Have you ever wondered why people become vegetarians? People who are vegetarians choose to become so for a wide variety of reasons. Being a vegetarian has become a popular and trendy during the past few decades. However, according to Alan Beardsworth and Alan Bryman authors of “Meat Consumption and Meat Avoidance Among Young People: An 11-year Longitudinal Study,” people have started to eat more meat rather than avoid it.
Whether vegetarianism is on the rise or not, it is interesting to discover what drives a person to choose a vegetarian lifestyle. John Lawrence Hill, professor of law at St. Thomas University, School of Law, and author of The Case for Vegetarianism, holds that about nine million Americans are vegetarians, which is about four percent of the entire population of the United States.
Reasons for why people of this group become vegetarians include health, not liking the taste of meat, compassion for animals, and religious reasons. According to Karen Iacobbo, professor at Johnson and Wales University, and Michael Iacobbo, a journalist for the Associated Press and the Providence Pheonix, who are both the authors of Vegetarians and Vegans in America Today, people even become vegetarians in order to end world hunger. When people decide to become vegetarians, they are usually motivated by a single reason. Iacobbo goes on to say that the person who decided to become a vegetarian usually adds other reasons why they became one (Iacobbo).
I think this is true, because one thing might finally convince someone to become a vegetarian, but as they learn more about vegetarianism and meet other vegetarians, their reason for becoming a vegetarian will become many reasons. In their book, Karen and Michael Iacobbo include a survey taken by the Vegetarian Times in 1992 that stated that the majority of people become vegetarians “for health reasons, followed by ethical, religious, environmental, and other reasons” (74). Conversely, Hill points out that 67 percent of people who become vegetarians did so because of animal suffering concerns, followed by 38 percent who were concerned with health. Either way, health and animal suffering are the two largest concerns for people who decide to become vegetarians.
Only four percent of the entire United States is vegetarian? This really is not much of the population at all. If vegetarianism was so much better for you than being an omnivore, shouldn’t the number be much greater? If it is so easy to become a vegetarian, wouldn’t there be more people converting? The answer should be yes, but why is this not the case?
Those against the idea of becoming vegetarians have the answers. They claim that vegetarianism is not as healthy as it claims to be. People choose not to become vegetarians so that they can get all the vitamins that are essential for healthy life, because they are pregnant, or so that they can keep a healthy bone density. All these reasons are to promote health. It is interesting to learn that most people become vegetarians for health reasons, while most people say they stay omnivores for health reasons too. Additionally, people are meat-eaters because it is inconvenient to be a vegetarian.
It can be very difficult for people who are accustomed to eating meat their whole life to make the switch to vegetarianism. Another reason people do not want to be vegetarians is so they do not have to deal with social situations that may arise because they are vegetarians. In this exploratory research paper I aim to learn the reasons why people choose or choose not to be vegetarians and to explain both sides of the vegetarian/anti-vegetarian argument.
Health reasons are a major factor that makes people want to become vegetarians. Iacobbo claims that studies show that a vegetarian diet can help prevent or reverse arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Prevention or reversal of diseases and cancer are great, reasonable, and productive reasons to become a vegetarian. Suzanne Havala Hobbs, D.Ph., RD, clinical assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells us “sticking to a vegetarian diet can be challenging… especially… if your motivation for going vegetarian is health” (qtd. in Iacobbo 74). Becoming a vegetarian is difficult enough, and if someone doesn’t feel like they are making a difference or feel like they have a strong enough motivation, he or she is likely to fail.
An interesting quote that I found in my research is “the fat you eat is the fat you wear,” as stated by John McDougall, MD, (qtd. in Iacobbo 75). In other words, eating meat is apparently an unhealthy diet and makes you fat. So, in order to not get fat, people become vegetarians because that diet is lower in fat. According to Iacobbo’s book, Neal Bernard and his Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have done studies that demonstrate that a vegan diet can result in a reversal of disease. His study is very significant because a diet without meat that can reverse disease is remarkable. More people should want to become vegetarians just because of studies like this.
Some people choose to be vegetarians because they dislike the taste of meat. According to Hill, twelve percent of vegetarians are so because they do not like the taste of meat. This argument for becoming a vegetarian is quite simple because if a person does not like meat, they will not eat it. Meat-eaters cannot argue with the dislike of meat because it is just personal preference. I do not really understand why people dislike meat though. Possibly they have never had meat cooked correctly so that it tastes delicious. Maybe they have grown up most of their life without eating meat, and after they taste it, it’s just different from what they are used to. In any situation, you can’t really change someone’s mind to not be a vegetarian if they just don’t like the taste of meat.
Although some don’t like the taste of eating meat, some are completely against it for the animals’ sakes. Animal cruelty and factory farming are two of the most popular reasons for becoming a vegetarian. Factory farming is “a system of large-scale industrialized and intensive agriculture that is focused on profit with animals kept indoors and restricted in mobility” (Dictionary.com). Hill claims that factory farms do not care about the animals’ living conditions; all factory farms care about is the profit they make off the animals they sell. Because there are places like factory farms, choosing meat can pose a problem for everyday omnivores. An interesting quote I came upon during my explorations was a quote about choosing to eat meat: “if you eat meat today, your typical choice is between animals raised
with either more (chicken, turkey, fish, and pork) or less (beef) cruelty” (Foer 243).
I thought this quote was valuable because it explicitly states that there is no good way to choose meat. Any type of meat you could choose is bad because the animals were treated terribly. Foer also mentions that “contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways” is a great influence to potential vegetarians (243). Foer puts it quite plainly that the meat we eat every day comes from animals who were treated in cruel ways. People sometimes choose not to eat meat because they care about the way animals are treated before and at the time of death.
People don’t just become vegetarians for feeling sorry for animals. Some people have to be vegetarians because of their religion. Iacobbo states that for thousands of years, vegetarianism has been practiced for such religions as Judaism, Christianity, Catholicism, Seventh Day Adventism, Mormonism, and Paganism. According to Hill, vegetarianism is also customary in Hinayana Buddhism. Hill goes on to state that Hinduism is “known for its strict adherence to vegetarianism…” (32). So, vegetarian is extraordinarily popular throughout many religions all over the world. Although some people like to be vegetarians for various other reasons, these religious people are required or suggested to be because of their religions. It is perfectly understandable for people to believe that they should be vegetarians because their religion requires them to be.
Surprisingly to some, people sometimes choose to become vegetarians in order to help end world hunger. This reason for becoming vegetarian was surprising to me because I had never heard of this reason before engaging in my research. Hill states that the problem is that a third of the world’s grain harvest is used to feed livestock, but about a billion people in the world are malnourished.
He then proposes that the solution to this problem is to rework the system to better use the resources to help eradicate world hunger. An unnamed writer in Hill’s book calls this misuse of the resources “unfair distribution” and states that “if everyone… became a vegetarian, it would be possible to give four tons of edible grain to every starving person” (qtd. in Hill 128). So, the less meat people eat, the more grains there are for the rest of the world to eat. If the cows, pigs, and chickens don’t eat those grains, it gives more to the people who really need it. Essentially, if the world were comprised of vegetarians, people would not suffer from starvation.
Meat eating has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years. This alone for some is reason enough for being omnivorous. There are also other reasons to be a meat-eater though. Some of them are being pregnant, being a baby or toddler, getting all the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy life, inconvenience of being a vegetarian, and to avoid social situations and dealing with one’s vegetarianism.
A large portion of today’s vegetarians is women. Women who are vegetarians or women who might want to become vegetarians might decide to not be vegetarians for their pregnancy. According to Nina Planck, author of “Real Food: What to Eat and Why,” a woman who was expecting stated that before she became pregnant, she “[…] concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.” Planck goes on to state that vegetarians who have babies that they would like to be vegetarians sometimes allow the babies to eat a non-vegan diet.
She also argues that breast milk is the best nourishment for babies. She adds that sometimes vegans try to use soymilk as a replacement for breast milk, but that soymilk stunts growth and also decreases the absorption of protein and minerals. I agree that breast milk is the best source of nutrients for babies. Women were designed to make the milk for the babies to drink, so it should be the ideal nourishment for the babies.
In addition, Planks claims that “a vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium.” From her arguments we can deduce that for babies to have a vegetarian diet is unhealthy because they will not get enough protein, and will end up unhealthy. In summation, babies need to be omnivorous or at least be able to eat dairy products in order to have the healthiest lifestyle.
Babies are not the only ones that need all their nutrients. Many people choose to be omnivores in order to get all the vitamins and nutrients they need. According to the article “To Meat or Not to Eat,” cutting out meat does not necessarily mean being healthy. […] Kids also could be cutting out key nutrients, especially if they go vegan.” A vegetarian diet could be detrimental by itself, and I certainly agree that it could be even worse for young adults to be vegan. Winston J. Craig of the Department of Nutrition and Wellness at Andrews University declares that diets without eggs, fish, or seaweed do not have n-3 fatty acids that help with the cardiovascular system. Vegans do not eat eggs or fish, so they are likely to have more problems with their heart since these foods are not in their diet.
Craig states that vegetarians and especially vegans have lower blood concentrations of n-3 fatty acids compared to meat eaters. Craig’s article includes an EPIC-Oxford study, in which it was observed that vegans have a quarter of the amount of vitamin D that non-vegetarians have. Penney explains that Vitamin D enables our bodies to use calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, people will not be able to absorb and use the calcium they may or may not intake. Penney later adds that calcium is important for people to absorb for bone mass. Craig claims vegans tend to have lower concentrations of vitamin B-12, therefore creating vitamin B-12 deficiencies. So vegans will tend to have more vitamin B-12 deficiencies than non-vegans or non-vegetarians.
Craig also argues that vegetarians have low intakes of calcium because of their diets. As Craig explains, a vitamin B-12 deficiency creates neurological and psychiatric complications. He adds that vegetarians consume less zinc than non-vegetarians, but evidence for this being a problem is lacking. However, some people are likely to not become vegetarians anyway so that if a lower intake of zinc turns out to be a problem, they will not have to worry. So, people are likely not to choose a vegetarian diet in order to gain all the n-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and zinc their bodies require.
According to Hill, the inconvenience of being a vegetarian is “the most important reason, as a practical matter, that many people do not become vegetarians” (154). Hill states that twenty-seven percent of vegetarians found not eating meat very hard to do. Hill understands why vegetarianism can be difficult to adopt, stating that eating meat is easier, more enjoyable, and more convenient than eating a vegetarian diet. He calls starting a vegetarian diet downright “burdensome.” So even according to a vegetarian, starting vegetarianism can be a difficult task to undertake.
Non-vegetarians may decide to stay vegetarians for social reasons. A common belief among meat-eaters is, according to Hill, if they become a vegetarian, they will “become a hermit, a recluse, or social outcast” (155). Facing situations where people have to admit to being a vegetarian can stop people from becoming vegetarians altogether. Hill adds that it is especially a popular decision to stay omnivorous if the person has to go to many outings at restaurants with clients or business partners. They may feel ashamed or shy to admit that they are vegetarians, so they will just stay meat eaters instead.
An interesting bit of information that I found during my research was a list of notable people who were vegetarians. Hill lists them; they are people such as “Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Edison, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Schweitzer, and Mahatma Gandhi” (xiv). Also mentioned by Hill as vegetarians were ancient philosophers and writers such as Socrates, “the father of ancient rationalism and humanism;” Plato; and Ovid (xiv). When I read these names, it made me feel like I should become a vegetarian too because these people are such amazing people in history, and becoming a vegetarian would make me feel like I am more notable like them. If some of the biggest names in history were vegetarians, shouldn’t we take note and become vegetarians as well? Possibly. But I don’t think that I could ever give up my meat for good.
Being a vegetarian means to give up all meat, and to not eat it consistently. Vegetarians may choose to be so because of health reasons or for concerns for the treatment of animals. They may decide to take up vegetarianism to help end world hunger or for their religion. More simply, some people become vegetarians because they just don’t like the taste of meat. However, non-vegetarians decide against vegetarianism for health reasons as well. It may be safer and healthier for pregnant mothers to be omnivores and for their babies or toddlers to be omnivores as well.
Many people choose to stay omnivores because they would like to obtain all the vitamins a diet with meat brings. Others may be meat-eaters because it is inconvenient to be a vegetarian or to avoid social situations they don’t wish to face. After my research, I have concerns if vegetarians take vitamin supplements to supply all the vitamins they would get if they ate meat, if they are as effective as the meat. I also wonder if vegetarianism became more successful, how would a widespread participation in vegetarianism affect the economy of the United States? And finally, how do vegetarians feel about the genetic manipulation of crops?
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