"A human being is part of a whole called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself,  his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein

Why I went back to vegetarianism

An evidence-based case for a more thoughtful lifestyle

Buoyed on by Morrissey’s pronouncement that Meat is Murder, a love of animals, and a rampantly militant attitude towards anything conformist (i.e.: I was a moody teenager), in 1993 I swore never to eat another living creature again.

For ten years I lived by that oath, embracing lentils, tofu and quinoa, riding the hippy wave of independent spirit that every generation mistakes as unique to itself.

Ten years later, I did the terrible thing that my teenage self would have hated me for — I started to eat fish, the mistaken rationale being that my newfound devotion to running and weight training required a greater intake of protein. That and the fact that the slightly haywire behaviour typical of a university student had left me iron deficient.

It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, in fact I physically balked and may even have cried over it, which may seem a little OTT but only, frankly, if you lack compassion for the planet and the fellow species that evolution has seen us reign supreme over.

Fish became chicken became lamb became venison. The latter two were ingested in small and infrequent quantities, but they were ingested nonetheless — there was no convincing argument to consider one animal’s flesh more sacred than another, so why not take full responsibility and enjoy it all?

Therein lay the roots of my epiphany. I had been neither responsible nor mindful in my meat-eating relapse. And I’d never really enjoyed it. So why was I doing it?

Confrontation, even if only with our own conscience, can lead to some life-changing revelations.

I revisited the old arguments for and against, and came to embrace a view that was overwhelmingly convincing in intellectual and moral terms; one that acknowledged the repercussions of my actions — to my self, the ecosystem and the longevity of the species that I sometimes like the least but have a vested interest in, we fallible, negligent humans.

Life, not just our own, but as the all-embracing frame of existence, is about choices. Here are the evidence-based arguments that have led me to rethink mine:

1. Love animals don’t eat them

We have a responsibility to protect other species, not exploit them for our own ends. Progress, in every sense of the word, negates necessity — there are far more sources of protein than the flesh of other creatures. The greater the demand, the greater the supply — they are becoming easily accessible and increasingly affordable, such that we no longer need to fatten up, hunt or slaughter our fellow species. Or, in the case of most consumers, mindlessly purchase and thoughtlessly consume a packet of nondescript meat, the origins of which we distance ourselves from. Many people could benefit from feeding their brains more than their bellies with a bit of slaughterhouse-based enlightenment.

2. Save us from ourselves

Our heaving planet, bursting at the seams due to the interminable growth of the human population (more the West than the Global South incidentally, though that’s another story), means that food production must also somehow increase. Meat is now the single largest source of animal protein in all affluent nations and demand for animal flesh is expected to more than double by the year 2050 — consciously reducing our appetite would make for better prospects all round.

3. Save the planet

Vegetarianism is the most energy-efficient diet there is. From growing grain to feeding animals on land that is excavated of wildlife to do so, to the fertilizers that pollute the envirionment and enter the food chain, to transporting the end product, meat production uses an obscene amount of fossil fuels for little calorific return.

According to the UN raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. The livestock industry generates 37% of the total methane produced by human activity, 64% of ammonia (which contributes to acid rain), and 65% of nitrous oxide (which has 300 times the Global Warming Potential of CO20).

4. Conserve wildlife

Through deforestation and the cultivation of land for livestock production, our demand for meat is forcing animals and wildlife out of their natural habitat. And yet we happily admire these incredible species from the comfort of our homes while shovelling our dinner into our mealy mouths, seemingly oblivious to the butterfly effect. By switching to a vegetarian diet, each person can save more than 100 animals each year from the horrific cruelty of the meat industry.

I’m aware that there are well-founded opposing views (just don’t quote the meat industry), and that a diet including the occasional bit of ethically sourced, well-fed, non-processed meat may have its ecological virtues and its healthful benefits.

For my part though, and for however small a difference it makes to the greater whole, my conscience is reconciled with both the philosophical and scientific case in favour of vegetarianism — there’s no real need to eat meat, and every reason not to.

*Postscript added January 2017: I've since turned vegan. More on that to follow. Watch this space*

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