The 10 Most Common Arguments against Vegetarianism or Veganism and My Response to Them: Part Two
This is a continuation of a short series of articles I'm writing about the most common arguments meat eaters will level against veggies (I'll use the term 'veggie' from here on to describe vegetarians and vegans). Part One can be found here.
In short I hope to debunk some common myths and concerns about going veggie, and disprove some of the most common (and perhaps some of the less common) arguments against vegetarianism and veganism.
3. The Cost Argument
Some might suggest that going veggie is more expensive than a diet involving meat, or even that it is a middle class pursuit for people with more time and money on their hands. I've lost count of the number of times people have suggested this to me, and I suppose if you are hard up for money and/or have a family to feed then it is a legitimate concern.
This is not hard to respond to though. Have you ever been to, say, an Indian restaurant, and noticed that the vegetarian options are cheaper? This isn't some kind of discrimination or plot against meat eaters! The simple truth of the matter is, the ingredients that make up a vegetarian meal are generally cheaper.
It doesn't take much to show that the idea that vegetarianism is expensive is completely false. Go to the supermarket and pick up some vegetarian items, say, carrots, potatoes, beans, and then compare them to the price of a similar amount of a good meat. Clearly the vegetarian items are much cheaper and you can get a lot more for your money.
It seems obvious when you consider the amount of effort that goes into producing the different items. Vegetables, crops, and the like take minimal effort to produce - just plant the seeds, maybe fertilise or water the ground, wait for them to grow and then harvest them. Animals on the other hand require a relatively large amount of care and attention, especially if you consider their welfare to be of importance. They also require feeding - a further cost in itself.
Meat eating is a wealthy pursuit and it is becoming less and less sustainable. As Albert Einstein once said 'Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.' Think about it - all that food that gets fed to livestock could be used directly for human food, saving money, land, and the environment. Indeed it is generally accepted that a move towards a largely meat-free diet will be necessary to cope with climate change.
Further, most vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc, can be eaten raw, or if you are cooking them you don't have to worry so much for your health if they are undercooked compared to cooking meat. Also you can often eat them past their sell-by date which is more risky with meat, so you end up wasting less. One of the things I loved when I first went vegetarian was that I could reheat a meal from the day before without worrying about whether it was going to make me ill!
Some will point out that you can buy a large pack of frozen sausages for £1.50, or something like that, and that this is a cheap way to feed their family. Ignoring the fact that this is a pretty unhealthy product, generally speaking, there is a reason why this meat is so cheap. For a start, some cheap frozen sausages contain as little as 32% pork. And this pork is often made up of all the worst parts of the animal - the leftovers, think ground up hooves, tails, whatever. Chicken meat is often injected with water to plump it out.
Further, this meat is probably from a factory farmed animal. I don't think I need to go into detail about factory farming. Check out the documentary if you want a succinct run down on the main problems with it. The thing is, most people I know will say that it is best to only eat meat from free-range animals, but when they spot a sandwich they like, or that reduced sausage roll, all ethics goes out the window! For any meat eaters who may be reading this, ask yourself honestly if you have ever done this. The best way to prevent yourself from buying factory farmed animal produce is to get into the habit of not eating meat at all. And if you can get better nutrition from a cheap veggie diet then there is no reason to resort to cheap factory farmed meat at all. Food, Inc.
Lastly, and I'm perhaps going off on a tangent here, but there is also the question of whether even free range animals live a particularly good life without suffering. For a start we know very little about what goes on behind closed doors, say, in the slaughterhouse where animals are supposed to be humanely slaughtered. A recent secret operation revealed that after 7 slaughterhouse in the UK were secretly filmed, 6 of them were shown to be routinely abusing animals. It's not surprising when you think that the people who have to slaughter animals will become hardened to the process, thinking of the animals less as beings in their own right and more as products.
At the end of the day, farms are businesses, and businesses will always try to cut costs to increase profits. I'm not having a go at farmers here, that's just the way businesses work. With most businesses this isn't a problem, but when animal welfare is at stake, you have to worry. This is why veggies such as myself will object to the very idea of farming animals, because it necessarily sees animals as a product to be used. As Kant might say, animals become a means rather than an end.
4. The Lion Argument
A common argument I've come across goes something like this: 'Lions kill and eat other animals, so why shouldn't we?' Obviously you can insert any other carnivore or omnivore instead of lions to make the same point. This is often closely allied with the Natural Argument which I have already responded to here, but put simply, doing what is natural is not the same as doing what is right.
Firstly, I should point out that lions have to eat other animals to survive. Humans very rarely have to eat other animals to survive, especially not in this day and age. Most people eat meat to satisfy our taste buds, that is, for pleasure. Some might point out that in this respect, eating meat is no different to killing animals for sport, or for fashion, and so meat eaters will open themselves up to this kind of criticism. As a veggie, this is not a criticism I have to try and reconcile.
If we had to eat animals to survive, we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation. I can understand some societies where eating meat may be necessary, for example with Inuit societies where other food types are scarce, but that clearly doesn't apply to us. We do not need to eat meat to survive.
Secondly, lions and other animals don't know any better. It would be like calling a child immoral for doing something that it didn't know was immoral. We, on the other hand, have a rational moral sense (hopefully), and it is right for us to use it. We can reason what is right and wrong and we should act accordingly.
Finally, other commentators have pointed out that lions do plenty of other things that we wouldn't imitate. Should we give up all our modern luxuries and try to live up to the feral nature of a lion? I doubt we would survive very long! Personally I think this particular response misses the point a little, but it is right to point out that we are our own species, and a rational moral nature is perhaps one of the things that best separates and defines us. It probably also has helped us survive as a species, indeed we have used our intelligence to haul ourselves into a prosperous position, so why deny our intelligence when it comes to ethics?
Thanks for reading! Part Three of this series can be found here.