Last night at a dinner party a group of us were engaged in a heartfelt discussion about wildlife, habitat destruction, and climate change when the hostess announced, “Dinner’s ready. There’s pulled pork, and barbeque beef.”
I couldn’t help but notice the irony that the very same people who were, only moments earlier, emotionally charged about the state of the planet were now consuming the very thing that is the number one cause of habitat destruction and climate change: meat.
As I piled my plate with salad, coleslaw and potatoes I wondered why it’s so difficult for most people to change their meat-eating habits. My own commitment to avoiding meat has certainly involved some twists and turns over the years.
How Jane Goodall became a Vegetarian
It probably comes as no surprise to you that Dr. Jane Goodall, the most famous animal advocate in the world, is a vegetarian.
It was reading about intensive farming in Peter Singer’s 1970’s book, Animal Liberation that opened her eyes.
Jane Goodall says of her conversion to vegetarianism that she had never heard of a factory farm before and as she turned the pages of that book she became increasingly incredulous, horrified and angry. At the time she was a meat eater. “Chimpanzees eat meat and I hadn’t understood the horrors of what these animals raised for food suffer until reading that book,” she says.
She can still remember how she felt when she closed Singer’s book. She says she thought about the delicious pork chops that she loved, the heavenly smell of frying bacon in the morning, and all the roast chicken, casseroled chicken, and chicken soup that she had enjoyed during her life.
From then on when she saw meat on her plate, unless it was from a free-ranging animal, she thought only of pain, fear, and death. So it was clear: “I would eat no more meat. Overnight I became a vegetarian.”
Becoming a vegetarian (and vegan) is a process
I too became a vegetarian after reading Singer’s book in high school. But sometime later, during the protein diet craze of the late 90’s, I convinced myself that my body needed meat proteins so I began eating free-range animals believing I was no longer causing incidental harm to the animals or the planet. I now know that isn’t true. I now know the planet can’t sustain the amount of meat humans currently consume, no matter if they are raised free-range or not.
“If we went back to the days when cows wandered in the fields and we just took a little from them it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, and it certainly would make a vast difference to the methane gases produced in factory farming,” says food author and activist Michael Pollan. “Our meat consumption can be sustainable with the amount of people and livestock we have in the world today if all of us agreed to eat only 2 ounces of meat per week.”
I recognize, for many people, giving up meat completely is difficult. But if we allow ourselves to really know and face the facts of how these animals are raised and slaughtered, what factory farming is doing to our environment, and to our health, if we allow ourselves to take that in, I believe most people would either opt for drastically cutting their meat consumption and eating only free-range animals when they do eat animals, or giving up meat altogether. These days I don’t eat any beef or pork and rarely eat any other meat. On the rare occasion I do I often know the rancher and how the animal lived it’s life.
Jane Goodall says, “one of the most important changes we can make in our own lives is to change the way we eat.” It’s also one of the most important changes we can make for the planet. Good for all!
Featured image: Painting of cows @Susan Shapiro Fine Art