Ethical Eating (2)- Why I’m Not a Vegetarian

This is part 2 of a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. The first one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so). This one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and the third will be a mish-mash of everything left over, a discussion of any comments I recieve, and a little bit on organics. I may even try to throw in some seasonal vegetarian winter recipes while I’m at it, since winter tends to be the hardest. We’ll see.

I choose not to become vegan for a lot of different reasons. Food, to me, serves three main functions. It sustains health, it serves as a social binder, and it tastes good. The simplest reason for me not to be vegan is that I’m allergic to most processed soy (tofu, soy milk, etc) , and I prefer not to saturate my diet with heavily processed foods (seitan, tofu, tempeh, TVP, etc.). This leaves two good forms of non-animal product protein, nuts and beans, neither of which I like enough to use as staple foods. I also don’t absorb iron well from plant sources (found that one out the hard way, of course), so it would be very difficult for me to stay healthy on a vegan diet. If this were really important to me, I’d find a way to make it work– but it’s not.

Many social and community events are centered around food– in fact, food is often referred to as the glue of communities. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is becoming more and more common, and thus more and more accommodated in these situations, but it is virtually impossible to eat a full, balanced meal– or even a snack– in most (though not all) social situations as a vegan. I would have difficulty staying healthy as a vegan, I enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no wish to make things difficult for the community around me for non-health reasons. I do not wish to opt out.

I also really enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no moral objection to obtaining it from ethical sources. Factory farming, in many cases, is abusive, and this troubles me, but it is increasingly easy to do the research needed to pick cruelty-free sources of dairy products. I have no problem doing that research for any product I bring into my house, and this influences my choices when choosing restaurants as well. As I said before, though, I try not to inflict my choices on other people– in a group, or at someone else’s house, there arevery few products I feel strongly enough to kick up a fuss about by asking for sourcing information.

The question of eating meat was a much bigger struggle for me. For a time, I didn’t like meat much, so I didn’t eat meat, and that was that. That was the time in which I found out about my iron absorption difficulties (seriously, you would not believe how much spinach I was eating at that time. I tried.) When I went back to eating meat again, I loved the taste. I don’t know how much of that was my getting older and how much of it was eating better meat, but I struggled with the idea of eating animals, particularly knowing the environmental impacts. Oddly, learning more about farming was what helped my decision. Small farms seem to be healthier as plant and animal farms. Hens can be the best field-tenders, and manure can be the best fertilizer. Knowing that reassures me that the life cycle is set up a certain way for a reason, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting my role in the food chain- so long as I don’t abuse the privilege.

I don’t eat meat often, and I appreciate it when I do. I don’t mind the research it takes to find sources that don’t abuse their animals, and I don’t mind paying a premium for it. I do my best to buy the whole animal (chickens rather than chicken breasts, for example), so that I know that all parts are used and animals aren’t being bred unhealthily for profit. Eating meat is, in so many ways, a privilege to be appreciated and not abused– but now that I recognize that and eat responsibly, the little I do doesn’t trouble me.  Really, I have no problem with anyone eating anything so long as they’ve thought about it and accepted it first.

My biggest food-related pet peeve is people who only order meat not on the bone and in shapes that look nothing like the animal they came from, so that they don’t have to think about or accept what they’re eating. What’s yours?



Filed under ethics, meat, Other Interests, vegetarian

13 responses to “Ethical Eating (2)- Why I’m Not a Vegetarian

  1. Tracy

    You don’t think animal flesh is heavily processed?

    Your role in the food chain? It’s subjective and arrogant to think that people are at the top of everything.

    People can be healthy and have tasty meals without animals having to die.

  2. I think that the animal flesh I buy from a farmer at the local market that built her own processing plant is minimally processed, much less so than the tofu that uses chemicals that make me sick in the processing.

    I think that humans have evolved as omnivores, and that as such eating some meat isn’t harmful; after all, other animals are more than happy to eat humans given the chance– I would say that we aren’t at the top of the food chain. Maybe lions are– I don’t know, but we’re far to weak and slow to be at the top. We’re just not at the bottom.

    And I wish that you would be more open-minded on an open forum. I respect what I presume is your choice not to eat animals, and I ask that you would respect mine. Most of my meals, as I said, are meat-free, and I certainly didn’t say that people couldn’t be healthy and have tasty meals without eating meat. I just said that I’m okay with eating meat in some circumstances.

  3. Hi Tracy,
    My pet peeve is the people who cannot accept that your choices are simply that, your choices. Jane and I run into criticisms that we are not “vegan-enough.” We have not disposed of our leather shoes since we’ve become vegan. But leather is an animal product, obviously we’re not really vegan if we’re wearing leather shoes… I could go on, but I don’t want to get myself aggravated.
    Suffice it to say, my feeling on all this is live and let live. If you choose to eat meat, that is your choice; if I choose to eat tofu, that is mine. I know firsthand that it is hard to be vegan. I remember how good fish tasted to me when I stopped eating vegetarian about 10 years ago. I’m not imposing my choices on anyone, therefore I don’t understand why my choices would be subjected to criticism.
    Lane of

  4. Cheers to you, veggielove, for a series of good posts. And I appreciate your patient response to Tracy. Nowhere in your posts did I get the impression you think humans are at the “top” of the food chain. In addition to the lions you mention in your reply, consider the fact that all sorts of microbes constantly feed on us . . . living both on us and in us. I think of the food chain as a circle (a.k.a. “cycle of life”), not a top-to-bottom linear thing. We eat things and things eat us. Those very same microbes that feed on us are sometimes killed simply by the temperature of our bodies. It is impossible to move through this world without killing other living things. Tracy seems to think that some living things are entitled to having their lives spared (animals) while others are not (plants). I wonder why. I don’t criticize that belief, but I do wonder about it and I find it a bit arbitrary. One might even say that it’s “subjective and arrogant” to place higher value on life forms in our own kindom than on members of the plant kingdom. I lived as a vegetarian for about 10 years and am now a happy omnivore. But, like you, I try to be conscious about where my food comes from and thankful for it.

    My biggest food-related pet peeve . . . judgmental vegetarians/vegans. Lane mentioned being criticized for not being vegan enough because he’s kept his leather shoes. Would mother earth really be better off if we all traded in our animal fibers for synthetics that we need to wage wars to obtain? Sure, we could stick to murdering plant life for our clothes and shoes, but how many die-hard vegans do? I’m betting that most of them use rubber and plastic and other sythetics extensively. But what do I know?

  5. Interesting post…I wish I had something to argue about, but I don’t. I really agree with everything you said. The shaped-processed-meat products don’t look like the animal they came from, and they don’t even taste like them either.
    I used to be a vegetarian, but as I started cooking, I didn’t want to limit myself to what I could cook and taste. I still prefer a big pile of veggies over a lot of meat, though. But I do like to sample.

  6. Pingback: To Meat, or Not to Meat… « WhereInDC

  7. I also don’t absorb iron well from plant sources (found that one out the hard way, of course)

    Dude, so right there with you. As in, I wound up in hospital had to have whole blood transfusions right there with you. It’s nice when being a ve*an (see how into it I was? I know the all-inclusive term for vegans and vegetarians!) works for you, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

  8. Mary Sue– thanks for commenting! You know, you’re the only other person I’ve run across who’s had that problem. Amazing how sensitive our bodies can be. And I didn’t know that that was what the star stood for; I’ve seen it, but always thought it was a cutesy way of saying vegan… good to know!

  9. nice arguments on this! just like you im not vegetarian but i love veggies!! i cant live without it.. i think it is impotant for people to really be aware of how food we have on the table are procured, planted or processed… 🙂

  10. Stewart

    Seitan and tempeh are — outside of raw vegetables — some of the least processed foods you can eat. You can make seitan by hand, using nothing but flour and water, and tempeh is a traditional Indonesian recipe for fermented bean cakes. Don’t confuse them for things like TVP, which are made by modern, industrial processes.

  11. I’m an omnivore and I enjoy pretty much all veggies and all meat! I wholeheartedly agree that we need to learn to at least consider life cycle aspects when deciding not only what to eat, but in all our product selections. It’s not always easy to navigate all the complex, and myriad options and marketing hype out there. But just cultivating awareness of the impacts of products throughout their life cycle and trying to make better choices is essential to sustain our planet and our quality of life.

  12. kec

    Why do vegans not eat fish what is the reason?

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