Sitting across from my friend’s double cheeseburger, I found myself considering for the first time in three years of vegetarianism whether I wanted a bite. I have recently found out that just 100 companies in the world were responsible for 71 percent of global emissions. In the face of this, what would be the difference in eating one cheeseburger? Yet I resisted the temptation and said no, and I still continue to say no to eating meat.
My decision to become a vegetarian was a surprise to many people in my life. I used to be one of those people who would loudly proclaim “but, bacon!” upon hearing about someone’s vegetarianism. I never imagined it would be something that I would identify with. The change happened during my undergraduate years in England, where, as a political science student, I became aware of the overwhelming evidence which suggests the unbelievably detrimental effects meat consumption has on the environment. Emissions from livestock represent 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — which accounts for more than direct emission from transportation. And the 2018 documentary “Eating Animals” reported that 80 percent of all antibiotics manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry are put toward factory farming, and that factory farming is one of the top two causes of not only climate change, but also water pollution.
Slowly, I realized that I could no longer stomach eating meat while also arguing about the impact it had on climate change. I remember my last meat-based meal clearly: a pork burrito I had for lunch one day. I hadn’t intended for it to be my last meal, so to speak, but as I sat there chewing I clearly remember thinking that this was it for me. I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. So, I didn’t.
However, I’m also of the opinion that a lot of environmental advice is far too geared around the activities of the individual. Don’t use plastic straws, reuse coffee cups, take public transport. All of these initiatives, while meaning well, seem to distract from the larger issue at hand: why should we be individually responsible for steering the ship of climate change when entities like the U.S. military pollute endlessly with little challenge? By comparison, my carbon footprint is a drop in the ocean; it hardly makes a difference whatsoever. Yet, I still continue to be a vegetarian.
In part, this is because my reasons for being a vegetarian have shifted slightly since that fateful burrito. Not that I’m no longer conscious of how my meat consumption contributes to the faltering state of the environment, but even after realizing that I alone cannot effect change, I now have other, equally compelling reasons to continue my vegetarianism. I no longer enjoy or want the taste of meat. While being in New York City, I have tried a couple of meat substitutes that have tasted alarmingly like the real thing, but I still find myself craving a good burger that tastes of vegetables over lackluster beef any day.
And since I’ve made this lifestyle change I’ve grown acutely aware of the animal cruelty that is inherent to the meat industry. The image we have grown up with of pastoral farms only accounts for about one percent of meat production in the United States. 99 percent of the farms that produce our meat are factory farms, a type of farming notorious for unethical, inhumane killing and keeping of the livestock in its possession.
I have started to view meat as dead animals in a way I simply didn’t when I ate it every day. True, some may say that if I really cared about animal welfare I’d be vegan, which I currently am not prepared to commit to. But once I started thinking this way, it became difficult to view meat as appetizing.
So maybe being a vegetarian doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s a bit like voting or donating a dollar to charity or signing a petition. On its own, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. However, there’s still a part of me that wants to believe that such ambitious change can be driven by individuals. That we should use our money to support industries that better align with our beliefs. That it would be hypocritical for me to call out corporations for polluting when I’m not prepared to engage in positive environmental efforts myself. So, let me know of any good vegetarian restaurants in this city. I hope you’ll join me.
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Email Natasha Jokic at [email protected]