Vegetarianism: The journey to improve more than just diet

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I recently read an article by someone who said the reason he stopped being a vegetarian was that vegetarians don’t see the big picture. The writer went on to say that not eating meat wasn’t solving bigger problems like the destruction of animal habitats or the depletion of resources, so he was done with it. Obviously, the author has a few shortcomings in sequential reasoning, but his point is valid to the point of inspiration.

Not eating animals doesn’t create new habitats, plant trees, or reduce overpopulation. Vegetarians don’t necessarily have a positive net impact. This is particularly true if someone is a vegetarian who buys products with genetically modified, unhealthy soy or supports other examples of bad business.
As the evidence rolls in, it’s clear that the average vegetarian is healthier, happier, and doing less damage than a carnivore. But outside of killing, the overall impact has less to do with eating or not eating meat and more to do with the source and process of creating either. There are meat-eating farmers who are less destructive than vegetarians living in a city. There are vegetarian farmers who use pesticides and are more destructive than carnivores living in a tiny city apartment eating pasta dinners.

When comparing ourselves to others, it’s easy to feel good, but if we’re honest, this feeling is unmerited. Just because I’m not doing wrong doesn’t mean I’m doing right. Taking into consideration transportation, waste, energy, and other factors, many vegetarians still have a negative overall impact as high or higher than carnivores

Because so much of our impact is relative and based on individual habits and circumstance, it becomes more about self-evaluation and improvement than black-and-white finality. I’m a vegetarian and I think it’s a great decision. I’d highly recommend vegetarianism as a way to start a journey towards improvement and responsibility, or just a way to kickstart an existing journey. If someone is already a vegetarian, she should look at veganism. If someone is a vegan, he can look at other consumption habits. It’s a never ending improvement cycle that is more about the trip than the destination.
For those of you who think it’s too much of a hassle, I understand– I disagree, but I understand. I would never trade current enjoyment for the pleasure of hypothetical people in the future. It’s up to the people of the future to make the most of their lives no matter what the circumstance, not mine. At the same time, the more I learn, the less I want to hurt others and the more genuine and fulfilled I feel in being responsible and taking into consideration others beside myself in an intelligent and educated way.
Obviously, some people are happier destroying the earth, living irresponsibly, and controlling others for their own gain. The earth needs these wild cards, arsonists, jokers, and psychopaths if only for destruction and rebirth, or to follow every branch to its end on our evolutionary journey. I think the majority of us, however, are most content contributing to the well-being of others. The issue is more about education, healthy debate, and people having the courage and strength to examine their lives and do what is best in the face of institutional opposition than about the legitimacy of ignorant excuses.
Realizing and understanding, with empathy, that our behavior is contributing to the economic slavery and physical suffering of people around the world is a gift, not a burden, and the path to reducing hurtful behavior is a reward, not a sacrifice. This isn’t just a matter of controlled perspective, it’s about tapping into who we are and what we are. It’s the journey of creating peace and finding a place in the universal system that created us.
** This is the final post in a series of posts about being a vegetarian. Other posts address the inconsistency of not eating people, why vegetarianism is good for relationships, vegetarians and fast-food, and more. See series index here **
Tyler Samien has a BA in English/creative writing from the University of Tennessee. He enjoys writing everything from scathing online reviews of companies that displease him to nostalgic memoirs of childhood experience. His blog, ReluctantChauffeur, is about to get interesting as he travels the United States with his wife and goofy-faced puppy.
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