This article, from last Sunday's New York Times, nicely articulates one of the main reasons I am a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat almost seven years ago, for the relatively adolescent reason that I just didn't like it anymore. It probably helped that two of my best friends were vegetarians - and their parents, also non-meat-eaters, were gourmet cooks.
Since then, the argument of distaste has been superseded by more refined ones: it's healthier to be vegetarian, and it's better for the environment. Plus, I don't miss meat at all - being a vegetarian is not a question of self-deprivation.
You can yell at me about not getting enough protein, how my muscles will disappear, blah, blah, blah - that's not what this post is about. For the record, I get plenty of protein, and when I don't, it's because I am eating like a typical med student (read: junk), not because I can't find meat-free protein sources.
Think about it: meat is basically processed food. Take raw fuel (soybeans, oats, wheat) and feed it to a machine which will require use of energy, water, and land before giving you a product - which itself will have to be processed again to be useful. This doesn't even take into account the waste produced by said machine. To be fair, I should probably stop eating processed meat substitutes like commercial veggie burgers and energy bars – but I find it hard to believe that these have anywhere near the environmental impact of commercial meat farming.
The following excerpt sums up the Times article's main argument:
Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the
The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
You can call me a yuppie bleeding-heart-liberal for this post, but I don't care: at least I'm consistent. I am always claiming to care about the environment, but in my everyday life I'm pretty wasteful (still use that car, dry my clothes in the dryer, etc).
Not eating meat is probably the single best thing I do for the environment. If you are trying to find ways to be more environmentally conscious, you might think about doing likewise. At the very least, you could stop buying your chicken breasts in styrofoam packages.
(Note: one day I could post the boring-but-valid Top Ten Reasons to go Vegetarian, or - this would be funnier - Most Ridiculous Things People Have Ever Said to Me about Eating / Not Eating Meat.)
 At some point I'll look for data on these, or on which favorite habit of the leftist youth is actually better for the environment (recycling versus vegetarianism).