Isabel Faherty, Ridgewood
MAKING A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO GIVE UP MEAT
I’ve been a vegetarian for exactly three years. The story of how I became one is fairly arbitrary. My best friend at camp couldn’t eat meat because of her religion. One afternoon, out of the blue, she dared me to give it up. I’m not sure why I agreed – perhaps because I wanted to challenge myself or because camp food was mediocre at best – but I stopped eating meat that day and have remained a vegetarian ever since.
But, here’s the thing: I actually love meat. Whether it’s a juicy hot dog from Gray’s Papaya or my grandmother’s famous Filipino pork buns, my mouth waters. If someone talks about how well done they like their steak or whether Five Guys or Shake Shack has the better burger, I join in like a devoted carnivore.
So why be a vegetarian, if I love meat so much? Rest assured, it’s not because of some stubborn pride, hanging on to some childhood dare just for the sake of saying, “I won.” And it’s not because I love vegetables that much either. While some vegetariansarians bond over their favorite meals,als, exchanging recipes for quinoa bowls or tipsps on where to gett the best salads, I don’t actuallylly like to eat many of those foods..
The reason I’ve remained a vegetarian is because I believe in vegetarianismsm (vegetables not so much). Specifically, I believe in the welfare of animals and the harm that can be done to them and our environment as a result of the overproduction of meat and the poor regulation of the meat industry. After my friend challenged me that day, I found myself reading books and watching documentaries about farms and food production. I researched organizations, such as PETA and the Humane Society, and realized that most farms across the U.S. don’t look anything like those depicted in idyllic milk cartons or through songs like “Old McDonald.” The truth is that about 94 percent of meat produced in America is from “factory farms” – large, industrialized farms that mistreat animals, workers and the communities around them. Through my research, I learned that 9 billion animals are slaughtered each year in the U.S. for food, a number that will grow exponentially as the global population increases in the upcoming decades. Many of these fafactories pollute the air and watwater with toxins and expediteexpedit climate change tthrough the use of crop feeds growngrow from nitrate fertilizersfert sourced fromfro oil. An alternate approacha wouldw be to consume meatm raised locally,lo near our communities.com The food from these farms not only tastes better, but frequently sourcing from them would reduce the detrimental effects of factory farming. It would help reduce pollution, curtail outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and ameliorate the conditions of the animals over time.
If you are not ready to become a vegetarian like me but interested in the issue, purchasing meat locally from a source you trust is an option. You can also gradually reduce your overall consumption of meat, practicing things like “Meatless Mondays” or “Vegetarian/ Vegan until 6 p.m.”
As for me, I love being connected to the community of vegetarians and being able to help each other understand the problems of the food industry. I immediately get excited when I hear someone is a vegetarian. I ask them why, to see if they are passionate against factory farming (like me), or simply someone who doesn’t love the taste of meat and prefers eating vegetables (unlike me).
It’s true that I sometimes miss leftover turkey after Thanksgiving or a crunchy BLT for lunch. However, it has made me more politically and socially aware of an issue I care deeply about, and I have never regretted my choice.