Why people are vegetarian

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Reading through Suite101.com’s Vegetarian section led me to this article covering why people become vegetarian.

A few of the comments bothered me, but most of them came from this paragraph:

Some people have tried a vegetarian diet and decided it wasn’t for them. Jodi wrote, “I tried leading a vegetarian life, and felt utterly unsatisfied with tofu burger substitutes and unfilling vegetables. Veggie living was not for me. I missed the steaks and trips to McDonald’s. Being a vegetarian, and doing it right, is hard work. And if you’re not educated about proper food substitution, you can become malnourished and ill. I admire those who commit themselves fully to the vegetarian lifestyle. For me, the decision to try out vegetarian living had nothing to do with animal rights (and I think you can wholeheartedly support animal rights and still eat meat), it was for curiosity’s sake. I tried it, and it wasn’t for me. Eating out became a chore (and for someone like me who doesn’t cook, eating out is a must). In smaller towns, like the one I’m from, it’s hard to find restaurants that cater to non-meat-eaters, and I became frustrated. I didn’t give up, I opted out. And though I still don’t eat a lot of meat, I do enjoy the occasional burger or steak.”

“Being a vegetarian, and doing it right, is hard work.” Yes, and so are most things worth doing. But I also agree with a quote later in the article from Karen: “I think being a vegetarian is really easy, but being vegan is harder.”

“And if you’re not educated about proper food substitution, you can become malnourished and ill.” I’d bet that being not educated about proper eating is even more dangerous if you do eat meat. Few people die from an excess of fruits and vegetables.

“I didn’t give up, I opted out” Nonsense, Jodi. You did give up; vegetarianism isn’t a mailing list. If you’re from a small town and find the restaurants you go out to don’t have many options, then here’s the solution: eat in. Make your own dinners.

“I think you can wholeheartedly support animal rights and still eat meat” Sure you can, but aren’t you just sweeping animal rights issues under the carpet as you chomp on your Big Mac?

As I’ve said before, I don’t look down on meat-eaters. Vegetarianism is a personal choice and I’m not going to shove it down anyone’s throat. But people like Jodi are the type that say they “tried being vegetarian” but then try to discount it with lame excuses like the ones listed above. If you’ve tried it and it’s not for you, fine, but look at your reasons and make sure they’re not just empty justifications.

Another quote I had problems with:

I, too, heard many arguments on what defines a vegetarian or vegan. Susan considers herself a vegetarian but does eat fish. “I read somewhere that what I really am is a ‘pescatarian’,” she wrote, “but I still consider myself a vegetarian.”

for reasons I’ve stated before, but also was a bit discomforted by this one:

Laura, a very strict vegan, wrote, “If you eat sugar, which is processed through animal bones, you are not vegan, nor vegetarian. If you eat eggs you are in absolutely no way a vegetarian – ovo-vegetarian is a ridiculous term! Eggs are basically unborn chickens – if you eat them, you eat meat and that’s that. As for dairy eaters, where do you think milk comes from? An animal. It’s an animal product and again, if you eat animal products you aren’t vegetarian. If you wear leather, fur or wool, please don’t even try to call yourself a vegetarian. It’s insulting to those of us who are. I don’t know what you should be called, but I know what you shouldn’t.”

This quote is reflective of the problems that Dr. Sapon discusses here of the vegan-vegetarian rift.

21 Responses to “Why people are vegetarian”

  1. Paul

    I think part of the problem is that the definitions are fuzzy once you’re on the veg side of things. I mean, if you eat meat, you’re obviously not a vegetarian. But where does one draw the lines? Lots of things come from animals – even sugar, as that Laura quote mentions – but I think it depends on how strict you want to be.

    Me, it doesn’t make sense to me to give up sugar. So I’m not gonna.

    I have actually been meatless for about two weeks now; before that, I’d have one serving of chicken or meat every week, for a solid month. No worries. I tried it, I like it, it’s logical to me, so there.

  2. Ryan

    Good for you Paul! :)

    I look at the “top-level” vegetarian as one that doesn’t consume animal flesh, but does eat animal by-products. However, I can understand how that definition can vary for different people.

    As far as sugar, yes, that would be hard to give up. I do buy organic, unrefined sugar when I can, but I obviously don’t have control of what’s in a lot of other foods.

    And though I’m a lacto-ovo, I have cut back significantly on things like cheese (eating soy cheese instead) and eggs (using substitutes when I can).

    So it’s going pretty good for you, Paul? Had any major urges?

  3. Paul

    No, not really. I was eating the weekly meat as part of the weekly taco night, so it was a kind of peer pressure. But it’s funny… I haven’t had any moments where I just sat and thought, “I could go for a big juicy steak!” or the like.

    Besides, I think the Fantastic Foods taco filling tastes better than meat.

  4. Terry M.

    Ryan, I am also an ex-vegetarian and have to actually agree with much of what Jodi said. Her first sentence is basically why I gave up also. At the time I didn’t cook or drive (so I couldn’t eat out), so basically my meals were limited to the frozen vegetarian TV dinners, canned vegetarian soup, and veggie burgers (and other pre-made imitation meat). Which means there were about three different meals I ever had. Now that I cook and drive this isn’t an issue, as the potential menu is basically unlimited, but I totally see where she’s coming from. That would be a bogus counter-argument for me now (but I have other reasons), but probably valid for her (since she’s in a small town)

    I do agree that she’s crazy for mentioning McDonald’s as a counter-argument. I wouldn’t touch fast food with a ten foot pole.

    As for the health issues: there are vegetarians who subsist on potato chips, cookies, and soda-pop (and in some cases coffee and even alcoholic beverages), which is way less healthy than the average omnivore diet, and considerably more unhealthy than the best omnivore diet (e.g. baked or poached fish plus vegetables). It is true that it is harder for vegetarians to get all the necessary vitamins (such as B12) which omnivores get as a matter of course.

  5. Ryan

    Terry — there are lazy vegetarians, sure, but I’d be willing to be that most of the carnivores that overdo on chips, cookies, soda, coffee, and beer are also likely to be the ones eating lots of red meat. I obviously have no problem with the fact she made the decision, but I felt like her arguments were pretty weak and that she was just trying to justify with excuses rather than well thought-out arguments.

    As far as B12, that’s more of a concern for vegans. It’s less of an issue for lacto-ovo vegetarians since it’s primarily found in eggs and dairy (aside from meat, of course).

    Something interesting (and a tad disgusting) that I found at http://www.vegsoc.org/info/b12.html :

    “Human faeces can contain significant B12. A study has shown that a group of Iranian vegans obtained adequate B12 from unwashed vegetables which had been fertilised with human manure. Faecal contamination of vegetables and other plant foods can make a significant contribution to dietary needs, particularly in areas where hygiene standards may be low. This may be responsible for the lack of aneamia due to B12 deficiency in vegan communities in developing countries.”

    Yuck.

  6. Robert

    Ryan, you also raise another issue: why do some many vegetarians/vegans insist on calling the rest of us “carnivores” when they no damn well a truly carnivorous human would be extremely malnurished. Is it some kind of elitism or a playful jab?

  7. Ryan

    Just a playful jab, from my perspective. Of course from a militant veggie/vegan, it may be more than that.

    For me, I only use it in reaction to “salad shooter” or “rabbit food” jokes. :)

  8. Robert

    I couldn’t imagine you were being malicious using “carnivore” but I can’t say so much for at least one person I know. Ya know, I’ve been called a “carnivore” before but I’ve never made fun of a vegetarian/vegan at all. Seems kinda backwards from what you might expect, eh?

  9. Terry M.

    Ryan, I enjoy the occasional rib-eye, but I don’t eat any of those taboo items (except for soda – but only caffeine-free). I have to conclude, based on the people that I know, almost all of whom are omnivores but eat very healthy, that the prevalence of ravenous red-meat eaters is greatly exaggerated. Although it is trivial to make an argument on health grounds against such people, making the argument against people who eat good seafood and occasional poultry is more difficult. Militant vegetarians, however, lump all omnivores into the eat-nothing-but-Big-Macs category.

    I don’t like being called a carnivore, but I’m not going to make a fuss about it. I think some people forget that the vegetarian diet is a subset of the omnivore diet. I, for one, like cooking with tofu, eating hummus, and going to vegetarian restaurants aside from just Thai and Indian places.

  10. Ryan

    Terry — I agree… for me, the health issue of becoming vegetarian was a secondary thing. For that reason, I would never make the assertion that “eating meat is unhealthy.” Just like pretty much anything, in moderation there’s no problem.

    I think as far as the “ravenous red meat eaters” it depends on where in the country you go. It seems to me that the further south one goes (southern Virginia, North Carolina, etc.), the more red meat is eaten. And from my own experience, it doesn’t seem to be class-related.

    Your attitude towards diet is a unique one, I’d say. The fact you work tofu and hummus into meals says a lot. When I made the decision to stop eating meat, it was also a decision to be more involved in my dietary decisions. Though I, technically, have “less options” than I did before, I find myself cooking more frequently (though not as frequently as I’d like, quite yet), trying new foods and recipes, and reading labels more carefully. So while my decision to stop eating meat wasn’t necessarily based on health benefits of being vegetarian, it did happen to cause a shift in my lifestyle at about the same time.

    I’m enjoying this discussion. :)

  11. Terry M.

    Ryan, I’m moving to Texas next month, so I’ll find out what this red meat thing is all about (I’ve never been south of the Mason-Dixon line in my life before). Here in the Pacific Northwest, people are very health conscious, so it’s hard to find evidence for poor dietary habits.

    I think class must be a factor, and I probably didn’t account for it in my assessment of “people I know”. It is much easier to feed meatloaf to a family of four than sushi or lobster. People I know unilaterally go for the latter, but people I know have money. :-)

    My interest in vegetarian food is that it is another class of food (just as ethnic foods are). As a wanna-be food lover, I want to be familiar with all of the best foods of every group, and vegetarianism offers unique dishes that aren’t in other food.

  12. Ryan

    Terry — Texas, huh? I assume not the Austin area, though… I read about Intel’s halting of a building midway through development. Whereabouts will you be moving?

    I’ve found ethnic vegetarian food to particularly interesting. As you well know, Indian vegetarian food is quite good. I’ve also had some really good Vietnamese vegetarian food in the last few weeks. And, in San Fran primarily, there are a number of vegan Buddhist restaurants throughout the city.

    I’ve found that watching Regina’s Vegetarian Table on PBS on Sunday has helped, too, in trying out a variety of vegetarian dishes I may not have otherwise heard of. She’s travelled quite a bit and has picked up a good number of non-meat recipes from around the world.

  13. Terry M.

    Ryan, actually Austin. I didn’t realize that got so much bad press all the way to where you are. :-( It’s pretty suicidal to go to such a questionable site in a recession (especially when I am currently in the best part of the company), but somebody talked me into it, and I don’t know how to say “no”. … One good thing is that Austin is supposed to have a lot more good restaurants than Portland (whether they have vegetarian or not, I don’t know)

  14. Ryan

    Good job tying the conversation back into vegetarianism. :)

    Good luck with the move… hopefully things will work out well for you.

  15. ovo- vegetarian

    Laura needs to get her facts straight before she starts criticising other people.

    she quoted “If you eat eggs you are in absolutely no way a vegetarian – ovo-vegetarian is a ridiculous term! Eggs are basically unborn chickens”

    This is not true! chickens lay infertile eggs naturally. The eggs we buy in the supermarket are sterile and not unborn fetuses or as she quoted “chickens”. please
    set the record straight.

    regards,
    ovo- vegetarian

  16. sheila

    I like this ite I acually learned a lot I became a veg. because a friend sent me a website called peta.com to see how they treat the animals just for their meat a lot of my friends have debates with me and i came here to get some anwsers and i got them i am a lacto vegetarian my brother also chanllenged me that i would not last a two weeks with out meat well im sure going toprove him wrong!!

  17. Ell Aey

    If crops are grown then at least some wild animals are denied their habitat and therefore denied their existence.

    There is no logic to justify vegetarianism ethically.
    If you have a proof please let it be known. Of course it can be justified as personal, religious, or as health preference. I would like to see someone argue it as an ethical one.

    I don’t believe it can be an informed ethical decision.

    By the way, all authority is derived from force, which is violence.

    we eat animals because we can. If they could eat us, they would. and sometimes still do.

  18. I Hate Screen Names

    Ethical argument:

    1) A being with emotions and cognitive abilities has intrinsic value; its existence has meaning in itself that is not merely bestowed on it by others. For example, a pencil does not fit into this category; its only value comes from its use by others for writing with it.

    2) Anything with intrinsic value deserves to not be treated as property in any way (it can not be bought, sold, consumed, etc. without its consent).

    3) Animals have emotions/cognitive abilities.

    4) Thus, animals should not be treated as property.

    So, do we act unethically in turning animals into property? Yes, because they have value in and of themselves AND we are capable of recognizing this value. Also, we can survive comfortably and healthily without treating animals as property; if we could not do so (i.e. if you are stranded on an island and there is nothing to eat but fish) then it would not be unethical to abuse animals for your survival. After all, you are an animal with the right to life as well.

    Do animals act unethically in killing/eating other animals? No, of course not. They may have the cognitive/emotional abilities to warrant not being treated as property, but they probably don’t have the brains or the physical means to make the decision to not eat other animals.

  19. Sarah

    I think being vegetarian is easy.The problem is being vegan because everything is contaminated with dairy products and it’s so hard for me because I can’t order CHREESE online,and I don’t know where to buy it.PLUS on top of that no one is supporting me on being a vegan.My family and friends all eat meat and dairy products and when ever I go to my family’s house Yes they have fruit but contaminates with COOLWH

    And what do you call a person that doesn’t eat animals or animalproducts BUT WEARS IT??

    becuz thats to hard not wearing leather

  20. marj

    i still don’t understand why vegetarians are vegetarians! i mean God gave us animals and if he didn’t want us to eat them then why did he make them out of meat? and Jesus ate meat! several people in the Bible did! so are you trying to go against the Bible? i mean i don’t have a problem w/ vegetarians my teacher is one but why do you do it? that is my main question! right now i am working on a research report on vegetarians and i would like to actually get the answers from a vegetarian. and if you go by everything else on the food pyramid why not meat?

  21. Steph

    Because we live in a changing world that is fraught with disease, starvation, and poverty, vegetarianism isn’t so much of a personal health choice (for me) as it is a decision that benefits the earth we live on. Modern farming techniques are so much more violent and abusive to the animals than traditional farmers, and in North America and other developed countries the demand for meat is high. This leads people to disregard the fact that the animals are terrified and suffering because of the profit that each meat company makes. Money is a powerful temptation, and can lead people to do things that are completely unethical and wrong. marj, your comment “if you go by everything else on the food pyramid why not meat?” is reasonable (unlike the rest of your post). I would eat meat if it were produced in a sustainable, eco-friendly method, but that is not the case. Therefore I don’t. Organic vegetables and grains are the way to go!

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