Thinking About Going Vegetarian?

The following article was written by Dr. Jenn Berman, a marriage, family, and child therapist in private practice in Los Angeles.

There is a movement in this country toward more conscious eating—eating that requires thought about how food choices effect the environment, how animals are treated, and, of course, how food affects our bodies. It has been estimated that 7.3 million adults follow a vegetarian diet, and of those, 1 million are vegan (meaning they do not eat any animals or products that come from animal sources, such as milk and eggs). Experts are reporting that more and more children are choosing to go vegetarian, and more parents are opting to raise their kids without meat.

Best sellers like Skinny BitchEating Animals, and Food Rules have caused people to become more conscious about their food intake on a deeper level. According to a poll done by Vegetarian Times, the following statistics are true:

  • Forty-six percent of people polled reported that they chose to become vegetarians in order to be healthier.
  • Fifteen percent made the switch for animal welfare reasons.
  • Twelve percent switched as a result of the influence of family or friends.
  • Five percent switched because of ethics.
  • Nine percent switched for other reasons.

Gone are the days when parents had to worry about their vegetarian kids having poor nutrition. Today’s markets, specialty stores, and online stores are filled with nutritious vegetarian options. It just takes a little more time, research, and reading to make sure that your child is getting a balanced diet—but it is worth it. There are many reasons for you to considering going vegetarian:

1) Avoiding disease and increasing lifespan

I don’t know about you, but I want to dance at my grandchild’s wedding, and I hope that my children will live well into the triple digits. In fact, research shows that vegetarians and vegans have far lower risk of heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, kidney disease, obesity, and colon disease. Research at Loma Linda University has found that vegetarian men live, on average, about seven years longer than their meat-eating counterparts. European studies have shown that vegans may live an additional 15 years over the animal-eating population. “The China Study,” which is considered to be the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, found that people who ate the most animal-based foods had the most chronic diseases and that those who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and had the fewest chronic diseases.

2) Inhumane treatment of animals

When I was 10 years old, I saw a documentary on slaughterhouses and never ate meat again. Once you are aware of—or even more powerfully, witness—the slaughter of animals, it is difficult to eat meat ever again. It is also difficult to explain to your child why he or she should not pull your dog’s tail but why it is OK to put animals in some of the cruelest imaginable conditions—as is done on factory farms, which account for 99 percent of all animals eaten in this country—and then slaughter them mercilessly. According to one worker at IBP, the world’s largest meat-packing company, “Workers can open the legs, the stomach, the neck, cut off feet while the cow is still breathing …. I would estimate that one out of ten cows is still alive when it’s bled and skinned.” John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, estimates that number to be closer to 90 percent.

Girl Embracing Chicken in Field

We work very hard to disconnect from the truth of what we eat. We call cows “beef” and pigs “pork” in order to protect our children from the truth that we don’t want to face ourselves. When a friend’s insightful 3-year-old son asked if the chicken he was eating was like the chicken he had seen on a farm, she was at a loss for words. As hard as it is, children deserve accurate and age-appropriate information. Some may argue with me that telling a child that the chicken he is eating was once just like the one he saw walking on the farm is not age appropriate, but I disagree. Young children don’t need to know the details of the slaughter, but they deserve to know where their food really comes from.

3) Environmental impact

Meat production is harmful to the planet, and our children need us to keep it in good condition for their future. Research has shown that animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Factory farming also creates a huge amount of toxic sludge. According to the WorldWatch Institute, the population of animals raised for food produces nearly 89,000 pounds of excrement per second, which is 130 times the waste of the entire human population of the United States. Disposing of all this animal waste is problematic for the planet. While there are very strict laws about the disposal of human waste, equivalent laws do not exist for animal waste. Because of agricultural waste emptying from rivers and tributaries into the Gulf of Mexico, there is a “dead zone,” where there is no oxygen in the water and where the water cannot sustain any life. In 2008, this dead zone was reportedly 8,000 square miles.

Factory farming also uses incredible amounts of water, which is one of the Earth’s most important resources. According to the Water Education Foundation, it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. By comparison, it only takes 23 gallons to produce 1 pound of lettuce. Based on these numbers, Robbins estimates that you can save more water by not eating 1 pound of beef than if you skipped your daily shower for six months.

4) Avoiding toxins

A recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that people who frequently eat poultry and beef have higher levels of PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenylethers), a common flame retardant, in their blood. How did flame retardants get in your food? These chemicals are everywhere: in children’s pajamas, mattresses, computers, TVs, furniture, upholstery, rugs, draperies, home electronics, and car interiors. They leak into the environment through the air, are carried by dust and water, and enter the food chain. These hormone disrupters have been linked to impaired memory, hyperactivity, infertility, and abnormalities of coordination. The study found that vegetarians had PBDE concentrations that were 25 percent lower than omnivores.

Because fish are known to be a great source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, parents tend to be especially pleased when their children are willing to eat fish. But it is important to note that mercury-contaminated fish are the main source of human exposure to this toxic heavy metal. While freshwater fish and large, long-living fish generally accumulate the highest levels, a government test of fish pulled from nearly 300 streams in the U.S. found that every one of them was contaminated with some level of mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin especially dangerous to neurological development in infants, children, and fetuses. The study found that 27 percent of the fish had mercury levels high enough to exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for those who eat fish twice a week.

5) Contaminated food

If you think that thoroughly cooking your child’s burger is an assurance that he will not get a foodborne illness, think again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food borne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella still sicken an estimated 76 million Americans each year. Approximately 325,000 people are hospitalized, and 5,000 die. Many are children. Since her 2-year-old son died from eating a tainted hamburger, Barbara Kowalcyk has devoted her life to advocate for safer food. But in many ways, she is fighting an uphill battle. In 1998, the USDA gained the power to be able to shut down a meat plant for the repeated presence of salmonella and E. coli, but the federal agency has since lost that power because of lawsuits from the meat and poultry industries.

There have been cases in which E. coli was found in fruits and vegetables, but they were contaminated by water containing cattle waste. And E. coli is most commonly found in ground beef. According to Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer organization, slaughterhouse workers kill and gut as many as 350 animals per hour and are under tremendous pressure to work fast, causing errors such as the puncturing of the intestines, bladders, and bowels during cutting, which releases waste matter that ultimately gets ground up into burgers. As Eric Schlosser reports in his powerful documentary Food Inc., mass-produced ground-beef hamburgers are composed of pieces of thousands of different cows. If one of those pieces of meat is contaminated with fecal matter, the whole lot is contaminated. According to Gail Eisnitz, author of Slaughterhouse, it is not a question of “if” there is fecal matter in your family’s meat, but “how much.”

Make That Change!

Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, you stand a good chance of making a difference in the health of your family and the planet. It’s good for animals too. You can save more than 100 animals each year by switching to a vegetarian diet.


Food has a lot of emotional meaning for most people, and making changes, even when you want to, can be challenging. It can be helpful to get educated about vegetarianism and nutrition and also to share books with your child that reinforce the new family plan.

Click here to visit Jenn’s blog to view a complete list of suggested books for parents and children.

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  • Laurence Burris commented on February 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Great written and visual essay. It brings the message home.

  • Johanna commented on February 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Going vegetarian was the best decision I have ever made. I wanted to be healthier and show that I do not agree with how animals are treated in factory farms. I was overweight and unhealthy but since going vegetarian I have lost 85 lbs and I feel better than ever. I know I am doing something good for myself, and I feel better knowing I am not contributing to the continued abuse of animals and the environment. I encourage everyone to try it, it is much easier than you think.

  • Marianna Steel commented on February 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I go “vegan” tomorrow, February 18, 2011, first for animal welfare, second for my health, third for the planet.

  • pablo commented on February 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

  • aviongirl commented on February 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I went vegetarian at 16 and gave up all animals, but I still ate milk and eggs. I would eat tofu several times a week. My hair started to fall out. My doctor gave me the choice to continue being a bald vegetarian or start eating meat again. For selfish reasons I started eating meat again. I just think people should be aware of the possible downside.

  • Harry Potter commented on February 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 3 years, I don’t eat eggs, fish or any other kind of meat. However, people are always telling me that eggs are vegetarian because they come from an egg, but I disagree saying that it could have become an embryo which would become a chicken…. can I get some help here please? Are eggs vegetarian?

  • vivek commented on February 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    I think the comment saying that being vegetarial leads to baldness is completely false. Then 40% of India would be bald. Switch over to Indian vegetarian diet and you will not feel any loss from not eating meet.

  • MythologyGirl commented on February 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

    @aviongirl, did u consider that it was maybe your lack of iron, or you werent getting enough protein? When you go vegetarian or in my case, vegan, you have to makes sure you are eating a balanced diet. It is only a possible down side if you dont eat properly.

    @ everyone who want to go vegetarian/vegan: I have been vegan for almost 5 months and I feel sooooooooo much healthier. My mom has been vegetarian since she was 8 years old and she has never had any problems. If you are not feeling healthier on a veg/vegan diet, talk to a NUTRITIONIST not a doctor because they have more knowledge about what you might be missing food wise but help you maintain a veg/vegan diet, doctors just tell you to eat meat.

  • musikchick commented on February 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I’m not quite a vegetarian (& never will be fully), but i did want to point out that this article didn’t mention that cutting back on meat also helps with weight management. I still like to have a regular helping of protein, but i’ve noticed that not eating meat every meal or day helps me from feeling too full too often. And i noticed i really don’t miss it as much as i thought i would.

  • iyer venkat commented on February 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Vegetarianism is fundamental to Spirituality ! i am from the Pyramid Spiritual Society of India founded by my Master Brahmarshi Patriji of A.P. India. PSSM is committed to the spread of Vegetarianism and Anapanasati Meditation all over the World.Pleased with your site and it’s message ! thanks a million!

  • Elizabeth Otteson commented on February 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    I am very anemic, and I am worried that if I give up meat completely that I wont get the iron that I need. What would be a good vegetarian solution to getting enough iron in my diet?

  • Keitorin commented on February 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I became a vegetarian 5 months ago. I’m not quite a vegan, but I rarely just drink plain milk and eat eggs.
    I talked to my Mom about not eating meat and she agreed to do it for two weeks. Hopefully at the end she will realise how much better being vegetarian is(:

  • Jenny commented on February 22, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Im 13 and I want to be a vegetarian, how should I explain this to my parents

  • EMILY commented on February 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I am only 15 and I have fully made the decision to go vegetarian (For me, my health, and the welfare of all animals.) After seeing the video titled “Meet Your Meat”, it changed my life forever. I always kind of knew what went on in slaughterhouses, but I never thought it would be THAT horrific. Animals are in a sense like us, human beings, friends. I feel like asking people that do harm to animals if would you like it if someone slit their throat while they were still breathing. This article was very inspirational and only makes me want to help animals even more. Thank you PETA, for turning me in the right direction. 🙂

  • Karen commented on February 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve been a vegetarian for a while now and was wondering if anyone knows any good foods to try to make or books with recipes to boost protein? I’ve had to be hospitalized three times this year due to a very low blood count and anemia brought on for not eating meat (according to my doctors). I don’t want to start eating animals again because I don’t agree with it morally, but I’d also like to stop ending up in the hospital. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

  • MissNiss commented on February 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Since January 3rd of this year, I’ve been a vegetarian. I started for ethical reasons, and thought it would be difficult. As my 30-day pledge came and went, I realized that I really enjoyed being a vegetarian. I feel much better, physically and emotionally. I’ve recently decided to make the conversion to a full-on vegan, and although I’ve had bad days vegan-wise, I will keep on trying. Thanks PETA for all your informative articles and great recipes!!

  • aviongirl commented on February 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

    @MythologyGirl, you are probably right, but I don’t think I even knew what a nutritionist was at 16. Probably with more effort, I could have maintained the vegetarian diet. @vivek, maybe some people react differently to it than others. I went to 3 different doctors and 2 out of 3 said it was definitely the lack of protein which my body needed. I did lose some weight, so it wasn’t all bad : ) I bet most people can handle it just fine though. I just think it is something to keep in the back of your mind because for a girl, it is terrifying to lose a lot of your hair.

  • Ann commented on February 25, 2011 at 6:07 am

    I live in Denmark and became a vegetarian a year ago. It has been – and is – a real struggle because I’m constantly being questioned or mocked by family and friends. I don’t know any other vegetarians or vegans, but I think it’s easy to make delicious food without meat, and I have made vegetarian meals for friends who were genuinely impressed with how good it can taste. But they keep on eating meat just as much because that’s what everybody does. If I start speaking about vegetarianism or ethical treatment of animals they get really mad at me. The social rule is not to think or speak about it because then they can pretend it doesn’t exist. It is not because they don’t know. I think most adults are aware of the horrible conditions farmed animals live in, but they just choose to close their eyes to it. It makes it hard for me to respect or even like them and that doubles my feeling of loneliness. Is there any advice for someone like me?

  • MommieAllie commented on February 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Ann, I know how you feel. I’m the only vegetarian in my family, even my husband eats meat. He is supports me with my choices but he still wants me to cook meat for dinner. Its hard. I told my mom recently about what I changed and she took it as a personal insult to her! I don’t understand it either. Its like if they see someone standing up for their believes they feel so guilty that they just want to stop feeling it and do whatever it takes to get it out of their faces. Its so sad. But don’t give up!!! Just think of all the animals that you aren’t harming! Let that be your strength and the fact that the rest of the vegetarian community is here with you!!

  • chander kumar soni commented on February 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

    proud to be vegetarian.

  • Margee commented on February 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I have been a vegetarian for two years. I have never been a big meat eater but after watching EARTHLINGS I can’t eat meat again, it disgusts me to chew it and also be aware of the suffering of these poor animals. My friends keep telling me, where is your protein? My Dr. says she thinks meat is part of a healthy diet. Any info?

  • Rosie commented on February 28, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I am 17 and turned vegetarian 4 months ago after watching videos of how animals are mistreated in factory farms. Going vegetarian has definitely changed my life for my parents had a very hard time accepting the fact that their daughter is now a vegetarian, yet I feel proud of myself for doing what I can to help animals.

  • yumyumgirliegirl commented on February 28, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Dark green veggies have a lot of iron, also consider using a cast iron pan to cook in! My husband and I have been vegan since last May and while it has not been as difficult as I thought, I def understand the social pressure factor to the worst. I am completely happy and healthy (yup checked with the doc) I just wish people would realize that my lifestyle choice does not have anything to do with them.

  • hairyharriet commented on February 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Losing hair could be from taking the birth control pill, not consuming enough calories, etc. Going vegan/veggie does not make you bald. Doing the transition to a plant based diet at a young age and without support or proper research into nutrition, can be bad for the person and the cause. Try to do as MUCH reseach as possible. French fries can be vegan/veggie, BUT you can’t be healthy only eating french fries. Good luck, be smart and save animals lives!

  • Victor Mikov commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Here are more than 10 reasons for choosing a vegetarian and/or vegan diet:

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    mommieallie…do you buy cigarettes for your husband too?…do you let him drink all of the time too?…does he read playboy and watch porn too??…wow…i lay down the law in my family since im the matriarch…you need to be too…

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    aviongirl…you cant just eat tofu…soy needs to be non GMO and soy also needs to be organic…otherwise youll be eating tons of pesticides…and that could cause your hair to thin…besides causing cancers…drs wont tell anyone the truth about meat and pesticides…im surprised you believed the dr without doing research…

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    margee…drs wont tell you the truth about meat and pesticides…and cancer from meat dairy and pesticides…its shocking…if you want to be healthy than stay away from meat and dairy

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    jenny…explain to your parents that going vege is a moral issue…an ethical issue…the real motives for going vege should be about animal cruelty and animals belong to god

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    karen…hurray for you for not being fooled by the drs…i have to fight the anemia issue too…brazil nuts oranges potatoes and the darkest fair trade chocolate work on me…and its imperative that i get non GMO pesticide FREE potatoes or id be defeating my purpose…do your research and fight out what foods work on you…trial and error…and stay away from the drs…talk to a nutritionist

  • Janita commented on February 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I am an ovo-vegetarian (eats no meat or dairy) and am on iron tablets due to iron deficiency anaemia which is not necessarily due to my diet. I am worried about what it’s going to be like if I ever want to get pregnant. I don’t want to have to sacrifice either my beliefs (I love animals and don’t want them to have to die) or my or my child’s health. Is it OK to rely on iron tablets both when I am not pregnant and especially when I am? Does this invalidate my vegetarianism? Also, I am finding it very hard to find vegetarian men where I live (in Australia) so my future husband will most likely eat meat. What do I do if he wants me to eat meat or cook him meat, or feed our future children meat?

  • candy commented on February 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    ann…being a vegan is about cruelty to animals…its a spiritual decision to be vegan…those that feign ignorance about cruelty to animals are not spiritual…its their loss not yours…stay spiritual and spiritual people will find you…

  • Elsje Massyn commented on March 1, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I turned completely vegetarian from being a pescatarian for over a year, since December 2011 (vegetarian) because I love animals completely & totally. I never knew that being a vegetarian is such fun. I used to hate cooking – but now that I am doing the whole veggie-thing, its has become an adventure & joy to cook – even my husband, who is still a meat-eater has started joining me and are enjoying my cooking surprizes. I have also noticed that my thinning hair is beginning to thicken again and my bloated stomach has returned to normal. Most of my friends love and admire the fact that I have turned away from meat and I can see the desire is there to follow, but the will to do that hasnt kicked in yet. But the message is spreading and the hearts are changing – I am praying for the day that they will all take the next step and MAKE THE CHOICE, but I cant force them to do that. Thanks PETA for making the public aware of whats really going on in the meat-industry!!

  • Jo commented on March 1, 2011 at 1:33 am

    I have always been a vegetarian and don’t know otherwise! I would love to see a VEGAN supermarket here in Bangalore, India. I am in the process of convincing a friend of mine to go completely vegetarian and GOD willing I will succeed.

  • Bre commented on March 1, 2011 at 6:52 am

    This was a great article,,,Im going to share this with others! I agree that going vegetarian or vegan is a spiritual decision. It is having the insight to recognize that animals have the same rights to live as we humans do and that God put them on this planet for us to love and receive love in return. I love animals and even though I still struggle with ‘liking’ the taste of meat….I just dont eat it because I respect the animals more then ever these days.

  • candy commented on March 1, 2011 at 10:30 am

    janita…what ever you do, do not eat meat and dairy…its been proven that the pesticides would harm the baby…i wouldnt take any kind of pills, especially when pregnant…do some research and find what foods are high in iron…and stay spiritual (by staying away from animal cruelty) and a spiritual man will find you…

  • Donna commented on April 4, 2011 at 6:49 am

    thanku peta for making me aware i am appalled i have eaten meat for so long and these poor animals are enduring such horror and making me aware of the dairy industry my son is willing to switch to soy and my other son is going to switch as well my eldest son has always been vegetarian as he sensed the animals did not want to die he makes me proud and so do u peta

  • Kelsang commented on April 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Gosh I feel like a douchebag since I’ve been eating meat for 14 years, god damn!

  • Sweety commented on April 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    I’m 13 and I love animals. I’m a peskitarien. But I keep buying nonveggie foods by mistake like I brought a aero bar today not knowing it had whey powder in and were’nt veggie.Any tips???

  • theheadlessclown commented on December 5, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    i’m 13 and im ready to go vegetarian. as a buddhist, it is part of my religion. i also hate the cruelty to animals… ;( one person at a time, we can stop animal slaughter… go vegetarian!!

  • sam commented on September 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Hi there, I have only just gone vegetarian having finally taken the blinkers off and watched the videos and read a book on where our meat comes from . I have a 6 year old daughter and I would love her to become vegetarian too – up until now she has loved meat.
    I’m wondering whether there is anyone on here who as explained to their child where meat comes from, the cruelty etc. I’d love some advice.