Some years ago, I had a change of perspective on being vegetarian. The fact that I am a vegetarian was not the thing that changed, but it was the why that did.
I found it odd that while the term “vegetarian” gives a somewhat clear definition in terms of what such a person eats, the reasons that various vegetarians give on why they are vegetarians takes some form of “I don’t want to be cruel to animals”, leaving aside those who are vegetarian by habit and don’t care. The reason I found that odd is that while a vegetarian is someone who eats veggies, why a vegetarian is so is expressed as what the person does not do. I wanted to connect better with what I eat and I wanted a reason for being vegetarian that did not involve referring to what I did not do. After all, I don’t describe myself as a “non-murderer”.
To get started, watch the following clip in which Richard Feynman explains where plants get their material.
So the substance of trees and plants got built up through the mechanism of photosynthesis. Light from the Sun provides the energy necessary to separate Carbon atoms from Oxygen atoms in the CO2 in the air. The Oxygen is returned to the air and the Carbon stays back in the plant. This is what plants do during the day, and they do the reverse during the night, when so much light isn’t available. The reason they build up Carbon therefore is that the former process happens just that bit more than the latter. Plants don’t need so much energy to sleep during the night, and they convert the surplus daytime solar energy into their material.
Realizing that changed me.
Today, when I eat – yes, practically whenever I eat – I think about where the energy I use comes from. To eat food and immediately know that it came from light and air was (and is), for me, a delightful way to connect to the cosmos. Not too far in the past, the energy in this morsel came from a fusion reactor that’s so far away that light takes 500 seconds to get here from there. It is also a connection across time, because that light was created in the core of the sun from where it takes about 170,000 years to reach here. Then there is air, that Earth so delicately holds captive for us through her gravity.
So, for me, food isn’t categorized into just two buckets, but is on a scale of separation from the Sun. Plants are the closest, and of those, leaves feel the closest since they are the very site where this wonderful transformation takes place. Milk, eggs and such are one step removed and are as far as I’m willing to go. The meat of herbivores is further away on the scale and that of carnivores is even further away on that scale.
I am a vegetarian because I love and want to be as close to the Sun and the Earth as possible.