Hello everyone. My name is Katie. I work at Smart Lunches and I am here to talk about vegetarianism.
When I was first asked to write about this topic, I was a bit hesitant to share my personal beliefs in such an open forum. I was concerned about displeasing our Smart Lunches audience, or even worse, coming across as patronizing or preachy (I am by no means one of those vegetarian "holier than thou" types). However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that sharing my choice to switch to a meatless diet could really initiate all of our Smart Lunch families to open up a discussion with their families about the importance of personal decision-making when it comes to food. So let's start at the beginning.
The Early Years
Growing up as a young and active girl, my favorite meals typically revolved around my favorite word: Carbohydrates. My ideal dinners consisted primarily of mashed potatoes, white rice and spaghetti, also known as the "White Carbohydrate Trifecta". At this time I had already claimed to be a vegetarian, but when my mother explained to me that being a vegetarian meant eating vegetables, I quickly withdrew my remark and returned for a second plate of mashed potatoes. I also grew up in a household that routinely gathered around dinners of baked chicken, grilled cranberry steak, roasted pork, and my father's infamous salmon filet (all of which I would happily select as the companion to my buttered potatoes). So this begs the question... "Why did I decide to give meat up after more than 20 years of meat consumption?"
We all know the arguments that being vegetarian is better for the environment and for your health (blah, blah, blah) — but I wanted to delve a little further in the trendy fad that had become the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle (seriously, it seemed like people wore their vegetarianism on their sleeves). However, what started out merely as a researchable topic to critique and rebuke slowly began to shift my attention to the acute and undeniable implications of our carnivorous culture.
After doing copious amounts of research and reading health article after health article, I came to find that these public studies showed eating one hamburger each day could increase my risk of dying by one third. Data also suggested that excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. Additionally, nearly two million Americans are physically affected by current factory farm practices each year.
Animal Welfare Concerns
I was aware of the circulating data about the controversies of America's meat industry and factory farming methodology (I'll refrain from releasing these details). Today, there are very few federal laws (seriously, very few and surprisingly unregulated) governing how food or food research animals are raised (some efforts have been made to revise antibiotic use on farms). Consumers, animal welfare advocates, lawmakers, health inspectors and private food and drug investigators, and even factory workers are all concerned with the standards of frequent and long-standing problems on current factory farms.
Backed by scientific research, national news stories, and journalist investigations, I knew that mass production of industrial agriculture has wreaked havoc on water supplies, water and air quality, and has shown to have significant and lasting effects on our local ecosystems - think of pollution and waste lagoons, endangering species, deforestation, cultivating animals with disease, and the transportation of meat, amongst other things. I also knew that meat production, beef in particular, uses more 100 times more water for production than the most common vegetables.
I have always been a big-picture thinker. Growing up, I spent my time advocating for human rights, economic development, political fairness, and third world hunger. I watched documentaries, attended peaceful protests, analyzed politics, and traveled to various parts of the world. And I knew that if I truly wanted to stand by and advocate for justice in other aspects of life, I needed to be accountable to food as well.
Contrary to what some people think, being vegetarian is not an end in itself; it's a means through which I can reflect on my values of not causing harm where I can prevent it. I am not here to pitch a binary solution to either remain a meat-eater or become a vegetarian. In a carnivorous culture, it can be very difficult to make the change. But I would encourage you to set daily or weekly goals of decreasing your consumption of meat and to use food as a catalyst to teach your children about the power of decision-making. I personally chose to become a vegetarian after I realized I actually had the right to make the choice for myself.
Food is a responsibility. We are given the opportunity to choose what we want to eat and why we want to eat it, which is arguably the most personal and intimate decision one has the privilege of making. As food buyers, we have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world our children will inherit. Let's educate ourselves, our children, our local communities, and the nation as a whole that we have the ability to make such a personal choice.
Author Joel Salatin puts it perfectly, "After all, the magical, marvelous food on our plates, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy."