Not eating animals doesn't create new habitats, plant trees, or reduce overpopulation. It doesn't mean that vegetarians have a positive net impact. This is particularly true if someone is a vegetarian who buys products with genetically modified, unhealthy soy or supports other examples of bad business.
As the evidence rolls in, it's clear that the average vegetarian is healthier, happier, and harming less than a carnivore. But outside of killing, the overall impact has less to do with eating or not eating meat and more to do with the source and process of creating either. There are meat-eating farmers who are less destructive than vegetarians living in a city. There are vegetarian farmers who use pesticides andare more destructive than carnivores living in a tiny city apartment who live on pasta dinners.
When comparing ourselves to others, it's easy to feel good, but if we're honest, this feeling is unmerited. Just because I'm not doing wrong doesn't mean I'm doing right. Taking into consideration transportation, waste, energy, and other factors, many vegetarians still have a negative overall impact as high or higher than carnivores.
Because so much of our impact is relative and based on individual habits and circumstance, it becomes more about self-evaluation and improvement than black-and-white finality. I'm a vegetarian and I think it's a great decision. I'd highly recommend vegetarianism as a way to start a journey towards improvement and responsibility, or just to kickstart an existing journey. If someone is already a vegetarian, she should look at veganism. If someone is a vegan, he can look at other consumption habits. It's a never ending improvement cycle that is more about the trip than the destination.
For those of you who think it's too much of a hassle, I understand-- I disagree, but I understand. I would never trade current enjoyment for the pleasure of hypothetical people in the future. It's up to the people of the future to make the most of their lives no matter what the circumstance, not mine. At the same time, the more I learn, the less I want to hurt others and the more genuine and fulfilled I feel in being responsible and taking into consideration others beside myself in an intelligent and educated way. Obviously, some people are happier destroying the earth, living irresponsibly, and controlling others for their own gain. The earth needs these wild cards, arsonists, jokers, and psychopaths if only for destruction and rebirth, or to follow every branch to its end on our evolutionary journey. I think the majority of us, however, are most content contributing to the well-being of others. The issue is more about education, healthy debate, and people having the courage and strength to examine their lives and do what is best in the face of institutional opposition than about the legitimacy of ignorant excuses.
Realizing and understanding, with empathy, that our behavior is contributing to the economic slavery and physical suffering of people around the world is a gift, not a burden, and the path to reduce hurtful behavior is a reward, not a sacrifice. This isn't just a matter of controlled perspective, it's about tapping into who we are and what we are. It's the journey of creating peace and finding a place in the universal system that created us.
**This is the last full weekly post in a series of posts on being a vegetarian in which I tried to write about down ideas and answer questions while avoiding the cliche topics of the lifestyle. Click on the "eating animals" tag above to read past posts.**