How financial stability (might have) led me to become vegetarian

For much of my life, I was a dedicated “whatever-ivore”. I ate meat, because I ate everything.

I wasn’t one of those people who ate bugs and the like, but it was part of my identity that restricting my food intake based on anything (non-medically required) was something to be scorned.

I have now been a vegetarian for almost a decade now. What in the world changed?

Some catalysts

I can recall the two events that correlated with my gradual slide into eliminating meat from my world.

One of them was reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Which is kind of interesting, in that Michael Pollan is himself a fairly committed omnivore, and the book is not a vegetarian treatise in the slightest.

But the book did get me to think about the process of learning where food came from, and asking the question, “what should I eat?“.

Another event was going to India. I traveled around Andhra Pradesh and Goa and Mumbai, watched all the street vendors and shops, and ate at all these hole in the wall shops, and thought to myself, “wow, what these people can do with a bunch of vegetables!

After that trip, American food just felt so…boring.

Then my income changed

Then, at the same time, my income changed.

I got a job that not only more or less doubled my income, putting me squarely on the far side of median household income myself, but also fed me free lunch four days a week.

This was a far cry from my once-a-month shopping trip to that Pathmark in Gowanus just a few years before, where I would eke out food for a month by buying cheap foods in as much bulk as possible. (Usually frozen meat products that had been breaded.)

I now could, or at least it felt like I could, eat anything. Which led me back to the same question: what should I eat?

Why vegetarianism?

The reasons to become vegetarian are wide-ranging: ethics, health, environmentalism, social justice, and more.

But to be honest, the one reason that pushed me over into the veg camp wasn’t any of those; it was boredom. Vegetarian food forced me to be more creative and expressive. I couldn’t just put a slab of meat on a plate and called it good. Food became something interesting in a way that it hadn’t been for me before.

Granted, the benefits were there too. Who wouldn’t want to reduce their carbon footprint, or not contribute to the suffering of billions of animals and millions of workers?

But that was all (vegetarian) gravy. (Sorry.)

The ability to reflect, and then change

Increasing your income gives you the ability to make more and different choices.

For the first time, I had the ability to think about decisions I hadn’t ever let myself think about before. And what allowed me to even think about these things?

I believe it was my income.

When I was barely making ends meat (sorry), things were so tight that questions of what should I eat didn’t really fit. I ate what I could, as cheaply as I could, because that’s all I could afford to do. I mean, I had my preferences, but I was scraping by, and optimizations didn’t really have a place.

And that became part of my identity. Just like being poor was part of my identity.

And then that changed.

It wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It took a year or more for the transition to take place. And it hasn’t been without permutations and adjustment.

But once I had the mental and financial space to ask myself what I really wanted, to add intentionality to my food, I got some different answers than I had gotten before.

The statistics

I’m not going to extrapolate here. I know the numbers don’t support the higher-income-leads-to-increased-vegetarianism trajectory that is my anecdotal experience. Look at this statistical graphic from Forbes:

Source: Forbes

The numbers seem to show that as I make more income, I’ll be less likely to be vegetarian. Or maybe not, I’m not totally sure of the methodology.

But if there is a conclusion that I’m willing to draw here, it’s that increasing your income gives you the ability to make more and different choices. Not just about where or what to eat, but what is important.

And remember, income isn’t just about how much you make. For example, if you are no longer paying $1,000 a month in credit card debt, your income just went up.

What decisions might you make differently if you paid off that credit card, or that car loan, or that other nagging financial dilemma you have?

Aren’t you curious to see? That’s an idea I’m trying to plant.


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