I got a lot of people mad at me many many years ago by posting in a forum that I thought vegetarianism, which I was much more into at the time, was a very public-minded practice and that it was obvious to me that the more people were vegetarians, the better we’d be. The people who got the most upset were the vegetarians. The meat-eaters were indignant, which is a word I’ve always interpreted as “the kind of angry that feels great”. The vegetarians were just garden-variety angry. Some vegetarians keep very angry gardens.
The experience got me thinking about how much I agree with the principles that underlie vegetarianism (I still don’t eat meat, but haven’t talked about vegetarianism, much less actively promoted it for years) but hate the cloud of cultural detritus that follows vegetarianism around, such as its quasi-religious view of itself.
In the spirit of the modern Internet I thought I’d organize this post into a list of arguments for and ideas associated with vegetarianism I reject.
Vegetarianism is a personal choice
It’s not a personal choice, any more than no longer participating in illegal dumping of mining waste is a personal choice. The way I see it, what we call a vegetarian is just someone who has stopped an activity that wastes resources and pollutes, and for most people violates their own morals. Subscribing to the moral view that one should not harm animals unnecessarily is a personal choice. Consuming meat is a public health and environmental issue and its avoidance has a lot more underlying it than personal choice.
Most meat-eaters just haven’t made the moral choice to avoid hurting animals
I was aware of vegetarianism, considered myself animal-friendly, and ate meat for the first 2/3 or so of my life. The things that kept me eating meat were convenience and simple forgetting. It’s very easy to continue to make what upon close examination is an immoral choice when the moral component of the choice isn’t remotely on your mind – and when contradictions between people’s actions and their view of themselves as moral people are pointed out, they may change their behavior. If, when I still ate chicken, I was offered the choice between meal made with a chicken standing in front of me or vegetarian meal I think I would always have taken the vegetarian one, but I didn’t see the choice at the supermarket as the same kind of moral dilemma until I was in my 20s. Vegetarians who think of meat eating as a consistent moral preference for own gustatory satisfaction over animals’ lives and welfare are missing the real issue. Moral components of food are just not a factor in most people’s dietary decisions.
Vegetarianism is good for the environment
I disagree with the framing. Vegetarianism is not an activity or a lifestyle, or at least it doesn’t have to be. It’s something you do by default when you opt out of the extremely environmentally harmful practice of buying meat produced in a modern agricultural system. My framing is rather unpopular (for good reason; it would be terrible advertising), but I think it more accurately describes the relationship between meat eating and the environment. It’s a matter of doing less egregious damage, not helping.
Vegetarianism is more natural
“Natural” is a very loaded term, more nuance than meaning. If by “natural” in this case you mean “close to what humans have eaten during most of their existence as a species”, then vegetarianism is almost definitely unnatural. If you mean “less reliant on industrial food production”, then it depends on what kind of vegetarian food (or meat) you eat. Like “pure”, “natural” is a word that seldom refers to anything real and instead just connotes warm fuzzies. The benefits of avoiding meat don’t grant you of an evolutionary state of grace or bring you closer to the noble savage. It’s still industrial food, just a better version of it.
On a related note, faux meats are a triumph of industrial food production, and sometimes they’re even palatable, but they definitely don’t represent the best of vegetarian food. That, of course, would be curry.