I stopped eating meat about a year ago, after several years of slowly phasing it out of my diet. I went vegetarian primarily for moral reasons — both to improve animal welfare and to protect the environment.
Since going vegetarian, I’ve been surprised by how much resistance I’ve encountered. When I quit drinking alcohol, most friends were proud of me. When I quit eating animals, most took it as a personal insult.
I’ve heard a lot of arguments against vegetarianism over the past year, but the three most common are that it is unhealthy, unnatural, and costs too much. I don’t find any of these complaints particularly convincing.
“A Vegetarian Diet is Unhealthy”
The most common reason I hear for eating meat is that we need it to stay healthy. People wonder how I could possibly get enough protein or iron without animal products. To be completely candid, this was also a major concern of mine before I stopped eating meat.
Since going vegetarian, I’ve discovered that it’s perfectly easy to maintain a healthy diet even without meat. My biggest fear was a lack of protein, but I can easily get enough through lentils, beans, tofu, and similar plant-based foods. When all else fails, I can always drink a protein shake.
This year, I also started lifting weights more regularly. I’ve experienced a significant gain in muscle mass, even though I’m not eating any animals. There are more than enough vegetarian sources of protein.
Since I stopped eating meat, I’ve also paid more attention to my diet than ever before. The result is that I’m eating the healthiest diet that I’ve ever had. Millions of people across the world stay healthy while eating a vegetarian diet. To argue that it’s inherently unhealthy is absurd.
“Eating Meat is Natural”
Another common argument against vegetarian diets are that they’re unnatural. Humans evolved as omnivores — eating both meat and plants — so we should remain that way.
I certainly don’t deny that eating meat is natural, but I don’t think that’s a good argument against vegetarianism. The fact that something is natural does not mean that it’s ethical or moral. The lives that we live today are nothing like those of our prehistoric ancestors, and that’s a good thing.
It’s also worth mentioning that the way we eat meat in modern society is a far cry from “natural.” People eat much more meat today than they did thousands of years ago. Additionally, the animals they are eating are raised from birth to death on factory farms. They’re treated more like pieces in a machine than living, thinking organisms.
“Eating Vegetarian is Too Expensive”
Some people claim that a vegetarian diet is just too expensive. After going without meat for the past year, I find this claim laughably wrong.
I’ve spent less on food this year than ever before in my life. Meat is one of the single most expensive items in the grocery store. Vegetarian protein sources, like tofu and lentils, are a tiny fraction of the cost.
I think that there are two sources for this misconception: the first are high-end vegetarian restaurants. It’s true that there are many trendy meat-free restaurants that cost far more than most meat-based restaurants. These costs reflect the popularity of the restaurants though, not the underlying costs of the food.
The second reason that people think vegetarian diets are expensive is because of “substitution” style food: Vegetarian “chicken” nuggets, veggie burgers, and vegan “steak,” for example. These foods tend to be very highly priced because they are putting so much effort into imitating meat.
A vegetarian diet can be incredibly cheap, but not if you go to high-end restaurants or rely on imitation meat. The best way to go vegetarian and save money is to embrace classic non-meat foods: lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are all great, low cost options.
I’ve found that most of the arguments against vegetarianism don’t make sense after actually trying the diet. It’s easy to make excuses and keep eating meat, but most of them don’t hold up to scrutiny. Eating vegetarian has helped me save money and get healthier, exactly the opposite of what its critics claim.