From a reader:
I’m curious why you take the anti-meat approach instead of pro-vegetable. Your blog is interesting but I find that you talk a lot about meat substitutes and various ways to “fool” meat eaters. Why not more posts regarding the incredible health benefits of simple vegetables?
This one caught me by surprise. Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve gotten many more emails to the tune of “I like that you promote vegetarianism without being preachy.” I think this guy caught me just a few days post-Earthlings, when I was hating meat a bit more than I was loving vegetables.
But then it got me thinking.
Being vegetarian, vegan, or even a “selective carnivore” comes with some responsibility. It’s not like being a huge fan of, say, apple pie, where you can just love the crap out of your apple pie and be done with it. You can spread your apple pie love if you want, even preach it, but the only ones affected by your message are people with a choice. Not the pie.
For us, it’s different. Most vegetarians feel that, on some level, eating animals is wrong (or, more generally, that treating animals badly is wrong). You can be a good vegetarian without spreading the message. But when you tell someone else about it and help them to change their eating habits, you’ve helped more than just that person—you’ve helped improve the lives of animals that are treated so horrendously by the industrial food complex.
The question, then, is how best to spread that message.
The pro-vegetable approach is the one that has more potential to reach the masses. Perhaps to the vast majority of Americans who eat meat as the main part of most meals, or to whom the idea that they eat a lot of meat (especially bacon) is for some reason funny, the pro-vegetable approach is less likely to be an immediate turn-off. And those spreading it are less likely to be criticized. In other words, it’s safe.
But safe has a shortcoming: By its very nature, it doesn’t hold onto passionate people to help share it. I don’t know many passionate almost-vegetarians. The passionate ones go on to become vegetarians, and the more passionate to become vegans.
Michael Pollan is passionate, and he’s created a passionate following of conscious eaters, even if they won’t give up meat entirely. But he’s an exception: For the most part, I think people who claim to enjoy eating this way don’t actually do it. Plenty of people want to be the type who eat only ethically-raised animals (and I’m sure some especially like for others to see them as such). But when the time comes to vote with their dollars, their vote is for factory farms, because of convenience, price, or really sadly, taste (how many people eating in restaurants really ask where the meat comes from?).
The other approach, anti-meat, isn’t perfect either. It certainly spreads faster—wouldn’t you be more likely to read “7 Ways Meat Will Kill You” than “7 Benefits of Broccoli”? And when you’re anti-meat, you get really mad. So mad that you feel you have to do something. Anti-meaters tend to congregate, volunteer, and otherwise work to create change.
But as I wrote above, anti-meat also turns people off in a way that pro-vegetable does not, and I sense that the reader who emailed me was slightly turned off. While pro-vegetable offers people an alternative or a new way of looking at things, anti-meat tells people that the way they live is wrong and they must change. And nobody wants to hear that.
Neither approach is perfect, but they’re both infinitely better than doing nothing.
I’m asking you to choose one. Or both. Or make up your own. Just do something.