This question has come up in my day-to-day life as well as through the interwebs: Are you a vegetarian? Why not? and if you’re not, why don’t you eat more meat??
Despite the many vegetarian friendly recipes used and loved by The Chili Pepper Apron, I’m not actually a vegetarian. I just happen to enjoy a good vegetarian meal as much as any true vegetarian. I also happen to enjoy a good steak as much as any true carnivore. I’m stuck perfectly into the Om-nom-nomivore category of diets.
So why the higher ratio of veggie meals to meaty meals? And for that matter, the almost non-existence of beef based meals? It comes down primarily to Biology and Conservation. I’m a conservation biologist by both practice and degree. So I tend to view things from that mindset and with a scientific view point.
Biologically, eating veggies has a higher energy conversion rate than eating meat. That’s why there are generally a lot of obligate herbivores (think wildebeest) but very few obligate carnivores (think lions). It takes more wildebeest to feed lion than it does grass to feed wildebeest because the energy the plants obtain from the sun is lost as you go up the trophic levels.
(Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)
As you go up in trophic level, you lose ALL but about 10% of the energy of the previous level. And even the plants don’t do a very good job of capturing the sun’s energy.. generally around 1% is actually captured and stored.
So if you think of it in human terms: SUN 100% -> Plant 1% -> Cow 0.10% -> Human 0.01% Where as if you just ate the plant, you now get that full 1% all to yourself! …Okay, you actually don’t because part of that energy is used to break down the food itself. Which is why things like celery are generally considered a “negative calorie” food. It takes more energy to digest the stick than it gives you because it has a high cellulose/fiber content. But you still end up with more direct energy than if you just ate the cow. You also get fewer calories because that fiber content takes up more of your stomach and takes more time to break down than that burger meat does.
So where’s the beef then? They’re an obligate herbivore!
If you read back through my posts, you’ll see I tend to lean toward fish (secondary consumers like salmon) or chicken (insectivore/herbivore). This doesn’t seem to make as much sense compared to eating cattle if you base it entirely off the trophic levels talked about above. That’s where my conservation mind comes in to play.
Environmentally, eating cattle is less “green” than eating chicken. That’s mostly due to the size difference. Yes, a 400lb heifer is going to produce more waste than a 8lb chicken, but they also need more space! Plus the beef culture has been driven to the moremoreMORE standing causing a destruction of many native species and habitats globally in order to create more grazing land for herds while at the same time moving towards unusual feeding practices of the cattle. You generally never heard of a herd of cattle raiding the farmers corn field, more so they go after the green leafy stuff. That’s because they are ruminants that are supposed to primarily eat tough-to-digest grasses, not easy-to-digest corn.
You can also find humanely raised and environmentally friendly protein sources in the poultry/fish industry a lot easier than in the beef industry. Though the beef industry is starting to catch up! Free-range chickens are relatively easy to find now at many major grocery stores and farmers markets. Also, the backyard chicken movement (also called the Urban Chicken movement) is growing and growing fast! On the fish front, organizations like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), Blue Ocean, and Monterey Bay Aquarium have made it easy to figure out which fisheries are safe to harvest and eat without causing major harm to the environment or your family.
And finally the reason I don’t do a lot of beef dishes.. beef makes my stomach hurt. :(
So why do I even eat meat at all if I’m not going to eat a lot of it?
Biology and personal choice. Human dentition allows us to be omnivores. The species as a whole would not have survived and developed the intellect we have without some animal protein in our diets. But the key word here is: SOME. I do eat meat, but within reason. The human body is not designed to process a piece of steak the size of your dinner plate. Nor is it supposed to be able to eat a whole chicken every day. Three ounces of meat or protein is the recommended amount for each meal. That’s about the size of a deck of playing cards. Or if you look at the palm of your hand, it’s the flat, meaty surface excluding the fingers, thumb, and wrist. That’s it! By eating that amount, we can control our caloric intake and also our environmental impact. Not to mention it leaves more room on the plate for those veggies.
As for personal choice, that’s just it: My choice and decision that I’ve made that I enjoy some meats well enough to not exclude all meats from my diet. I have many friends that are vegetarians either by choice or necessity and while I do commend them and respect that choice, it’s not my choice and thank them for not being the type of vegetarian that tries to be pushy. I also thank them for their excellent recipe collections and for being willing guinea pigs to try out my latest veggie friendly recipe!