Vegetarianism 101
Why should I be a vegetarian? And where do I start?

This page is brand new, so please be patient while we assemble our lecture notes. We hope that this will eventually be your one-stop source for basic information on why and how to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Giving it some thought

You don't have to take an oath. The first thing to remember is that you're under no obligation. Unless you were raised in a religon which regards vegetarianism as the only righteous diet - and if that were the case you probably wouldn't be here - there is no stigma in giving vegetarianism a try and then going back to a more familiar diet if you find you must. It would be asking a lot to ask you to give up your mother's favorite recipes, Harold's Delicatessan or Mary's Hot Tamales overnight. So you don't have to. Just try to eat a few meatless meals, and see how many of those you can enjoy in a row. Every time you substitute a vegetable recipe for meat you've outsmarted the food industry and, just maybe, added a day to your life. Meanwhile you're learning that there are meatless variations for most of your mom's best dishes, the lamented Harold's had knishes and veggie plates, and Mary has added vegetarian hot tamales to her menu. Just 'cause we asked her to.

The Basics

We did not evolve to eat meat. One of the thorniest obstacles to persuading others to avoid meat is the pervasive belief that man has evolved as an omnivore and that giving up meat is going against our intrinsic nature. Even many vegetarians believe that we began as meateaters and that we should strive to rise above our baser instincts. I have a t-shirt a certain Linda Capps gave me with an image of a caveman that says, "It's the 21st Century. Are you still eating meat?" I appreciate the sentiment, but the implication that our origins were carnivorous is off the mark (though early man did, necessarily, go through a meat-eating phase when we expanded into temperate zones, and Neanderthal pretty much had to have been a meat-eater, based on his large nose (but that's another topic). Many anthropologists make the same assumptions based, primarily, if unconsciously, on the fact that they, themselves are meat-eaters. They no longer believe that cavemen rode dinosaurs, but they still just assume they were predominantly hunters (with a bit of gathering by the women folk). Such pop science semi-documentaries as Walking With Cavemen suggests early man couldn't really develop brains large and efficient enough to devise the strategies that permitted him to hunt effectively, despite his physical limitations, until he began to consume meat and was able to utilize the rich nutrients therein. And, of course, he couldn't obtain that meat until he devised the strategies that permitted him to hunt effectively, despite his physical limitations...

This is far too complex a topic to cover in a few paragraphs, so I am posting the article I wrote for the Vegetarian Voice, the local Vegetarian Society newsletter. Despite the casual nature of its newsletter style, I believe you will find many of the links therein of interest. I must caution you, though, that, despite my attempts at a light-hearted tone at least one member of the VSET board complained my articles read like textbooks. Now that I'm back in school and forced to read textbooks I realize what a hurtful thing that was to say...

Of Men and Monkeys, Memes and Meat    Originally presented as Vegetarianism, Meat Eating and Potato Washing

Opposing views

Meat tastes great, and I can eat whatever I want, and, besides, vegetarians are a bunch of pea-brains, and other common arguments of meateaters. A visit to a vegetarian newsgroup might surprise you with the vitriol of the attacks against, not our cuisine, but our lifestyle. One might think that by our dietary choices we were challenging their religion or their country or their sexual mores. In fact, we're only challenging them to think. Our culture and our family life are closely linked to our cuisine, so it's natural for people to have a strong emotional attachment to the food they grew up with. And it's not surprising their arguments are often more based on emotion than reason. Then there are the apologists for the meat industry and for certain diet programs, who form their conclusions first and seek out research to support those conclusions.

Humans can't survive in good health without the essential amino acid carnitine. This is one I heard from a friend years ago not long after I first became a vegetarian, so I may as well start with it. Happily, arguments based upon such simple declarations, are the easiest to refute. There are usually said to be twenty amino acids in nature, though science has recently discovered a couple of new ones. The essential ones - the ones our bodies can't manufacture - are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. All can be found in vegetables and even fruits. In fact, carnitine is not an amino acid at all, though it is structurally similar, and derived from lysine. And, despite its name, it can be found in some plant sources such as avocados. So where did my friend hear of it, and how did he become concerned that I was in danger of a carnitine deficiency? Supplement vendors.

They animals we raised to kill are thereby given life, so it’s a good thing. “I believe that mink are raised for being turned into fur coats, and if we didn't wear fur coats those little animals would never have been born. So is it better not to have been born or to have lived for a year or two to have been turned into a fur coat? I don't know,” says Barbi Benton, former Playboy bunny. I’ve just returned from the 2008 Animal Rights Conference. During the closing ceremonies a film collage was shown which included an image I can’t shake: a fur animal - a raccoon, I believe - being skinned alive, writhing in agony. I grew up on a farm and participated in the killing of countless animals. I even watched a few being vivisected in zoology lab my first time in college. But I’ve never seen anything as cruel as that. Perhaps Ms. Benton - and I’ll give her credit for, at least, expressing reservations - could address her quandary by watching films of the ways fur animals are killed: usually animal electrocution in fur farms, stomping or drowning for trapped animals, both ways to avoid harming the animals’ valuable part, it’s skin.

Usually in reference to food, this argument is called the Ethics of the Larder. It's late, but I'll return to this - and this whole neglected page - soon.