I love meat. Bacon, ham, steak, sausages, salami, hamburgers, lamb, veal, chicken...it's all delicious. In general the worse it is for me, the more I love it. Deep fried and breaded beef is one of my very favorite foods, and then of course there's bacon. In an alternate universe, I would eat bacon with every meal. It's even good with chocolate! (Have you had a Vosges bacon chocolate bar? They are amazing.)
Unfortunately for my taste buds, I became interested in the ethics surrounding food, due in part to one of my very favorite bloggers That Wife, who has written quite a bit about her food journey. Reading my latest book on the subject (Just Food by James McWilliams) has convinced me that the only morally justifiable option is to drastically reduce the amount of meat I eat. So I talked to B about it, and he is fully on board (he has never liked meat as much I as do in any case): we are now a (mostly) vegetarian household.
I say mostly vegetarian because I am not actually giving up all meat. I will still eat it for special occasions: holidays, dinners out, and so on. The difference is that it will now be a rare treat (on the order of once a month or so), seen as an costly and decadent indulgence, rather than an essential food group or part of the daily routine.
So why am I making this switch? For environmental, economic, and social justice reasons.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I have been aware for years of the terrible cruelty and suffering involved in meat production. While this makes me sad, it was never a sufficient reason for me to give up meat, even of the factory-farmed variety. The whole of nature is based on cruelty and suffering (being devoured alive by lions is a lot more painful than being processed into hamburger), because that's how the food chain works. Meat really is murder, but that's not because industrial meat production is evil; it's because all living organisms kill in order to live (even in the plant kingdom). It would be better to reduce this cruelty through humane slaughtering (and raising) methods, which as highly intelligent, technologically sophisticated creatures we have the capacity to do, but ultimately that's all it would be, a reduction in suffering.
I also never was convinced by the argument that we could feed all the world's hungry with the grain that otherwise goes to cows, pigs, and chickens. First of all, a lot of that grain is not really fit for human consumption (being specially genetically engineered, grown and produced just for animals); secondly, the world's hungry are not hungry because there is too little food. They are hungry because systemic income inequality means they can't afford to buy the abundant food available (in other words, it's not worth the farmer's while to sell it to them for the price they can pay).
The real problem with meat is that it is tremendously wasteful of resources: it consumes huge amounts of water, millions of acres of farmland, and immense quantities of fossil fuels, while producing truly stunning levels of air, water, and soil pollution. None of these resources are going to increase in quantity. This means that if we use X amount of acres for meat production, we cannot use them for anything else. By eating large quantities of meat, you are choosing a world geared around the needs of farmed meat animals. I find this prospect tremendously unappealing. I prefer a world full of biodiversity, wilderness spaces, clean water and air, where people aren't forced to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions (because if the land is taken up by meat production, it can't be used for living space/recreation/environmental balance).
I don't believe that there is anything wrong fundamentally with the consumption of luxury goods, as long as you are paying a fair price for the effort and resources required. The problem with meat is that you are not paying this price, because the undeniable environmental and social costs are not factored in. In fact, in many places (including the US), the opposite is true, with meat producers receiving artificially-lowered prices for water, land, and energy thanks to subsidies and government handouts. It's as if every meat eater is putting most of the cost of their meal on a credit card, except that payment comes from either the poorest and most vulnerable (those who have to live next to the meat packing plant), or from future generations.
So I have to impose such a "cost" on myself, which means pretending as if meat cost an incredible amount of money. I can only "afford" to eat it occasionally as a result. Since it's now so expensive, when I do eat it, I plan on making it count! Vosges bacon bars may still be in the future, but McDonald's is no longer worth the price. I suppose this will have the additional benefit of improving the taste of my overall diet?