"I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals."
- Henry David Thoreau

I was driving from Atlanta to Charlottesville for the final year of my undergraduate career at UVa. All that summer–amidst the working, drinking, and recreating–my friends and I had been spending a fair bit of time at Taco Bell, sucking down 39 cent soft tacos.

Now, at that point, I had mostly lost my taste for flesh, and largely phased it out of my life. I bought no meat at the grocery store, kept none in my apartment in Charlottesville, and often passed that plate by in my father's house. Still, I indulged occasionally. Free hamburgers, or pepperoni pizza, were still more clearly "free" in my mind than they were "dead". Taco Bell had been another lingering exception, as it was so close to free, and also quick and tasty.

Full of cow flesh from one last lunch at T-Bell, I was bouncing through the mountainous stretches of Highway 81 west of Charlottesville. On the steep incline, I went to pass a slow-moving truck; it was actually a large pickup, towing a trailer. Inside the trailer were five cows (though there was really only room for four). They all had their necks bent at near 90 degree angles to fit into the cramped space. One was craning my way, and as I made eye contact with her, I realized she was terrified, in addition to crowded. As the truck bounced over the road, she struggled to keep her feet under her, and her eyes were wide with drawn out fear and discomfort.

"All the arguments to prove man's superiority over animals cannot dispute this one fact: in suffering animals are our equals."
- Peter Singer

All I could think at that moment was that they were taking this poor gal, and her friends, off to the Taco Bell factory, to replace the tacos I had eaten earlier that day. And, at that moment, I called an end to the carnivorous madness. I had looked into the eyes of the folks I had been eating, and I couldn't have them killed for my lunch any more.

The original (and recurring) question was "Are you a vegetarian for health, or moral reasons?" The answer is that I am vegetarian for health, moral, taste, environmental, and economic reasons, and for every reason in the world. The question of what to eat seems to me to be a fairly straightforward one, and the answer doesn't involve the flesh of dead animals. Why I (or anyone) would want to slaughter an innocent creature, and then poison my body with its flesh, is the question–and one for which I have no answer.

"When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores."
- William Clifford Roberts, M.D., Editor-in-Chief
of The American Journal of Cardiology

My other is answer is that I will only kill in self defense, or in defense of friends and family. I will not kill the innocent. Much less will I pay others to do my killing for me, and have the victims live and die very badly, as they do on American factory farms.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I believe in animal rights as well as human rights. I think that is part of being a total human being."

- Abe Lincoln

"To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of the lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."

- Mahatma Gandhi

Given these my feelings on these issues, is the question of why I'm a vegetarian starting to feel a little naive? And is the question of what to eat starting to look a little bit like a no-brainer to you, too? If not, well, don't sweat it, because we've only scratched the surface of why killing and eating animals is abominably bad for you, for the animals you eat, for the Earth's ecology, and for the other people on the planet. Read on as I destroy various objections to vegetarianism; defenses of carnivorism; and misconceptions and fallacies about the consequences of the meat habit.

Before we dive in, let me provide the obligatory links to resources: David Siegel's essays on vegetarianism, which I favor; and the Vegetarian Pages, which include, or link to, most everything else.

The following is excerpted from lively and long running email debates, which generally pitted me against several dozen carnivores at a time. I'm regurgitating the email, because these debates were very effective in forcing me to get my facts and position in order, and also because I think I was pretty successful in laying out the case for vegetarianism. (Actually, I tend to think I cleared the field like the Israelis mopping the Negev with the Egyptians in 1967, but I could be biased.)

Round 1, 1994

Mostly focused on health issues.
Round 2, 2002

Mostly the ethical issues.

Almost convinced? Okay, one last thrust: Not to put too fine a point on it, but (after over ten years of vegetarianism) I'm increasingly of the mind that the killing and devouring of the tens of billions of animals we kill and devour each year is a great evil. I use the term with apologies—but very thoughtfully. The facts about the tremendous problems created by the flesh-eating habit (health problems, environmental problems, economic problems) have long been documented here. But a couple of things have strained my sanguinity about the whole thing, lately. One was the philosopher Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation. In it he outlines an ethical position in regard to killing animals. He quotes Jeremy Bentham:
The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of the tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason nor Can they talk but, Can they suffer.

Singer goes on to conclude, in regard to the animals we eat, who have nervous systems that are virtually identical to ours physiologically, that "If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration." He suggests that, "What we must do is bring nonhuman animals within our sphere of moral concern and cease to treat their lives as expendable for whatever trivial purposes we may have."

I've long believed that we will all be vegetarian one day. But I've lost patience with the slaughter. So, today, I am politely asking you—yes you—to go vegetarian. To stop torturing, killing, and eating the other animals. If you want, do it for the health reasons. (Vegetarians have the lowest rates of coronary disease of any group in the country, a fraction of the heart attack rate, 40% of the cancer rate, and outlive non-vegetarians by six years.) But please do it. (I'll even be happy to help any way I can.)