Why I Stopped Eating Animals

August 21, 2018

At the Pepper.ph meet-up, the other writers would tentatively glance across the table at me, the odd one out. Amidst people who were happily chowing down on pizzas loaded with prosciutto and chorizo, the question I was put on the hot-seat for was, “Sooooo, why are you vegetarian?”

Well, there’s this book.

Written by the same literary talent behind Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (and my personal favorite, Everything is Illuminated), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals explores vegetarianism, and the way we look at it.  Foer doesn’t force you to stay off meat; he simply aims to help you make an informed decision about what you put inside your mouth. The book presents vegetarianism as an issue teeming with gray areas, all of which remind us that food undeniably shapes who we are and the world we live in.

After years of being on and off a vegetarian diet, Foer and his wife (award-winning author Nicole Krauss) were forced to confront the issue of “eating animals” after the birth of their first child. For how could he explain his decision to eat meat to his son, despite the alarming statistics that make that decision seem wrong?

Here are the Facts

While we passionately debate about concerns such as war and global warming, a lot of us subconsciously avoid confronting the issue that’s right on our plates. We don’t like thinking about how an animal was slaughtered for our eating pleasure (let’s not even think about how foie gras is made, shall we?). Foer also points out that we humans, along with the animals, pay the price for what we eat. Not only is eating a lot of meat bad for your health (because of the unnecessary antibiotics injected into all the animals), the industry is also extremely unsustainable. Tons of toxic wastes from factory farms are dumped into bodies of freshwater every day. Factory farms emit 18% of the gases responsible for global warming, a percentage that’s significantly larger than what vehicular emissions contribute. It also takes 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that there’s something wrong with how the meat industry allocates their resources.

Foer proves that merely watching a graphic video of a piglet being slaughtered won’t make you suddenly stop eating meat.  Changing your eating habits doesn’t just boil down to a matter of conscience or cost. It’s also about culture. It’s about how far we’re willing to go, in order to sustain the patterns of eating that we’ve become used to. Seemingly small decisions, like what to eat for breakfast or what to buy in the supermarket, can say so much about who we are as a species. Food is so intricately tied to crucial things that make the world go round, and Foer’s emphasis on these makes his approach so original and thought-provoking.

“One of the greatest opportunities to live our values-or betray them-lies in the food we put on our plates.” -Foer

For instance, Foer wonders why we are so unsettled by cultures that eat dog meat, when most of us eat other animals on a daily basis. Poultry is chicken, pork is pig, and beef is cow. An animal is an animal, whether it’s a pet or not. Yet, we continue to categorize them: pampering our pets while devouring a steak, without thinking twice about where it’s from. And while eating meat is natural for omnivores, practices in the meat industry today can be hardly called such, as you’ll find in the book. What’s natural is hunting for our own meat, and ultimately, knowing where it’s from. Now that meat is pre-killed and pre-packaged, we simply “forget” about where our food comes from, and push thoughts of the carnage it entails away from our minds.

Eating Animals states that since we humans are rational beings, those among us who choose to eat meat should have a logical reason for doing so. “Because it’s good” doesn’t count, but that doesn’t stop most people from citing it as their reason.

For me, “Because it’s good” didn’t cut it, and it was the same for Foer, whose genre-bending tendencies remain evident in his first non-fiction novel. He alternates between the hard facts from both sides (those who strongly advocate vegetarianism, and those who work in the factory farms), and details from his own lifelong struggle with the implications of eating animals.

I’ve never asked any of my friends to go vegetarian, and neither did I write this article to convince anyone to do so. I do constantly think about whether I’m doing enough for the planet by segregating my trash, not leaving my engine running, and reusing plastic bags. I also constantly think about why I prize my dog above any other animal that may be just as wonderful as he is. And these things are what make it so easy for me to pass on any dish that contains meat. Simply put, a vegetarian diet is my contribution to the reversal of the undeniable damage we’ve done to this planet. Your way could be different, and it would still count as much.

“I love sushi, I love fried chicken, I love steak. But there is a limit to my love.” – Foer

Vegetarianism remains to be big commitment for me, especially since I initially picked up Eating Animals only because it was by my favorite author. It’s a challenging lifestyle that’s further constrained by the limited options I have at the local market, or even at a joint that’s as basic as McDonald’s, as well as by the budget I have as a student. However, two years of vegetarianism have taught me not just to stand by my choices, but also to respect the decisions that others make for themselves.

If you decide to try vegetarianism after reading Eating Animals, you would be in good company. After reading Foer’s book, Anne Hathaway was convinced to go completely meat-free, and Natalie Portman went from being a ‘twenty-year vegetarian to [becoming] a vegan activist’.  If you still won’t give up meat after reading it, that’s fine too. Here at Pepper.ph, we won’t rob you of the pleasure of biting into a juicy burger. Trust me, I remember that feeling fondly every time I bite into a faux-burger. It’s more than okay to admit you can’t give up meat, and being able to eat anything is nothing to be ashamed of.

All in all, Eating Animals is worthy of a place on anyone’s bookshelf, precisely because it changes how we see food, and because it challenges our existing views of both sides of the issue of vegetarianism. It encourages us to take a closer look at what we put in our grocery carts, what we cook for our families, what we order at a restaurant, and what we put on our plate.

Giselle Jose Giselle Jose

A yoghurt aficionado and grilled cheese enthusiast, Giselle likes exploring new ways for vegetarians to eat like pigs (while also saving them!). Currently a freshman at the UP College of Law, she also likes waking up at the crack of noon, taking unnecessary naps, traveling the world, and dodging real work by hanging out with her beagle instead.

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20 responses to “Why I Stopped Eating Animals”

  1. Interesting insights. I remember my lolo telling us that back in the day, meat was harder to produce, making it expensive for most people to have everyday. He said they could only buy beef on Sunday, so they would usually eat only fish and veggies from Monday-Saturday.

  2. Guest says:

    Great article. I’m interested in reading this book now. Have n

  3. Haven’t given vegetarianism a good thought prior to this. (Sorry. Lola moment. My comment was cut off.)

  4. well written! i once read an essay by JSF on the same subject and while it didn’t convince me to try going vegetarian (NEVER!!!), i have been trying to incorporate more, uh, plant matter into my diet. and then that’s when i realized i didn’t know too many vegetable dishes. :p

    food hack request for the vegetable curry from Blissful Belly!

  5. Guest says:

    Thank you for this article, particularly this paragraph:

    I’ve never asked any of my friends to go vegetarian, and neither did I write this article to convince anyone to do so. I do constantly think about whether I’m doing enough for the planet by segregating my trash, not leaving my engine running, and reusing plastic bags. I also constantly think about why I prize my dog above any other animal that may be just as wonderful as he is. And these things are what make it so easy for me to pass on any dish that contains meat. Simply put, a vegetarian diet is my contribution to the reversal of the undeniable damage we’ve done to this planet. Your way could be different, and it would still count as much.

  6. Hi Giselle! Thank you for this article, particularly this paragraph:

    “I’ve never asked any of my friends to go vegetarian, and neither did I write this article to convince anyone to do so. I do constantly think about whether I’m doing enough for the planet by segregating my trash, not leaving my engine running, and reusing plastic bags. I also constantly think about why I prize my dog above any other animal that may be just as wonderful as he is. And these things are what make it so easy for me to pass on any dish that contains meat. Simply put, a vegetarian diet is my contribution to the reversal of the undeniable damage we’ve done to this planet. Your way could be different, and it would still count as much.”

  7. krista says:

    *slow clap* Echoing what others have said — great article! 🙂

    I love that you’re not forcing anyone to give up eating meat, and you made your points come across without sounding self-righteous or pretentious. 🙂

    Am definitely inspired to read this book, and while I doubt I will turn into a vegetarian overnight after reading it, I’m sure I’ll pick up some insights that will make me think twice about my habits.

  8. mrdeliciousph says:

    Thank you for the article Giselle. Many are surprised to learn that I have more in common with many vegetarians as I do with most meat-eaters, the most significant difference being: I eat meat.

    Many of the arguments for vegetarianism are the same arguments I advocate for sustainable and ethical meat consumption. We despise the factory farm equally and share the same concerns for the environmental impact of modern agriculture. We also agree on the dubious use of antibiotics, growth hormones and the whatever-the-hell-else they are using to jack up our foods. We are also in agreement on the need to consume a greater proportion of vegetables and plants in our diets.

    So that’s where our agreement ends. There are a number of large issues that we disagree on. For example, I don’t think we need to rationalize why we eat meat more than your dog or any other animal. It’s in our nature. We eat meat for the same reason any predator does, because we’re at the top of the food chain. Vegetarianism is the new proposition and for that we need a logical reason. Although clearly you’ve thought out your reasons, so that works for you.

    There is one assertion you made that I would challenge as false, “because of the unnecessary antibiotics injected into all the animals.” Not all I say! I source my own meats from farms that do not use any growth hormones or antibiotics. I am well aware that this is the exception and not the norm, but it is a very important and growing exception.

    Hence the false dilemma presented here. I do eat meat, but I don’t support fast food restaurants or factory farms (BTW they also put nasty shit in your vegetables). In other words there are many other reasonable positions not considered in this article. I believe that the arguments made for ethical meat consumption will always be far more compelling than those made for vegetarianism because they don’t ask as an assumption to deny our nature as omnivores.

    Anyway, you have done precisely what I always advocate for, which is to put careful thought and consideration into where your food comes from. We just came to different conclusions.

    Vive le foie gras!
    http://www.mrdelicious.ph/stand-up-for-foie/

  9. Great article! I’ve known about this book for quite some time since JSF is also my favorite writer but I’ve never wanted to pick it up and read it until now. I’m so fond of red meat though and it makes up the bulk of my diet so let’s see where reading this takes me.

    I’ve seen documentaries about bad food production though like Food Inc. and The World According to Monsanto and well, the only long term effect it had on me is that I no longer eat corn and try to avoid anything with corn in it.

  10. Nothing’s more abrasive than militant animal rights activists with messianic delusions eager to shove their advocacy down your throat. So it’s really great to read about the thoughts of a moderate yet passionate vegan.

    But still, I disagree.

    “Eating a lot of meat” is bad for your health because eating a lot of anything is inherently bad, as even subsisting on lettuce or beans or any single food group may lead to malnutrition.

    With regards to the supposed “unsustainability” of the meat industry, industrial agriculture as a whole have glaring warts as well (chemical footprints, massive monoculture tendencies, etc.). So I think it’s more of replicating best practices and not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or the pork with the sinigang broth if you will.

    I think as in all things, the goal should be pursing the golden mean. And I think such pursuit starts with a more inclusive conversation on conscientious eating, which your article thankfully promotes.

    I’m sorry, I know I’ve already said a mouthful but please allow me to quote Michael Pollan as I end:


    ‘In our normal life,” Singer writes, ”there is no serious clash of interests between human and nonhuman animals.” Such a statement assumes a decidedly urbanized ”normal life,” one that certainly no farmer would recognize.

    The farmer would point out to the vegan that even she has a “serious clash of interests” with other animals.

    The grain that the vegan eats is harvested with a combine that shreds field mice, while the farmer’s tractor wheel crushes woodchucks in their burrows and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky; after harvest whatever animals that would eat our crops we exterminate.

    Killing animals is probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat.

    If America was suddenly to adopt a strictly vegetarian diet, it isn’t all clear that the total number of animals killed each year would necessarily decline, since to feed everyone animal pasture and rangeland would have to give way to more intensely cultivated row crops.

    If our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least cultivated land: grass-finished steaks for everyone.”

  11. That was a refreshing change of pace. 😀 ganda.

    …but still you know, bacon.

  12. D Camacho says:

    I have a copy of this book “parked” on my bedside table. It just went to the top of the pile;)

    Great read, Giselle!:)

  13. […] industry will hopefully take bigger steps towards treating animals better, it’s still extremely unsustainable at present. And so long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply. Thus, if we continue to support […]

  14. […] hard enough to enjoy meat when you think of the animals that got slaughtered to please your tastebuds, so when I saw this vintage poster of a pig enjoying self-mutilation, I […]

  15. […] probably two out of any ten restaurants in the city. Now I have nothing against folks committed to this lifestyle, and I have friends who are hardcore vegetarians, vegans, and pescetarians (bless your heart, you […]

  16. Phil S. says:

    Are you selling yours? Because I cant find a copy anywhere in Manila.

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