Former Vegans Explain Why They Eat Meat: Are You Convinced?

Editorís note:†This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally posted on December 24, 2011. Enjoy!

I became a vegetarian when I was a teenager. I didn’t have the most well-formulated reasons, but I had convictions. I had learned about the slaughtering of baby harp seals for their fur and felt appalled at such inhumane treatment of animals; I was troubled to learn about how unhealthy fast food is. The thought of eating dead animals — certainly the pork that is frequently found in the Cantonese cooking my grandmother made –†simply came to bother me.

To this day, I don’t miss meat.†I’ve never minded foregoing the Christmas roast or the Thanksgiving turkey. In a recent article in The Atlantic two former vegetarians and vegans explain why they have again chosen to eat meat; a vegetarian of many years explains why she supports other’s choice to eat meat. The last-mentioned individual, Nicolette Hahn Niman is a livestock rancher, environmental lawyer and author of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms; her husband, Bill Niman, is founder of Niman Ranch, a “natural meat company.” Tovar Cerulli is a deer hunter and author of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance. Joshua Applestone is a butcher, an instructor, and co-author of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat.

Arguments For Eating Meat

All three describe becoming vegetarian around the age of 20 or so, for ethical, religious, moral reasons, after learning about how beef-raising practices were deforesting the Amazon, about the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, about the less than pretty practices used in rearing and slaughtering cattle in the beef industry. What changed two of their minds?

Niman, while remaining a vegetarian, notes that, in her work as an environmental lawyer, her study of ecologically-based farming showed her how essential animals are to sustainable farms as they “increase soil fertility, contribute to pest and weed control, and convert vegetation that’s inedible to humans, and growing on marginal, uncultivated land, into food.” Cerulli recounts how living in a rural community showed him that raising all sorts of food comes at a cost:

From habitat destruction to combines that inadvertently mince rabbits to the shooting of deer in farm fields, crop production is far from harmless. Even in our own organic garden, my wife and I were battling ravenous insects and fence-defying woodchucks. I began to see that the question wasn’t what we ate but how that food came to our plates.

According to Cerulli, adding eggs, dairy, chicken and fish back into his diet also led to an improvement in his and his wife’s health.

A vegan for 15 years, Applestone says that he “overcame [his] aversion to consuming meat” after seeing farmers raising animals “sustainably and ethically”; he realized that he really had a “problem with the inhumane practices of the commercial meat industry.” Indeed, it is the practices of†industrialized agriculture that come under critique by all Niman, Cerulli and Applestone. “Eating animal-derived foods” is not, in and of itself, a health risk, they say; it is over-consumption that is.

Health, the environment and ethics are often cited as arguments for not eating meat. Niman rather calls for a “new ethics of eating animals.” Niman writes:

Every living thing, from mammals, birds, and fish to plants, fungi, and bacteria, eats other living things. Humans are part of the food web; but for the artifices of cremation and tightly sealed caskets, all of us would eventually be recycled into other life forms. It is natural for people, like other omnivores, to participate in this web by eating animals. And it is ethically defensible — provided we refrain from causing gratuitous suffering.

Noting that “only about three percent of Americans are vegetarian and 0.5 percent are vegan” and that about three-quarters of those who try†vegetarianism or veganism return to eating meat, Niman suggests that, rather than exhorting people only to eat plants,†”doesn’t it make more sense to encourage them to eat an omnivorous diet that is healthy, ethical, and ecologically sound?”‘

Eating Isn’t Always Based on Rational Arguments

I can see how these arguments make sense. We are all part of a food web, an ecosystem, fellow denizens on this planet.

But we don’t make our choices about food and eating entirely based on reason; eating is a topic that is highly emotional.†Our reasons for choosing what foods we prefer to eat are very much (whether we know it or not) based on ineffables like habit, preference for taste and texture, memories and associations. We may conclude that our decision not to eat meat is based on ethical, philosophical principles and, just as much, on a squeamish feeling in our stomach in knowing that the lamb chop on our plate was once an actual lamb’s leg. Eating meat may simply neither taste nor feel right.†If more than three percent of the population was vegetarian and demand for chicken and pork and such dramatically decreased, could industrial-scale animal raising be made obsolete? Is it possible that so much of the population is eating meat because it is readily available?

What do you think of Niman’s, Cerulli’s and Applestone’s arguments?

For myself, I’m looking forward to a meal that’s heavy on the vegetables and grains.

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Christina Wilson

Al H., they are NOT a world away from our pets, what would make you think so? They are all living beings and every one of them wants to live, just as much as we do. We are no longer obliged to eat meat for our own survival, there are so many other delicious alternatives now. All animals are capable of giving and receiving love, which is more than can be said for many human beings. I have not eaten meat for nearly 30 years and I feel great! My reasoning has more to do with my compassion for other living species than it does for my own survival. I am not pretending to be anything that I am not. I am a compassionate person who cares about the feelings of others, so I act accordingly.

Al H.
Al H.10 days ago

Virginia, Christina and Dorothy - I've been an Omnivore for over 70 years and the animals, birds, and fish, that have always been in the Omnivore food chain are a world away from your pets. Fanciful thinking ladies but, leaves a lot to be desired. As the heading asks the question, here's my answer: all power to the people who came to the realization that they were designed to eat meat in their diet. It is the hardcore extremists that must look in the mirror in the morning and think "WTF have I got canine teeth". Yep, I feel sorry for the way you three (and others) are wasting your lives pretending you are something that you are not.

Dorothy M.
Dorothy M.25 days ago

Frank H. suggests that vegans do not believe that people who eat flesh can also love animals. Not true. We know many people love their dog, cat, parakeet, etc., but would eat a pig, chicken or cow, etc.. As a vegan with companion animals, I just believe that at some point such people will have to ask themselves why they love one but eat another.

Dorothy M.
Dorothy M.25 days ago

Most people don't stop being vegan because they warm to the crazy idea of "humane slaughter!" (Can you imagine if the tables were turned and some alien race that eats human flesh arrived on earth but assured everyone they would be "humanely slaughtered?" Would you feel better?)

Most vegans begin to waver because it is so very difficult to remain vegan if one's family and friends are not -- the pressure can be just too much. I've been fortunate to have a very supportive relationship, and I'm not so much a people pleaser that I would cave. It just feels too good to be vegan. No more runny nose all the time, very high levels of energy, not needing as much sleep or as much food, rarely getting colds, not needing to diet and not carrying extra pounds around. I've been vegetarian for 30 years, vegan for the later half of that.

Christina Wilson
Christina Wilson2 months ago

Al, thanks for your concern but I have not eaten meat in 28 years. I'm almost 62 now and my health is perfect. Better than that, I enjoy my food. It took a lot of effort but I taught myself how to prepare delicious vegan foods. I don't miss meat at all and am so very glad that no animals were harmed just so that I could eat.

Al H.
Al H.2 months ago

Kristina and Virginia - I feel sorry for you. I feel you both need to Chew on something a little more substantial than stems and nuts.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus5 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Virginia Abreu de Paula

No. I am not convinced and feel sorry for them.

DaleLovesOttawa O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.7 months ago

But, Kevin B, I am omnivore and love grains. Dr. Murky Mercola tells us in a few Care2 articles that grains are 'bad' for most of us, but unless one is gluten intolerant, often for most of us, no problem with grains. Then...there is always toasted harvest homemade bread, which is wonderful, love to make bread, but without highly processed white flour. There is also red quinoa, that is pretty good, but I avoid the white quinoa.

If one runs out of fridge space, one can always prepare these since vegans, omnivores and vegetarians all eat these. Thinking that I would prefer kale chips to the carrot chips, however, but can always give the carrot version a try. Wonder what curried kale tastes like?

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown7 months ago

What does a vegan zombie eat?