I am a vegetarian. Or, more accurately, a pescatarian. Or, even more accurately, a kosher-keeping pescatarian who accepts the yearly urge to eat a piece of amazing beef jerky from Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop, CA and sometimes doubts whether I want to be a vegetarian at all. That being said, I tell people I’m a vegetarian; it’s just much easier.
My original motivation for becoming a vegetarian was very uninformed and almost arbitrary. The summer before 10th grade I was at a beach barbeque with my summer camp and I saw big pieces of ground up beef being put on a grill. Almost immediately I thought “Ew. That looks gross. Ok, I won’t eat that any more.” And that was that. I cut beef out of my diet starting that day, turkey came a couple of weeks later, and chicken in the months to follow. Because I’ve kept kosher since I was about 3, and because I’ve always been a very picky eater, those were the only three meats that I ever ate. Within the year, I was a full-fledged pescatarian. Why did I not cut out fish, you ask? That comes back to Kashrut once again. Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) requires that you never combine meat and milk. Fish, however, is not defined as a meat and is perfectly acceptable to eat with all the dairy of your choosing. So, since I grew up not considering fish to be “meat” at all, it seemed silly for me to cut it from my diet when I chose to stop eating meat. And what about this “yearly piece of Mahogany beef jerky?” I’m sure it is completely unacceptable in strict vegetarian circles to have such lapses, but once a year my family gets it and I simply can not resist. I’ve gotten over being ashamed of it and now just have to admit it from the get go. Oh well.
Over the almost 5 years that I’ve had this kosher-pescatarian-yet-once-a-year-meat-eating diet, my motivations for keeping it have changed. After my initial “ew” reaction back on that beach in 10th grade, I came to realize that what really got me concerned was animal rights and the inhumane ways animals could be raised and killed. Kosher meat gets around these problems in some ways (a very strict rule on how an animal must be killed) but not in others (there is no historical directive for how the animals are raised/farmed, though this is changing in some modern branches of Judaism). However, what really keeps me going now is the environmental issue. Just take into consideration some of these facts:
• Meat consumption has quadrupled worldwide in the last 50 years.
• It takes 4.8 pounds of grain fed cattle to produce one pound of beef for human beings to consume.
• According to the British group Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat, 10 people by growing corn, and only two people by producing cattle.
• Britain --with 56 million people--could support a population of 250 million on an all-vegetable diet.
• A pound of wheat can be grown with 60 pounds of water, whereas a pound of meat requires 2,500 to 6,000 pounds.
• Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that reducing meat production by just 10 percent in the U.S. would free enough
• grain to feed 60 million people.
(These facts come from an essay by Jim Motavallie entitled "So You're An Environmentalist, Why Are You Still Eating Meat?")
The amount of land, energy, water, etc., that we are using to produce cattle for meat-based diets could feed millions, if not billions of people if this land was used grow grain that fed people directly. Now, I fully recognize the benefits of a diet that includes meat, as I am suffering from some of the effects of one without it (low iron, for example). Furthermore, I am not railing against all meat-eaters as evil, environment-hating, or anything of the sort. The other two lovely bloggers on this site, for example, are both meat-eaters and environmentalists alike. I am just providing my own, personal reasoning for kosher-pescatarianism, and also hoping to bring some facts to light along the way. Consider for a moment, the last fact I presented to you: “Reducing meat production by just 10 percent in the US would free enough grain to feed 60 million people.” I recognize that this statistic (along with some of the others) is lacking some vital information (This would feed 60 million people for a day? A year? Are we talking a balanced diet here or just a helping of lentils?, etc), but it does show what my ultimate “point” is: reduce. I’m not encouraging meat-eaters to throw down their steak-knives indefinitely, but I do think people could benefit from reconsidering how much meat they eat, where it comes from, how it is raised and slaughtered, etc. Our world’s resources are rapidly disappearing. We need to start thinking about the long term sustainability of our eating habits and how they effect not only our own health, but the health of the earth as a whole.