Twenty years is a long time to do something; and it’s also a long time not to do something. In just a few months it will have been twenty years since I last ate any form of meat, eggs or dairy and despite the nearly two decades of experience in the matter, when asked to explain why I am a vegan, I’m nearly always stymied by the question. Not because I don’t have plenty of good reasons for not eating animals and the food made from them, but because I know that giving anything like a complete answer will often result in terrible awkwardness.
For instance, I sometimes give this pithy answer that only partially accounts for my decision to abstain from animal foods: “I don’t eat animals because I believe in compassion more than I like the taste of muscles and organs.” And true though that is, it always sounds sanctimonious and preachy. I realize that I have no reason to apologize for the moral clarity I feel on this issue, but nonetheless, I’d rather not sound like a sententious prick to someone who’s just asking a polite question.
Still other times someone will ask why I’m a vegan and I’ll respond with the somewhat more ambiguous answer that, “It’s for ethical as well as environmental reasons.” This will sometimes allow me to expatiate briefly on the demonstrable links between a meat-based diet and deforestation; water-shortages; desertification; top-soil erosion and water and air pollution. And though these are also perfectly legitimate and sensible reasons for eating low on the food-chain, who wants to ruin someone else’s otherwise happy meal by confronting him with the damage done to the planet just so he could eat it? I’ll tell you who: party-poopers.
And on those occasions on which I’m feeling particularly philosophical (as is often the case) and am in the company of those who seem to be of like mind (as is seldom the case), I may invoke Kant’s Categorical Imperative and state solemnly that in sparing the lives of animals and showing solidarity with the world’s needy and hungry by eating a diet that doesn’t deprive them of the means to feed themselves and their families, I am acting, “according to that maxim whereby I can at the same time will that my actions should become a universal law.” Of course, when in a Thoreauvian state of mind, I may explain that though I am not bound to devote myself to the eradication of any evil, I am obliged to wash my hands of it and lend it no practical support. I cannot tell you the number of friends of I have won with that bit of rhetoric.
As the 40th anniversary of Earth Day approaches, as the connection between diet and the environment becomes more and more demonstrable and as climate-change threatens to imperil the future of our own species and many, many others, I am compelled (nay, obliged!) to answer the question “Why are you a vegan?” with a truth so inconvenient that even the venerable Al Gore is (so far) reluctant to mention it: the vegan diet combats global-warming.
*The production of just one pound of beef creates as much greenhouse gas as driving an SUV forty miles.
*Following a vegan diet decreases your carbon footprint by fifty percent more than switching to a hybrid car; and for every person who follows a vegan diet, one acre of trees is spared each year.
*According to Goveg.com, “In the U.S., seventy percent of all grains, eighty percent of all agricultural land, half of all water resources, and one-third of all fossil fuels are used to raise animals for food.”
*A study at the University of Chicago concluded that if every American had just onemeat-free day per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 8,000,000 cars off the road.
As you sit serenely devouring your steak medium-rare,
I would indeed be remiss not to tell you, “Beware,
Of the horrible things that brought that meat to your fork,
(And the same applies, I might add, to fish, fowl and pork);
And, incidentally, you’re wounding the planet, perhaps beyond repair.”
© 2010 Eric Walton
*G Eshel and PA Martin, “Diet, energy, and global warming,” Earth Interactions 10, Paper No. 9 (2006): 1-17. www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html and www.fightglobalwarming.com/page.cfm?tagID=263
*H. Steinfeld et al., Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Livestock, Environment and Development (2006).
*NewScientist.com, “It’s Better to Green Your Diet Than Your Car,” 17 Dec. 2005.
*Andrew Pierce, “Global Warming Is Mankind’s Greatest Challenge, Says Prince,” The Times 28 Oct. 2005.
*Diet For A New America by John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing (1987)