Adjusting our extremist attitudes

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“Are you a vegetarian?” A seemingly benign question. Do you never eat meat or do you eat meat without hesitation? We hear this question a lot in our society, especially when someone at our table orders tofu.

The people who are willing to forever forgo meat are worthy of our highest praise. They are making sacrifices on a daily basis in order to curtail the suffering of animals and make a personal statement about the often abhorrent practices used in animal slaughter.

Yet, in turning vegetarianism into such a personal issue, our society is unknowingly acting against vegetarianism’s main purpose. If vegetarianism is to have any effect, it has to work at a macro level: decrease overall demand for meat by purchasing less of it, and in turn, decrease overall supply. Therefore, the appropriate question should not be, “Are you a vegetarian?” but rather, “*How much* meat do you consume?”

Unfortunately, we look at vegetarianism as either all or nothing. The people who opt for the “all” route help decrease the market demand for meat somewhat. But most people decide that it’s just too difficult to never eat meat again, and opt for the “nothing” route. If more people choose the middle ground of keeping meat consumption to a personal minimum, the demand for meat could be decreased more than it would by vegetarians alone.

But who can blame non-vegetarians for not curtailing their meat consumption? Society has always taught them that there are only two options: meat or no meat. There is no middle ground. Even in the unlikely event that someone realizes the positive impact that a “middle ground” can have, there is no societal incentive for moderating instead of gorging: If you eat meat just once a week, you don’t get any credit — you’re still just a meat eater. So why not gorge?

The fight against global warming is analogous to vegetarianism. By comparing the two, we can see the absurdity of our current attitude toward the latter. Both causes aim for a sort of global reduction (one of energy, one of suffering), and both require that people make personal sacrifices to contribute to this global cause. But with recycling, one can still be “green” without literally recycling everything one consumes. We don’t consider people “non-recyclers” because they produce some amount of waste that doesn’t get recycled. The goal here is reduction, not elimination — and what a difference this attitude makes in minimizing waste and combating global warming.

Of course, many people have no moral qualms at all with eating meat or not recycling. But for those of us who do care about cruelty to animals but feel that all-out vegetarianism is just too difficult, let us treat eating meat like we do recycling. Though it’s ideal and commendable to recycle and reuse everything, people can still make a big difference by simply doing the best they can within reason. Remember, every two people who cut their meat consumption in half are essentially helping just as much as when one person goes cold turkey — pun intended.