2. The Two Approaches To Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism is both a moral and ethical issue, as well as a dietary and health practice. Although people may come to the vegetarian way of life for a variety of reasons, there are two major categories of vegetarianism: 1) Ethical Vegetarianism, and 2) Dietary Vegetarianism.
2.1 The Moral and Ethical Aspects of Vegetarianism
Some people practice vegetarianism because of their religious beliefs or personal morality. These people simply feel that it is “wrong” to kill and slaughter animals for food. Often, they also believe that animals should not be exploited, abused, or mistreated in any way. This means that an ethical vegetarian would object to vivisection, the skinning of animals for furs and leather, animal experimentation, hunting, fishing, and any other practice in which animals are hurt or murdered.
Vegetarianism is also a tenet of many religious teachings. The Hindus in India and various Christian sects in this country, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Church of Latter Day Saints, often avoid all meat eating. In these religions, the prohibition against the eating of animals is related to the taking of life. They simply believe that it is wrong to murder or kill anyone, whether it be a human, a cow, or chicken.
Many Buddhists who preach nonviolence generally practice vegetarianism, but they will also eat meat that is offered to them by their hosts. They do not kill animals for food, but will often eat such animals that have already been killed by others. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a strict vegetarian.
In fact, many founders of the world’s greatest religions were originally vegetarians or became so after their period of enlightenment. There are a goodly number of serious Biblical scholars who also think that Jesus Christ was a vegetarian.
Vegetarianism as part of a religion has always existed, and will always continue to do so as long as there are proscriptions against the taking of life.
Other ethical vegetarians, however, may refuse to eat meat on moral principles, yet not be associated with any religion or dogmatic belief. Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English poet of the nineteenth century, was both an atheist and an ethical vegetarian. In 1813, he stated in a treatise on diet that “man’s digestive system was suited only to plant food” and that he abhorred the killing and slaughter that goes hand in hand with meat eating.
You may be considered an ethical vegetarian if you believe that all killing, including animals, is morally wrong. There are those who never eat any meat, not because they consider it unhealthy or even unnatural, but because the murder of any living creature is morally repugnant to them.
2.2 The Dietary and Health Aspects of Vegetarianism
Besides the ethical vegetarian, there is the dietary or health-minded vegetarian. This type of vegetarian may or may not believe it is morally wrong to take an animal’s life. In fact, the question of morality or ethics really does not enter into this type of person’s decision to eat meat or not.
Meat is avoided because of the health problems it creates. It is not included in the diet because of its past association with cancer, heart attacks, kidney failure, arthritis, and other debilitating diseases.
In the past, most vegetarians were so because of ethical or moral beliefs. Now with all the scientific findings about the harmful effects of meat and animal products, more people are becoming vegetarians for dietary or health reasons.
2.3 What Type of Vegetarian Are You?
Most people are vegetarians for both ethical and health reasons, and this is probably the best balance.
Ethical vegetarians, for example, often tend to be somewhat sickly and less healthy than those who are vegetarians for health reasons. Why is this?
Ethical vegetarians avoid meat for moral reasons; they may or may not be concerned with their health.
Consequently, they may indulge in white sugar, pastries, poor food combinations, and bizarrely concocted “meat substitutes.” The one thing you can be sure of, however, is that those who are ethical vegetarians for moral reasons tend to be more consistent in their vegetarianism. They rarely revert back to meat eating because they have strong convictions.
On the other hand, those that come to vegetarianism for purely health reasons may go back to eating meat if their health does not improve or should fail. They are usually willing to try the vegetarian diet for a year or two, or maybe for five or six years. Yet all too often they may start including fish or chicken back into their diet. They see nothing “morally” wrong with eating meat.
The best approach to vegetarianism is both an ethical and health-minded one. If you are not only convinced that vegetarianism is a superior way to health, but that killing animals is morally unacceptable, then you are more likely to be steady in your practice. Vegetarianism without ethics cannot last; vegetarianism without a health-minded and rational attitude is ineffectual. We should imbue our vegetarian practice with both morality and a practical concern for health.
2.4 How Many Vegetarians Are There?
If you are a vegetarian, you are not alone. At least one out of three people in the world today are vegetarians. For some of these people, however, vegetarianism is not a moral or dietary choice: it is a practical necessity. Meat may not be available or it may simply be too expensive to buy.
In America, there are a few people who are vegetarians for economic reasons, but the majority of people who avoid meat in the United States (second highest per capita of meat consumption in the world) do so out of ethical or health concerns.
In 1978, an extensive poll was conducted by the Roper organization to determine how many vegetarians there are in the United States. Here are their findings:
|Class||Percent of the Total U.S. Population:|
|Strict vegetarians—those that never eat any meat, fish, or fowl||0.5%|
|Mainly vegetarians—those that eat meat less than once or twice a week||2.6%|
|People who say they are “careful” about how much meat they eat||17.0%|
|People who eat meat less often than they once did||75.0%|
In other words, about one out of 200 people in this country practice vegetarianism or approximately 1,150,000 Americans do not eat meat. Of course a goodly number of these vegetarians also eat milk, eggs, cheese, honey, and other animal products. In fact, about nine out of ten vegetarians still eat dairy products and eggs, it is somewhat encouraging, however, that the great majority of Americans are at least consciously cutting back on their tremendous meat consumption.
The reasons that these vegetarians gave the Roper organization for becoming a vegetarian are also revealing. Over half of those people who practice vegetarianism do so purely for health reasons (56%). About one out of six vegetarians (16%) do not eat meat for humanitarian or moral reasons. Saving money and the high cost of meat are the main reasons that 25% of all vegetarians follow their diet, and the remaining two or three percent vegetarians avoid meat because of the wishes of their family, spouse, parents, or children.