Values Driven Vegetarian – What does that mean? Some values have to do with telling the truth. Other values determine our work ethic. Most people think of values as related to character. What does that have to do with food? Warning! You might find this article provocative – but not because I’m trying to tell you what to eat.
Instead I’m going to ask you what the term vegetarian means to you personally. For you carnivores reading this article, it may be difficult to understand why anyone would give up hamburgers or pepperoni pizza. You may believe that God put animals here on the planet to be eaten. Or God may not come into your consideration of food choices. I’ve had people tell me they can’t imagine giving up eating meat for any reason. Perhaps you’ll have a different understanding of dietary choices after you finish reading.
We Americans do tend to want what we want. Often we want what we want now. Our decisions don’t always make sense to other people. I’ll tell you a true story. Much of my life I’ve owned and ridden horses. The pleasure of time with my horses always has overridden the cost. I’ve never understood the question when non-horse people asked why I had such an expensive hobby. Why would I not spend time and money on something I found so enjoyable? I figured they just didn’t understand horse people.
On the other hand, one thing I’ve never been able to understand is how some people can drive vehicles, e.g., hummer-type, with its large size and low gas mileage. With our planetary resources being as they are, why would any one choose such an inefficient means of transportation. Who needs a hummer in the US?
Then driving down the road one day as a hummer passed me, I got it. Just as I have always wanted horses, that person wanted a hummer. That was it. Our values were different. I would feel uncomfortable driving a gas guzzler. Perhaps the hummer driver would see my horses as a wasteful use of money. We each made our choices according to what we wanted. Pretty simple. If I want it and can pay for it, I can have it. It’s my right as an American.
My horses had value to me and and were an expression of my values. The hummer had value that were expressed by the driver of that particular vehicle. Each of us believed we could have what we want – and had the right to have what we wanted. My value was horses bring me joy. I can only speculate on why the driver wanted the hummer, but I do know that it was a value connected to a belief that determined his choice. Big equals power? Different is fun?
Similar want/value variations of thinking are common among both vegetarians and carnivores/omnivores. We may not understand the position of the other because we believe differently. Our values are not same in this area. However, our beliefs, values and behaviors are all connected whether we’re omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan.
Some will say if, ” I want a hamburger or a steak or bacon or chicken wings, I can have any or all of them. The choice to eat meat and animal products is my right. I can eat what I want as much as I want whenever I want.” Those same people might say that it made little difference to them that dolphins were caught in the tuna nets. Too bad. So what? Their values expressed as behaviors don’t include respect for animal life. Values regarding food as providing nutrients to support body processes may not be the the stronger value either. No body, vegetarian or not, ever needs french fries and soda. Yet, most young people drink soda…and as they mature, their taste may change to martinis – which offer little if any nutritional value.
As a culture, we do value our rights. And our rights are a direct expression of our values. Have you ever thought of rights and choices in that way?
What I’m saying is while I may agree with our right to eat what we want, have as many kids as we want, drive the vehicles we want, smoke the cigarettes we want, and have all the horses we want, there are consequences to those choices. What we want and demand the right to have may not be wise in the long term.
Our values determine what is important to us. Our values determine our decisions re the choices we make. Is our value placed on immediate gratification or determined by future consequences of what we say and do? Do we value our right to eat a hamburger today more than the preservation of the environment for our children and grandchildren? How many burger eaters consider the crops, water and other resources required to raise that steer? More than eight billion animals are slaughtered each year. Could there possibly be a less efficient use of our natural resources?
We chop down oxygen providing rain forests to create more beef for the government subsidized meat industry. We factory farm the animals and send pollution uninhibited onto the land and into the air and water.
Vegetarians and environmentalists have been much maligned during most of my life time because they’ve seen the big picture. They tried to educate the American public of consequences to a meat based diet. The issue is much larger than the bacon and eggs you had for breakfast or the hamburger you had for lunch. The larger view is of the consequences of raising and eating animals, of use of land and water, of starvation and pollution.
Do you know that the methane gas from the cattle we raise for slaughter cause more harm to the environment than vehicle emissions from all the cars on the planet? There is far more untreated animal waste than treated human waste. Run off from factory hog farms ends up in the river. Perhaps the same river you enjoy boating on…or swimming in. We have dead zones in the ocean where no sea life can exist. They are increasing in size every day as a result of pollution.
Do you value your right to eat that hamburger more than the right of future generations to live on a markedly less polluted planet? Do you believe that the choices you make are significant? Do you think what you eat has no impact on either your body or the planet? Do you value living for today because you may not be here tomorrow?
Of course you have the right to eat meat.
But what do you do when you can’t stand to think that your hamburger was once an animal? You have to block those thoughts or they’d bother you. You might not even be able to eat a hamburger ever again. What would people say?!?! When you make your choices because of what other people say, that’s also a value. You believe what they have to say is more important than your own experience of truth.
On the other hand, you might want to ask yourself what would it feel like to honor your feelings about eating that hamburger. Allow yourself to think of the animal that died to provide this meal for you. Try it. You may still decide to eat the burger, but you may appreciate it in a different way. You might have no sadness or angst, but instead gratitude for the availability of this food you enjoy thoroughly as nourishment for your body. Or, you may choose not to eat the burger. Either way, you would be living your life and making your decisions in a manner congruent with your beliefs and values.
When we live our lives in accordance with our conscious values, we experience significantly less internal conflict. When we are aware of our values in each area of our lives, we make choices that support our beliefs and so our actions are congruent with our words. Life becomes less stressful.
This article is on the topic of values and vegetarianism. Beliefs and values, behaviors and consequences, priorities and conflicts are all a normal part of life in every aspect of our lives. We make choices, hundreds of choices, every day. Many are unconscious. We may not even realize we’re choosing.
We all make choices about food. With every bite we put in our mouths we make a statement. What we eat or don’t eat tells others who we are and something about what we believe and value. Choices are different for omnivores, flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans. Which values determine your choices? Do you know? Are you curious? Can you see the consequences of your choices? Do you believe what you choose to eat makes a difference – to your health and to the health of the planet?
Ask yourself. See what answers you get. Then consider whether your actions are consistent with what you say you believe.
To read more about the vegetarian lifestyle go to Gayle’s informative, friendly website http://www.vegetariannook.com A nurse educator and vegetarian for almost 30 years, Gayle offers information to help interested people understand vegetarian basics and ways to transition to a plant-based diet. Her specialty is dealing with social issues and concerns.