Part-Time Vegetarianism

Ethically speaking, does vegetarianism need to be an all-or-nothing thing? The current issue of Time has this piece on the topic: Weekday Vegetarians

Part-time vegetarians, a.k.a. flexitarians, choose what to eat and when. The popular Meatless Monday movement, which began in 2003, has been backed by many celebrities, including Paul McCartney, who has spearheaded his own Meat Free Monday campaign. Last year the Belgian city of Ghent picked Thursday as its Veggiedag, calling for meat-free options to be served that day in schools and public institutions….

Interestingly, the head of PETA (not known for its easy-going attitude on the issue) has this to say:

“Absolute purists should be living in a cave,” says Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Anybody who witnesses the suffering of animals and has a glimmer of hope of reducing that suffering can’t take the position that it’s all or nothing. We have to be pragmatic. Screw the principle.”

It’s probably worth pointing out that the extent to which part-time vegetarianism makes sense depends on your reasons. If you are a vegetarian for environmental reasons, then this sort of ‘harm reduction’ strategy makes good sense. We all have some impact on the environment. No one has zero impact. As good citizens of the world, we all have some obligation to make sure our impact is reasonable (though just what that means is very much open to debate). If, on the other hand, you are a vegetarian because you think animals have rights, then it seems to me that the part-time strategy makes less sense. After all, if you think animals have rights, then you’re still doing something unethical if you merely violate fewer, rather than more, animals’ rights.

Of course, that’s looking at it from the point of view of the individual consumer. For people interested in the good consequences that come from reducing the amount of meat eaten, every convert — even a part-time one — is a step in the right direction.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in activism, animal welfare, environment, ethics, vegetarianism. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Part-Time Vegetarianism

  1. Greg says:

    First, you missed one of the biggest reasons to become (part time) vegan. You care about your own health. Many vegans become vegans for purely selfish reasons. Even if you doubt the growing wave of scientific evidence in favor of plant-based diets, it’s hard to argue that meat 3 times a day is good for you.

    Secondly, you can care about animal suffering and not be a full time vegan. Even if you don’t believe animals have any rights, you should still be absolutely appalled by factory farming and food production. Voting with your dollars is the best way to create lasting change.

  2. Greg:

    Your first point is absolutely right. I wasn’t trying to give *all* the reasons one could have for vegetarianism/veganism. Health is certainly another.

    I also agree with your second point. Many people don’t see the philosophical distinction (and practical difference) between a point of view that thinks animal suffering matters, ethically, and a point of view that thinks that animals have rights.

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