National Public Radio reports that Americans consumed 52.2 billion pounds of meat in 2012. While this statistic seems shocking, when we consider how much of our daily meals contain some form of meat or animal, it begins to seem less so.
“So much of the American diet is centered around meat,” said freshman Sarah Axtell. “In order to keep the insane amount of cows and chickens that we consume each year, we use up so many resources and it also creates a lot of pollution.” Axtell has been a vegetarian for four years and based her decision to be such on environmental reasons. The massive factory farms that have replaced independent family farms treat animals cruelly and contaminate the water and air with chemical and waste run-off. For example, the largest source of methane pollution in the atmosphere comes from cattle farms.
Many vegetarians choose to avoid meat because it could have been produced in a factory farm where the animal was not treated humanely. It is widely publicized that many animals are confined to small spaces for the entire day or that the slaughtering process is not as efficient and painless as possible.
For others, vegetarianism is a matter of taste. For Freshman Emily Lindvall, who has been a pescatarian for almost two years, there was no issue giving up meat: “It didn’t bother me to give up beef or pork or anything because I never really enjoyed them a whole lot.”
In recent years, the statistics and rumors swirling around meat production have raised alarm for many people.
“I heard this statistic that in another 46 years, there’s not going to be any fish that we can eat left in the ocean. At the rate that we’re going in consuming fish, like tuna and salmon, they’re going to be extinct,” said freshman Karina Grady, who’s been a vegetarian for two years. “I wanted to do my part.”
Our consumption of meat has increased by 75 pounds per year since the last century, reported the Huffington Post this year. With this increase in demand has come an increase in the production and slaughter of farm animals and fish. However, these animals cannot sustain such a large demand forever. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports that female livestock spend almost their entire lives pregnant and their offspring are taken away from them almost immediately. Instances of deformities, malnutrition and infection are common.
“I am really strongly opposed to how animals are kept in most factory farm set-ups,” says Axtell, “though it is possible to eat meat and eat humanely.” Some meats and eggs now have labels denoting that the animals used were treated humanely, such as ‘free-range eggs.’ Just what it takes to be able to earn a ‘humane’ or ‘free range’ designation is sometimes unclear. The issue is similar to that of the ‘organic’ label given to food in that many companies were using it as a marketing buzzword without the food actually being organic.
Bon Appétit is mindful of vegetarian and vegan students by providing labels for all available choices. Students know what follows the vegan guidelines, which is often the most difficult to tell since it depends on the ingredients. “I was really pleasantly surprised at how many things they have for vegetarians or vegans,” said Grady. “I’ve found things that I’ve never even had before, like seitan, it’s really good.” Once Axtell got to college, she considered not being a vegetarian anymore. “Bon Appétit is really careful about where they source their meats.” Because Bon Appétit is so open about what’s in their dishes and where the ingredients come from, many vegetarians and vegans are able to enjoy meals without stress.
Of course, there are some meat dishes that vegetarians and vegans miss. “For a while, I really did miss bacon. So many people bring up bacon as a weakness, like I can’t be vegetarian because [of] bacon. For the most part, I don’t miss it a lot now,” says Axtell. She’s decided to continue being a vegetarian even with Bon Appétit’s reliable food sourcing because, “I realize that I honestly don’t miss eating meat that much.” Grady misses fried chicken, but she’s managed to find alternatives. “Whole Foods makes the best fried tofu,” she said. Despite having to give up some foods, most vegetarians find that they feel better. Says Lindvall, “I have a lot more energy now, I feel like I’m more awake, more aware.”