Giving Up Meat: Why Is It STILL Controversial?


Even in avocado-loving Falmouth, your veggie lifestyle can be a difficult thing to talk about in mixed company.

You might be tempted to think, with the rise of campaigns like #Veganuary, an evolving restaurant trade, and a whole array of vegetarian cookbooks on sale in Asda, that the subject of meat free diets gets enough air time. 

But veganism is still a multi-faceted and often provocative topic. People who have a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle often disagree about that exactly that means.

Even here in Falmouth, with our raging passion for avocados and a larger-than-average number of vegetarians and vegans per capita, it can be a difficult thing to talk about in mixed company.

I became vegetarian in September 2016. Since then, I've found that there are generally four issues you encounter as a non-meat eater:

1. Your diet is everyone else’s business.

When I met my friends on a bus recently, I happened to mention that I was writing this article. Immediately they laughed, and said “That’s funny, seeing as you’re not a real vegetarian.” 

I’ve learnt that people criticise dietary integrity as though they are privy to your dinner table and have exclusive access to the contents of your stomach.

Regardless of whether you admit that you have eaten a burger in the past year, or indulged in some late night Haribo whilst stressing over an essay, there sometimes seems to be little respect for how vegetarians choose to label themselves, or a sense of entitlement to criticise other people's dietary choices.

Regardless of how secure a person may feel in their identity, everything they eat shouldn't be monitored, and indeed a compulsion to monitor what other people are eating is potentially damaging for everyone involved.

Vegetarians and vegans know what it's like to have to defend their choices, over, and over ... and over. 

2. You'll be categorised as an ‘extremist’.

There's a tendency for vegetarians and vegans to be placed in a single group that does not accurately represent the wide variety of views that exist within the community. 

Recently I saw an article on Everyday Feminism which suggested that ‘mainstream animal rights movement values animal life more than the lives of marginalised people’. To maintain such an argument is to ignore the fact that people choose to stop eating meat for a multitude of reasons, which often include reasons to do with ethical food sourcing, people's jobs, and the environments that people live in--this is often about society and others, as well as being about the individual.

There are environmental vegetarians, ethical vegetarians, and health centred vegetarians. It is entirely possible for someone to be vegetarian without any regard for animal welfare, or to be a vegetarian explicitly because they're all about animal welfare. 

The article above assumes, based on a single case, that all animal activists are the same. It also assumes that because activists are passionate about animal rights there is little consideration spared for other issues. There is nothing to say that the same people aren’t protesting the Syrian war or rallying for better gun control; to try and solve one problem does not reduce the importance of the other.

Similar things happen with vegetarianism: people assume they know why you do it, and categorise you quickly. 


3. You're surrounded by misinformation.

There are a lot of misinformed ideas out there about vegetarianism. One of the greatest myths is that going meat-free incurs extra expense. But a lot of great vegetarian options already exist, and they're often cheaper than the meat option.

Conducting research into supermarket pricing, I found that a four-pack of chicken breasts was on average £2 more expensive than a single packet of Quorn pieces, which will serve the same amount of people for one meal (Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s). Likewise, a packet of Quorn mince in those three supermarkets will only set you back £1.79, whilst beef mince of varying qualities will cost at least £1 more.

4. It's something everybody should probably be considering.

No doubt living in a largely carnivorous society makes the switch to vegetarianism more difficult. It's hard to motivate lasting change, to alter your lifestyle, to break long established habits. 

These days more than 25% of people in the UK are choosing to reduce the amount of animal products they consume, for a lot of different reasons, from the impact on the environment (it's significant) to animal welfare to the health of your body.

But despite the progress that has been made in recent years, it is a discussion that still needs to be had. Less than 10% of the British population are full-vegetarian, but with more easily accessible information and discussion, it would probably be much higher.

There really isn’t much of a case against vegetarianism. It's good for you, for the environment, for others, and beyond our desire for the taste of bacon or the tradition of a turkey at Christmas, and with plenty of delicious and affordable alternatives available, there's really no reason not to--at the very least--reduce how much meat you're currently eating.

by Alice Benham