|Why I Went Vegetarian|
|Monday, 12 March 2012 10:00 | Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry|
I went vegetarian when I was seven years old—quite unconsciously. They say that children’s brains develop the perfect pathways for learning language around seven years of age (so get your second- and third-graders in Spanish immersion class!). I'm guessing it's not just language skills affected by this cognitive expansion, but many other ways of connecting the symbolic dots. Why? Because that is the precise age at which I put the pieces together and associated the cows—whose noses I was petting in the cages at my grandparents' slaughterhouse—with the headless, skinned bodies hanging from hooks and bleeding from their necks in the next room.
You see, up until that point, I sincerely didn't get the correlation. But I remember quite clearly the day I knew one was the other. It took very little time from that point for my mom to recognize that her daughter would not eat the meat dishes at her dinner table. "Do you know what they call people like you, Tonya?" she asked. "Vegetarians." To which I replied, "What's a vegetarian?"
So my choice not to eat meat was definitely quite unconscious. All I knew back then was that when I saw the animal-based dishes on the table, my stomach hurt. I was just trying to avoid an upset stomach. I was operating from a child's genuine emotional wisdom. Sometimes I wish that everyone could live from that place of innocent compassion, unadulterated by training, consumerism and misinformation. I am so thankful that to this day my childhood compassion still lives in me through my vegetarianism.
I also often wish for every child the blessing of a grandparent with a slaughterhouse. Too often meat-eaters today are just unconscious eaters. They purchase frozen beef and bean burritos packaged in neon wrappers and never see the cruelty, pollution and disease associated with their food choice.
But just because one’s conscience may be spared, the residual—sometimes fatal—effects are not. As PETA conveys, “In 2005 a study which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that among the 29,000 participants, those who ate the most meat were also at the greatest risk for heart disease. The researchers also reported that a high intake of protein from vegetable sources such as tofu, nuts, and beans lowers our risk of heart disease by 30 percent."
With heart disease the single leading cause of death in the United States, it seems we would take the scientific knowledge about the health effects of animal-based diets seriously. If running red lights were the leading cause of preventable death, for example, it is certain we would strictly enforce laws against it. I’m saddened that our health and well-being is being overlooked in favor of business profits.
Not only are proud carnivores endangering their own and their children's long-term health, but they cannot consider themselves environmentalists while contributing to the water pollution and habitat destruction inherent to meat eating.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, in a Report to Congress in 1984, stated that "Agricultural pesticides and nitrates used in fertilizers and manures seep into our groundwater, eventually spilling out into the oceans creating so-called ‘dead zones’ (expansive areas so toxic that neither plant nor animal life can survive) viewable from space." And Merritt Frey of the Natural Resources Defense Council reports, "Besides the chemicals used in cultivation, accidental pollution though chemical spills and manure dumps are an ongoing source of water pollution from feedlots. The manure created from the billions of animals killed for food has to go somewhere, and often, it ends up in rivers and streams, killing millions of fish in one fell swoop."
And simply consider the inefficiencies in the production of meat. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, but only 55 gallons for one pound of oranges. For the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of beef, a human could drink his required daily intake for 2.4 years. All in all, it defies common sense: Why not just grow food to eat instead of grow food to feed to animals that we kill to eat as food? Not very ecological—even by the most simple reasoning.
And I won't go into the cruelty and animal issues that invariably occur in the meat-production industry. But I will share a shocking statistic I read in an Emagazine piece entitled “The Case Against Meat”: "Male chicks born on factory farm—as many as 280 million per year—are simply thrown into garbage bags to die because they’re of no economic value as meat or eggs." Also, according to PETA, "Every year in the US, more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food," and "By switching to a vegetarian diet, you can save more than 100 animals a year personally."
Really, though, the reason I wish every child to have a set of grandparents with a slaughterhouse is because it was precisely that experience that allowed me to choose my educated vegetarian path while still staying open-minded to those who eat dead animals. After all, my grandparents are lovely and loving people (rest in peace, grammy). And even though my family did not (then) emulate the emotional wisdom of the seven-year-old child, they all supported me by learning to prepare vegetarian dishes in order to feed me and include me in family gatherings.
For me, the real trick over the years has been maintaining my childhood compassion while continuing to love a world that does not yet necessarily get it. Of course, I wish everyone the goodness of life and health that I have experienced from a vegetarian diet. But I also know that the choice to grow in any way must be initiated and upheld by the individual. I am grateful I have had that freedom. And I am supportive of those trying to break free of tradition, training, marketing and an unsustainable system because they feel it inside. Indeed, individual growth must come from within.
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