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Best of PETA Prime: Why Do People Go Vegetarian?

Posted by at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Why Do People Go Vegetarian? by Lisa TowellOne of the most effective ways to prevent animal suffering is to encourage more people to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. What inspires people to make this change? I’ve tried to understand the motivations so that I can be a better advocate for animals.

People stop eating animal foods for many reasons, and often vegetarians will discover additional benefits to their choice once they’ve made the switch to plant-eating. Rationales for vegetarian and vegan diets fall into three categories: compassion for animals, personal dietary preferences, and concern for sustainability and justice.

Compassion for Animals

For many people, the decision to not eat animals is motivated by compassion for animals who are raised for food. The vast majority of cows, pigs, and chickens in the U.S. live and die in appalling conditions on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.  As one vegan I know puts it, “I’m not willing to pay other people to do things to animals that I’m not willing to do myself.”

Most people are horrified by cruelty to dogs and cats. When they find out that farmed animals are also sentient beings with the ability to feel fear, pain, and joy, they realize that their diet is inconsistent with their values.

Personal Dietary Preferences

Health concerns drive many people to go vegetarian. Many people know about the increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer,  and obesity that results from eating meat, dairy products, and eggs. Food safety issues are constantly in the news, and a vegetarian diet is an easy way to decrease the risk of exposure to food poisoning and mad cow disease.

I have many friends who simply don’t like the taste or texture of certain meats. And there’s the “yuck” factor too—some people won’t eat the meat of animals like rabbits or horses, or meat that includes heads, feet, or tentacles. Religious beliefs can drive dietary preferences also. Several major religions prohibit consumption of certain animals or encourage a vegetarian diet as a way to live a more compassionate and spiritual life.

Sustainability and Justice

More and more people are going vegetarian or vegan out of concern for the impact of meat-eating on the environment and on other humans. Whether they are worried about climate change, water pollution, feeding the hungry,  or conditions for workers,  many people find that a vegetarian or vegan diet is a great form of personal activism.

I’m fascinated by people’s “how I went vegetarian” stories. Some have a sudden epiphany and stop eating all animal foods overnight, while others gradually give up animal foods over a period of months or years. But most people remember the moment when it all began.

“I was eating a steak while looking into my dog’s eyes. All of a sudden, the inconsistency made me put down my fork.”

“I saw a sign that read: ‘Farm animals never have a nice day.'”

“I found out that people don’t need to eat meat to be healthy.”

“I was telling some friends about how awful vivisection is, and one of them asked me how vivisection is different from killing animals for food.”

“Someone handed me a leaflet. I had no idea that farm animals were abused like that!”

“A friend served me an amazing vegan meal.”

What’s your own story?

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  • Jamie says:

    I always knew in my heart when I was younger that I shouldn’t be eating meat. I remember being little, drowning in thoughts about the poor animals on my plate, getting myself upset, and being punished for not eating my dinner because I suddenly couldn’t stomach the thought. Throughout my teenage years, I ate less and less meat until finally I realized that eating meat was a CHOICE. I stopped making excuses for myself and went cold turkey, and I will never go back. I have now been three weeks vegan, for both health and cruelty-free reasons. It’s proven to be a bit more difficult than giving up meat, but I’m determined.

  • Jenny says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 14 years. I cannot pay another to do, in my stead, what I would not do with my own hands.

  • Scott Gurstein says:

    One day just before Thanksgiving, in the fall of 1999, I was listening to a radio talk show online, and host’s topic was based on the premise that he “intended” to procure puppies and kittens from the animal shelter, take them home, kill them, and cook them for food. Callers were horrified, and he asked one after another what the difference is between their beloved dog or cat and a cow, pig, chicken, or turkey. Not one caller to this host could provide a satisfactory, coherent, rational, or consistent answer. Over the next few days and weeks, I mulled over the disconnect, trying to resolve the conflict. I could not do it, and came to the conclusion that I would either have to support the idea of people murdering cats and dogs, including my own cats, for any reason they saw fit…or I would have to quit eating meat. I had to choose one or the other in order to stop living a lie. I removed all meat except fish from my diet in November 1999, and stayed with that diet for another 10 years until October of 2009, when fish was removed as well.

  • Millicent Mann says:

    OMG, The guilt became too much to bear!!

  • Karen Pittenger says:

    It all started when my husband and I got in to the food industry. I began to learn the things most people do not know. Now, there are probably about two dozen or more specific reasons that on their own would have me a committed vegan for life. Not the least of which is that I will not co-operate with the fraudulent food system that is destroying our world willfully. Wild horses, buffalo and wolves swept out of the way by the BLM to make it more comfy for cattlemen. Right there, reason enough. Hidden away facilities with increasingly horrifying scenarios that only get worse BECAUSE civilized humans have relinquished their responsibilities, which gives full creative freedom to the sadistic. Reason enough. The challenge has never, never, never been to my palate, it has been to my social, civilized existence. How to honor love, which cannot discriminate-no matter how angry I am at the worst aspects of our society, my love for all humanity will not be betrayed-and continue to champion truth every moment, is my holy grail.

  • Jennifer says:

    Like Cath, I live in Canada, near farm country, and on my way to work I see tractor trailers of cows and pigs going to slaughter. Seeing those poor animals spending their last hours in a foreign, cold, crammed truck, makes my cry every time.

    That vision is with me every time I see meat being served.

  • Tammy Karaba says:

    I had quit smoking (finally) and loved the way that I felt. I decided that I wanted to improve my self in my everyday life and looked for ways to change to help me feel good spiritually, physically and mentally. I started to get involved in Abolishing Capital Punishment because I felt that we shouldn’t kill people that killed people. Then a bright light went on and I realized that we shouldn’t kill animals either for any reason. I then decided to stop eating meat and eventually I realized that not only should we not eat meat but we shouldn’t eat dairy or eggs (even if its organic)… Although, part of our vegan activism is to persuade people that must eat eggs and dairy (until they see the light and go vegan) to only purchase from people that don’t harm the animal in any way. I personally cannot handle the idea of eating anything that an animal produces from its body, its just gross. And on another note I really don’t think God wants anyone to devour animals for consumption of food in any way either (that includes their milk or eggs). Some people actually say that God put animals on this earth for us to eat. I don’t think so!! Anyways, I have never felt better in my life, spiritually, physically and mentally!!! My cats are even vegan (well I feed them vegan food I am not sure what they do when I am gone at work).. Oh and by the way I didn’t stop eating fish completely until I stopped eating eggs & dairy. Now that I am vegan I know that any animal (to include fish) that we kill to eat suffers dearly & so do we.

    I think back to lots of things that happened in my life (pertaining to eating meat) and one thing I remember is going to a fair in the Los Angeles area I think it was (I was eating meat then). I went to look at the farm animals that they had there. There was this one pig there and he looked very stressed out and scared and I wondered why. Now I think back and I know why he was scared because he was going to die soon and be eaten and he knew it. It bothers me that I didn’t see things that way back then, that I thought it was normal for people to eat animals and didn’t see how bad animals suffered. Now I try to spread the word every chance I get to help people see the truth about eating animals and basically try to snap them out of their brainwashed ways.


  • Rachelle says:

    When I was 10 I asked where the meat came from and my mom told me that it came from animals. I was so saddened that people ate animals that are no different from my pets that I couldn’t stand to eat meat anymore. It’s been almost 17 years now and I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. I will never be able to understand how people can be so oblivious to the meat industry or just not care about the suffering these animals go through. It absolutely breaks my heart everytime I see semi trucks with all the animals packed in there. I cry everytime. And when I go to the market and walk by the meat department I have to plug my nose because it just smells like death…

  • Ellie says:

    After watching a video from PETA showing a cow being moving by a bulldozer it made me sick. I was still eating meat at the time and when I bit into the hamburger the vision popped in my head and I spit out the meat and threw the rest of my meat away. When I was a child the pig truck use to come down my street. They were all crammed together and a pigs eye caught mine and I ran in and told my mom the pig was crying and asked where were they going. She didn’t exactly tell me.

  • Dazzle59 says:

    I read “Diet for a New America” while living in England in the late 1980s. This groundbreaking book opened my eyes to the cruelty of the animal foods industry and I immediately stopped eating flesh and eggs for ethical reasons. I knew no other vegetarians at the time and thought I had to double up on dairy products to get enough protein. Vegetarian Times magazine became my mentor – its articles and recipes were invaluable. After moving back to the States in the early 1990s, I eliminated dairy products and embraced the vegan philosophy. I became an animal rights and environmental activist, and an avid supporter of the organic and local foods movements.

  • Patricia Todd says:

    Visiting two slaughterhouses in Wisconsin many moons ago strongly impacted my move to go ovo lacto vegetarian. But it was reading Will Tuttle’s book, The World Peace Diet that struck me the most strongly. I realized that I had indeed been choosing blindness (regarding the ramifications of eating dairy and eggs). Learning about/facing the suffering the animals endure throughout their abridged lives and realizing that the commodification and exploitation of these animals conditions us (humans) to dominate, subjugate and oppress others, he had me at page 9. From then on, I went vegan. And I AM LOVING IT. It is absolutely the best move I have ever made in my life.

  • cath says:

    I suppose I was lucky, in that i had a role model in my boyfriend at the time I became veggie. And one day, while out shopping, a cold, windy Canadian March day – i saw a truck load of chickens being shipped – their wings were sticking out of the crates and bending back & forth in the wind as the truck drove by. The site just struck me and I knew I was part of the reason they were there. that was almost 33 years ago…and about 17 years in (yes, some of us just don’t get the whole picture for a while) I became vegan after a visit to Farm Sanctuary. now it is just a matter of fact for me and it saddens me to know how animals are treated so people can eat their flesh.

  • Charlene says:

    It was a week before Thanksgiving, 1989. I kept seeing local or national newspeople standing infront of live turkeys saying how “one of these guys may be on your table next Thurdsay” and I thought…what the heck are you doing Charlene? Thanksgiving Day came. I was at my parents. I only took a small piece of turkey but filled up on all the rest of the goodies. I didn’t feel deprived at all – just guilty. The next day is I became a vegetarian. I’m now vegan, which was a whole lot tougher to switch to. After many tries and many failures, I made it.

  • Charlene says:

    It was a week before Thanksgiving, 1989. I kept seeing local or national newspeople standing infront of live turkeys saying how “one of these guys may be on your table next Thurdsay” and I thought…what the heck are you doing Charlene? Thanksgiving Day came. I was at my parents. I only took a small piece of turkey but filled up on all the rest of the goodies. I didn’t feel deprived at all – just guilty. The next day is I became a vegetarian. I’m now vegan, which was a whole lot tougher to switch to. After many tries and many failures, I made it. And if for some reason, I go to a restaurant where there is nothing “vegan” or someone takes the time and effort to make me something that isn’t quite “vegan”, I thank them and will eat “vegetarian”. People first thought I was crazy, and wouldn’t be able to keep it up, but now I think they respect my decision. After 22 years, they have decided they not gonna change me. Hopefully I’ve been able to at least make some people stop and think about what they are eating. I know my friends sure do love my vegan zucchini bread!!

  • Vivien Smith says:

    I read a quote from Paul McCartney: ‘If abatoirs had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian’.

  • Michele Stipe says:

    There’s a great reason to go vegan for the love of animals. How can we love them and want to eat them at the same time. I became a vegetarian because of my love for animals not for health or anything although that’s also a bonus to go vegetarian but it wasn’t my reason anyway.

  • Cheryl Dare says:

    I first went vegetarian out of concern for the fear and pain involved in the slaughter process. I gradually became aware of factory farms and the extreme cruelty of CAFO’s and further reduced my consumption of animal products. I also attended a veterinary technology course and saw first-hand a small dairy CAFO. I have worked for several years on becoming Vegan, eliminating products one at a time. I’ve also become very aware of the damages to the environment caused by animal agriculture. I doubt I’ll ever be a true Vegan because I have tried it and found it very rigid and confining. Besides, I don’t like egg-replacer.

  • Taylor says:

    When I was 12 I was at an upscale steakhouse, waiting to be seated, when I noticed the lobster tank. I realized that they were just sitting there, waiting for death. After being seated, the table next to us ordered a lobster and 15 minutes later one of the lobsters I was observing was served on a plate. I vowed that the steak I ordered would be the last dead animal I eat.

  • Carolina says:

    I saw the documentary “Death on a Factory Farm” and it killed me. Couldn´t stop crying and I decided I had to stop.

  • vegetarian says:

    I saw a goat being killed, then I decided to be a vegetarian!

  • Kellie says:

    When I was five, I visited a steer farm my aunt owned where I found out where really beef came from. It didn’t come from cows, it came from THESE cows. I told my mom I never wanted to eat meat again. She thought I’d grow out of it and forget, so she told me when I was 10, I was free to make my own choices. I’m now 25, and still meat-free and I don’t ever look back.

  • Well said Lisa! You wrote exactly how most of us vegans feel. Since I was four years old I could not stand to eat meat, and while I was fed certain animals as a child I made the decision as a teenager to stop eating animals. Each day that passes as I think about humans eating animals I am more convinced that it is wrong for all the reasons you wrote on your posting.

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