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In April earlier this year, I cut out all meat from my diet and joined the increasing number of Britons who fit into the category of vegetarian or vegan. This lifestyle has rightfully increased in popularity over the last decade and the number of people cutting down on meat consumption is growing rapidly.
Personally, becoming a vegetarian has worked really well. I did not consume a huge amount of meat in the first place, especially when I was away from home. A vegetarian diet can be a good way of reducing the harmful impact that meat production has on the environment, it actively discourages animal cruelty, and can be healthier. It is so essential to consider and engage with these issues. However, it is understandable and important to acknowledge that a vegetarian diet is not for everybody.
Awareness of the issues surrounding our environment and the climate have become more accessible over the last few years and especially in 2019. From Greta Thunberg to Extinction Rebellion, we are seeing more protests and recognition of how we can reduce our carbon footprint. According to The Guardian, cutting down on meat consumption is the biggest way to reduce our individual environmental impact. The planet has reached a climate emergency and cutting down on meat is a good way for us to try and do our bit to reduce the effects. The University of Cambridge has removed beef and lamb from their food outlets, which are the two types of meat that produce the most amounts of greenhouse gases. This has reduced its food-related carbon-emissions by a third. This goes to show how significant a part the vegetarian diet can play on reducing the repercussions of climate change. It is vital that we are all doing our bit to help the planet, and going vegetarian is a choice that can actively benefit this.
There are, of course, other ways that we can do our bit for the environment. We can travel sensibly, reduce our waste, and become more diligent in just looking at the carbon footprint of the things we do on a day to day basis. If cutting out meat altogether is not something that is maintainable or healthy for every individual, then simply cutting down on meat will still play a big role in helping the environment.
Animal welfare is another crucial motivation behind my decision to adopt a vegetarian diet. Overall, the practice of eating meat is not inherently bad. A lion that kills and eats a gazelle in the wild, for example, is not committing an act of cruelty. However, the process involved in obtaining the, often cheaper, meats we see on supermarket shelves is commonly a different story. This is not the case for all meat and many farmers are ensuring that their produce is ethical, but as the population of Britain grows so does the demand. This has led to a huge expansion of factory farming. Animals from factory farms are often bred selectively and kept in very small enclosures, with little room to move or lie down. This treatment of animals is appalling but it is also very easy to overlook. As a student, when purchasing meat, I would often go for cheaper options. Buying meat that has been attained through poor animal welfare does not mean that we are bad people; most of the blame lies with the producers and the system. We can, however, educate ourselves more about these issues and take action in a bid to stop the terrible conditions of animals raised for our plates.
The way in which animals are slaughtered can also be inhumane. Livestock is often transported in crowded and uncomfortable conditions, sometimes for hours on end. Once animals reach the slaughterhouse, they are stunned in an effort to eliminate pain. This is regularly ineffective and brings further stress and harm to the animal. By becoming a vegetarian, I am reducing my involvement in these practises. This does not mean that everyone should cut out meat completely, this is just something that has worked well for me.
There is no illusion produce that comes from animals is ethical either. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, and other dairy products can also derive from animal cruelty. I am not vegan, but I do try and limit the amount of dairy that I consume, as I am aware that animals can be abused for their produce. Trying milk substitutes or using vegan alternatives are good ways of being mindful of these issues.
A vegetarian diet is also commonly associated with a healthier lifestyle and I think this has been the case for me. In a general sense, vegetarianism has been related to health benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease. The World Health Organisation warns that processed meat is a form of carcinogenic. Although this is a scientific theory, they are not really related to me or my experience with vegetarianism. Without really feeling the benefits of these, I have instead found a much more general improvement of my health over the last seven months. Because meat is a huge source of protein, iron, vitamin B12, and other important nutrients, I am a lot more aware of what I need to be putting into my body. I eat a lot more vegetables and legumes than I used to, and they are often varied to ensure I am getting the right nutrients. This is not something I ever really looked at doing before becoming a vegetarian, so it is probable that I am getting a much more balanced diet now that I am mindful of what I eat. Health is really important, and the number of people relying on unhealthy food is growing rapidly. It is important to know what we need to eat in order to grow and remain healthy; something that many people, like myself before I became vegetarian, do not really put much thought into.
It is important to note that vegetarianism does not automatically equate to being healthy. Certainly, at the start of my diet change, I relied on a lot of cheap meat substitutes and cheese that were often high in salt and fat. This definitely made my diet unhealthier as it is not sustainable to constantly live off these types of food. However, over time, I have learnt how to get enough from using fresh foods and the right substitutes. Vegetarianism has made me take a better look at the foods that I eat and the different nutrients that I need. Although there are some days where I probably do not get every recommended intake of the things I need, this is probably not any different from when I was eating meat. Vegetarianism works differently for everyone, but from my experience, it has increased my general awareness and care over what I eat.
Vegetarianism is not a walk in the park, but it is certainly a lot easier to do now than ever before. There are substitutes for most types of meat, as well as healthy recipes and meal plans available online and in supermarkets. Fast food, sweets, and family Sunday roasts have been the hardest things for me personally, but these only have a small weight compared to the positive effects. Vegetarianism is not something that should be forced onto anyone. Nobody should be pressured to change their eating habits. However, it is important that our society works towards reducing the impact we have on the environment, improving the conditions for animals and becoming more aware of how food relates to our health. Becoming vegetarian, or simply cutting down on meat, can really make a difference to these issues and educating ourselves on how we can further tackle them is crucial.
This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.