My decision to adopt a vegetarian diet a few months ago wasn’t a difficult one.
When I seriously considered my moral, political, environmental and religious beliefs, I realized that in order to fully live out my values, I needed to stop eating animals. The encouragement of my already-vegetarian twin sister and a bout of food poisoning from some bad sushi were all it took to get me started and sticking to it has been a breeze.
Admittedly, my dalliances with eating animals as a college student were fairly limited already; becoming vegetarian has not changed my get-up-and-go or my performance in the swimming pool whatsoever. Nor has it elevated me to a higher plane of consciousness as many vegetarians and vegans on social media might lead one to believe. I’m not here to tell you that your cheeseburger is just pain and suffering on a bun, but the environmental and ethical implications of eating meat deserve careful consideration from all, regardless of whether or not you choose to be vegetarian.
One of the most compelling arguments for adopting a plant-based diet lies in the world of ecology: trophic efficiency. As energy is transformed and moves up a step on the trophic ladder, approximately 90 percent is lost as waste heat. Let’s start out with 1,000,000 joules of sunlight. A plant stores only 10,000 joules of that energy as biomass, and it follows that a grazing cow stores 1,000 joules. Thus, a tomato or stalk of corn has about 10 times the calories for the same investment of sunlight as a steak, and the ecological cost of a steak is about 10 times as high as that of a vegetable. Had the plants that fed the cow that became your steak been eaten by humans instead, they would have contained enough energy to feed you and nine other people. In a world in which approximately one in nine people do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life, eating low on the food chain makes sense.
Also, if the inhumane practices at factories and slaughterhouses don’t change soon — in which animals are treated not as sentient beings but as cogs in a machine — animal cruelty will continue to cast a long shadow over the meat industry.
Factory chickens, for example, typically live out their lives confined to a space smaller than an iPad and are unable to spread their wings, walk or feel grass under their feet. Pigs, whose intelligence surpasses that of dogs, often have their tails cut off without anaesthetic so other animals do not bite them. This course of action is completely indefensible, especially when you consider the words of celebrated scientist Jane Goodall in her book The Inner World of Farm Animals: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are much more sensitive and intelligent than we ever imagined.”
Some skeptics may argue that regardless of whether they eat meat themselves, slaughterhouses will keep churning. However, the agricultural industrial complex is still subject to market factors of supply and demand. Purchasing food from inhumane corporations is an unequivocal endorsement of their behavior. The attitude of many regarding meat consumption is not unlike political apathy; when people decline to participate, believing their votes do not matter, they miss the truth that however hopeless the state of affairs may seem, nothing will change for the better if one simply throws in the towel. If you don’t stand up and say no to practices to which you object, no one else will ever have to think twice about saying yes. Animals have no voice that we can understand, so they rely on us to speak for them.
Becoming a vegetarian is far from a mistake; it’s just a missed steak. Moreover, the vegetarian food regularly available at Wake Forest is surprisingly creative, varied and tasty. Minimizing or eliminating your meat consumption is easy. Consider doing it for the good of your body, for your own joy, for our fellow animals and for the planet we all share.