Ancient people’s food choices were rather limited and depended largely on animal meat. Brave and skillful hunters brought home some large animal they managed to catch and kill, and their families had something to save them from dying of hunger. Over time, however, humans’ possibilities to satisfy their appetite have increased immensely, offering a variety of nutritious products that do not contain animal meat.
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In this relation, the question arises as for why many people continue eating meat even though it is no longer a necessity to remain alive. The article “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable” by Gary Steiner discusses the irrationality of killing animals “for human consumption” (845). The author defends the animals’ right to live and be accepted as equal to humans. Just because people have intellect, it does not mean that they can murder animals for consumption and justify their actions by satisfying their physiological needs.
The main reason why some people decide to quit eating meat is predetermined by their moral and environmental concerns. As Steiner mentions, vegetarians are criticized for “equating <…> society’s treatment of animals with mass murder” (845). However, what they do is merely protect those that cannot defend themselves. According to Steve Loughnan et al., eating meat expresses an individuals’ identity (105).
Meanwhile, vegetarians argue that it is possible to reflect one’s identity through the rejection of eating meat. For instance, evidence reveals that refusal from consuming meat may be associated with the feeling of belongingness to a specific cultural group and support of such a group’s values (Loughnan et al. 105). Vegetarians’ and meat-eaters attitudes toward animals predetermine their understanding of what types of food are healthy and which ones are not.
Research findings by Amy Mullee et al. show that vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and non-vegetarians have different opinions on vegetarianism’s healthiness (92.1%, 67.7%, and 40.4% accordingly) and environmental unfriendliness (92.1%, 52.1%, and 19.8% accordingly) (301). Therefore, ethical and environmental concerns are the major issues driving individuals toward becoming vegetarians.
Another problem that arises about people’s decision of consuming or rejecting to eat meat is the behavioral choice every person makes. Steiner argues that non-vegetarians justify their choices by the fact that human beings “are made in God’s image,” so they can exploit other creatures for their sake (845). Also, some opponents of vegetarianism argue that animals can be consumed since they lack “mental attributes,” including the ability to feel pain (Loughnan et al. 104).
At the same time, researchers discuss the so-called meat paradox (Rothgerber 257). The mentioned paradox involves a contradictory set of behavioral choices. On the one hand, one enjoys eating meat and sees nothing immoral in it. On the other hand, many people love animals, have them as pets, and take care of them. Hence, there emerges a disconcerting clash of viewpoints when the same person who may keep a pet rabbit and play with it can easily eat a portion of rabbit stew in a restaurant. Unlike those who are baffled by the meat paradox, true vegetarians do not experience any disagreement between their eating habits and understanding of animal harm.
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One of the explanations of the tendency to consume animal meat is related to political ideologies. Loughnan et al. identify two approaches under which individuals’ desire to eat animal meat is based: authoritarianism (the acceptability of controlling subordinates) and “social dominance orientation” (the support of social inequality and hierarchy) (105). Based on this approach, many people decide they can eat animals merely because the former are more important and powerful. The basic motivation behind such thinkers’ decision to eat meat is that it is delicious (Loughnan et al. 105).
To decrease their responsibility and eliminate the moral burden, some non-vegetarians justify their choices by consuming animal products only from places where animals are treated humanely and according to ethical standards. The reduction of such a “cognitive dissonance” is gained by “selectively consuming” animals that are kept in agreement with “certain ethical standards” (Rothgerber 251). As a result, the tendency to consume organic products has gained much popularity. Still, despite that, the rate of vegetarians in the US is rather low at present: only about 4% (Rothgerber 251). Hence, the tendency to consider themselves as higher than animals drives people’s meat consumption.
Finally, the decision to become a vegetarian may be based not only on ethical concerns but also on health-related considerations. Research by Mullee et al. indicates that low meat intake is beneficial for people’s health (300). Therefore, it has become possible to reject the popular argument used by meat-eaters who justify “the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare” (Steiner 845).
Scholars have recognized that human survival does not depend on animal meat any longer (Rothgerber 252). While meat products contain many minerals and vitamins, these elements can be found in other types of food not requiring animals to be killed. However, the consumption of meat in the US is still rather high. Approximately 120 kg of meat is eaten by one American yearly (Loughnan et al. 104). These statistics are alarming taking into consideration that the World Health Organization has reported a positive association between the consumption of processed meat and the risk of colorectal cancer (Bouvard et al. 1599).
Global estimations reveal that if people moved towards a plant-based diet, the mortality rates might decrease by 6-10%, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced, and economic benefits would be gained (Springmann et al. 4146). Therefore, there is a sense in reconsidering consumption habits if not from an ethical point of view then at least from healthcare and ecological ones.
Being a vegetarian or a meat-eater is every person’s choice, and no one can force others to change their decisions. However, it is possible to offer reasonable arguments and evidence proving that killing animals for food is incorrect. Humans cannot base their justification of eating animal meat only by occupying a higher position in the social hierarchy. It is no longer necessary to eat meat to sustain one’s life since there exist many other products capable of providing important minerals and vitamins.
Thus, there are many ethical and moral considerations of meat consumption. Furthermore, there are also environmental issues, such as increased gas emissions, that arise from high rates of meat-eating. What is more, many people suffer from negative outcomes of eating meat, the most severe one being a higher predisposition to cancer. Therefore, the argument between vegetarians and non-vegetarians is not likely to be over soon. It is in the power of everyone to become more aware of the problem and share knowledge with others so that the world could become a kinder and healthier place.
Bouvard, Véronique, et al. “Carcinogenicity of Consumption of Red and Processed Meat.” The Lancet Oncology, vol. 16, no. 16, 2015, pp. 1599-1600.
Loughnan, Steve, et al. “The Psychology of Eating Animals.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 23, no. 3, 2014, pp. 104-108.
Mullee, Amy, et al. “Vegetarianism and Meat Consumption: A Comparison of Attitudes and Beliefs Between Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, and Omnivorous Subjects in Belgium.” Appetite, vol. 114, 2017, pp. 299-305.
Rothgerber, Hank. “Underlying Differences Between Conscientious Omnivores and Vegetarians in the Evaluation of Meat and Animals.” Appetite, vol. 87, 2015, pp. 251-258.
Springmann, Marco, et al. “Analysis and Valuation of the Health and Climate Change Cobenefits of Dietary Change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 113, no. 15, 2016, pp. 4146-4151.
Steiner, Gary. “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012, pp. 844-848.