The Reluctant Vegetarian

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Here are a few honest truths:

1) I enjoy eating meat.
2) I have no moral objections whatsoever to the eating of animals.
3) As of about three months ago, I am a vegetarian.

The combination of 2 and 3 tends to be what baffles people. So let me explain. Last year, as a second year historian, I took a course called ‘In the Face of Humanity: Equipping the 21st Century Humanities student for the 21st Century’. The course is open to all humanities students and is taught by a collective, drawn from a range of disciplines, all seeking to introduce the students to what they feel are the key issues facing humanity today. The course description begins like so:

‘The challenges facing us are greater than ever. These include an increasing potentiality of foreclosure on the human experience in the near future, not least through accelerating global warming. This course starts out from the premise that academics have a responsibility to inform students where we are at, and in such a way that they can make informed, sane, non-violent responses to the challenges before and around them as they enter into adulthood.’

Needless to say it was a fascinating, eye-opening course. The seminars and lecture topics ranged from the politics of water to public health and migration, each lecturer bringing their own unique perspective as a result of their research.

So what’s this got to do with vegetarianism?

Well as you can probably imagine, pretty much all of the issues we discussed were our (as in humanity) own fault. It was enough to make anyone feel ashamed of the human race. Some of it I could claim no part in. But a fair amount of it I could. You know where I’m heading… climate change.

Save for the last bastion of sceptics, it’s pretty widely accepted that climate change is happening, and it’s the result of human actions. Most people accept this, and most of these people recognise that their own actions are damaging the environment. But what can you do? Stop using electricity, stop using any products made with oil (including computers, aspirin, contact lenses and toothbrushes)? To completely avoid anything that may contribute to climate change would essentially require going to live in the wild with no clothes, no health care, nothing remotely modern. Hardly practical whilst trying to get a degree or hold down a job.

And so I figured the two things I do that are the worst- driving and eating meat. Driving we all know is bad. Meat’s affect is less widely known, but put simply- livestock need a lot of food, a lot of water and a lot of land (both to live on and to produce food). All of these things are increasingly scarce. Plus there are food miles. And cow farts. In 2009 the Worldwatch Institute claimed that over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the meat industry. (http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf)

So I decided it would be easier at the moment to give up meat than my car. I haven’t decided yet if I was right about that… sometimes I hate being a veggie, usually in restaurants when I fancy everything on the menu except the three vegetarian options. But I’m gradually learning how to make decent veggie food, and it’s actually pretty good. Plus cheaper and on the whole healthier. I could tell you more about the learning curve that is living without meat, but I think that would need a whole other article.

So there you go… not all veggies are animal rights fanatics, and sometimes you can get more from lectures than a nap.

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Discussion9 Comments

  1. avatar

    ‘So there you go… not all veggies are animal rights fanatics’

    …suggesting that anyone who has objections to an industry that transforms millions of sentient beings into products to be used, exploited, tortured and finally murdered is a fanatic then? Your wording is pretty insulting to say the least. This entire piece seems to be little more than a platform for you to show off your ‘holier than thou’ attitude whilst all the while mocking anyone who does the same or better on ethical rather than environmental grounds.

    Congratulations on taking a small step toward ‘ethical’ living in the name of purely selfish self-interest though.

  2. avatar

    Congratulations!

    …on being so ignorant. Did you know that cars are machines that produce a hell of a lot of CO2? Probably a lot more than you cooking your meals. Also… you are not making any difference at all… just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean there are any less cows out there farting away, supposedly destroying our planet.
    I think if you’re really so bothered about climate change, you would make more of an effort… i.e. ditch the car and stop moaning about being a vegetarian.
    I don’t really see what you wanted to achieve by writing this article, because it’s not exactly as if you have made a gallant and bold decision against all odds… a lot of people are vegetarian and don’t feel the need to rant about how they “hate being a veggie”.

    Oh and about the “learning curve that is living without meat”, don’t bother writing that article.

  3. avatar

    The last lines of your article are completely ridiculous and utterly offensive to say the least. You manage to take something that people firmly believe in and mock it.

    You are right, not all ‘veggies’ are ‘animal rights fanatics’, most vegetarians do however, do a lot of research into the ethical and moral issues that surround the meat industry. To be as basic as possible, as a result of this research, they decide they would prefer to not contribue to said industry and stop eating meat.

    Considering you have decided to become a vegetarian because of ‘cow farts’ I don’t really think you’re in any position to take the moral highground, and the ‘I’m doing something good’ attitude that’s shining out of your article.

  4. avatar

    Yep, good for your Grace. This shows that there are plenty of reasons to become vegetarian.
    Think you’ve annoying Veggie Club though, as they believe the reasons they became veggie should be your reasons also.
    Being vegetarian is just something you do, not something you’re part of. I don’t eat tinned spaghetti. I can’t be bothered to explain the relevance.

  5. avatar

    Benjamin and Loren, that Grace doesn’t make the ethical claim that you do doesn’t mean that her effort isn’t the most ethical way to win a veggie world.

    Rather, for many people, the top priority is to stop climate change. According to an overwhelming consensus of climate experts, the world has only 5-10 years to stop irreversible, catastrophic climate disruption. Allowing climate change to continue unabated is ethically unsound.

    When veggie activists aim for “culture change” in the age of climate change – which has a time horizon of probably 5-10 years before irreversible climate disruption – it would seem ethically sound for them to recognize that culture change is normally generational, taking typically 50-100 years to achieve, under the best of circumstances, with reversals not uncommon (e.g., think of the “Dark Ages” or today’s American “Tea Party”).

    So working toward culture change could be profoundly unjust to animals, if activists could better succeed with a climate change strategy. A strategy of culture change might not only extend the misuse of animals for decades longer than under a climate change strategy, but mean that activists are resigning themselves to the possibility of extinction of most life on earth.

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    Thanks Sophie and Joe.

    Everyone else I apologise if I offended in anyway, the final line was intended to be tongue-in-cheek and certainly not mocking others reasons for choosing to be vegetarian.

    I question the accusation that my choice was ‘purely self interest’. As I made clear, vegetarianism was not an easy choice for me and something that I tried to do not for myself, but for humanity as a whole. In fact various pieces of research show that giving up meat has a greater environmental impact than giving up driving.

    Ben, yes obviously I know that cars produce a lot of CO2, but unfortunately for personal reasons ditching the car is just not practical for me at the moment. And I chose to wrote this article not because I think I’ve done something gallant, but because a lot of people have shown interest in my reasons, and I wanted to highlight the little known fact that there are a myriad of reasons why people choose to give up meat.

    Loren, yes a lot of vegetarians make their decisions as a result of research. So did I. I suggest you follow the link I included in the article.

    All of you who attack me for making the same choice as you for different reasons: Are you not happy that there is one less person contributing to the meat industry? Just because we don’t share the same motivation does not mean my choice makes less difference than yours.

  7. avatar

    Why does everyone have a go at the authors of these articles??- how do you get offended by these articles, you fragile and pathetic individuals?!
    Incidentally, before people get all fired up about this, I agree that phenomena such as global warming are occurring; I’m not getting angry about these sort of things, just how easily offended people get about something absolutely uninsulting. Anyway, enough of a rant from me- I’ve got to drive to the butcher to get some steak.

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