Should I stop being vegetarian?
November 5, 2005 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Should I stop being vegetarian (Well, pescaterian, really)? Arguments for or against welcome.

About 7 years ago, I went vegetarian (lacto-ovo vegetarian) for moral grounds; I didn't want to take more life than I had to. After a few years of that, my diet gradually shifted from a relatively healthy diet of tofu and stuff to a diet of mostly cheese, bread, and fake soy-based meat products. This was relatively painful to my intestines (which I now believe to be the start of my IBS), and I decided to add fish to my diet, as fish didn't seem relatively sentient (I use the word sentient here incorrectly, because I'm not sure what the correct word would be. I mean that while fish feel pain and such, they don't seem to have quite as developed a sense of suffering as, say, a dog. This is perhaps just a skewed perspective, and I just empathize more with a dog because it is a mammal, and I can better notice its distress)

Anyway, I've been on a pescatarian diet (veggie+fish) for several years, and I'm starting to lose my resolve, mostly because my diet is becoming extremely restricted as I try to learn how to fight off the symptoms of IBS. I'm considering adding poultry to my diet. Should I?

Looking for: Arguments for or against vegetarianism. Discussions of relative damage to environment/relative suffering inflicted/etc of different diets, etc. Discussion of health benefits/health problems caused by different diets. People treat chickens and turkeys not so well, eh?
posted by anonymoose to Food & Drink (58 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Culinary advice: try Indian cuisine, especially Gujarati thali & such. Vegetarian; good variety; something for every palate: sweet/sour/spicy..etc

The practical aspect of the moral issue is that since you're not a hunter and since you're not about to initiate a vegetarian movement reaching critical mass, your dietary habits aren't actually preventing any animals from going under the knife.
posted by Gyan at 2:10 PM on November 5, 2005

Best answer: There was a pretty lengthy article by Michael Pollan in the 10 Nov. 2002 New York Times Magazine called "An Animal's Place." If you have access to Lexis-Nexis it might be worth checking out. If I recall correctly, he arrived at the conclusion that limiting the meat part of your diet to free-range animals and avoiding industrial animal operations was a morally defensible position.
posted by stopgap at 2:12 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have no moral qualms about eating the flesh of other animals. True, factory farming is horrible but I'm only a single consumer (someone's going to bash me on this, I'm pretty sure).

If your moral grounds are only concerned with the welfare of animals (as opposed to killing and consuming animals bred to be docile and dumb), perhaps meat from small, local(ish), and concientious farms would be acceptable? Free-range chickens have it pretty easy (and are far far tastier than factory chickens). Ducks from smaller farms also have a decent quality of life. If you had a sufficiently large backyard and your local ordenances allows, perhaps you can raise your own chickens and make sure that they have a satisfactory quality of life. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats fresh eggs.

I have friends who buy a cow, have a farmer take care of it, then have a professional butcher parcel out the (humanely) deceased carcass into tasty freezeable chunks.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:12 PM on November 5, 2005

I find it helpful to approach meat-eating with the question, would I kill it? If I'd kill it, it's okay for me to eat. In my case, that leaves me with calamari and shrimp and nothing else; for you, it may be different.

I am not sure how restricted an IBS is, but I don't think it's totally unreasonable to weigh your comfort against something else's. It's probably also worth considering how deeply you feel one person can make a difference. Unlike PurplePorpoise, I am not of the opionion that everyone else supporting ill-treatment for animals makes it okay for me to support it. If you are on that tip, then non-industrial meat may be a reasonable compromise for you.
posted by dame at 2:23 PM on November 5, 2005

*IBS diet*
posted by dame at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2005

I had pretty much the same background as you, although this was ten years back.

Looking back, I think there is nothing fundamentally wrong with eating meat - we're built that way. What is valid IMO are moral reasons regarding factory farming methods, and health arguments.

But as in most cases, the world is not black and white. While it is true that the way people are consuming meat today is unhealthy, the reason is not the meat itself, but the sheer amount of it (combined with hormone-treated meat, etc). The same goes for the way animals are treated in mass production vs. raising them in small numbers with enough space.

I simply buy meat not as often, and instead get it from a local farmer or trustworthy wholefood butcher. This way, you eat a more natural and healthy product, eat it at a healthier rate, the animals are kept in *much* better conditions, it tastes much better because it is not force-fed, and as a bonus you support your local farmer instead of some corporation.

Everyone is happier :)

I realize that the price for such a product and the problem of verifying its origin grow if you live in a huge city, but it's always manageable.
posted by uncle harold at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2005

I don't have scientific answers for you, but I've made a similar dietary/philosophical switch, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject.

I switched from your veggie and fish (or as I rationalized them, fruits de mer) diet to a veggie, fish, and fowl diet after I had my first child. I had low energy, needed more protein, and couldn't stomach any more tofu or protein shakes. I know there are ways to balance your diet as a vegetarian, but they all involved less convenience or food I didn't really like. Also, I didn't want to raise my kids as vegetarians, as I figured that was a choice I would want them to make for themselves.

Giving up my vegetarian status became less difficult when I changed my way of thinking about meat. When I first became a vegetarian, I imbued meat with an almost talismanic power, even bursting into tears once when I accidently ate chicken (god, I was annoying). Over the years, the moral imperative of vegetarianism has lost much of its hold on me, whether through increasing callousness or rationality, I can't say. Now, I don't worry so much about each individual thing I eat so much as concentrate on my overall diet choices. I eat chicken and turkey a few times a week, try to buy free range, always buy organic, and imagine that my dietary habits are some of the less harmful parts of my daily life, environmentally speaking.

Results: I have more energy and cooking for my family is easier. I've discovered that a judicious application of chicken stock can improve a variety of dishes. Plus, I think I'm healthier, considering I was one of those cheese-centric vegetarians.

I still can't bring myself to eat beef. At first, I tried the "sentient" argument you did, but since I couldn't make it very convincing, I now tell people that I just really hate birds.

As for the fate of the birds themselves - well, I don't have an admirable answer for that issue. When I was younger, I felt very strongly about animal rights, volunteered at a local shelter, cried my eyes out at the abandoned puppy stories on the news, obsessed over my cat. As I've gotten older, and especially since I've had kids (who I imagine absorb much of that former empathy), I just don't have the same amount of concern. That's a horrible thing to admit, I know, and I don't want you to think that I'm torturing kittens in my basement. But I've just grown more comfortable with the idea of using certain animals for my convenience, whether it's through leather shoes or chicken soup. As I said, I don't have the rhetoric to make my change of heart admirable.
posted by bibliowench at 2:31 PM on November 5, 2005

If you do not have the time, money and discipline to do everything it takes to eat a very healthy, protein-rich vegetarian diet, then YES -- by all means, join me for a burger.

Being a healthy vegetarian is exceedingly difficult. I understand the moral reasons behind it, but anyone who says "I do it for health reasons" is fooling him/herself.

My aunt was vegetarian for many years, and while she got by ok - when she finally decided she wasn't as healthy as she could be, and slowly introduced poultry back into her diet, it was stunning to see the change. Her skin color changed, her energy levels changed, you name it.

I'm not anti-vegetarian or anything, but I just don't see it as a viable option for any but the most incredibly dedicated people. It truly is a science to ensure you're combining the right foods and getting everything you need.

The fact that you eat fish, though, is a good start. My guess is you'll find that as you add poultry and other meat gradually back to your diet, you will feel much healthier.

Best of luck to you, whatever your decision is.
posted by twiggy at 2:36 PM on November 5, 2005

2 of the comments so far have made the same point:

since you're not a hunter and since you're not about to initiate a vegetarian movement reaching critical mass, your dietary habits aren't actually preventing any animals from going under the knife. . . .

True, factory farming is horrible but I'm only a single consumer . . . .

Being just one of millions of participants who are involved in the meat industry does not completely absolve you of moral responsibility for what goes on in factory farming and so on. Thought experiment: What if, somehow, every meat eater in the world woke up tomorrow and decided to become a vegeterarian for life? If everyone followed through on that plan (which would obviously never happen), animals would stop being bred for the purpose of factory farming. (The animals would simply not come into existence in the first place.) Now, imagine the same scenario except that "only" 99% of meat-eaters make this resolution. The meat industry would collapse but would continue, on a very small scale, to cater to that tiny of consumers. Change it to 90%, and the meat industry would also be devastated, but not as much so. And so on, down to 80%, 50%, 10%, and finally to a single individual who chooses to become a vegetarian. The smaller you make that percentage, the less the meat industry will be affected. But I do not see why you would think that if the percentage is small enough then the industry will not be affected at all. By analogy, you would not say that each individual's decision to stop buying 8-tracks had zero effect on the quantity of 8-tracks manufactured.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:37 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

The arguments for and against vegetarianism are all over the internet, in every forum, everywhere.

What it sounds like to me (beg pardon if I am wrong) is that you want someone to hold your hand and tell you that it's ok to eat meat.

/holds hand. Says: "It's allright to eat meat."
posted by cadastral at 2:39 PM on November 5, 2005

Jaltcoh : "The smaller you make that percentage, the less the meat industry will be affected. But I do not see why you would think that if the percentage is small enough then the industry will not be affected at all."

Because the industry does not micromanage its practices. They don't produce meat for 3,554,131 people; they produce meat for ~3.5 million, depending on market retail surveys, past performances..etc
posted by Gyan at 2:45 PM on November 5, 2005

My aunt was vegetarian for many years, and while she got by ok - when she finally decided she wasn't as healthy as she could be, and slowly introduced poultry back into her diet, it was stunning to see the change. Her skin color changed, her energy levels changed, you name it.

I don't know whether a vegetarian diet tends to make people healthier or not. I doubt that there's one single answer to that question. I would always presume that someone purporting to give an answer has a bias, either for or against vegetarianism.

Anecdotal evidence is especially problematic. Many unhealthy foods—all desserts and a lot of junk food—are vegetarian. That's a pitfall for vegetarians. If one is the kind of vegetarian who tends to eat a lot of foods like that, then vegetarianism is probably not a healthy choice. But that is only of many types of vegetarians. (I realize that that's not anonymoose's situation, but I just don't know the answer to anonymoose's health concerns.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:45 PM on November 5, 2005

Look, birds are just lizards with slightly more mileage on their evolutionary engine. I've got no moral problem with eating something that was trying to kill my distant mammalian relatives 65+ million years ago. They're a good source of protein, have very low fat content, and open up an enormous range of culinary possibilities without the guilt of killing fellow mammals.

I'm not a vegetarian, but I've pretty much avoided eating red meat entirely because of chicken and fish. There's just so much you can do with them to keep your taste buds busy. With the mad-cow scare in full-force, I think it's for the best, anyway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

No one favors the conditions often imposed on animals bred for food. Painting non-vegetarians with that brush is like arguing that pro-choice people favor abortion. But protesting those conditions by becoming a vegetarian is like protesting poor presidential nominees by refusing to vote. It's not completely without effect, but it's clearly not "effective."

Personally, the only reason I find persuasive from vegetarians is, "I don't like meat." I think the political, dietary, etc. reasons are bunk. Every week some nutritional study announces the health benefits or dangers of wine, fish, coffee, etc.; and usually, within six months, some other study says something else. We don't know nearly as much about the human body as we'd like to think, so I'm amused by definitive statements. We were designed to hunt, kill, then chew; and whether you believe in God or evolution, second-guessing seems arrogant.

That's my two cents. Steak is yummy. I feel bad for people who deprive themselves of that experience; but at the same time, I have a similar attitude about people who choose to ride bikes: more fossil fuel for me.
posted by cribcage at 2:48 PM on November 5, 2005

But protesting those conditions by becoming a vegetarian is like protesting poor presidential nominees by refusing to vote. It's not completely without effect, but it's clearly not "effective."

I think that's a perfect example. Someone who doesn't vote because "one vote can't make a difference" is probably the kind of person who doesn't see a connection between vegetarianism and reducing cruelty to animals. But many people don't agree with that reasoning and think that voting is worthwhile. And as long as you're using the voting example, you can compare it to grassroots political campaigning. Any given campaign activity is unlikely to make a huge change, but it's still worthwhile as part of a broader movement.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:55 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I know of at least one person switched back to eating meat to address IBS. Her doctor had her eat a small piece of meat at each meal and while it improved her symptoms 95% she had moral problems with it. I introduced her to my organic/ free range rancher friend and she's happy with that. Another thing you could do is ask a friend who hunts to trade for wild game meat- I do that every year too and it's much better for you.

I don't eat a lot of meat myself, mostly becasue I don't know how to cook it well, but I don't think I could be healthy on a totally vegetarian diet. Soy disagrees with me for a start and that Quorn stuff is just fungus with a bunch of processing and added flavors.
posted by fshgrl at 2:58 PM on November 5, 2005

I'm a Utilitarianist ethically, which means I think the the moral worth of an action is in the amount of happiness or pleasure resultant (this is more or less the method most people use in practice without articulating it). My reasoning for being a vegetarian is that pain and death are both fundamentally bad - the latter is more arguable, especially for an animal, but let's assume.

Specifically, I'm a rule Utilitarianist, which goes more or less "do what would be good if everyone acted that way." This requires you to participate in collective action and also permits you not to try to shoulder the burden of all suffering people everywhere, which is where standard ("act") Utilitarianism would tend to lead. Those who argue that they're just a drop in the bucket are ridiculous not to believe in collective action: if you abided that you could drive the biggest, most flagrant SUV, never vote, throw your trash into the river, etc. The world would be pretty ugly without people contributing beyond their tangible impact.
posted by abcde at 3:03 PM on November 5, 2005

I stopped eating meat over six years ago, and recently I've started to eat more fish. I have a growing number of friends who were vegetarian and then one day just decided to eat meat. A lot of what bibliowench resonates with me...sometimes your attitudes just change. For you, it seems like your health needs are changing. I used to try to justify why I could eat fish and not chicken or beef, but eventually I decided that I didn't really need to rationalize that. I'm okay eating what I eat. That part you need to figure out for yourself. But as for your health concerns, you might want to consider incorporating some poultry into your diet. Go for the free-range organic stuff. Keep in mind that you don't have to eat meat every meal or even every day, and there are many more vegetarian options than just fakey soy foods and cheese.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 3:06 PM on November 5, 2005

I'm with the know-where-your-meat-is-from-when-possible group. Sustainably grown/organic/small-farm meat is more expensive per pound, but I take a page from the cuisine of...nearly every other country, and use very small amounts of meat in any dish. Enormous hunk-o-meat is for feast days/special occasions.

I'm also a big fan of Michael Pollan's writing. There's a lot of his stuff archived all over the web for free.
posted by desuetude at 3:07 PM on November 5, 2005

Being a healthy vegetarian is exceedingly difficult. I understand the moral reasons behind it, but anyone who says "I do it for health reasons" is fooling him/herself.

Huh? It's not hard, as long as you eat a variety of foods. And you should eat a variety of foods, even if you eat meat. Being a healthy vegetarian is no easier or harder than being a healthy meat eater. If you want to be healthy, eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

I happen to think the meat industry is yucky: At factory farms, chickens are fed chicken parts. They used to do that with cows, too, and that worked out really well with mad cow disease and whatnot. But free-range birds fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet should take care of those concerns. I'm a vegetarian and wouldn't have a moral problm with eating that kind of meat, but it's just not part of my diet.
posted by Airhen at 3:13 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Spend a little time learning about chicken factory farms if you want some moral input. Finding humanely and sustainably raised meat is pretty restrcitive, too (no more eating the meals your friends cook, no more eating out...). I'd say if you have moral imperatives, it's easier to avoid meat completely.

gradually shifted from a relatively healthy diet of tofu and stuff to a diet of mostly cheese, bread, and fake soy-based meat products

I really don't see how introducing meat is going to help with this. It sounds like you need a few new cookbooks and more visits to the produce section and/or farmer's market.
posted by scarabic at 3:15 PM on November 5, 2005

"Does vegetarianism fit into a local, sustainable diet?" Interesting article for vegetarians thinking about Peak Oil and our current food distribution system. From the article: The strange fact is that vegetarianism as commonly practiced is, like the rest of the industrial food system, propped up by the globalization of food and everything that it entails, including a total disconnection between food consumers and producers, and the cataclysmic ecological costs of shipping food around the world. At its worst, global vegetarianism is still cleaner and greener than global meat-eating, and is certainly more humane. On a local level, though, the questions are more complicated.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:15 PM on November 5, 2005

I don't understand how it's ok for you to eat fish but not other animals. Isn't a dead animal a dead animal?

Also, what Airhen said. I've been vegetarian for 21 years and have never found it a difficult diet to maintain.
posted by smich at 3:22 PM on November 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to all posting; very good input. The article mentioned by stopgap was a particularly good read (located here).

And yes, cadastral, while there may be some part of me that wants someone to point out that eating meat is ok, I mostly would like some data on the subject, so I can find some moral ground that I can agree with. I actually wasn't aware just how bad industrial farming is, for example.
posted by anonymoose at 3:25 PM on November 5, 2005

Also, the question of what level of organism should be the line before it's immoral to kill it or cause it pain is an interesting one. At what point a creature becomes conscious, in the sense of having experiences, is an extremely deep philosophical question; there's also the issue of whether some other standard than merely being able to experience it. There are some organisms (microbes) that we can't help killing, though the Jainists may try. One argument might be that a creature is allowed the right not to die if it's able to think that it doesn't want to. It's complicated, but I draw the line a little arbitrarily past allowing myself to kill insects (for some reason I don't eat sea creatures that are just as or more primitive, which is something I've been meaning to reconsider). It's not safe to assume that insects have experience or pain but they certainly cause me pain. This is a bit of a loose end but I do have a tenuous reasoning that I mean to tighten up sometime soon.

David Chalmers posted a couple of links asking whether fish specifically are conscious (in the sense of having experience) and can experience pain. You were asking about the higher-level functions but that may be interesting anyway.
posted by abcde at 3:27 PM on November 5, 2005

Response by poster: Say, what do the various terms like "free range, organic, free farmed, etc" mean?
posted by anonymoose at 3:27 PM on November 5, 2005

Free range means the chickens aren't compressed as many as three into one cage where a single one couldn't spread its wings, but instead have a large range (some farms will call their product "free range" when it's just a marginaly larger cage, but this is the true meaning).

Organic farming is a technique for "natural" and sustainable farming that avoids synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, doesn't use GMOs, practices crop rotation, etc.; livestock are given space to move, are fed organic crops and generally drugs are avoided, etc.

"Free Farmed" seems to be a humane treatment certification.
posted by abcde at 3:37 PM on November 5, 2005

my attitude was (is, i guess) that eating animals is pretty odd, and probably morally dodgy, but people are way more important (sorry peter singer). so when i was a veggie (a real one, no pissing around with fish, for ten years or so) i would eat meat if i was at someone else's house and they'd cooked it for me - i'd rather someone kills some small fraction of a cow (or half a chicke) than put them to a lot of bother/embarassment. and when i moved to a country where vegetarian sandwiches contained chicken (for real) and there were no linda mcartney soya sausages, i gave up after a year.

anyway, enough about me. you've got ibs. i'd put you first. if a medicine that could cure you involved meat, would you take it? i would.

on the other hand, i'm not sure how much extra variety you'll get. all the tasty bits of animals are pretty bad for you. chicken is boring - soya is pretty much equivalent. if you're already eating poor little fishy-wishies then you've probably got most of the tasty stuff that isn't fatty and hard to digest (maybe ibs isn't about that?).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2005

If it’s for health reasons then go ahead and eat meat. Personally, the only animals I eat are the ones I (or my fishing buddies) kill. So, as a mostly catch-and-release fisherman I end up eating maybe a trout a year. I don’t miss meat or feel unhealthy.
I do it because I dislike factory farming and the waste associated with growing animal feed.
posted by spork at 3:50 PM on November 5, 2005

I have periodically considered becoming a vegetarian. I own Linda McCartney's cookbook and The Gradual Vegetarian, both of which might help you with some new recipes that are low on the faux-meat. If you are going to eat soy protein, just be honest about it and eat some soybeans (mmEdamame). I second the thoughts of those that are recommending more fresh fruits/veggies and more eastern cuisine -- there's lots of vegetarians in the Far East and they figured out how to combine proteins without modern science. Because you have some medical problems that can be worsened by diet, you may have to be careful about experimenting. A site like SlashFood might also give you some neat ideas, both vegetarian and omnivorous.

Although I no longer eat Cow (see the thread on the Blue pages about Mad Cow) and I try to serve meat free dinners a couple times a week, I decided not to become a vegetarian. In the end it came down to this question: What makes animal life more sacred than plant life?
posted by ilsa at 3:50 PM on November 5, 2005

Man I went through and am going through the same thing!

The thing is that fish did help me somewhat, but was too expensive.

Soy is death!

Chicken kind of helped, but not really.

Protein might not be your problem. For me, I focused on protein because of all the societal hype, and I though that was my problem. That led me to eat less (meat is expensive) of the other things I ate before. What I have found is that having a rich and diverse diet has made my GI tract and health much better. Eating a lot of carbs, fruits, and vegetables every meal, and also not eating the same thing all the time has helped me. Moreover I found I needed to eat more and more frequently (I have a high metabolism), especially when doing physical work.

So if I were you I would play with those things and see how goes. Don't rule out things like soy, dairy, or wheat allergies also.

On the fish issue, for me it isn't all about the violence but also the lives animals live. Livestock have pretty depressing lives and in many ways should exist free range or otherwise. Wild fish however get to live some semblence of an autonomous life, and that makes me feel better. Who knows though it is a personal decision really.
posted by aussicht at 3:51 PM on November 5, 2005

The environmental cost (PDF) of wild fish consumption is probably as great as the environmental cost of raising meat on land. Fish farms - whether salmon in BC or Shrimp in Thailand - also have serious ecological implications. The ethical question of "taking a life" seems subsumed within the ethical question of destroying the planet. Organic beef may well be a better choice than genetically-modified soya beens or wetland-destroying farmed shrimp.
posted by Rumple at 3:54 PM on November 5, 2005

I used to be vegetarian, but that was before I lived within close proximity to Katz's Deli. I suppose it would have been easier to resist had I been raised vegetarian, as I would be immune to the smell of yummy, delicious corned beef. Does anybody have any resources for finding stores and restaurants that offer free-range meats?
posted by afroblanca at 3:55 PM on November 5, 2005

Being a healthy vegetarian is exceedingly difficult.

that's simply not true. loads and loads of people are vegetarian without any serious side effects. for ten years i was one. when i started eating more meat i didn't notice any change in health (except that shit is smellier).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:55 PM on November 5, 2005

* Becoming a vegeterain 35 years ago was possibly the single best decision I've ever made in my life. It probably contibuted to the fact that I've practically never been sick, havn't suffered from any ailments, etc. So hang in there. * Also, there's so much wonderful food available that does not involve mass processing of animals. * Thirdly, it makes for better karma - You are what you eat. If you have to kill others to survive, you become an animal.
posted by growabrain at 4:19 PM on November 5, 2005

I came home from camp one summer and said "mom, I'm a vegetarian."
She looked at me and said "fine, but you're eating fish."

My thoughts on the whole thing started with "if stop eating meat, maybe soon everyone will stop eating meat, and we can live in harmony with the animals and blah blah blah". Eventually I moved beyond early adolescence and realized that it would never happen. People love their meat. As for me, well, I just didn't want to start up again. It didn't interest me.

People ask me why I still eat fish, but it was really never an option. My family had fish at least once a week for dinner, and if I couldn't have eaten tuna fish sandwiches, lunch periods would have been much harder. Although I'm not religious I come from a Jewish background (it was a Jewish summer camp that I had come back from vegetarian), and, according to Jewish law, fish isn't even considered meat. Not that this really affected my decision, but it made me feel okay with not being a "full" vegetarian. I like my protein, and I can only eat so much tofu.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2005

anonymoose, if you want more articles by Michael Pollan, big agri-business and its effect on the food supply in the US, factory farming/alternatives to factory farming, e-mail me.

The bad news is that factory farming is really gross. The good news is that there are some fantastic, innovative folks making alternative models work. Gave me a whole new angle to morally chew on, so to speak.
posted by desuetude at 5:30 PM on November 5, 2005

You are what you eat. If you have to kill others to survive, you become an animal.

We are animals. Animals do have to consume other living things to survive, that's sort of what differentiates us from plants. Unless you're developed the ability to photosynthesis of course.

As an aquatic ecologist I give a big thumbs up to the idea that eating organic beef is probably more environmentally friendly than eating farmed fish, or even many kinds of wild-caught fish. Probably better for you too, especially if you've health problems as it is leaner and the cow had a more varied diet.

The idea that land used for growing animal feed could be better used to grow crops for human consumption is mostly bogus: many areas are not suitable for cultivation but can be managed OK for grazing, grazing is far less water intensive than cultivation, and the vast majority of feed fed to domestic livestock are by-products of other agricultural or industrial processes, tomato plants, straw, brewing mush etc.
posted by fshgrl at 5:35 PM on November 5, 2005

Being a healthy vegetarian is exceedingly difficult.

I tend to disagree with this as well, although I am willing to allow that the person who says this might live in Iowa City, where, in fact, it might be.

But in absolute terms, it's pretty much no problem putting the diet together. Especially if you consider that even a diet with meat isn't necessarily a healthy one. Most meat-eaters miss the concept of dietary "health" in their own ways, yet there's this huge lore of "not enough protein" associated with vegetarianism. It's selective focus, and pretty much BS.
posted by scarabic at 5:46 PM on November 5, 2005

I've found that my health has been much better in general since I went (lacto-ovo-)vegetarian. YMMV, as always; some people thrive more with meat. I don't.

I also try to eat a balanced and varied diet, which honestly isn't hard at all as a veggie. Even when I ease up on the soy stuff, grains + legumes at every meal and I'm fine. Kasha, quinoa, couscous, moong dal, snap peas, red lentils, yum yum. As others have mentioned, the Indian subcontinent has a REALLY well-developed repertoire of veggie cooking techniques.
posted by 88robots at 5:47 PM on November 5, 2005

Being a healthy vegetarian diet that does not include fish or eggs is fairly easy. Half a billion people or so are vegetarians in India, they get their proteins from pulses.

Just like others said above, being healthy has little to do with whether you have meat or not, but a lot to do with how balanced your diet is.
posted by riffola at 6:11 PM on November 5, 2005

Also even non-vegetarians in India don't have meat (lamb, fish, chicken, etc) in every single meal. Most usually have meat three or four non-veggie meals a week.

You don't have to have tofu all the time as a vegetarian, in fact you could have a healthy veggie diet without tofu. It doesn't have to be all salads, there's plenty of vegetarian junk food available.
posted by riffola at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2005

riffola's right. Vegan desserts are awesome, too.
I'd like to point out that lots of meat-eaters (like I am) choose to avoid that appalling chicken-battery-style meat -- it's pumped full of antibiotics and crap. so I end up paying through the nose for free-range and organic and dolphin-safe and whatever, knowing that I don't support chicken-battery industrial operations.
and I boycott big fast-food chains for the reasons above, and also for political reasons.

my only real problem, where appetite and convictions clash? it's hard as hell for me to boycott foie gras -- it's a savage food, I know, and unhealthy to boot. but it tastes so fucking awesome...

but you don't really need to be vegetarian to be an informed, careful, and physically healthier consumer.

and re: animal rights and vegetarianism, if I may quote a little silly joke I once heard, Protestants feel really guilty about what they eat, we Catholics feel really guilty about everything but that.
posted by matteo at 6:44 PM on November 5, 2005

On the subject of fish: Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
posted by gimonca at 7:19 PM on November 5, 2005

I tend to disagree with this as well, although I am willing to allow that the person who says this might live in Iowa City, where, in fact, it might be.

Iowa City has a vegetarian friendly food co-op. It is a liberal university town. There are probably few places easier to eat vegetarian than a liberal university town. Don't let the "Iowa" part fool you.
posted by Airhen at 7:50 PM on November 5, 2005

Wow. That's a huge question you're addressing, and it inflects to "What should I eat?" I've been struggling with this one for a while, so I'll throw in my two cents. If I merely reiterate someone else's views, my apologies, I didn't read all the posts.

The first concern is pain. I don't want anything to howl or yelp on my behalf. This is a central nervous system bias, I don't like my own pain. But even in those crappy factories, death is so fast that this argument ends up weak.

Then it's: I don't want to kill anything that can feel pain, I know it's pain-conscious because I know it can howl. But there are dogs (basenjis[?]) that don't make noise, people born without voice boxes, people paralyzed but suffering. And then fish, what about them?

OK, then movement: Fish squirm when you hook them, must be in pain. But with this argument, do you know it's actually feeling pain? Very hard to tell, diificult position. Could be painless survival reflexes. And apparently non-moving plants are obviously growing, flowers are tracking the afternoon sun, Venus-Fly Traps have a rudimentary nerve apparatus. If you cut a plant or a tree, it looks like it's going berserk if you monitor it at the molecular level--how might that not be pain? And the genetic complexity of plants is a match for anything, wondrous.

I think the pain argument is actually the tip of the iceberg. This is about life, the destruction of life. How do you avoid it? Vegetarians who talk about the sanctity of life are killing it as monstrously and quickly as the rest of us, it's depressing.

The oldest answer is religion. Go by your views, this is exactly the question that your God is meant to answer, or that religion was invented to solve, Man and Woman being sensitive to their place in the world. The Eastern religions have said in essence "In this world, there is no way to avoid destruction, you must participate in the horror." Even elephants step on ants.

So, back to square one, it's about personal choices. Otherwise you'll have to wait until someone invents nutritious polymers that taste as good as an In n'Out hamburger, good luck. Reality and Evolution win. Animal fat is delicious because it's loaded with calories, chimps kill and eat monkeys.

The only thing I can add to that is that there may be something worse than death, and that is torture. Don't the tortured beg for death, for relief? Isn't this our problem right here, with this issue, relief?

I try to avoid food producers that torture.
posted by toma at 7:56 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Chickens are walking, pecking vegetables. They should be a part of every vegetarian diet.
posted by Apoch at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2005

Yes, you should eat some beef and poultry. Both of them make great tacos.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:23 PM on November 5, 2005

As an experiment to alleviate your IBS, try cutting out dairy and gluten. My daughter (adult) diagnosed with IBS has found a non-dairy, non-gluten diet made a huge difference.

For the record: I'm an animal who eats other animals occasionally, but I try not to eat factory-farmed animals because it's such a revoltingly inhuman system, as most here recognize.
posted by anadem at 9:30 PM on November 5, 2005

In a word, yes you should stop being vegetarian, if it has the potential to improve your life.

As for the other arguments, I am convinced that people are quite different constitutionally in this matter. Because one person thrives on soy burgers doesn't mean everyone does, ditto filet mignon. The only way to find out what works for you is to experiment and stick by what you figure out for yourself.
posted by zadcat at 9:32 PM on November 5, 2005

I've been a vegetarian for about 15 years. I believe very strongly that if someone doesn't feel they're capable of pulling off a vegetarian diet then there is no shame in doing the best you can to have a diet that you believe is healthy and moral otherwise. If that means eating organic, cutting down on meat, buying only local meat and produce--than so be it. If it only means cutting back on processed sugar--that's cool too. Many people eat without any forethought about what's going into their body and I applaud anyone who makes an effort to change their life by changing their diet. It is all about finding a diet that fits with both your abilities and your beliefs.

And although it has already been said here, don't buy the second-hand stories about vegetarian diets being unhealthy by default. That is no more true than saying that all diets that include meat are unhealthy. It's all about choices and moderation, as any reasonable dietician I think would agree.
posted by divka at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2005

I just spend a weekend at a seminar hosted by the Theosophical Society. One of their dietary rules, which applies to guests as well, is "no meat," and, in their words, "we don't eat anything with a face." My first thought was, "define 'face.'" Eggs will eventually have a face, so why then is it OK to eat them? But that's some fun for another topic.

So, Moral and Mad Cow reasons aside, I decided on vegetarianism many years ago because:
1. The human digestive system is about 22 feet long. By the time meat goes from A to Z it putrifies. Tigers, for example, have 6 feet of tubing. Get it in, get it out. Ba-da-BOOM!
2. The stomach of a human does not have the sufficient-strength digestive acids for processing meat, which taxes the system and leaves semi-processed.
3. Meat is not friendly to red blood cells -- I forget why.
4. Over time, buildup from meat fats coat the intestines, hindering and even preventing proper nutrient absorption. Toxemia can result, as well as a distended colon.

By the way, I am not an authority on this. This list is a result of my research. I would love to know from qualified MDs if I am way off base.

(And this is not to say that there are times when I would love to go face-down into a juicy, charbroiled T-bone!)

I would advice sticking to lean deep-water ocean fish like cod, flounder, and haddock, as they are least likely to be contaminated with mercury. Avoid predator fish -- they will contain the contaminants of the fish they eat. Smaller and younger is better since they've had less time to accumulate toxins. Stay away from farm-raised fish.

If you are intent on chicken, buy organically raised, free-range birds. Trim off the skin and fat. Bon apetit.
posted by Edward King at 12:10 PM on November 6, 2005

You can quit being a vegetarian if you want to. I mean, we don't recruit and there's no stop-gap orders.
I've grown up vegetarian, so maybe I have a little different perspective on this. You can eat whatever you like. If you're already eating fish, you're not a vegetarian; you're a pescatarian. One of the girls at last night's meet-up was too. It's OK.
But on the "gimme a reason to eat meat" tip, and to reverse Cribcage's point, there's really no reason to eat meat except liking it. You can get around your IBS by eating a decent vegetarian diet. You can eat cheaper and be vegetarian (that's actually pretty easy— nearly every culture that's had poor people has a pretty solid vegetarian staple. Beans and rice is a personal favorite).
The thought that it's "natural" is pretty irrelevant, given that it's natural for us to kill and rape each other. "We're all animals" would justify eating babies, as animals do that too.
If you like to eat meat, go for it. I can give you reasons not to do so, but they only work from some moral outlooks, and if you don't share it, that's fine. In the interest of the greater good, I'd ask you to try to get free range and organic stuff. It's better for everyone, and if you can buy local, go for it. But, really, it's not that big of a deal unless part of your public identity is that you're a "vegetarian." And then, speaking as someone who tries to be low-key about the whole thing, you're probably not what I'd want someone to think of when they think of vegetarians anyway. No offense to Bibliowench, but being annoying as a vegetarian and then coming up with rationalizations for why you now eat meat is pretty common. Kind of like Born-agains who return to the sinning with an extra dose of righteousness.
Do what you want to do, but you don't have to justify it to anyone. Eat meat because you want to eat meat, or because it's less effort to eat meat with IBS. No one'll judge you for it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:28 PM on November 6, 2005

And one other thought: I agree with klangklangston to do what you want. If you occasionally crave a steak, then go for it. And don't beat yourself up over it. Do what best suits you, having educated yourself as to what is best for your body.
posted by Edward King at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2005

Simply put, yes. For basically the same reasons that klangklangston gives.

/has been vegetarian on and off, mostly on, since age 7
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2005

I don't know anything about IBS, but I do know that chicken and duck are delicious.

I'm a bit conflicted about eating mammals, especially since I've had a dog.

But birds, man, they're just so obviously designed for eating.

Just look at drumsticks, they have handles attached for convenient eating. Evolution is BEGGING you to take a bite.

They even make their own sauce! Just a little bit of flour to the roasting dish while the chicken stands and you have gravy! If you add flour to the water you cooked your beans in, you'd get floury water, right? And that's not gravy! I rest my case! Exclamation mark!

Also, Edward King's list of issues sound like a bunch of bullshit to me.
posted by The Monkey at 2:18 PM on November 6, 2005

Let’s be clear about one thing here... when we’re talking about the humane slaughter of cattle and pigs we can only address the issue in relative terms.

I know cattle because I lived around them for 25 years. I also helped a friend build a meat packing plant. He tried to be as humane as possible but, when you’re running cows down an assembly line to death, they figure it out in time to try and do something about it.

The final chute faced the door to the kill room. It was just wide enough to squeeze a good sized cow into but I never saw one go in there that didn’t unlock a previously untaped gift for the most bizarre contortion in order to turn around and face the other way. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. The trick was that they had enough panic time to turn back around again....
posted by Huplescat at 2:47 PM on November 6, 2005

Coming in a bit late here, but the article stopgap references is available here. Pretty much all of his articles are on his site in the writing section.
posted by sanko at 8:37 PM on November 8, 2005

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