Illustration by Sarameeya Aree
Some fifteen years ago, at the age of 18, I made the decision to become a vegetarian. Motivated at the time by my desire to be an eco-warrior and spurred on by stubbornness—my mother did not think this was a good idea—I embarked on what became a life-changing journey.
When I started out on my mission, it was not easy to be vegetarian, particularly as a student with limited culinary abilities. Too often, I would revert to simple “meals” of pasta and tomato sauce, frozen pizza, or my personal favorite, the cheese toastie. Quorn was a household brand, but only had a small product selection, and supermarkets offered very few meat replacement products beyond this.
Dining out was not particularly easy either. The majority of pubs I frequented had no vegetarian mains on their menus, leaving me with little option than to order a plate of chips and/or a side salad. Most restaurants lacked good vegetarian options too, with the honorable exceptions of Italian bistros and curry houses. It was fair to say that I was somewhat malnourished at university.
Fast-forward 15 years: today, being vegetarian is second nature to me. And unlike the slim pickings of my youth, it can be an exciting and tasty diet, with relatively little thought or effort. There are plenty of meat-free alternatives available to buy in supermarkets to cook at home, including established brands like Cauldron, Beyond Meat, Fry’s, This, Vivera, and the Vegetarian Butcher. It is also now very rare to find a pub or restaurant without at least one, if not more, good vegetarian options. Even steakhouses like Hawksmoor and fast food establishments like McDonald’s and KFC have something to offer vegetarians and vegans.
These days, it’s easy to be vegetarian. But the key question remains: why should you do it?
It’s good for the environment
Being vegetarian is one of the best things you can do for the environment. Research shows that, on average, a vegetarian diet produces 2.5 times less carbon emissions than a meat diet. This is because plant-based foods require much less energy—and therefore produce much less emissions—than animal products. In fact, raising livestock animals for consumption creates more greenhouse gasses than the world’s supply of cars and trucks combined.
In October, the United Nations warned that human-induced climate change is “the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and societies the world has ever experienced, and the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price.” It is more important than ever that humans reduce their carbon footprint, and having a low-meat or no-meat diet is just one change that we can all make to help slow climate change and its devastating impact on people and the planet.
It’s good for animal welfare
In the U.S. alone, over 55 billion animals are killed per year for food. Estimates predict that each vegetarian saves more than 25 land animals each year, plus a further 150 aquatic creatures.
Additionally, the animals raised for slaughter are often treated poorly. According to PETA, in the U.S. today, 99% of animals used for food live on massive industrial factory farms, where they are “crammed by the thousands into wire cages, metal crates, or other extremely restrictive enclosures inside filthy, windowless sheds.” As PETA goes on to warn, “the factory farming industry strives to maximize output while minimizing costs—always at the animals’ expense.”
Reducing or removing meat from your diet will save hundreds of animals’ lives across your lifetime, and knowing that a living creature did not have to suffer for you to eat will allow you to feel ethically uncompromised at the dinner table.
It’s good for your health
Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and are consequently likely to have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index. Vegetarians also tend to eat more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals, all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases.
Further studies have also shown that a vegetarian diet is also good for heart health and that vegetarians may be up to one-third less likely to have heart disease. Other studies suggest that following a healthy vegetarian diet may lower your cancer risk, or help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. Eating less meat, therefore, is a smart choice for your overall health and well-being.
With January coming to a close, it’s a good time to review your New Year’s resolutions. If you committed to improving your health or diet, you might consider going meat-free in service of that goal.
With so many meatless options in both restaurants and grocery stores, it’s now easier to go vegetarian than ever. And even if you don’t go fully meatless, consider reducing your intake: even just a small change can make a big difference: for you and your health, for the animals, and for the planet we all share.