by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

As a hardcore meat-eater who recently went vegetarian, I wanted to chime in on this debate.

Until January, I was eating meat at least once a day, usually twice, and never in small quantities at a time. I always admired vegetarians, but I never thought I could handle it myself. Even six months into this new diet, I have never in my life eaten a salad.

But early this year, I moved from Philadelphia to Georgia and in doing so decided to give this whole vegetarian thing a shot. I had to start a new routine anyway, so I figured I would see how long I could last without meat. Prior to this, I genuinely cannot remember the last time I went more than two or three days without a piece of flesh. My plan was to see if I could last a month, and then eat meat a couple times a week. It is now July, and even as barbecue pork and fried chicken abound in this carnivore's paradise, I haven't had a bite of meat.

I get cravings now and again, but it's always for stuff like wings or chicken fingers or burgers. And that's sort of my point: I quit meat not for ethical reasons (which I mostly empathize with but find murky in general) but for health reasons.

I've had high cholesterol since I was first tested in high school, and while increased exercise, medicine, and minor dietary modifications all helped, I needed to do something dramatic. Meat was a big reason my cholesterol was as high as it was. I know there are other health concerns that stem from cutting out meat (like iron and B12 deficiencies), but I've taken steps to ensure those are taken care of (namely, by not going full-bore vegan yet).

Anyway, I'm still shocked at how easy this has been, given how much I like meat. I definitely take issue with the claim that vegetarians don't typically like meat in the first place. I've found -- in my case, and in the case of most of my meat-eschewing friends -- that the inverse is true: the longer you're a vegetarian, the less you like meat. I suspect that most of the people who make the claim that the switch would be "too hard" for them are people who haven't even tried.

Another reader:

I am one of those vegetarians who made the shift in my late teens, over 20 years ago. It was NEVER a hard choice for me. I grew up not liking meat very much, and I lived in a kosher house. The combination of my household's dietary restrictions and my own natural preferences meant that I ate a wider variety of appealing (to me) foods after I went vegetarian than I did before.

Does that make my choice less moral? In my case, moral issues, environmental concerns, and basic taste equally informed my decision. On the other hand, my choice has been very, very easy, so I don't get any extra points for exercising will-power. I wonder if the switch is easier for all of those who, like me, never enjoyed totally unrestricted eating.

As for your own situation, I think it is great to reduce your own meat consumption, and I don't think you need to agonize over not going full-throttle vegetarian. I always tell people that if it's really that hard for them, it may not be the right choice. Meanwhile, today's options for humane animal products are better than they have been since big agriculture took over our food supply. You can get grass-fed beef, free range foul, wild-caught (and sustainable, but it's tricky) seafood, and pastured eggs.

So with no disrespect to those whose religious and/or philosophical beliefs preclude any animal consumption, I would advocate for a middle path of less and more humane consumption of animal products. For me, it's never been about the food-chain; it's always been about sustainability and suffering.

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