Do Vegetarians Have the Right to Judge Others for Eating Meat?


US Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons

As can be seen by a basic outline of human nutritional needs, meat is a big part of nutrition. Why do vegetarians go without it? (US Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons)

New diet and wellness crazes come and go faster than Kanye West changes life plans, but one seems to be here to stay: vegetarianism. For those of you oblivious to the non-omnivorous, vegetarians do not eat any meat. Vegetarians come from all walks of life and all have different reasoning behind their decision. As someone who has gone back and forth between vegetarianism, pescetarianism, “I just don’t eat red meat”, and everything in between, I can tell you that everyone (and I mean everyone) in these fringe-food communities has strong feelings about their dietary choices. Some common reasons one may chose the herbivore life are dietary restrictions, concern about their carbon footprint, feelings about animal cruelty, and, of course, personal preference.

A dedicated vegetarian that I spoke to responded to the question “do you believe that people who eat meat contribute to animal cruelty?” with a look of utter disbelief that that was even up for debate. She found it so obvious that of course meat-eaters do not care about animals. However, if this is the case, why is it that omnivorous diets have been, and continue to be, the mainstream in this country? Most people who consume meat do not believe that they are personally contributing to the cruelty of animals. Some meat-eaters even “ethically shop” for their meats by buying products that are all organic, grass fed, and free-range, what many people consider “doing their part”.

Possibly the biggest factor surrounding the To Meat or Not To Meat debate is what I am going to call the “humane factor”. First and foremost we must define what it is to be humane before it can be put into context. To be “humane” is “to have or show compassion or benevolence”. Why do we hear this word so much in the debates around food consumption choices? Well, the meat industry has a pretty poor reputation when it comes to humanely treating animals. But there is also the side that asks, is it even possible to humanely slaughter and consume? The answer varies based on who you ask. PETA says no. The majority of Americans who follow omnivorous diets say yes. I say that I honestly do not know. My wariness at taking a side on the issue stems less from the humanity of the industry and more out of the accessibility—or lack thereof—of vegan/vegetarian options for low-income families. How can we tell someone they are acting inhumanely in trying to feed their family? And, on the other hand, what makes a human life more valuable than an animal? I do not have the answers, but I do have the facts and the options.

Ignoring the animal-cruelty debate for a moment, there are lots of reasons many vegetarians promote their decision and thing that going vegetarian is the right choice for everybody:

  1. Reducing the risk of heart disease
  2. Reduce global warming/carbon footprint
  3. Reducing the risk of cancer

Meat-eaters, on the other hand, also have their reasons why they believe it is evolutionarily ideal to continue an omnivorous diet:

  1. Hunting and eating animals has been a part of the human life cycle since the beginning
  2. Meat is an important source of B12 and iron
  3. Some studies show that eating meat may help with certain mental health issues

Obviously, the choice of whether or not to “go veggie” is a personal one and each person must weigh their own ethics and ideas against the information available to them, but I truly believe that vegetarians should refrain from making moral judgments based on whether or not someone eats meat.

Sources: ProCon, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Down to Earth, GreenEatz

Photo Source: US Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons