A friend of mine asked recently about whether someone who was vegetarian, but who wore leather shoes, should be considered a hypocrite.

My response was no, or at least that it depended on that person's reasons for their diet. If they were vegetarian for health reasons, or even environmental ones, their choice to wear birks isn't necessarily at odds with their decision to eschew meat. And even if this alledged perpetrator did claim to be a veggie because he or she wasn't comfortable killing animals, there's still no reason to lambaste her. After all, she's doing something. Every little bit helps.

The topic got me to thinking, though.

I'm not a vegetarian. I was vegan for a while, macrobiotic for a while, ovo-lacto for a while . . . etc. I have no moral pretenses for my diet back then: I was anorexic, and just wanted an excuse to cut out as many foods from my life as possible. What's funny is that now, most days of the week, and most weeks of the month, I eat an overwhelmingly vegetarian / low-suffering / low-ecological impact diet. I eat mostly fruits and vegetables, a little dairy, whole grains, with some variety of fish for dinner. It just occurred to me, actually, that, in the six months since I moved in, I haven't cooked any variety of meat in my apartment.

Still, I do like to indulge myself. I don't care for even the taste of mass-produced, factory farmed chickens or cattle, but if I'm at a restaurant and there's foie gras on the menu, I have no qualms about ordering it. Ditto a nice grass-fed steak. I'm not really interested in justifying these decisions (I like good food and I like treating myself), although I do know that the sort of restaurants I favor do tend to obtain healthier meats, not the sort you'd find packaged on styrofoam supermarket trays.

Again, I could do the calculus and say that, on the whole, my diet now is much more earth and animal friendly than a) it's been in the past and b) that of most Americans. I say this because I now buy farm fresh produce and eat no (literally no; it's one of the problems with being celiac) processed foods. At the same time, again, I don't really care about the cost / benefit ratio, or about arguing with others about my position.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that, again, every little bit counts. I think one of the big detractors from people adopting a vegetarian diet is because of the all-or-nothing approach. What's wrong with eating mostly vegetarian? It beats rejecting the practice entirely. Subscribing to a vegetarian diet and swearing off meat forever is a daunting prospect, and I think both the ecological and animal-rights causes would be more effective overall if they'd just encourage people to just cut down a little.

Secondly, these are the sorts of decisions people need to make up their own minds about. If you don't feel compassion for a cow, or if you don't feel the earth is something that should be treated more gently, no amount of arguing is going to help. Even comparisions (you wouldn't eat your dog, would you?) aren't effective. Beating someone over the head with their moral failings is really not the way to bring them to your side. Encouraging their deeper, more compassionate nature is. And the only way to bring this out is to show that you understand them.

But now i'm getting off topic, and flaunting my beliefs all over the place. While I'll agree that awareness raising in schools helps, and increasing conversations about the misery of factory farming is important, once people have this information, there's no need to give them more. In this equation, compassion is more crucial than knowledge in bringing about change. Argument defeats the purpose.

As does the fear of being hypocritical. Again, as long as you're not screaming at others that they're murdering cows, it's fine if you're a vegetarian-for-moral-reasons who wears leather shoes. You're doing something. it's better than naught.

posted by Siona |

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