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  • Charlotte Luke

A Brief Defense of Vegetarianism

The Grit, a.k.a. my version of heaven, is a vegetarian restaurant on Prince Avenue. Photo from Style Blueprint.

Long story short, I toured a university campus recently—this is the spring of my junior year, after all. At one point during the tour, our student guide briefly praised the quality of the dining hall’s food by noting that it accommodates his preferences for organic produce and lean meat; he added that he is not a vegetarian, however, because he believes vegetarianism “too snooty.” Despite the passive and ultimately harmless nature of this remark, as a vegetarian, I admit I took minor offense. I choose this diet because I prefer plant foods to meat, just as my tour guide apparently prefers organic foods to inorganic. Am I superior to meat-eaters simply because I find tofu more appetizing than bacon? Of course not; such a claim is absurd, especially when I recognize the appeal: bacon, steak, Chick-fil-A sandwiches all taste good, but for reasons unknown, I can never shake the perspective that a dead animal, rather than dinner, sits on my plate. Call me soft, but a vegetarian diet allows me to avoid this discomfort altogether, which was the sole reason I switched to vegetarianism about two years ago. Even if my tour guide is acquainted with vegetarians who happen to be snooty, correlation does not equal causation, and I completely reject the notion that following a vegetarian diet inherently implies the arrogance of a person.

But I will pretend, for the sake of my next argument, that vegetarians are snooty. If this is true, how are those who prefer organic and healthier foods (e.g. lean meat) any less snooty than vegetarians? A stereotype exists of the certain hipster who only consumes meat-free, organic, and low-calorie foods, but if my tour guide bore this stereotype in mind when claiming that vegetarianism is “too snooty,” he obviously tailored his opinion so that it did not conflict with his personal dietary preferences. Actually, I would argue that the modern emphasis on organically grown and nutritious foods can be more exclusive than the emphasis on vegetarianism due to sheer numbers. It is inarguable that organic foods are more expensive than conventional food, and for people with limited budgets, it can be quite difficult to supply an adequate amount of calories from “health foods,” since labels with “low-carb” and “low-fat” often signify fewer calories at a higher cost; even lean meat at Kroger costs more than regular meat. A vegetarian diet, at least, can be adapted to fit a person’s budget: if pre-packaged baked sriracha tofu is too expensive, a 15.5-ounce can of chickpeas only costs $0.65 at Kroger and probably offers a similar nutrition profile. I don’t take issue with the fact that my tour guide tries to eat organic, healthier food, but I do take issue with his hypocrisy.

Admittedly, I can imagine my tour guide’s remark originating in annoyance with vegetarians who encourage their friends, or Westerners at large, to eat less meat. Generally, their arguments reflect concerns for physical health, the environmental impact of the livestock industry, and animal welfare—arguments which, for the record, are supported by scholarly research. (To give two recent examples, a study published in December 2018 in the European Heart Journal and funded by the National Institutes of Health found that those who ate a diet rich in red meat had triple the levels of trimethylamine N-oxide, a chemical linked to heart disease; an article published in October 2018 in Nature, called “Options for Keeping the Food System Within Environmental Limits, states that “the food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs.”) But even if my tour guide has a nagging vegetarian friend who constantly gets on his nerves, there was no reason for my tour guide to label vegetarianism as a “snooty” diet adhered to by snooty people.

So! Now that I’m fairly riled up, I’ll share an easy vegetarian pasta recipe in the hope that you will immediately quit consuming meat and become a vegetable fanatic. (I’m joking, but you should still make this. It’s cheap, customizable, protein-rich, and delicious.)