we vote with our dollar, that is the most powerful impact we can have as a culture. When the government (USDA & FDA) fail us and corporate greed runs wild, our strongest weapon is to spread the word and change the way people spend their money. THEN, things will change. Consumers have the power to demand change.

    This year I plan to buy almost all of my meat from local farms. Not only am I voting with my money, but I’m taking one step closer to being less removed from my food source.

    Reply

    1. This Original Organic Life Post author

      Hi Lynell,

      Thank you! I put a lot of time and thought into this post because it can be so polarizing and tricky to talk about. I agree, we have so much power and we don’t know it much of the time because things can seem so overwhelming and difficult to change. Keep buying that meat from local farms – you are making a wonderful statement, and treating your body well :)

      Reply

  7. Simon Clarke

    I stopped eating meat awhile back, due to the way we treat animals. I felt I couldn’t call myself an animal lover if I then sat down and ate them. As for being fit and healthy……I haven’t felt so good. Just one more thing…. chimps are one of our closest relations. Strong powerful, intelligent animals. Their diet is 95 to 96 % plant matter the other is termites, no meat. Perhaps Darwin was wrong.

    Reply

  8. Angela Kells

    We were taught all things in moderation. If you do decide to eat meat, then this adage must apply. They, as in nutritionist, say the meat portion of your meal should be no larger than the palm of your hand. And having decided to, then surely a clever and together girl such as yourself, who has done the amount of research that you have, can be comfortable with the fact that you have made the best decision for you, it really is of no concern to anyone else as it is none of their business. And besides all that you do not have to eat it every day. All the best with your contemplation. If there is no “right” or “wrong” in the end result then it is only a matter of perception – YOURS.

    Reply

  9. Allan

    Humans & Pigs are omnivores.
    Evolution takes millions of years, not tens.
    Check out the chemicals we feed pigs, when we cut out meat.

    Reply

  10. Katie Harris

    I was a vegetarian for two years, then vegan for two more. I now eat (IN MODERATION!) local, organic, appropriately-fed humanely-raised meat and eggs and local, organic dairy from grass-fed cows. I was a passionate, enthusiastic vegan. I believed I was changing the world for people, animals, the planet, and myself. And I’m sure to a degree, I was. But one night, a new question arose within myself: is this the only way?
    I am pursuing a degree in local and organic food systems, and I have learned a lot regarding how our land is currently used in the agricultural industry. Quick pretext: I once volunteered with an animal rights group on campus. When the president and co-founder of the group was asked by a passerby about the group’s goal, his response was, “For the world to become vegan and save the lives of animals.” While I think this is still a noble cause, I have learned this: if the world went vegan overnight, fulfilling this group’s ultimate mission, our food system WOULD COLLAPSE. The pasture land used to raise livestock cannot currently support fruit/vegetable/grain production.
    Another thing I considered was how the social dynamics around food have changed. People no longer eat intentionally or knowledgeably. Drive-thrus, grab-n-go’s, delivery,… it is rare to sit down and enjoy a meal anymore.
    To wrap up my scattered thoughts: veganism/vegetarianism is wonderful!… but the world is not willing or able to sustain itself on such a diet/lifestyle. YET. We need to re-learn to walk before we can run a marathon. Buy organic, and only what you need, as our country currently disposes 37% of what we put on our plates. Learn, cook, and eat together, even if the meal has animal products, because it will do more good for your community and the environment than eating a vegan meal alone in front of a computer screen by instilling values regarding our food. If you have a community of non-meat-eaters with whom you can share these experiences, that’s awesome! But from my personal experience, veganism only isolated me from my community. Agriculture will never be sustainable AND cruelty-free until we re-learn to VALUE OUR FOOD!

    Reply

  11. Vojta

    Dear Rachel!

    I believe you don’t have to actually eat meat to support humane/ethical meat production and consumption!

    Your article makes it seem like the only way you can support the growth of organic ethical meat production is actually eating the meat yourself. I have to say I don’t agree with this!
    With a little creativity, I’m sure you could come up with ways to support the growth of the organic meat sector, or even vote with your dollar, without eating the meat yourself, if you wanted to do so.

    What came to my mind is:
    -talk to people who eat meat about the benefits of organic meat, spread awareness
    -find a local producer you trust and donate small amounts of money if you have the possibility
    -buy the organic meat and cook it for, or give it to meat eating friends and family
    -do fundraising to support a local farmer you trust
    -buy ethical non-meat products at places which sell ethical organic meat to support them
    -…other ways…?

    I have been a vegetarian for almost all my life, and I have to say, I wouldn’t want to give up not eating meat for supporting an industry based on violence and killing animals.
    That said, I understand that this is only my personal view and that everyone has his or her own view.
    I wish you much success achieving your goals!

    Reply

  12. Lisa Pizzuto Whittaker

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m not a vegetarian by any means, but I really, really enjoyed your post! We do our best to eat healthy, well balanced meals, and try to lessen our impact on the earth. :)

    The main thing I’m personally having a difficult time dealing with is my son’s friend; our neighbor. He’s 10 and his mom has brought him up as a vegetarian. However, when he comes to our house and shares a meal with us, he always says, “May I have some ?” I always remind him of his choices and offer him fresh veggies (which I mostly eat.) He tells me that just a little won’t hurt, so again, I tell him that he needs to consider his own reasons for being vegetarian. He always wants to have the meat. He considers it a treat.

    What I appreciated about your post is: now I can really offer him some good, valid, advice on his choice. That takes a lot of stress away from me; I’m not wanting to corrupt the vegetarian lifestyle his mom has encouraged him to lead. But, it’s hard to eat in front of a 10 year old and say, “No, you can’t have any.”

    All my best to you, whichever choice you decide. :)

    Reply

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