how I semi-accidentally became vegetarian

Animal welfare issues are really important to me, but somehow they have failed to make an appearance here so far. Allow me to rectify the situation. This is part 1 of a few posts on my adventures in plant-based eating.

Flash back to fall 2007. It was my first semester in graduate school. I was living alone and trying to be self-sufficient on a tiny budget. This meant eating all but one or two meals per week at home. And also, I didn’t know how to cook at all.

This was kind of a perfect storm, because meat is both expensive and tricky to prepare, and it resulted in a huge decrease in the amount of meat I was eating. At this point, though, I was hardly aware of my trend towards vegetarianism. In fact, I distinctly remember telling a friend sometime during that semester that I “didn’t get why people would choose to be vegetarian.”

However, by the spring of 2008, I had realized that I was becoming very nearly vegetarian, and I started eating meat only once per week and never at home. I planned to continue in that manner, except all of the sudden meat became absolutely revolting and I lost nearly all of my desire to eat it even rarely. I remember barely being able to keep some of it down.

Part of what caused me to become so disgusted by meat was that I had just adopted my first dog. In addition to being very cute and friendly, he had separation anxiety, as is pretty common amongst shelter & rescue dogs. I watched him experience full-blown panic attacks whenever I picked up my keys to leave the house. I already knew and believed the facts about factory farming conditions, but the suffering of animals was made vividly salient to me through my dog. So, I decided to be vegetarian for real by early summer 2008.

What interests me most about how this went down is that it’s a great counterexample to a commonsense understanding of moral psychology. Often, in both philosophy and just in general, we assume that people always deliberate, make value judgments and then act, and that value judgments and actions can usually or always be explained by some prior deliberation. But actually, often it’s the other way around. Your value judgments and deliberative processes can themselves be altered by ways in which you already act. This is to avoid cognitive dissonance, if I understand it correctly: the human mind generally tries to keep thoughts in coherence with actions, and that can entail adjusting either one to fit the other. In my case, this meant that I became much more receptive to philosophical arguments for vegetarianism apparently because I had already been eating that way.

In the near future, I’ll write on the next phase of my adventures in plant-based eating: the vegan period!

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