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Why we shouldn't demonise meat eaters - a vegetarian's perspective

If people are making a conscious effort to reduce their meat intake, for any reason, we should be supportive not judgemental.

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In today’s society, vegetarianism and veganism is commonplace. There has been an exponential rise in people choosing meat-free lifestyles over the past few decades. According to a survey conducted by the Vegan Society in 2018, there were around 600,000 vegans in the UK, which was up from 150,000 in 2006. There are a range of factors that have contributed to this rise, three of the most prominent being health, the environment and animal welfare.

My own switch to vegetarianism was sparked by a trip to India to visit my Dad. Seeing animals being kept in tiny and unhygienic cages, only ever taken out to be killed, struck a chord with me. Although we are all aware that meat comes from slaughtered animals, in the UK there is a large disconnection from the reality of what that means. In India, I was brought face to face with it. We tend to buy our meat in plastic packaging: forms which do not visually resemble the live animal. It was only once I saw the exact origin of my food that I started to question the ethics of it. Something many vegetarians and vegans can relate to from their journey of removing this cognitive dissonance.

It was only once I was back in the UK  that I began to be aware of the militancy and judgement that is prevalent in certain sections of the vegetarian community. This is not to say that the values propping up their ethical diet are not sound, nor that all veggies and vegans share the same attitudes - but many do seem to have assumed a sense of moral superiority because of their choices.

As an animal lover, I do sympathise with the militant passion they hold others to account with. I no longer feel justified in eating meat and find it difficult to understand the logic that classes some animals as pets, and others as fit for slaughter. I think that tackling climate change and growing concern for animal rights should, and inevitably will, lead to a huge reduction in the consumption of meat. However, while this is an important end goal, there needs to be flexibility with the ways in which we achieve this. People should make these changes of their own volition, rather than being bullied into them. I would argue that if people come to these conclusions with healthy encouragement from the veggie community, they are much more likely to commit to a long term investment in changing their diets and lifestyles.

Arguably, the most important motivation for many vegetarians and vegans now is the environment, as climate change has become an ever more pressing issue in recent years. The United Nations states that livestock farming accounts for 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, which vegetarians and vegans hope to reduce by turning to a meat-free lifestyle. The issue of the struggles that this might pose for farmers aside, this is a good reason to go veggie and is fuelled by positive intention for the future of this planet.

However, if climate change is our main enemy then why is it that flexitarians are still mocked? Flexitarianism is a more recent phenomenon which is about reducing your meat consumption, rather than cutting it out altogether. Often, people who follow this lifestyle are referred to as “part-time vegans”- but is this not in itself an insult? This group is undermined by meat eaters and vegans alike; accused of being unable to ‘pick a side’. But why should this debate have any sides at all, if the true driving force behind vegetarianism and veganism is indeed halting disastrous climate change? Surely, making a conscious effort to eat less meat, is better than making no changes at all.

While I have tried to be vegetarian or pescatarian for the majority of the past few years, I am not ashamed to say that I have broken the ‘rules’ on the odd occasion. I want to avoid use of the term “fallen off the wagon”, something frequently heard upon a veggie-downfall, but this perpetuates this idea of guilt and undermines flexitarianism. A sense of guilt is not always a bad thing, it can encourage us to make changes for the better. However, to have a positive and lasting impact, this should come from ourselves, rather than fears of being shamed by other people for our choices.

I do not wish to attack the vegetarian and vegan communities. People who choose to lead these lifestyles are on the whole kind and very well-informed people who have good intentions. I simply think that while many meat eaters need to be more open to reducing their meat consumption, we need to be open to letting them do this in whatever form they choose - whether that be flexitarianism or veganism. In my opinion, these diets should be seen as part of a spectrum, rather than binary opposites without any in-between. If we do not start to view things in this way, we will only discourage people from attempting to change their lifestyles to the benefit of planet Earth.

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