Why I am Vegetarian

For many years now, the question I get asked most often is, “Why are you vegetarian?”. It is not a very easy question to give a short answer to. There are numerous, deeply thought out reasons why of which, more often than not, the person asking is not genuinely that interested in. I write this article in response to this common question:

I became vegetarian around 3rd September 1997, aged 11. Before that, I had been vegetarian on-and-off, but being so young, I did not fully understand what it meant, what I could and could not eat, and what substitutes are available. As a child, I was never particularly fond of meat; the only real exceptions perhaps being chicken and sausages, which made conversion to vegetarianism much easier.

Many people are still confused about exactly what vegetarianism is. Vegetarians do not consume “products of slaughter” — that is a product that requires an animal to be killed for its production. This means that vegetarians do consume milk and eggs (though typically only free-range), but we do not consume meat, fish, and products with additives derived from the slaughter of animals, such as jelly sweets which contain gelatin (derived from the collagen inside animals’ skin and bones) or cheese made using animal rennet (extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber of young, unweaned calves).

I would say my primary reason for being vegetarian is sanctity of life. I would not consider myself to be religious, but I do greatly value life. I strongly believe that life is very precious, and that we have no right to take life away. To me, a life is a life, whether it belongs to a human or some other, non-human animal.

Holism is important here too: the idea that if you take all of the component parts that make up a system, such as an animal, you still do not make the animal — something is missing, and we call it life. The Greek philosopher Aristotle summed it up well in his famous quote, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.

Relating to the first point is that many meat-eaters are hypocritical in that they themselves will not kill and prepare an animal, yet they are happy to buy it from plastic boxes in supermarket fridges.

Furthermore, a life is a life. While meat-eaters will happily eat cows, pigs and hens, they would strongly object to eating cats and dogs for example. To me, there is no difference between the life of a pet cat, and that of a farmed pig. What is interesting is the response of many meat-eaters when presented with an animal which often sits somewhere in the middle. Take for example rabbit, or even dog. To many people this is no different to eating common animals such as cows and hens, but to most meat-eaters, the idea of eating a cute little bunny or a dog is utterly repulsive to the point where they refuse to eat it. What makes them so different? And perhaps more importantly, what gives you to right to decide what is acceptable to kill and what is not?

We do not need to breed and kill animals for food — I have been a vegetarian for 54 per cent of my life (at the time of writing this article) and I am still alive. There is nothing contained in products of slaughter than I cannot naturally obtain from other sources.

There are also many health benefits to being vegetarian. Vegetarians have the second longest life-expectancy (second to pescetarians). It is now well understood that red meat is detrimental to health. It has been scientifically proven that those who follow a vegetarian diet have a significantly reduced likelihood of suffering from problems which include (but are not limited to) heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis and even Alzheimer’s disease. It is also shown that red meat can increase chances of cancer of the oesophagus, liver, colon, and the lungs. Furthermore, the risk of food poisoning is far lessened in a vegetarian diet.

No vegetarian is not concerned about animal welfare. Whilst I am prepared to admit that great steps have been taken in this country in providing a more-humane environment for raising animals, I do not feel we have gone far enough. Additionally, consumers want cheap meat, and rearing meat to our UK standards costs more. So we import meat from Europe, where meat is cheaper because welfare standards are lower, which not only damages our economy, but also defies the point of our higher welfare standards.

There is also an argument that meat contributes to the world food shortage. As things move up the food chain, they contain less energy, and so you need to eat more. For example, corn gets its energy from the sun. We, along with all other animals, need this energy to live (as we cannot photosynthesise). A hen eats this grain, but of-course, the hen consumes some of the energy to grow. When we think the hen has grown enough, we kill and consume it, consuming its energy in much the same way the hen consumed the energy from the grain. So the lower down the food chain we are, the less we need. An example; 100 acres of land will produce enough beef for 20 people but enough wheat to feed 240 people.

There are also environmental reasons for vegetarianism. We all know beef comes from cows, and that cows produce methane (CH4); but what most people do not know, is that CH4 is twenty-three times more damaging that carbon-dioxide (CO2). Methane poses a very serious risk to global warming and even degrades the ozone layer. A study in Argentina estimates that 30 per cent of the country’s greenhouse emissions, originates from methane from cows. This situation is worsened by the fact that perhaps our greatest weapon against global warming, our rainforests, are being ploughed over to grazing land for cattle.