Is Our Meat Really So Bad? A Meat-Lover’s Vegetarian Apologia

By BEN BEESE

To the disgust of most of my friends, I love hamburgers. If you get me talking about food at all, I will almost surely tell you all about the Elk and Bison burger specialties of home, my dad’s collection of photos of a young me trying to eat burgers twice the size of my head, the poverty of the dining hall’s burgers, the right thickness and juiciness of a burger, the various accoutrements that go best with a burger, and what makes a burger great. I would love to break my vegetarian streak for a good burger but, before doing so, I wanted to find out what people’s problem is with our meat here at Middlebury.

There are a lot of well supported reasons to go vegan or vegetarian. None of these are mine. Yet, as one whose friends fall overwhelmingly in those two categories, I have become familiar with many acceptable reasons to avoid meat. There are moral reasons, for example, not to kill or to exploit animals which can, and have, lead to interesting philosophical discussions of souls, violence, and like. There are often forgotten practical religious reasons for being vegetarian; when starved for kosher and halal options, vegetarian options may become an acceptable alternative. And there are environmental arguments for reducing meat consumption of which I have heard both challenges and impassioned defenses.

My motivation to be a vegetarian, on the other hand, is far from reasonable. Whether it was to prove that I can deny myself meat, to better understand vegetarians, an amusement at my own whims, or perhaps a secret desire to prove that vegetarianism at Middlebury isn’t worth all the complaints it receives, I am not sure. All the same, on January 4, 2019, I gave up meat for a month with the vague thought of a bloody carnivorous celebration on February 1.

I have also come to realize that it’s not so difficult to be a vegetarian.”

I quickly came to realize that my friend was right, being vegetarian “for the heck of it” is not the most compelling reason for such an undertaking and one does, in fact, need a good amount of motivation to avoid meat at every meal. Why is it that not one but both entrées at lunch and dinner include meat by default? I had, as I imagine many have, heard ad nauseam the complaint that there are not enough vegetarian options but little did I appreciate that one’s daily meat-free options amount to bad tofu, rice, pasta, salad, or soup. Meanwhile, everyone else is enjoying their steaks, their stews, their hamburgers, their lamb, their gyros, their chicken (in so many different forms!), their salmon and fish, their hot dogs, their pepperoni pizzas, their meat-lovers’ pizzas, their other not-cheese pizzas, their antipasti salads (with  chicken, or bacon, or ham, or seafood), and the list goes on. The options for vegans are even more limited: a large amount of the vegetarian options include cheese (in our rice? Really?) or cream. It’s not that vegetarians can’t eat at Middlebury, the problem is that they are subjected to a Spartan dining experience in dining halls ranked #14 on Best Value School’s Best Dining Halls of 2017-2018. That seems ridiculous.

I have also come to realize that it’s not so difficult to be a vegetarian. Admittedly, I’ve taken the easiest possible route. I didn’t start until I left home, so I never had to ask my family to accommodate me. Eating out, I’ve been almost entirely with one or another vegetarian or vegan friend so I know I never have to ask for special consideration with them either. I’m only committed to vegetarianism for a month, making the effort more a postponement rather than a rejection of a meat-based diet. I don’t even advocate for the lifestyle. Try as I might, I have yet to be wholly convinced of the need or even the benefit of being vegan or vegetarian. But, admitting that there may be real health benefits, to ourselves or to our planet, or moral implications or any other benefit of not eating meat once in a while, perhaps it makes sense to hedge out bets and eat a little less meat. Heck! We eat 1.5 times the recommended daily protein per person at this school just via meat. 

What if our meal plans didn’t require we eat meat?”

This is not a call to be a vegan monk. This is not another recommendation to watch Food Inc., or read such-and-such book about animals. But what if our meal plans didn’t require we eat meat? What if it was an option, like pizza in Ross or ice cream in Proctor? The problem is not about having more vegetarian and vegan options; it’s about making meat and animal products options. We should have the choice to choose not to eat something without sacrificing our dining experience, the diversity of our cuisine, or the ability to routinely enjoy eating on campus. As a meat-lover, wing-Wednesday-devotee, and burger-connoisseur, I, for one, am thrilled to see the new meat mitigation efforts and hope we all, vegans and carnivores alike, can continue to talk about how to have an accessible, productive, and well-crafted dining experience.

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Is Our Meat Really So Bad? A Meat-Lover’s Vegetarian Apologia