Why Go Vegetarian?

Last week was US Veg Week, and the Austin EcoNetwork wanted to see what it was all about. The group Compassion Over Killing (COK), a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., asks Americans to pledge to eat a vegetarian diet for one week – a week during which Earth Day also occurs. So what's the big veggie deal?

It all started with one Maryland state senator. In 2009, Jamie Raskin, who represents Tacoma Park in Maryland, was asked by a local reporter what his constituents might do to live a more environmentally-friendly life. He replied, “Everyone should go vegetarian for one week.” Picking up on a good sound bite, COK asked the senator to take on his own challenge. The senator agreed, and COK was able to persuade Tacoma Park to officially proclaim April 20-26 Veg Week. Each year, COK has repeated the challenge, and each year it has grown the event to include other cities and civic leaders. The group asks citizens to make a pledge with them online, and COK provides resources, recipes and coupons to make the experience as palatable as possible. But why give up ground beef? If you want to be more environmentally-friendly, why not install a new solar panel, or ride your bike to work?

As the name suggests, Compassion Over Killing has a soft spot for the cute little animals that become dinner, but they also recognize the environmental impact of a carnivorous diet. According to their own literature, “raising and killing animals for food is a leading, and perhaps even the number one cause of global climate change.” And COK isn’t alone in this perspective. At present, the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services are reviewing dietary guidelines that would advise Americans to eat less meat and to consider the environmental, as well as the health, effects of their diets. Of course, there can be problems with the way plant-based foods are harvested or produced, but perhaps the single most effective action an environmentally-minded citizen might take is to reduce or remove meat from his diet. And, to be sure, this is more than just a matter of cuisine or political conviction.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time.” This is what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to say on Tuesday in a meeting with officials at the Vatican. This comes ahead of an expected statement by the Pope in June that is widely anticipated to frame climate change as a moral issue. Climate change is “an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics,” said Mr. Ban, adding that “science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned.” In fact, the EPA has begun a study to see how churches might be an effective forum for engaging citizens in efforts to mitigate climate change.

Here in Austin, we like to think of ourselves as being pretty “green”. We’ve got urban farms, vegan restaurants, and bike lanes in our streets. The city is well on its way to a goal of “Zero Waste” by 2050, and we’ve even expanded our biggest party, SXSW, to include an “Eco” conference. However, we’re also a city of Franklin Barbecue, The Salty Sow, and a restaurant known simply as “Bacon”. And though US Veg Week is now over, there’s never a bad time to try to get a little greener and make room for a little more green on your plate.


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