Veganism: a choice for some but not for everyone

Next week we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, which for most people includes feasting on plenty of slow roasted turkey.

The turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving feasts, big meals for entire families. It’s traditional to eat plenty of food in the middle of the day, have some pie later when there’s room for it, and then enjoy left over turkey for several days in sandwiches.

A small percentage of people have to take a different approach. Those who are strict vegetarians need other options on Turkey Day.

I’ve wondered how they handle it. Something like a Thanksgiving lasagna would need to be one in a million to compete with classic turkey and trimmings.

I guess maybe they don’t need to plan any main dish. They can enjoy almost all the rest of a Thanksgiving feast; the potatoes, the green bean casserole, the salads, the cranberries and lastly pumpkin pie.

Still they have to defy a time honored tradition. To many people, a meatless diet seems defiant all throughout the year. It doesn’t make sense to those who anchor most of their meals with meat products.

When I worked as an environmental educator for soil and water conservation districts, I’d sometimes get asked by grade school or high school students if I was a vegetarian.

I’m guessing the question was prompted by what they’d heard at home about vegetarians and environmentalists. There was usually noticeable approval from the questioner when I’d reply that I enjoy meals with meat.

I didn’t know any vegetarians when I was growing up. I met some in college and in my years as a young professional.

They choose a vegan diet for several possible reasons. Sometimes it’s because they see it as a health conscious choice with less fat and cholesterol. For others there’s a desire to save on the costs of food.

Some vegetarians see it as a moral issue. They consider it morally wrong to kill a living creature, or to raise animals in order to market them as food.

It’s a question that often gets posed in general studies philosophy classes at universities. The philosophy professor, who often isn’t a vegetarian himself, poses the question to students if the meat they consume contradicts the belief that it’s wrong to kill.

A class normally delves into both sides, including the idea that domestic livestock have the stockyard as their destination in life. It’s pointed out that modern breeds wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for many centuries of domestication of cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry.

It’s valuable for agriculture and the food industry to promote the nutritional value of meats. There’s a need to respond to moral concerns of vegetarians with facts as to animal nutrition, veterinary care, and state of the art livestock barns.

When all is said and done, I don’t feel guilty about eating turkey on Thanksgiving or ordering a steak in a restaurant. Four of my favorite things to cook for myself are pork chops, chicken, ground beef, and bratwurst sausage.

I also sometimes enjoy a vegetarian meal, something like a heaping plate of spaghetti, a vegetable stir fry, or a chef salad with a wide range of ingredients.

Diet is a highly personal choice. Everyone should be able to choose what they want for whatever reason. It’s good to respect the choice of vegetarians, and they in turn should accept the choices of meat eaters.

The only social pressure that should be applied to food is the need to make choices that reflect good nutritional standards. There’s a need for a balanced diet with grain, vegetables, protein and all other dietary needs.

The question of whether humans should have moral qualms about being at the top of the modern food chain is something that can never be factually proven on way or the other. It’s simply a values-related decision.

It shouldn’t be foremost on anyone’s mind next Thursday. Hopefully both turkey eaters and vegetarians will have a pleasant holiday, with lots of great food and an abundance of fellowship.


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