Vegetarianism: Personal Choice, Interpersonal Consequences

Vegetarianism: Personal Choice, Interpersonal Consequences

What's the carbon footprint of a can of vegetable broth, compared to chicken stock?

As always, I skipped the turkey and gravy this Christmas. However I was able to partake in every other part of the meal’the roast potatoes, the stuffing, the brussel sprouts, the homemade oat bread. Because I won’t eat meat, my family avoids products such as chicken stock, opting for vegetable broth instead. Every other guest who consumed our holiday feast is an unabashed omnivore, but no one seems to mind making a few allowances for me, the lone vegetarian at the table. The rest of the year, when I’m home from college, family meals are often meat-free. We eat grilled vegetables with rice or vegetarian chili or spaghetti sans meatballs. It’s easier to prepare one meal than two, so herbivore-friendly entrees make sense.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was ten. Before I revamped my dietary practices, my family ate meat with dinner every night. We also prepared my grandmother’s famous cornbread stuffing using chicken stock and cooked it inside the turkey. Thankfully, my family has always been supportive of me and is willing to make adjustments so I won’t be left out (or left hungry). These are small changes, but they are meaningful. After declaring myself a strict vegetarian, more than once I’ve been met with, “Why bother? You’re only one person. How much difference will it make if you don’t eat meat?” It’s true that I am only one person, but I certainly know a lot of other people. Like any other member of society, my actions impact those around me. We are all individual social actors involved in series of events and interactions that shape human behavior. I doubt I’ve single-handedly converted anyone from meat eater to abstainer, but I’m certain that I’ve made others more conscious of their meat consumption. My friends may find my assertions and quips a little annoying, especially when I gently inform them that 10 billion animals are slaughtered annually in the US, just as they reach for another chicken wing, but my only intention is to help them become more informed citizens and consumers.

I believe that as the correlation between meat production and climate change becomes more prevalent in the media, vegetarianism will gain a stronghold in the public discourse. Human beings, especially Americans, are very attached to their T-bone steaks and quarter-pound burgers; the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat, fish, and poultry per year. However, human beings are also attached to breathable air, relatively stable climates, and current sea levels. If we want to keep these things, we’re going to have to change many of our behaviors, from driving gas-guzzling SUVs to eating large, frequent portions of animal products. Our own consumption habits are certainly personal choices, but they have wide-reaching consequences for global societies.

This is why I’m a vegetarian. I don’t think my eating habits will change the world, but I know that they will have an impact on it, however minute. My goal is to make this impact greater, by being an activist at all times, whether I’m working at a nonprofit or sharing a meal with family and friends. And even if my reach as “only one person” is limited, I know I’ll be conserving at least 200 pounds of meat and a few cans of chicken broth this year.

Photo courtesy of Maggie Hoffman