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Time's long since passed to retire dated stereotypes of vegans and vegetarians like me 

click to enlarge Meat eaters: please don't hate. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Meat eaters: please don't hate.

I'm a proud vegetarian and, occasionally, a half-ass vegan.

If the substance of the previous sentence provoked a overwhelming itch of annoyance or frustration; this one's for you.

How the words "vegan" and "vegetarian" came to elicit such a dramatic response from you folks, I'm not sure. I can guess it probably has something to do with traits often associated with plant-based diets: (usually) white, smug, wealthy and maybe sporting a head of matted dreadlocks.

Regardless, it's not uncommon for someone to roll their eyes at me and snap, "Oh, so you're gonna get pissed at me for eating a steak?" when I share I've gone meatless, especially in the Inland Northwest, where I grew up.

I'm here to tell you I won't judge you for sinking your teeth into that hunk of meat. But I do want to share some reasons why I've chosen to eliminate meat from my diet and reduce my dairy consumption, if only to bridge a little bit of the gap between the two of us.

Research has shown that our dietary choices have environmental impacts. Though there is still debate over how much a vegetarian or vegan diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a whole, we do know it helps the planet by reducing demand for an underlying mega-producer of environmental damage that's been identified in all studies concerning dietary choices: the beef industry.

The production of beef far outweighs environmental ramifications of most food products due to several factors, including the methane cows produce, the sheer amount of global land use it requires and the large amounts of water necessary to keep up productions.

These aspects of the industry terrify me, crowding my brain with paralyzing fear for our planet. Haunting images in documentaries like Cowspiracy and Food Inc. of clustered, overcrowded livestock bred to be killed have also kept me from indulging in meat products.

Eliminating meat from my diet was an easy choice. I wasn't a huge carnivore to begin with, and as a 15-year-old, the title of "vegetarian" set me apart in my small North Idaho high school. But I'm not ignorant to issues in maintaining a majority plant-based diet. Meat alternatives can be very expensive and inaccessible. The act of hunting, farming or eating meat may be culturally important to some groups. Others may not be able to live a healthy lifestyle without the consumption of meat. I'm sure there are endless points to argue.

Admittedly, though not often, a sudden craving for a big, greasy slice of pepperoni pizza will pop out of nowhere. Even after six years, I struggle to keep my hands off of chicken fingers. But the thing I miss the most? Beef stroganoff. Weird, I know. But if it reduces even a teeny-tiny portion of my carbon footprint, and maybe a little bit of animal suffering, throwing out all that goodness is worth it to me.

I will never judge someone for being a meat-eater, though, because I simply don't know the reasons why you do what you do. At the least, hearing my side of it might encourage you to have a "Meatless Monday" every once and awhile. If so, that's great, too. ♦

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Veg Life"

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