Meat/veg-eaters need to compromise for sake of environment

When people ask if I’m a vegetarian, I always feel like they are disappointed in my answer: I’m mostly a vegetarian. They immediately look underwhelmed: I’m basically telling them that I don’t have enough willpower to fully commit, and they think I’m some poser who doesn’t take animal rights or the environment seriously.

But I’m not the only one who sees being mostly vegetarian (aka flexitarian) as a positive, worthwhile endeavor — Graham Hill, founder of treehugger.com, gave this TEDTalk about vegetarianism which is fantastic. I encourage everyone to watch it — it’s only four minutes long, and it outlines his “weekday veg” diet. He doesn’t eat meat Monday through Friday, leaving the weekends open for meat if he chooses.

It doesn’t mean he will eat meat on the weekend, but he doesn’t have to feel guilty for falling off the bandwagon or relapsing into meat. It differs from flexitarianism (which aims to decrease meat consumption generally) by creating a guideline that is easy to remember: as Hill puts it, he won’t eat “anything with a face” Monday through Friday, so you simply check the day of the week and that will tell you if meat is an option. More than a diet, it is a lifestyle change.

Hill says it best when he discusses the downside to meat:

I knew that eating a mere hamburger a day can increase my risk of dying by a third. Cruelty, I knew that the 10 billion animals we raise each year for meat, are raised in factory farm conditions that we, hypocritically, wouldn’t even consider for our own cats, dogs and other pets.

Environmentally, meat, amazingly, causes more emissions than all of transportation combined, cars, trains, planes, buses, boats, all of it. And beef production uses 100 times the water that most vegetables do.

Meat production is terrible. Animals are wedged into cages next to each other, chickens have their beaks shaved down so they can’t peck at each other because they are in such close quarters, and you can imagine the sanitary conditions (or rather, lack thereof) at a place where animals are smashed together into cages.

Combine the disgusting treatment of the animals with the amount of water used in the meat production process and the pollution it creates, not to mention the pollution from the animals themselves and the factories, plus the grain used to feed all the animals, and there is a lot of environmental degradation going on.

But asking people to just stop eating meat isn’t as simple as it sounds — vegetarians and vegans can be elitist and judgmental of people who can’t stick to a strict meatless or animal-product-less diet, and meateaters can be elitist and judgmental of people who don’t eat meat or animal products.

Neither side wants to budge — meateaters don’t want to sacrifice eating meat forever, and vegetarians inherently feel like they are making a deal with the devil if they condone eating meat. “Weekday veg” is a compromise between the two, but both sides need to accept that compromise and some additional “best practice” rules, like trying to eat free-range and grass-fed animal products.

People who cut meat out of their diet during the week are cutting 71.4 percent of their meat intake out. Eating meat only three times a week cuts down your meat intake by 57 percent. These numbers are huge, and they could really make an impact if they became the norm. People often use the excuse, “I couldn’t give up meat,” as a reason not to be vegetarian and then they move on, but why not embrace a diet that lets you do both?

Yes, environmentalists can keep pushing vegetarianism and veganism, but the all-or-nothing approach isn’t realistic in my book. Like Hill says, people get nervous about giving up meat. Think of the health care reform debate — the late Sen. Ted Kennedy always said his biggest regret was turning down then-Pres. Nixon’s proposal for universal healthcare, because Kennedy wanted more than a compromise — he wanted all his demands to be met.

Vegetarianism — more so veganism — is the best option for the sake of the environment and the humanity of the animals who are mistreated in ways, like Hill said, most people wouldn’t allow if those animals were domestic pets like dogs or cats. I’m not going to argue that — but he’s right to say that the binary scares people, and it leads people to shy away from eating less meat, because people say eating less isn’t enough, you must eat none.

Some of the commenters accused Hill of being self-serving — I’m not exactly sure how cutting your meat intake by almost three-fourths and relishing in the fact that it’s healthier and better for the environment is completely selfish. Maybe he’s patting himself on the back, but I don’t really care or see why it matters — if his idea means dramatically less environmental degradation and fewer animals being treated horribly, then he can pat himself on the back 24/7 for all I care.

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