A blogpost over at GOOD magazine* reviews a new book on veganism, applauds the book for its flexible approach, and says we should “give up trying to guilt people into not eating any meat.” The post mentions the environmental impacts of meat, which are indeed significant (according the the UN, rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars), but does not venture much further in the realm of why there is a guilt campaign around meat eating (which, I would argue, has been a fairly weak campaign — the potential for gruesomeness hardly fulfilled at all).
If it is not yet clear on this platform, I question the use of guilt as an effective medium for change, too. However, I believe there are plenty of reasons to feel guilty about the prolific meat eating by North American consumers (and some European ones) and that this guilt is justified and, if anything, understated. Anyone unfamiliar with the obscenely inhumane practices of raising meat in this country should try Google or at least read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (a flexitarian himself, with perfectly reasonable views on how to approach one’s diet: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. As for the meat we eat, we should know how its raised and ensure that’s it’s raised in the most humane conditions possible). It’s not particularly noble or brave to downplay just how foul the meat industry is and how guilty and ashamed we should all feel for allowing it to persist and overproduce.
Understanding just how much meat we consume is not easy. But a student of mine recently sent me a link to this impressive data visualizer that shows the number of animals slaughtered in the U.S. every second: 287 chickens, 3.68 pigs, and 1.12 cows.
True: what we are doing is not right (nor is it sustainable). Also true: a meatless diet is not for everyone. I agree with the premise that flexitarianism is the healthiest and least yuppified approach (even if I opt for a full vegetarian diet myself). But I appreciate the broad spectrum of voices in the meat movement (a spectrum that does not exist for seafood) and even the dogmatic approach by a few to keep that spectrum wide and diverse.
As for the “obnoxiously dogmatic” side of vegans (which the GOOD author finds difficult), this is a personality trait we can find among any group of zealots: religious fundamentalists, soldiers, hardcore Democrats and Republicans, used car salesmen, environmentalists, and even the raging atheists who have voiced their anger at unforetold decibels with the new outlet here at Scienceblogs. In fact, most religious people, most politicians, most atheists, most conservationists, and most vegans express their beliefs (and live by them) with a quiet and respect that many of us should admire and seek to emulate. It’s the loud who are heard but not necessarily who should be listened to…
*Thank you AB for a point in this direction.