Actually I didn’t find it too much of a struggle; no craving bacon sandwiches, steak or chicken curry. I don’t eat that much meat or fish as a rule anyway, and in my younger days as a student I lived for a year in a vegetarian shared house, so most of the time I’m personally happy enough not eating that much meat.
In fact the major difficulty I found during my 30 days is the unsociability. My family were still eating meat (though a bit less), and it was difficult to prepare something separate for myself and still manage to eat together. A few times I simply had what they were having, minus the meat, and sometimes with some sort of grilled frozen vegetarian burger type ‘thing’ in its place. I must admit that most vegetarian burgers/sausages/cutlets are not exactly to my taste and my ketchup consumption went through the roof.
Another antisocial aspect I discovered was eating out. On a couple of occasions when eating out with friends I’d have the choice of the ‘only vegetarian option on the menu’, which can be a little frustrating if you really don’t feel like vegetable lasagne again! I’m told by vegetarian friends though that the range and choice in most places is improving.
So why did I do it ?
Well not for health reasons. Clearly it isn’t a good idea to eat too much meat, especially processed or red meat, but I’m personally not too worried about having a little meat and fish in my diet.
It’s also not for animal welfare reasons. Of course I’m concerned about animal welfare standards, and we generally buy organic, outdoor-reared or free-range meat, and certainly our own chickens are well looked after, but I’ve no fundamental ethical issue with people raising and humanely slaughtering animals for food.
It’s really because of food-justice and sustainability issues.
Raising animals for food requires large amounts of animal feed, typically four to ten times as many vegetable based calories as are contained within the resulting meat, and in a world with nearly a billion hungry people this is something to think about. Eating meat is a fairly inefficient way of using farmland to produce food calories. Some sources quote that almost 80% of US arable farmland is employed to grow food for animals. No doubt the world could produce much more food for people if we weren’t using so much feeding animals.
This is only part of the picture – there are also the water requirements, the treatment of animal manure and resulting nitrogen pollution, the greenhouse gas emissions and the widespread use of antibiotics.
There seems no doubt that if we all switched to eating a largely vegan diet, then we’d significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy and water demand and have the capability to feed many more people.
In fact things are moving in the opposite direction, with wealthier parts of the developing world now eating more and more meat. Wealth equals being able to afford more meat – between 1980 and 2002 meat consumption in developing countries doubled. Given that the world’s population is also rising, the UN is currently projecting the world will need to double it’s production of meat if it is to keep up with rising demand – with potentially massive environmental and social consequences!
I spent a period of time studying in the city of Ghent in Belgium while a student, and was interested to hear recently of its introduction of a city wide vegetarian day every Thursday, with no meat on the menu in schools, public service offices etc. I’ve also been somewhat surprised at the breadth of people who are/were vegetarian or vegan, with some of the more surprising names (to me at least) being Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo da Vinci, Franz Kafka, Lord Byron, Michael Dorn (Worf in Star Trek) Pythagoras, Gustav Holst, Nikola Tesla, HG Wells and (hysterically) Meatloaf.
I’ll write again on the complex relationship between food, land, wealth and poverty, resources, and the difficult choices involved. But for now I plan to progressively buy, cook and eat less meat myself – perhaps limiting eating meat or fish to once or twice a week at most – . . . I personally don’t take the view that eating meat is in some way morally wrong, only that eating a lot of meat while others are hungry in the world just doesn’t seem all that fair.
The photo is my mother in law’s delicious looking stewed beef that I turned down on day one of my 30 days of vegetarianism.