Friday, September 01, 2006

Eating less or no meat: a frugal choice and so much more

I chose to become a vegetarian for a lot of reasons-- animal welfare, environmental, health-- but frugality was not one of them. (Especially considering I was 12 at the time!) Nevertheless, it's a nice side benefit. I'm glad this is one of those areas where both my money and my values win at the same time.

I'm going to talk a bit about a variety of reasons to be vegetarian, hopefully without getting too preachy. Please keep in mind that almost all of these benefits still apply in part even if you only decide to cut back on your meat consumption rather than completely eliminating it!

  • Meat is an incredibly inefficient food (one reason why it's usually more expensive!). It takes from 5 to 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. This has profound implications both for the environment and for the world's poor and malnourished people.
  • Health: According to the American Diatetic Association, a vegetarian or vegan diet decreases cholesterol and blood pressure, and vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, some types of cancer, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Along with these health consequences inherent in meat-eating, there are the additional hazards of eating meat from animals who are often sick and pumped full of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics. There's lots more of this stuff, so Google away.
  • Animal Welfare: Factory farming is hideously inhumane to animals. (Warning: these details are graphic and disturbing.) These animals live in cramped, filthy, and completely unnatural conditions. Many of them end up sick and with broken bones, suffering and in pain for most of their lives, and some die slowly of their illnesses without treatment. They are usually mutilated during life (castrated, debeaked, horns removed, etc) without painkillers and slaughtered at a young age. Chickens are not required to be stunned before they're killed, while cows and pigs are typically stunned in an inadequate, haphazard manner, so as a result millions of animals slowly bleed to death or are boiled alive. See here, here, here, and more. This is the reason for vegetarianism I feel most strongly about; however, I'm also extremely hypocritical since I haven't managed the self-discipline to be vegan, despite the similar situations of laying hens and dairy cows. (Being vegan is also even better for the planet and its people than vegetarianism, as well as healthier.)
After all that, it seems callous and petty to talk about saving money as a reason to become vegetarian or eat less meat, but perhaps it may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. (Not literally! Camels have feelings too! Down with the straw industry and its abuse of camels!) Obviously the costs will vary depending on how you design your diet, but in general, meat costs less than most of the wonderful, tasty vegetarian options out there. Most of my favorite meals are centered around rice, beans, lentils, pasta, and/or potatoes, all of which are damn cheap. (Of course, it's true that if you try to substitute free-range and/or organic meat, dairy, and eggs, the prices go back up. I'm planning a follow-up post looking for options for free-range, more humane eggs and dairy, but they're not likely to be frugal solutions.) Plus, the aforementioned health benefits are also likely to pay off financially in the long term.

So take a moment and think about if any of these reasons connect for you-- environmental, world hunger/sustainability, health, animal welfare, and/or financial-- and whether it might make sense for you to decrease or end your consumption of meat, or at least to give it a trial run.

Okay. Getting off my soapbox. Now it's your turn... what do you think?


Donna Jean said...

I spent a year being vegetarian-ish -- purely for financial reasons. My social conscious also raises its eyebrows for many of the reasons you list, but not to the point that I make a personal moral stance about it.

Now, I try to skip meat for at least one dinner a week and reduce it to the side dish status for the rest of the week. The partner has this thing that it isn't a meal without meat and argues that he just won't get full if something dead at lying on his plate. Of course, after every meatless meal I intentionally ask if he is full or if he enjoyed the meal and the answer to both is always yes. For him, it will just be breaking childhood habits.

I have many vegetarian and vegan friends and make it a point to cook potluck meals they can eat. One thing I hate seeing is the "let them eat salad" response when someone mentions vegetarian options.

Right now, with out budget belt tightening, I will be taking more time to tackle vegetarian dishes. I wish I could say it was more for the social and environmental impact, but it is purely for financial and nutritional reasons. However, I'd like to point out that my fresh food budget (veggies, fruits, and such) is almost double that of the meat budget -- when you compare the two purchases, it is clear to see where the money is best spent (the six or seven bags of produce versus the one bag of meat products).

Kira said...

You're preaching to the choir with me - I was a vegetarian from 12 on too. Unfortunately I got iron deficiency anemia at 21 - I'd advise you to take stock of how much iron you're getting in your diet. Taking a Feosol tablet once a week can save you a lot of trouble! I eat a little meat now to keep healthy, but when I first started I was eating beef under doctor's orders - so I would buy a rump roast, cut it up with scissors, cook it in a pan, and put ranch dressing on it. It was like my meat vitamins, I didn't like eating it (hence the ranch dressing, which I do like.)

It does frustrate me that we feed cows what could feed the whole world. I originally became a vegetarian over concerns of animal cruelty so I now take pains to buy my meat from places that don't abuse animals. People used to ask me why I didn't eat meat, and I would tell them that, and they almost universally got really defensive and would say something stupid like 'well animals are tasty' or 'cows are stupid and deserve to die' which is a completely idiotic thing to say. All that shows is that they never thought seriously about the morality of their actions.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

My reasons for switching to a mostly vegetarian diet were concerns about health, then cost, then farming. Originally, anyway--now it's all kinda mixed up. I still eat meat sometimes when we eat out (never at home), and our grocery bill is much lower even when I buy organic (preferably local) veggies and fruits.

Eating vegetarian is an investment in health. People need to make sure they get enough iron and calcium, but that's true of vegetarians or meat-eaters.

The more I learn about farming methods, the more angered and disgusted I am that we let people treat living beings that way. We prosecute people for abusing pets, so we should prosectute them for abusing farm animals as well.

I know some people say, "They're going to die for meat, so why do their lives matter?" But think about applying that to humans: just because you're going to die some day, does that mean the quality of your life doesn't matter? Of course it doesn't.

Then Things said...

I am veg as well! I eat mostly vegan but not totally. I emailed you at the address listed on this blog, just letting you know in case you don't check it too often.

mOOm said...

I don't eat meat apart from fish at home. Outside the home I do eat chicken or Turkey quite a bit but never eat mammals. I grew up eating kosher in an area with few religious Jews and we only ate meat for 2-3 meals a week at maximum. We used to go vacations to vegatarian hotels because the food was automatically kosher. For a while we went vege. So not eating meat was never a big deal for me. For many years I only ate vege+fish. I really like fish and wouldn't mind killing them cutting them up etc. I only got back into the chicken thing because it seemed to make life easier dealing with friends etc. initially. I certainly don't do it for financial reasons but for preference about what to eat, desire to reduce cruelty to animals and environmental reasons. Though yes I know, ocean caught fish aren't the best thing to say the least for the latter...

Wenchypoo said...

Have you read this article?

Anonymous said...

I doubt there'll be a time when I don't want the occasional pork chop or a piece of roast chicken (and I'm talking thigh and leg, not the breast), but I most definitely feel better when eating the veges and the fruits, the more simply prepared, the better. For convenience, I've been using the the crockpot or pressure cooker and much prefer my veges at least semi-cooked. I find myself in thrift stores looking for older recipe books (grange, for instance) to find ways to use root veges and have had some good luck lately. For me, it's not really financial; I can always find a hunk of meat at the grocery marked down that usually cooks up well. But again, I can't say enough how much better I feel eating my beans, cabbage, carrots, etc.

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d said...

I was vegetarian, I now only eat fish, but I find a vegetarian diet to be costlier than eating poultry. Maybe in the long run it's money saving, because I don't buy the groceries, but if I wanted veggie dogs, I'd pay about 4-5 dollars, when I can just get turkey franks for about 2-3 dollars. But it's worth it, eating meat/poultry, and especially at fast food never settled in my stomach well.