VWPA Advice #026: Is a Vegetarian as Bad as a Meat Eater?
“Is there a difference between an omni and a vegetarian?”
I’m a vegan and this is just a thought experiment: If vegans think vegetarians are so bad, would it matter if a vegetarian ate meat? They’re non-vegans, so does it make a difference?
This is an interesting question! I can’t speak for all vegans, of course, but for me I would definitely be bummed out if a vegetarian started eating meat again. Although I think dairy is more cruel than meat, not that we need to measure such things, there is something very visceral about eating meat, which is why so many vegetarians can give it up easily but struggle to let go of cheese and milk. A step back to eating meat would be a large psychological shift. Vegetarians support veganism in that they (generally) think eating meat is wrong. To lose that support would be a deficit to the movement.
I’m not an all-or-nothing vegan, which is something of a contradiction, admittedly, but I believe in my heart that every little bit does help. Although I have my frustrations with vegetarians sometimes, I consider anybody who does anything to lessen the consumption of animal products is an ally. A vegetarian returning to eating meat would definitely be a step back in my opinion, just like a omnivore who cut out dairy starting to eat cheese and ice cream again would be a step back.
I think the important lesson here, which is why I LOVE this question, is: don’t make vegetarians feel like they might as well eat meat because vegans don’t see a difference.
Giving people a hard time for what they’re not doing negates what they are doing and leaves them feeling like why bother doing anything at all? And you can’t change the world with that mindset.
As many of us know, vegetarians catch a lot of crap for not ‘going all the way’ and being vegan. And I have heard many vegans say vegetarians are worse than meat eaters because they should know better (*cough* I may have stupidly said something similar in the past…) the reasoning being that most meat eaters have no clue what’s really going on, whereas vegetarians usually have some level of awareness. While I totally understand the frustration, after all vegetarians still consume eggs and dairy which are arguably more cruel than meat, I have come to realize that vegetarianism like veganism, isn’t as simple as we sometimes like to think it is.
Yes there are those vegetarians that compensate for not eating meat by filling their diets with eggs and dairy (hell usually the vegetarian options is dairy with a side of dairy). But there are probably just as many vegetarians who eat very little if any animal products or are even transitioning to veganism and are just doing it in stages. So we can’t and shouldn’t, put all vegetarians in the same category.
So to answer the question yes, it would be disappointing if a vegetarian started eating meat again. We should be trying to encourage them to move closer to a vegan diet, not further from it, which means supporting and welcoming them… not telling them that the progress they have made is worthless if they aren’t perfect. Plus any dent we can make in the animal agriculture industry is a good thing, whether it’s by vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians or even that one occasional meal we can convince our loved ones to eat vegan with us.
Have a question for us?