For years, I considered making the switch to vegetarianism. Part of me was subtly rebelling against my parents and part was growing increasingly aware of the moral arguments behind vegetarianism. Peter Singer's seminal work Animal Liberation, scanned in an afternoon at Barnes and Noble, introduced me to new arguments for animal rights. Yet, something always held me back from making the jump away from omnivorous eating habits. My mother is a fantastic cook, and the thought of giving up her lemon chicken or seared pork was disconcerting. While I made no real effort to curb my meat consumption, I became increasingly aware of the grave environmental effects caused by eating meat, the compelling moral arguments that underlie vegetarianism, and the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
My thinking slowly changed this summer, when I stayed in D.C. instead of going back to South Carolina, and thus began cooking for myself on a regular basis. I was still eating meat when school ended, but that quickly changed; as the summer wore on, I found myself eating less and less meat, almost naturally. I never ran out of things to eat, discovering soy breakfast sausages and creative ways of cooking tofu. It dawned on me that my actions could match my long-held but dormant belief that meat consumption should be avoided. I'll freely admit that I'm not the traditional meat and potatoes loving American, who fires up the grill at a moment's notice. I maintain, however, that the jump to vegetarianism is not as difficult as most think it would be.
In his new book, Eating Animals, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer reflects on the journey to committed vegetarianism. I particularly identified with one section, "Pieces of Shit," which describes the unbelievable amount of feces produced by Smithfield pigs. "Smithfield [America's leading pork producer] annually kills ... some 31 million animals," Foer writes. "According to conservative EPA figures, each hog produces two to four times as much shit as a person ... [resulting in] at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined." All of this waste, pumped into massive "lagoons" standing beside the hog sheds, is full of noxious gases and microbial pathogens that result in unusually high rates of asthma, diarrhea, burning lungs, and can even cause serious neurological conditions in humans. All of this waste leaks into the water supply of surrounding communities.