Vegetarianism: more than just a diet


Emma Stadolnik, Staff Writer

When I was about four years old, my mom and I were driving past a farm that had thousands of cows grazing in the distance. My mom began to tell me that the precious cows were used to make cheeseburgers. Devastated, my four year old self vowed to never eat meat again. 

To this day, nearly 12 years later, I am still a vegetarian.

Being a vegetarian is something that I rarely think about on a daily basis. It is a natural part of my life by now. However, I have noticed that when I talk to friends and peers about being a vegetarian, some think it is a life altering experience. 

Usually, I am met with rapid-fire questions.

The original: “What do you even eat?”

My personal favorite: “But how can you live without bacon?”

Finally, the dreaded question, that after 12 years, I still cannot find the right answer: “Why?”

Why I am a vegetarian

Every vegetarian seems to have a “why,” something that inspired them from the beginning. It could be the desire to protect animal rights, the urge to be a more eco-friendly citizen, or the act of improving personal health, to name a few.

Of course, I was four years old when I made the “decision” to become a vegetarian, so there was not a lot of rationale behind it. My decision was rather impulsive, which is why I struggle to find the “why.” 

In some ways, I believe my “why” stems from the ethical debate surrounding vegetarianism – is it morally correct to eat an animal? Personally, this idea does not sit right with me. 

Still, this isn’t necessarily my “why.” 

Although the mundane cow may have sparked something in my childish heart many years ago, I still struggle to put into words the reason why I stay a vegetarian.

As a young kid, I was not aware about the implications of this diet. In my mind, I had simply set a challenge for myself and I was determined to succeed.

However, as I grew older, I began to realize the greater importance of limited meat consumption. 

The environmental benefits 

For one, the meat industry is incredibly taxing to the environment. At a time where global warming is on the brink of becoming irreversible, it is more important than ever to be an eco-friendly citizen. 

The livestock industry, specifically cattle, contributes to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, agriculture is responsible for 75% of global deforestation. 

Given these stats, it may feel like making a change is a distant reality. However, a recent study has shown that if every American reduced their meat consumption by 25%, annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 1%.

Change is possible, and it doesn’t require everyone giving up meat completely. Even going one day a week without consuming meat could benefit the environment.

The animal-rights perspective

Stretching beyond the environment, the system that is the meat processing industry is extremely inhumane. 

It is no doubt that the way animals are treated in slaughterhouses is truly horrifying. Many animals do not even survive the distressing journey to the slaughterhouse, where they are forced into claustrophobic quarters on a vehicle, often suffocating.

The methods used in slaughterhouses, however, are far more shocking than the journey there. Workers typically use methods such as “stunning” when working with cows, which involves electrocution, a hard hit to the head, or the use of gasses. The hope is that these animals will be unconscious for their inevitable deaths, but often this method fails, leaving the animals in immense amounts of pain and fear. 

Just as terrifying are electrical baths, which are typically used for chickens and turkeys. Before they are lowered into a “bath” which consists of water with an electric current running through, the birds are tied to metal contraptions which snaps their bones. If the bird survives this terrible torture, they are awake and conscious when they are cut to death.

Upon learning about these horrors, I knew I could never again eat an animal without thinking about the trauma that more than 55 billion animals endure every year in America. I refuse to contribute to a system that upholds values of torture. 

Despite this, there is still hope. Some farms across the country have been certified by the ASPCA (American society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). These are farms where animals are able to naturally live to the end of their lives in a stress-free environment. These farms lack harmful chemicals, transportation methods, and torture methods used against animals. 

My hope is that these farms become the future of the meat industry. Until then, we must focus on how to shift the meat industry. And luckily, there is a solution.

A recent study has shown that if every U.S citizen opted to avoid eating meat one day of the week, each individual could save close to 145 animals a year. If every American continues this trend for a decade, nearly 20.6 million animals could be saved. 

These miraculous results occur for only one day out of the entire year. Imagine what could happen if these people committed to being a vegetarian long-term.

Although I had no idea about some of these devastating effects when I was four years old, growing up a vegetarian has opened my eyes to how damaging the meat industry is to those who are involved in it and to the environment. This reiterates to me that being a vegetarian is not just a silly diet – it has real world implications. 

Knowing of these harsh realities is surely the reason I have stayed a vegetarian all these years, even if I didn’t know about them to begin with. Even though one person cannot make an entire change, it is empowering to know that what I am doing is benefiting the environment and working to reshape an inhumane system.

The struggles

There are also non-tangible benefits I have gained from 12+ years of being a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian for so long has taught me how to stay committed to something long-term even when things are difficult. 

There are definitely times where it’s been inconvenient. Sifting through menus at restaurants for non-meat options, eating different meals from the rest of my family, and having to worry about getting enough of certain nutrients are just some of the instances where being a vegetarian can be difficult. 

By eating far too many salads, making my own meals, taking protein supplements, and making other small sacrifices, I have learned a lot about what it truly means to be committed to something. 

Being vegetarian is something that has stayed constant throughout my entire life. It’s taught me to stay true to myself even when my peers are not necessarily doing the same thing as I am.

Advice for others 

Being a vegetarian is 100% a personal choice, and I recognize that it is not the right choice for everyone. I am almost constantly surrounded by people who eat meat, and I do not take offense. It’s a huge change for many people, especially because meat is such a prevalent aspect of the American diet. 

Although my intentions are not to force anyone to change their diet, I highly recommend that everyone tries being a vegetarian. It could be for just a day, a week, or a month, but I truly believe that the experience is empowering and important, both for oneself and for the world. 

And who knows, maybe a week-long stunt could last a lifetime. It did for me.