The controversial title made you curious? Let me illustrate to you that it is not just attention seeking but actually a valid statement.
In case you are not aware, production of meat is considered a major contributor to man-made climate change and energy use. The amount of energy, land and water needed to feed a person on a meat diet is many times more than the meat-free option. In turn, many environmentalists have been proposing a vegetarian lifestyle as “the right thing” to do.
I argue the opposite is true. Vegetarianism is counter-productive to sustainability. This understanding came about through my view of both sides of the meat-vegetarian divide: I was raised vegetarian by vegetarian parents. I had never eaten any piece of meat or fish until my early twenties. Once I realised that habit was my only reason to be vegetarian I started eating meat and have been enjoying it since. At the same time, I have also stayed very content having meals without meat, as I have had done for so many years prior.
So, on occasions when I have meals without meat, I often get asked: “oh, are you vegetarian?”, and every time this happens I cringe. Not because I do not want to be a vegetarian, but because having even a single meal without meat is considered “different”, worthy of a distinctive, segregating term. The only sensible answer to give in such occasion is: “No, I am not vegetarian, I just like this dish, it tastes very good”. Any other answer will result in the other person being confirmed in their opinion that “normal” people always eat meat and vegetarians never. It is this wide-spread opinion that needs to be overcome.
Another illustration of this is a menu at the restaurant. Many of them have a section “Mains” and then a separate section “Vegetarian Dishes”. Ever since I started eating meat, I would, of course, look at the main section of the menu to select a main dish. Only “special” people would have to make do with the vegetarian section. This happens naturally, just like kids would look at the kids’ section of the menu and adults would not.
The result: Most people eat a lot of meat, a few people do not eat meat. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism_by_country only 2-10% of people in western countries are vegetarian.
Now, imagine the word vegetarian did not exist. Imagine not eating beef would be as much an issue or non-issue as not eating broccoli or not eating pasta. A “person who does not like beef” can look in the “Mains” section of the menu and order some dish they like. Another “person who does not like onions” can do the same, so can the eat-anything type.
In such a world people can stop thinking “no meat, therefore vegetarian, therefore not for me”. Some will consider cooking/ordering dishes without meat, simply because they taste good.
Looking at the numbers, if only 10% of meat-meals became non-meat meals, meat consumption and production would be reduced by a greater amount than it is by vegetarians who religiously avoid all meat. This change can be achieved simply by slightly changing the attitude towards meals without meat.
However, this also means that every campaign and argument pro vegetarianism is extremely counter-productive from an environmental and animal-well-being point of view. Further, even calling yourself a vegetarian increases the mental divide and reduces the likelihood of someone who eats meat to go without meat occasionally.
- If you are vegetarian now, stop saying so.
- If you are not a vegetarian, say you are not a vegetarian because you care for the environment and the animals. Feel free to answer ensuing questions with the help of this article.
For both cases:
At the next opportunity, consider why you did not choose to cook or order the dish with/without meat. If your only reason was “I am not/I am a vegetarian”, why not consider the other options. Dishes with and without meat can both be very delicious and satisfying and eating a varied diet is the best of all.
Finally, preempting some questions that may come up:
What if you are vegetarian for religious reasons? Just say so: eg. “Are you vegetarian?” – “No, I do not eat meat because I am *insert name of religion*“.
What if you are vegetarian because you are against industrial animal farming? Eg.: “Are you vegetarian?” – “No, I just do not eat industrially farmed meat. I eat Kangaroo and sometimes go hunting for wild deer though.”