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Becoming a Vegetarian

Becoming a Vegetarian

Story by Seamus Thompson

How did a 27 year-old, southern Georgia boy become a vegetarian?

I am not inherently an altruistic, “greater good” type of person. Don’t get me wrong, I consistently work to be a more generous, selfless person, but I think work is the right word there. I’m consciously trying to make an effort to be less selfish and put others before myself. Which is why it should not come as a surprise that the original reason I became a vegetarian wasn’t to protect animals or live an altruistic existence. The root of why I became a vegetarian is self-serving - my own personal health.

Photo by  Aaron Thomas

Photo by Aaron Thomas

Health Factors

Growing up I ate decently healthy home cooked meals (thanks Mom!) but I also ate a lot of Lunchables, cafeteria pizza, and processed meats. When my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer while I was in high school, my family had a big wakeup call nutritionally. We traded the salami for salad and became much more conscious of eating healthy. It was out of fear of also developing prostate cancer later in life that I initially started to consider a diet change.

But then it was off to college with late night McDonald’s and Taco Bell runs and a general sense of invincibility. Healthy eating was downgraded on the priority list.

It was not until about a year ago, in discussions with two close friends that adopted vegetarianism one year prior and through my own research, that I made the decision to remove meat from my diet. Books like The China Study and documentaries like What the Health? and Forks Over Knives, while overdramatic at times, helped me realize the health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. 

Photo by  Jo Sonn

Photo by Jo Sonn

The more I researched and learned about the benefits of not eating meat – quality of life, longevity, environmental, moral, etc. – the more compelling the argument for a vegan/vegetarian diet became.

Whole food, plant-based diets have been shown to reduce the risk and reverse the progression of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, bone diseases, kidney diseases, eye diseases, and brain diseases (sources: below).

Environmental Factors

Consequently, driven by the research I discovered, I became more committed to a holistic lifestyle change, now not only for health reasons but also for environmental reasons. Before, the food I ate never seemed linked to my environmental footprint.

My research showed me this: the meat industry accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gasses in the world (source: see below). In addition, livestock comprises 83% of farmland but provide only 18% of calories (source: see below). This is crazy. We often focus on renewable energy and reducing CO2 emissions from cars and planes to combat climate change. However we need to be equally focused on reducing our consumption and dependence on meat in our diets. If we as a society can move toward a more plant-based diet, we can use our planet more efficiently and reduce our environmental impact.

Photo by  Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

While the health factors initially compelled me to become a vegetarian, the environmental factors have motivated me to continue the lifestyle decision.

Now, the more I learn, I’m fuelled to do more for the environment and the world around me. I do not want to stop at diet related changes. I now make efforts to recycle more, reduce my plastic consumption, use more public transportation, shop sustainably, conserve electricity, and be generally more conscious of my impact on the environment. One small step in altering my diet, now impacts something much bigger. And selfishly, I can feel good doing it.

Dissenting opinions, to counter my own argument, because knowing both sides of the story is always a good idea:

Sources: China-Cornell-Oxford Project, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Science Journal - Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers

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