Streed of Consciousness [Part 5 – Vegetarianism]

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Burning Love by Elvis Presley)

People who know me from high school but haven’t kept up with me in the past few years might be shocked to hear that I’ve gone vegetarian. I’ve always been pretty carnivorous – no, not in the actual exclusive definition of the word, but I always loved meat, especially a good steak. And I, unlike many vegetarians, don’t think there’s anything inherently morally wrong with eating meat.

So why am I vegetarian?

Well, the easy answer is because my girlfriend is vegan. And no, that doesn’t mean I converted for her – one of the most wonderful things about her is no matter how much she cares about animal rights and environmentalism, she has never so much as asked me if I would be interested in going vegetarian. She simply embodies the change she wishes to see in the world, and so when I saw how much it meant to her – and, more importantly, when I reconciled her beliefs with my own – I realized that it was something I wanted to do, not for her, but for me.

And if you think I have boyfriend goggles on and that she secretly brainwashed me with pro-vegan pillow talk and sneaky kale-filled cakes, you’re wrong. Because several of her roommates have also basically gone vegan since being with her. It’s simple exposure – like how it’s really hard to be racist when you’ve met an upstanding member of the race you’re prejudiced against.

So, why am I actually vegetarian? It was something I had considered in the abstract since late in high school, after one of my English teachers had us watch a documentary about factory farms. (Yeah, she definitely had that political slant, and I thank her every day for it.)

The thing is, there aren’t that many Americans (at least in my opinion) who would watch one of those documentaries and not be a little queasy about it. Not that it would instantly make them vegan, but the treatment of animals on factory farms is nothing less than deplorable. Let’s leave it at that.

And so I saw that documentary, and I told myself that once I got into a place where I was able to easily purchase my own food and make smart consumer choices, I would either go vegetarian or purchase locally-based meat products. Of course, promising myself that and doing it are two different things, just like watching a documentary and being disgusted is a completely different thing than cutting meat out entirely.

And then I went to college, and many late-night In N Out runs ensued, and I was in full carnivore mode until I met my not-quite-yet girlfriend. The funny thing was, you wouldn’t really have even known she was vegan unless she talked to you about it. She never complained at mealtimes about going places where there weren’t a lot of vegan options, and she never got in anyone’s face about her politics. But, as a boy who liked a girl, I started to ask her about what mattered to her, and I found out about veganism and how it tied into the environment.

I’m not going to get into a bunch of stats, because if you’re not sold on the point, chances are you won’t be, but I will give one – in California specifically, 45% of all methane emissions come from cows on meat and dairy farms. I had never really considered the environmental impact of these industries before, whether it be water and energy resources or greenhouse gas emissions, and that was a new factor to add in to my decision.

Still, it took me until after two and a half years of being with her to officially go vegetarian. Why? Because I, like any American consumer, am driven by convenience and price. I saw meat as being cheap and easy to consume to get the high-calorie, high-protein diet I craved. So, despite knowing that I had moral qualms about the treatment of animals on factory farms and environmental issues with the amount of resources sunk into and greenhouse effects produced by farms, I still ate meat.

Then one day I decided to stop.

It’s not a very sexy story. I didn’t have some grand revelation about things – and if that’s what you’re looking for to go vegetarian, just stahp, because it’s not gonna happen. All that happened to me was one day, I was thinking about how in the post-college life, I was now purchasing all my own food, and there was nothing really to stop me from going vegetarian. And it also happened that I was exactly one month away from my 1,000-day anniversary with my girlfriend, and I thought it would be kind of cute to tell her on that day.

The thing is, research in health psychology has shown definitively that people who are externally motivated to make a healthy change in their life – whether it be for someone they care about, or for a beauty standard, or because of societal pressure – they’re more likely to go back on their change than people who are internally motivated. If you’re trying to go vegetarian for someone, or because of something, you’re not going to want to stick with it.

Instead, if you’re interested in trying, just consider what I did. Come to the realization that vegetarianism is better for yourself and for the environment than eating meat. And if you’re concerned about how difficult it might be, I can only share my perspective – which is that I’m actually saving money on my grocery bill, and the only time I remember I’m vegetarian is when I’m going to In N Out (*cries*).

We all know the right thing to do, and we all find ways to not do it. It’s human nature to be a little bit stubborn, to have a little inertia when it comes to these things. But if you’re lucky, you might have someone who really cares about things – someone who is willing to make that change – in your life, as a positive role model for when you want to be better.

And trust me, you really won’t miss meat that much.

Yours, petting piggies and eating seitan,

-R.R. Buck

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