Our health visitor today expressed surprise that our 9 month old baby has not eaten meat yet and suggested we speak to a dietitian. Which got me thinking about this topic.

When I’m out and about and eating food in public (eg. Christmas dinner!) Once thing that I will invariably be asked is why I’m vegetarian*. A reasonable question given the normal vegetarian choice in restaurants. Pasta isn’t too festive and nut roast couldn’t have a worse reputation.

The question is usually appended with a follow up like “is it an animal rights thing?” Well, no, although that may well be a valid reason.

My answer is to reverse the question: why do you eat meat? The only answer, the answer that all others derive from, is that we’ve all been brought up in a society where it’s normal. You eat meat because your parents taught you to, and because in society, we’re inundated with meat based foodstuffs. You’ve now developed a taste for chicken korma or slow cooked ribs or pepperoni pizza or rare steak** and that’s hard to let go of. Why should you? But it’s circular, and seems like a pretty lame reason to me.

After having been vegetarian for around 7 years I now can’t see any attraction in eating meat. I eat a much more balanced diet now than I used to, with a greater range of flavours. I’ve come to realise that the bulk of meat dishes taste of whatever you cook them in (chicken anyone?). And the idea of slaughtering an animal doesn’t seem worth it.

Tasty beef

Please don’t eat me

Don’t start me on the nutrition thing – a few hundred years ago, or maybe even 30 years ago (I wouldn’t remember), chicken would have been an important source of protein. We didn’t have the huge food supply we have today, and there weren’t 30 aisles in Tesco where you could get a vast selection of nuts and pulses, soya, and quorn, if that’s your thing. And if you’re among the large portion of people whose meat intake consists largely of cocktail sausages, chicken nuggets or fast food burgers, then….well, y’know.

So now that we know the bad reasons why you eat meat, here are some good reasons why you might want to be vegetarian.

Firstly, the well known health benefits as summarised here by the US Department of Agriculture “Dietary Guidelines for Americans“:

In prospective studies of adults, compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes—lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure. On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids); fewer overall calories; and more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index. These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians.

Environmental impact is another good reason:

Pachauri, who was re-elected the [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]‘s chairman for a second six-year term last week, said diet change was important because of the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems – including habitat destruction – associated with rearing cattle and other animals. It was relatively easy to change eating habits compared to changing means of transport, he said.

So now you know.

*I’m not really vegetarian, because I occasionally eat fresh, oily fish. Extremely good for you.
**if you like your steak cooked “well done”, you are a bad person.

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