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Howdy,

I've been a vegetarian for ten years (since age 18) this past January. After reading through a few posts on this board and the "health and nutrition" board I thought I would share a few thoughts on my experience.

First off, I've been a strict lacto-ovo vegetarian since I started. That is, I don't eat red meat, pork, poultry, fish, or any other seafood. Further, I don't eat dishes (such as soups) prepared with animal broth, stock, or flavoring. I do eat by-products, such as honey, eggs, and milk-based products. Over the last year I quit purchasing milk by the gallon, and I now drink soy milk instead. Frankly, drinking so much cow's milk didn't make much sense considering I get plenty of dairy in other sources (e.g., cheese, yogurt, ice cream).

I'm 28 years old. I'm 6 foot 2, weigh 205 pounds, and comfortably fit into a size 33 waist. Obviously, I have no problem building and maintaining muscle mass, and I do it without the aid of protein supplements. I eat lots of soy and other protein-rich foods, yet people who aren't anywhere as lean as I am still ask if I get enough protein! I average about 2500 calories a day, and 20-25 percent of that comes from protein. Since I don't eat animal fat I can eat all sorts of other good stuff (like nuts) that people avoid. I have tons of energy, rarely get colds, and I can't remember the last time I was so sick I had to stay in bed. Its funny that I never see non-vegetarians show so much concern over their own intake of fruits and veggies.

(As far as clothing and other products go, I do have a few leather shoes and belts. I try to treat these items with care so I can get as much use out of them as possible. Unlike a steak (which provides temporary satisfaction) a good pair of leather shoes or belt can provide many years of use. Otherwise, I try to seek out alternatives, such as the faux leather bag I use for my laptop and my canvas wallet.)

I can only think of three times when I accidently ate meat in the last 10 years. The most memorable happened just two years ago when a waiter brought me the meat lasagne by mistake. It had very finely ground beef in it, which I didn't realize until I was halfway done. I spent the next few days in the bathroom. On another occassion I ate a few spoonfuls of a Chinese soup before I realized it was made with chicken broth. On the other occassion I accidently ate a bite of casserole that had bacon.

I chose to become a vegetarian primarily for ethical and environmental reasons. Nutrition didn't really factor much into it (at first) although I chose to be lacto-ovo because I knew I could put together a well-balanced diet on a day to day basis without "cheating". Less than a year away from college, I was less certain about my chances at maintaining a strict vegan diet while keeping a well-rounded diet on a daily basis.

My reasons for staying a vegetarian have become balanced between health, ethics, and environmental. Indeed, few of us are vegetarian for only one reason. Having a balanced set of reasons addresses many of the criticisms of vegetarianism. Indeed, I think the criticisms of vegetarianism as a way of life only work when one singles out one of the reasons. For example, one could argue that there are no ill-side effects of eating meat in moderation and with a well-balanced diet. Although such diets don't seem to be commonplace, it is true. But that doesn't address the ecological or ethical reasons. One could question the ethical reasons by arguing that many field animals (and instects) are killed during harvesting. But, this argument makes the mistake of ignoring the counter-factual. That is, a reduction in the meat agriculture industry (and its waste by-products) would result in an increase in healthy land and water. The reduction in animal slaughter and increase in healthy ecosystems would more than offset the unfortunately deaths of animals associated with plant-based foods. Further, just because animals are going to "die anyway" (and "plants are alive!") doesn't mean we should totally give up efforts to reduce unnecessary deaths. So, such arguments don't fly with me because I'm not under the illusion that animals don't die because I don't order veal. However, I do believe fewer animals die since either way we would have to harvest plants. Again, this argument also ignores the fact that vegetarians have multiple (nearly inseperable) reasons for their diet.

Taken together, these reasons give me a mission statement of sorts: To maintain a diet that minimizes the meat processing industry, thereby reducing the unnecessary breeding of animals for slaughter and its environmental effects, primarily by eating as far down the food chain as possible, yet always tending to my daily nutritional needs.

If you notice, the above mission statement doesn't requre people to quit eating meat altogether. It doesn't stop somebody from fishing or hunting as long as they plan to eat the meat (and hopefully make use of the other parts). While some vegetarians are fanatics, I can make out a clear distinction between eating a Big Mac out of convenience (with no thought as to the source of the food) versus a person who eats fish after catching and cleaning it. The reality for the majority of us in the US is that we can eat a healthful diet without doing either.

Indeed, I would eat meat if I were somehow stranded on an island. That is, until I could figure out what plants I could cultivate. If those things could be grown and harvested in a sustainable way, and provide a good diet, then I would quit eating the meat of any animal I didn't have to kill out of self-defense.

The way I see it, one of the greatest advantages of modern society is that advanced agriculture and distribution methods give us the ability to eat a healthy diet without the unnecessary breeding of animals for slaughter. It is a sign of great cultural progress that we have overcome the obstacles of securing year-round supplies of nutritionally dense plant based foods, and a sign of sophistication in our willingess to live in harmony with our environment and other species.

Even though I would continue with a strict lacto-ovo diet, we would be better off if everybody simply ate less meat. In other words, if somebody wants to committ to eating less meat, then I think that is wonderful.

marxtacy



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