There are many reasons why people choose to become vegetarians or reduce the amount of meat in their diet. I try to limit my intake of meat to about twice a month, while Laura does not reduce her intake at all. In this article I would like to explain some motivations behind vegetarianism and veganism in the context of spiritual growth.
Three of the most common reasons for vegetarianism are health concerns, a belief that eating animal flesh is "wrong", and environmental concerns. I would encourage you to think about the effects of your diet (whatever it consists of) on your body, mind, and planet. Even if you don't feel compelled to change your eating habits permanently, it can be a good exercise in personal growth to try a vegetarian diet for a week. You'll expand your comfort zone if nothing else.
Some people believe that a vegetarian diet is more healthy. Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight or suffer from heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (according to the American Dietetic Association). However, some argue that a vegetarian diet does not provide enough protein or certain amino acids, among other problems. Certainly, there are healthy vegetarians and healthy non-vegetarians, just like there are overweight vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The important thing to remember is that you can have a healthy diet with or without meat.
Many vegetarians believe that killing animals for food or harvesting milk and eggs is wrong. These ideas are often rooted in non-violence practices. As fellow earthlings, some vegetarians believe we are committing violence against our planetary kin by killing and subjugating animals. Many religions, most notably Hinduism, encourage and sometimes require vegetarian diets.
Other vegetarians believe that while there is nothing wrong with humans eating other animals as part of the food chain, it should be done as respectfully as possible. They might not eat meat regularly because they are unable to verify the source, knowing it most likely came from highly industrialized factory farms where the animals are not free to live as they would in a more natural state. This same vegetarian or meat reducer might eat organic, free range eggs because those chickens are (theoretically at least) treated more respectfully than factory farmed chickens.
Finally, there are vegetarians and meat reducers that have chosen their diets for primarily environmental reasons. There are plenty of statistics out there for those who are interested in that sort of thing, but I think common sense is enough to figure out that a meat based diet takes far more resources to produce than a plant based diet. Think of all the grain and water one cow consumes. Then think of all the waste a cow produces that finds its way make into our water supply. It is easy to see that it is much harder on the environment to produce a hamburger than a garden salad. If you add concerns about overfishing and clearing the rainforest you'll find a lot of compelling environmental reasons to eat less meat. I've reduced meat in my diet primarily because of environmental reasons.
When a vegetarian cites environmental or animal welfare reasons for their diet choices, non-vegetarians will sometimes say that one person does not make a difference. Don't let this kind of talk discourage you. First of all, if you believe something is right you should do it even if it will have no effect on the outside world. You'll feel better if you follow your conscience. Secondly, one person alone may not have an impact, but multiplied many times, one person can have a huge impact. Here in California, especially in San Francisco, there are always vegetarian options at restaurants. Grocery stores have whole sections devoted to vegetarian products. Every time you order a meatless dish or buy a veggie burger, you are sending a message. Twenty years ago there were far fewer vegetarian products, today we enjoy a wide variety because companies saw that there was money to be made. Every vegetarian purchase you make, strengthens the vegetarian sector of the food economy. You can make a big difference.
I suggest starting slowly. Stop eating red meat for a couple of weeks, then cut out chicken and fish gradually. It's not as hard as you might think. Personally, I eat meat a two or three times a month, usually when I am invited to dinner at a friend or relative's house. Maybe this will work for you too. If you like meat a lot, like I do, maybe you would eat meat once or twice a week. Your meat intake might change over the course of your lifetime. For example, when I was in the Peace Corps living in a small village I was thrilled to eat meat whenever it was available. You are the best judge of what kind of diet works for you.
Even a small change in your diet can make a big difference. Remember, even if you don't reduce meat in your diet, by purchasing free range and organic meat products you support the market for better treated farm animals. Every dollar you spend can be a powerful vote for change. Think about what you're voting for.