Has anyone besides me noticed that there seems to be a rise of vegetarians and vegans lately?

I have no proof to back that up other than personal experience talking with people and the menus I see at places (for example, I had a chance to look at The Toledo Hospital’s menu the other day and I noticed that they had multiple options marked as “vegan” whereas I had never seen that written on a hospital menu before), but I still seem to be getting that vibe. 

A vegan meal: crustless quiche and salad.

A vegan meal: crustless quiche and salad.

Perhaps it’s because I have recently become vegan myself and I had never noticed people mentioning it before? Maybe a vegetarian option was always offered at social events and I just never noticed before! Why am I bringing up the topic of vegans and vegetarians anyway on a faith and values page? Is there even a difference between the two? Ahh! So many questions!

For starters, let me just say that there is a difference between the two: when most people hear “vegetarian” they think of a person who eats no meat from land animals but will eat dairy and eggs. Some people think eating meat from seafood is okay, but most agree that “vegetarian” means no meat at all. 

However, that doesn’t really do the term justice — if one was vegetarian, they would eat a diet of only plants, not cheese, milk, and eggs as well, right?  (A better term for what most people call a vegetarian would be a “lacto[milk]-ovo[eggs] vegetarian.”) 

This ambiguity is solved by using a different term, “vegan,” which means the person consumes no animal products of any kind — no shrimp, no chicken, no milk, no cheese, no whey protein powder, no honey, no milk chocolate, etc.  Interesting, right?

The question I always get asked is, “But how do you get your protein?” Which I find highly interesting due to the fact that I always get plenty of complete proteins in my diet from the abundance of legumes and whole grains I consume. The easiest reply I can give them is, “Well, those proteins didn’t just magically appear in the animal tissue you eat — the animal got it from eating a plant first.” 

And so, I will stop here from going into further detail about the ins and outs of being vegan, but I must put the disclaimer in here that adopting such a diet requires diligence and careful planning.

So why bring up the subject? What caused me to switch? Why write about it in a Faith and Values column?

All those questions have the same answer: I realized, after reading a book called “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, that we are leaving a devastating impact on our earth from factory farming practices (it is the leading cause of pollution, higher even than the impact of transportation on our environment), and I also learned for the first time that it was possible for me to live a perfectly healthy life (actually a great deal more healthy if you really look at the research) without eating any meat at all. 

When plants get energy from the sun, they can only use 10 percent of that energy.  When an animal eats a plant to get its energy, due to processes in the energy change, it can only use 10 percent of the energy that plant had. The same is true again if another animal eats that animal. Thus, the issue for me when we talk about vegetarians and vegans is an ethical one: By choosing to eat only plants, I can eliminate an energy step and reduce pollution while essentially increasing the world food supply by 10 times!  That is the reason I care so much and why I get so excited about it.

So for all of you who feel tempted to instinctively defend your conscience while eating meat after reading this, my first response is: “Good. I accomplished my goal and made you think about the ethics of your food choices.” 

The whole purpose is to get you to think about more of the hidden issues that we seem to pay no mind to. Do I think eating meat is very bad? No, I actually am okay with people eating meat; it’s been done for centuries, it provides a means of living for people in some areas, and in some examples you could actually cite it as being energy efficient (e.g., you lived in an area that could support low grass but not crops, the animal could eat the grass and you could eat the animal). 

For me, I am in a situation where I can afford to live off soymilk, beans, meat substitutes, and whole grains, but I am not so naïve as to think that that is the situation for everyone.

I’m not trying to judge; I’m trying to make you think.

For some people, they don’t consume animal products because they can’t imagine being ethically responsible for the death of that animal, and I respect that too. If you do the research and make a choice to buy some of your meat but not all of it, or if you decide to still get all your meat from the supermarket, I won’t judge your conscience. I’ll just be happy that you took the time to think about the impact you are having as a human being made in the image and likeness of God.

Vegetarians and vegans are being talked about more and more these days, it seems, and I think for good reason. We have an ethical responsibility as creatures on this earth to think about the implications of all our choices from what we wear to what we eat for breakfast. Maybe it’s time we gave some thought to the things that so easily escape our conscience.

If this article made you want to challenge me for talking about justice when the shirt on my back was made by underpaid workers, then I will still b happy — I know then that you are becoming conscious of those things that we try to put out of our minds! I thank you for being the one to challenge me!

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