Five years ago I quit eating red meat.
When people hear this, they often can’t wrap their minds around it. It’s not as simple as saying your vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan. The phrase “I don’t eat red meat” requires a short little explanation tagged on to the end.
Usually, I spout some easily understandable comments about wanting to be healthier, or trying to help the environment. But a few weeks ago, I realized that I didn’t really know exactly why I quit eating red meat. I mean, I wasn’t environmentally conscious as a sixth grader, nor did I have large concerns about my health. So, I decided to do some research into the true reason behind my decision.
The most common reason people quit or limit their red meat intake is for health benefits, though this is a controversial topic in the nutrition community. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, red and processed meats increase one’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
That is, however, referencing a high intake of red meat. Moderate consumption of red meat poses no clear health risks to the average person. While this information was eye-opening to the benefits I may have gained from my dietary choices, I still saw no connection to my middle-school reasoning to quit. So, I moved on.
Another popular reason for lowering your consumption of red meat is the environmental impact. Agriculture produced 9% of the world’s greenhouse gases in 2017, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
A majority of these gases are methane (CH4), which is produced by livestock and, most notably among that group, cows. Thus, the reduction of red meat in people’s diets would theoretically reduce the high demand for livestock in the industry.
This benefit did admittedly make me feel slightly better about myself, though in the long run I realize it probably has a minimal impact on the environment. Still, I had no recollection of my sixth grade environmentalism, and I continued on my search.
There are few other popular reasons for quitting red meat, besides “plant-based” diets or smelling better, which is a surprising–and not fully proven–discovery. So I decided to reflect back on my middle school mindset for insight on this decision, which I soon discovered should have been my first step.
In sixth grade, I had a close knit group of friends and we all wanted to be like each other as young, easily influenced children all do.
Looking back on it, a distinct memory came floating into my head. My two best friends in middle school had somehow decided they were going to quit eating red meat. Why? I have no clue. And, of course I wanted to fit in, so I joined them.
I already didn’t love the taste of bacon and pork, and I wouldn’t give up chicken or fish–so what was the big deal?
This realization made me laugh. After all my research, the real reason why I quit eating red meat was because of my desire to conform. I changed a large part of my diet just to be like my friends and somehow stuck with it years after we had separated.
So that’s it. While now I believe and support the environmental and health benefits of my actions, the whole “ethical” reasoning behind my decision was not so ethical at all. Rather, it was a somewhat selfish act that turned into a more beneficial decision than I could have ever envisioned as an eleven-year-old.