A recent article in the UK Guardian
entitled "My Beef Isn't With Beef: Why I Stopped Being a Vegetarian"
takes a new line of argument against not eating animals. The author, Jenna Woginrich, is that well-publicized phenomenon, the former vegetarian, who's seen the error of her ways and now not only eats meat but has her own (organic, free-range) farm where she raises the animals herself, and eats them (I assume). She believes that vegetarianism is wholly passive and doesn't make the life of one animal better. Instead, she argues, it's better to raise them yourself and actively make their lives better (before they're killed): "I don't think the world needs to convert into a society of vegans or sustainable farmers, but we do need to live in a world where beef doesn't just mean an ingredient; it means a life loss. I never thought of my beans or hummus like that. Now every meal is seasoned with the gratitude of sacrifice. For me, it took a return to carnivory to live out the ideals of vegetarianism."
Leaving aside the tired pseudo-spirituality and self-serving quality of the argument, there's an interesting point being made. Vegans don't save the life of any animals; we simply hope to lessen the demand for that animal flesh in the first place. Woginrich complains that that is a negative stance, and points out that we're not having much effect. Meat consumption continues to increase. True. However, rather than turning her attention to the vast majority of meat-eaters who don't care about the plight of animals, Woginrich decides to turn on vegetarians for adopting a principled stance.
This is a new trope in the never-ending argument society uses to find ways to avoid the fact that we continue to raise animals unsustainably and slaughter them cruelly in vast numbers. A few years ago—after decades when vegetarianism was seen as a fad or weird—the mantra became, as I like to call it, "You Be the Vegetarian" or YBTV. Yes, it was admitted, vegetarianism was a noble cause and morally sound, but it was just too hard for the individual to take up. So, with heavy hand on her or his heart, she or he said: YBTV.
Now, the tone has hardened. Vegetarians are not only self-righteous, but deluded and dangerous. "How much
better it would be if everyone ate sustainably raised meat," runs the thinking. "Vegetarians are ruining the potential for us all to eat animals with a clear conscience." To that end, former vegetarians who have seen the light are prevailed upon to bring the stubborn holdouts back into the fold.
I'm not unsympathetic to those who are concerned enough about animal welfare to know the animals they eat. I also think that those who eat animals who have been raised with care and genuine concern for their welfare are to be commended. And, yes, some of us vegans and vegetarians can be self-righteous. But the simple fact is that for the lifestyle that Woginrich espouses to exist, she will need as many vegans as possible, unless we all eat much less meat. And it simply lets omnivores (a much larger population of potential consumers) off the hook. To be crass about it: Why should vegetarians give up their principles simply to increase her market share?
Of course, there is room for common ground. The portrait painted of vegetarians by Woginrich is that we're passive (she uses the word pacifist
). But that great vegetarian Mahatma Gandhi recognized that pacifism was an active form of raising awareness and bringing truth to power. Veg*ns (like conscientious omnivores) have a responsibility to tell people about the horrors of contemporary industrialized farming, and do something about it, just so that more people will become conscientized. While I might hope that they become veg*ns, surely a few of them will become Woginrich's customers.