I started writing for Ecorazzi last December, and since then I have probably penned somewhere between 500-600 posts about all of the lovely things people in the entertainment world do for green living, charity, humanitarianism and animal rights. While I’m sincerely passionate about all things green, my specialty is vegetarianism and how it affects the world around us. I believe that simply by making the switch to a vegetarian diet, one has the power to help solve many of the world’s most colossal problems. So today, on World Vegetarian Day, I’m not going to write about Natalie Portman or Ed Begley Jr. or even Alicia Silverstone. No sir! Today I’m going to share with you why I make the decision everyday to get out of a down-free bed, put on my non-leather shoes and rock the hell out of a tofu scramble. Let’s begin.
I never wanted to be a vegetarian. That is, I never set out on some sort of mighty quest or anything like that. As a teenager my cousin was a hardcore vegan and I still have vivid memories of dangling gristly pieces of white meat in front of his face at every Thanksgiving dinner. “YUMMMY,” I’d taunt. “This dead turkey tastes SOOOOOO good, Ben. Don’t you want a piece of this delicious dead turkey?” Oh how things can change! Really, my road to vegetarianism — and later veganism — was paved by an ex-girlfriend, an ill-prepared chicken dish and a dash of immediate gratification.
I still remember the date: January 23rd, 2001. It was my ex-girlfriend’s father’s birthday and we were at a fancy restaurant in downtown St.Petersburg, Florida. My ex was a vegetarian, and even though she never forced her beliefs on me, through natural boyfriend/girlfriend osmosis my ears naturally perked up at any five-syllable word beginning with the letter “V.” Still, while I was supportive of her choice, there was no way in hell that I would ever BE a vegetarian! I loved my meat and that was just that!
Anyway, we sat down at the restaurant and I — like always — ordered some random chicken dish. When the food finally arrived, I grabbed my knife, cut the breast and popped a giant piece of familiar flesh into my mouth. Ah yes, the tangy burst of juicy chicken flavor and then…wait a second…WTF? All of a sudden I started feeling sick…REALLY sick. With each bite I took, the spit-drenched chicken tasted more and more like how I imagined my hand or foot might taste if marinated and prepared in the same fashion. “Maybe it was just that bite,” I thought. So I took another, and then another and by the fourth I honestly couldn’t stomach anymore. After dinner I made the decision to go vegetarian for 3 weeks until this whole “human tasting meat thing” blew over.
As I began to eat differently I immediately noticed a dramatic shift in my mood. I’ve always had a ridiculous amount of energy, but living sans meat had boosted my endurance to what seemed like superhero levels. My skin felt cleaner, my body felt stronger and my head was clearer than it had ever been. At night I slept like a baby, and each morning I awoke fresh and ready to start my day. It makes sense that I was feeling healthier since it’s been scientifically proven that vegetarians have lower rates of high blood pressure, type two diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Furthermore, vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and have only 40 percent of the cancer rate that meat-eaters do. Oh yeah, meat-eaters are also nine times more likely to be obese than vegans. OK, so maybe vegetarianism WAS agreeing with me, but what’s with all this vegan talk? I certainly would never go down THAT road!
Then, two weeks later, I found myself reading a few chapters of Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover and within minutes I was so disgusted by the thought of dairy products that I swore off the food group right then and there. Eggs followed shortly and by high school graduation I was totally vegan. And that was 7 ½ years ago.
I saved up my money and bought every book I could find on the topic. I devoured the words of John Robbins, Howard Lyman, Erik Marcus and Joanne Stepaniak, just to name a few. While I’d always been somewhat of an environmentalist, I had no idea that raising animals for food generated more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. I also wasn’t aware that eating just a single pound of beef has the environmental equivalent of driving more than 40 miles in an SUV. Oh crap! I felt like I had stumbled upon some lost treasure of information and I craved its bounty as ravenously as I had once craved that quarter pounder with cheese.
Each day I seemed to uncover something new. Oh my God, it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 POUND OF BEEF?!! Oh my God, the Smithsonian Institute estimates that every minute of every day, a land area equivalent to seven football fields is destroyed in the Amazon basin for animal production?!! Wait, animal production? What does that even mean? Animal production, animal production, animal production…what in the world was this animal production thing? How did I not know more about the very industry I had spent 18 years silently supporting?
I began to watch videos and read stories about the pitiful conditions that 10 billion farm animals are subjected to each year in the United States. I learned about vivisection, mulesing and debeaking. I discovered how horrible factory farming is — not only for the animals, but for humans and the planet as well.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “ This is insane! I’m surprised there hasn’t been more animal advocates throughout history.” Oh wait…there has! Turns out that amazing people like Louisa May Alcott, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Pythagorous had all rocked the vegetarian diet. Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” The first time I read those words, everything just clicked. Tolstoy was so right! If we as a society are willing to accept violence in any form, then we must be willing to accept violence in all forms.
My days of veganism turned into weeks then to months and finally into years. I stopped buying leather and then wool. I started working in vegetarian establishments, getting involved with animal rights charities and eventually working for Ecorazzi. While some people think vegetarianism is too restrictive, I argue that it’s just the opposite. To me being a vegetarian is about abundance: an abundance of clean air and fresh water, an abundance of good health and an abundance of compassion.
As I write this post on the eve of World Vegetarian Day, I can say with crystal clear confidence that making the choice to go vegan has been the single best decision of my life. It’s on days like today that I recall the words of my fellow vegetarian, Mahatma Gandhi, who reminded us all that, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Today I can say with great humility and conviction that I am proud to be one of the many in this world who are working for that change, and even prouder that I get to spend my World Vegetarian Day with all of you wonderful Ecorazzi readers. Happy holidays, you guys!