First, here's my current situation: I eat beef and pork pretty infrequently, and fish only slightly more. The majority of the meat I eat is poultry, and I think even that is in reasonably modest amounts. A good portion of my meals are vegetarian already, thanks to the fine chefs at work providing veggie options. So why am I not vegetarian or vegan yet? I'll list my main reasons, and then further thoughts on them from reading Singer and Mason's book.
Human beings are omnivores. Why should I go against Nature?
This kind of a view may be somewhat supported by Michael Pollan's argument about domestic animals co-evolving into a symbiotic relationship with people. However, factory farms and such things go pretty violently against Nature, supposed symbiotic relationships or not, and it can be a lot of work to find and verify more humane sources of meat and animal products. And of course, just because we are something "naturally" doesn't mean it necessarily shouldn't be transcended. E.g. it would be right for a "naturally" belligerent person to learn to control his temper. So while I still do not feel that eating meat is outright wrong, in and of itself, there are so many other wrong factors involved in most meat eating today that I'm willing to let this go of this particular argument. It's just a lazy reliance on the status quo anyway.
Effort vs. Benefit
Vegetarian might be reasonably do-able, but going entirely vegan has always seemed like a great deal of work for me. Food is nice and all, but I've never really been interested in devoting much time or energy to it. That's why I've never learned to cook much and base a lot of my food choices on the "quick and easy" criteria. Being vegan seems like I would have to start allocating way more brain cycles, time, and effort into figuring what I can eat in any given situation, and I'm not crazy about that. It makes me wonder if the incremental benefit of cutting out animal products from one single person's diet is worth it, especially if I'm not a heavy meat eater anyway.
I'm still on the fence about this. However, there are a few points from The Way We Eat that can put the benefit into perspective. I will call them the three E's, just because I can.
- Efficiency: It takes 21 lbs of plant food to produce 1 lb of beef. The ratio is less dramatic for other meats, but the fact remains that we can feed more people far more efficiently if we use more plants and less meats.
- Environment: Due to all the factors involved in meat production, switching from an average American meat eating diet to completely vegan saves the atmosphere from 1.5 tons of CO2 a year. That's half again as much as the benefit of switching from a regular to a hybrid car.
- Evangelism: The more vegetarians and vegans that omnivores see out there "in real life," the more normal it will seem, and the more the ideas and practices will spread. So there would be some amount of a snowball effect, beyond simply my own personal decision (though unfortunately we don't have a good number to measure that).
This is perhaps just a more specific example of the "Effort" point above, and can probably be addressed by the same benefit arguments, but I'll list it anyway. If I'm visiting an omnivore who is kind enough to host and feed me, I don't want to put them to extra work just to accommodate me. If I travel somewhere, I want to try the foods the natives eat. For that matter, I want to be adaptable, and not thrown off by places that may not have a lot of vegetarian options. Now that I think about it, maybe there's actually some primal survival instinct at work here, making me reluctant to artificially restrict my possible food sources.
Food I Like
I'd like to say my will power makes this a non-issue, but really, there's stuff I'd be sad to stop eating. I'm thinking fondly right now of some salmon I had on Friday, but I could probably deal with cutting out meat, I think. (And yes, fish are animals.) Cheese might be more problematic. I wouldn't much miss milk and eggs in and of themselves, but they do go into certain wonderful things that would be painful to give up, and here my sweet tooth begins clamoring about ice cream and cookies, though other things could fall in this category, too. Unfortunately, I didn't get much out of the book to address this issue, aside from the fact that there are more and more vegetarian/vegan animal product alternatives available now than ever before. Having tried some such things, I don't necessarily find them all convincing, though admittedly I don't have a wide experience. Though do they really need to be "convincing" substitutes, or just good in their own right? As an example, I got to help make vegan ginger apple ice cream with Antonia this afternoon. To me, it still seems significantly different from "real" ice cream. It was, however, very good. (Thanks, Antonia!)
None at this time. However, I am going to start experimenting a bit, first by paying more attention to how many things I regularly eat that contain animal products, and second by seeing how many of them can be eliminated without too much effort. (I'm thinking all meat here, at the very least.) At that point, I'll need to take another look around and see what kinds of things are left, how much of them I'm consuming, and what my alternatives are. We'll see where this takes me.