Fri Apr 13 2018

I’ve toyed with the idea of vegetarianism for a while now - probably 6-7 years in total. On paper, vegetarianism sounds lovely - a fresh, clean diet that’ll make you incredibly healthy. Unfortunately, as I quickly realized, it’s just that: a lovely idea. In practice, due to being raised on meat, eliminating a cornerstone of my diet was very difficult, and so I was never able to sustain vegetarianism for much longer than a week.

To my surprise, I’ve been “vegetarian” for a few months now. I use vegetarian in quotes, because there are times where I will partake in eating meat, the most common reason being a social one, such as sharing a meal with others or if it’s the only option available at a social function. That being said, there’s something I’d like to make this very clear : I attempted to become vegetarian because of my girlfriend, as she had taken the plunge a few months prior in response to wanting a more morally and environmentally responsible way of eating food.

Anecdotally speaking, I’ve noticed that not eating meat has had a few positive effects on my life…

  1. My grocery bill is substantially lower now. I can feed myself for about $60 / month by following a vegetarian diet. Previously, I’d been spending closer to about $80 - $100 / month when including the price of meat.
  2. I seem to be more sensitive to flavors generally speaking. Meat has generally had a very strong flavor presence in most dishes, so vegetables seemed to be flavorless nutrition vehicles in comparison.
  3. My knife technique has improved noticeably. Vegetables seem to be affected by the way you prepare them, so being able to cut root veggies into equal pieces of even cooking, for example, is important for better tasting food later.
  4. I have fewer digestive problems.

Keep in mind that I am not advocating for people to switch over to a vegetarian diet; this is just a personal account of how I feel it has affected my life so far. I personally believe that what you eat is very personal and varies widely from person to person. You should eat whatever you want, as long as you keep your health in check.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting books or articles to read, so when I saw Vaclav Smil’s ”Should We Eat Meat?“ on Bill Gates’ reading list, I knew I had to read it. I should also mention that vegetarianism has become somewhat of a hot discussion topic amongst my friend group - people are always asking why my girlfriend has chosen to become vegetarian. It’s through these discussions that I started asking myself, “what’s the point of eating meat?”

There’s a couple of common arguments that I’ve heard from vegetarians:

Objectively speaking, meat is nutritionally important to humans. The high energy content within meat is probably why humans were able to evolve with larger brains, not to mention that it also provided some vitamins we may not have been able to obtain from plants, such as vitamin B12. So before humans settled down and began farming, meat was critically important to our survival as a species. This is something I can’t disagree with. It was important, yes, but with the advent of society and social constructs, meat’s importance has shifted.

In the context of modern human history, we can began to understand why meat is so highly valued. With it being a highly energetic food which is hard to procure, and tastes good if cooked over a fire, the demand for it will naturally rise. There are some exceptions to this, as there are some people who are vegetarian due to other cultural or religious reason. But generally, people demand meat, and I can’t help but think if this is linked to some part in our lizard brain that wants to survive.

Before the industrial revolution, meat was raised very slowly and pretty much in the natural way - out in the open. It was more or less a mutually beneficial relationship, as the livestock would graze upon the land and get rid of any plantstuff that were either inedible or posed a problem to our farms. Producing meat at this era in human history was still quite expensive, as the time it took to slaughter weight was much longer than it is today. I think the problem with meat production and consumption really began with the Industrial Revolution and the associated rise of global income.

Generally speaking, because meat was historically expensive to produce, only the well-off could afford to procure it on a regular basis. Other people would have had to settle for eating meat perhaps a few times a year, during something like a large gathering. After the Industrial Revolution, the global economy basically saw upward rises in their income - so people could now begin to purchase meat more regularly. This translates into a higher demand for meat, which means that supply has to keep up - otherwise prices are gonna shoot through the roof. And indeed, supply did keep up with demand.

Since our meat consumption rate outpaced the production rate, farmers have had to create better and more efficient ways of producing meat to meet global demand. Time to slaughter weight needed to be lowered and the actual slaughtering also needed to be improved, just to meet some numbers so people could put meat on the table. I think we’ve taken a very poor turn at this point in history, as the techniques we’ve developed to satiate ourselves seem inhumane, in my eyes. Ironically enough, in 1958, US Congress passed an oxymoronic bill called the Humane Slaughter Act, which outlined the ways to reduce animal suffering during meat production.

Nonetheless, I think that while meat was probably important in our development as a species, in the modern day I don’t agree with meat production practices. I think this book has helped solidify my stance on meat in my personal diet. I’ll eat primarily vegetables and avoid meat where I can, but because of the social contract surrounding meat, I am not entirely opposed to eating should I find myself in a situation where a vegetarian option is hard to come by, though I find that difficult to believe.