On Vegetarianism

On the subject of hypocrites, here is today's question: Are vegetarians hypocrites?

First, the preface, which is probably pretty obvious if you're a long time Blonde Justice reader: I eat meat. Plenty of it. And I enjoy it.

I think that I tried a little stint as a vegetarian, maybe in junior high, I'm not too sure why. My first guess is that my friends were doing it, but I can't really remember if that was true. Anyway, it lasted maybe a month, at the most. I remember the night it ended: I went out for Chinese food with my parents - I can remember which restaurant, what booth we sat in - and I ordered my favorite, lemon chicken. Before the waitress could even walk away, my father asked me, "I guess you're not a vegetarian anymore?" Um, no, I guess not.

In a way, I thin I've always kind of associated being a vegetarian with this kind of junior high phase. And obviously, it isn't for everyone, but it was for me, and many of my friends. So was writing really terrible poetry. And, so, just to admit my biases, I think that for me, when someone tells me they're a vegetarian, I have just a quick passing thought of, "What are we, in junior high?"

Ok, so how did this question of vegetarians and hypocrites arise? Last weekend, a friend of mine had a little dinner party. One of the guests was a vegetarian (actually, I think he's vegan, but whatever). No, he was not in junior high, he was a grown man. This vegetarian also happened to be, under any medical definition, morbidly obese. After dinner, as we were cleaning up, the host remarked to me, "I didn't realize until it was too late, but I used chicken stock when I was cooking. I guess it doesn't matter. I don't know how he can say he's a vegetarian and be that overweight."

To tackle the issue of whether vegetarians are hypocrites, I think we first need to grasp why a particular person is a vegetarian. A few reasons that come to mind, although I'm sure that there are many more, are:
  • The most common, the "I love animals" reason.
  • Health reasons. These vegetarians believe that there are health benefits to avoiding meats or certain meats.
  • Environmental reasons. These vegetarians believe that land could provide for more people if it was growing vegetables or grains for human consumption rather than being used for animal grazing. Also maybe because cattle let off greenhouse gases too, I think.
So, let's assume, just for sake of argument those are the only 3 reasons for being a vegetarian.

Now, let's say you see a vegetarian wearing a leather jacket. Is he a hypocrite? It really depends on what his reason is. If he's an "I love animals" vegetarian, than yes, he's either a hypocrite or sorely misinformed about where leather comes from. But if he's a "health reasons" vegetarian, there is probably no conflict.

I'd need to do more research to decide whether an "environmental" vegetarian can or should wear leather - I would assume grazing cattle that have a future in leather are just as bad for the environment, but I guess I could see the flip side - Native Americans used all part of the animal - ate the meat, used the hides - and they are/were better for the environment than we are. But the truth is, the modern slaughter houses probably aren't providing hides to the tanner, unless maybe the "environmental" vegetarian lives on some kind of eco-commune, and they raised an animal in some eco-friendly way, and killed the animal for the sake of the group, but he didn't eat it (because he's an "environmental" vegetarian), but he got the jacket. But by that description he could have eaten this animal too, so this isn't making any sense, but whatever, now you see how my imagination works.

Ok, next up, a vegetarian who doesn't recycle. Is this hypocritical? Again, we go to the reason. If he is a vegetarian because he's worried about his cholesterol or something, who cares if he doesn't recycle. If he's an "I love animals," he probably should recycle because what's good for the earth is good for all animals, but I can see how that is a little more remote possibly. But if he's an "environmental" vegetarian, sure, he's a hypocrite.

Ok, finally, is an extremely overweight vegetarian a hypocrite? Sure, if he's claiming that he gave up meat to improve his health but his whole diet consists of pizza and cake, he's either a hypocrite or pretty uninformed in the ways of healthy eating. And we're not even talking about pizza with whole-wheat dough. But I think you can be an "I love animals" vegetarian or an "environmental" vegetarian, and acting strictly within those themes, still be plenty fat.

So, no, I don't think an overweight vegetarian is necessarily a hypocrite, but he might be one. It might not hurt to take a minute to ask your vegetarian house guest why he is a vegetarian, unless you feel like you would just be indulging his junior high attention-seeking-behavior.

11 comments:

  1. I have yet to find someone that isn't a hypocrite about something. My own hypocritical idea is that I don't really like computer in that I'm kind of a back to the earth kind of person but on the other hand I love computers and computer games and reading blogs.

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  2. Even if a vegetarian is a hypocrite, that doesn't distinguish him from most people. Cut him some slack. Unless he's also a preachy, moralistic vegetarian. Then throw the book at him. And since he was a vegan, I'm guessing he was - personally, I don't know any vegans who aren't preachy and moralistic.

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  3. I dunno if this is true for this particular guy, but consider that he might be new to vegetarianism and/or just beginning to take his health seriously. Many heavy people who eat *healthful veggie diets* do end up losing weight, but you know, it takes time and it's different for different people. not to rag on the whole point of your post, but asking if vegetarians are hypocrites is just as useful as asking if die-hard free market types are hypocrites when they give coins to the salvation army at christmas--it's basically totally beside the point of any philosophy or belief system. people are vegetarians for many of the reasons you listed and lots more, and the interesting thing is that for whatever reason, they find that the absention is meaningful. it does not mean that their behaviors will be consistent and rational. If you were to carry out the logic of your "hypocrite" question, the environmental veggie would have to "be environmental" (whatever that means) about *every* part of his life, consistent with whatever (half-formed, because people are not all-knowing) environmental philosophy he has. i'm sure you can see that this is an unreasonable standard to hold people to--especially when your interest is essentially in challenging a belief system that isn't your own. would you post about whether christians are hypocritical by not being charitable? it's enough to acknowledge that a vegetarian diet doesn't have any meaning for you, personally, and may have even negative meaning. ... by the way, i like your blog :)

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  4. I'm a vegetarian. I hate being asked why I am veggie, I simply am.

    I wish people would stop asking me why (I'm not trying to convert them or judging what they eat or making snide comments as they try to enjoy their dinner)

    It sounds like you've had a bad experience with a 'get close to nature nut' ? don't take it out on all of us, and please please please if you ever had me (someone like me) over for dinner there are 100 other more interesting topics we could discuss that would be more interesting than my reasons for vegetarianism.

    To be quite frank, its nobody else's business what i choose to eat, and as for houseguests if you had a jew/muslim over i suspect you wouldn't have any problem doing kosher/halal for them? why should veggies be any different?
    (unless of course they are going around crusading the virtues.. and then they deserve everything they get!)

    y'all have a nice dinner tonight!

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  5. I'm so upset by your last comment, my vegetarianism is such a secret, precisely because of people like you! (this blog is anon, obviously)
    I avoid mentioning it until the very last (dates find out in the restaurant) man! junior high?! attention seeking?! maybe thats what it was for you, but it isn't for me!

    Do you think dietary choices made by Jews & Muslims are attention seeking too? (or the fact that they've been told to eat this way and are just following a cultural practise than making an individual decision makes it ok?!)

    I know I should not care what people think of me, but to a certain extent we all do. I would hate to think that people saw me as attention seeking!
    What about people disliking certain food items , honey for example, leave the honey off the dessert, is that attention seeking too?!
    I take it you're in the USA, and vegetarianism isn't such a big thing over there as it is here, but man! what about live and let live?!

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  6. As sweetpea suggests, there is always going to be something hypocritical about anything, the real question is whether that vegetarian is more in your face about it. Some of my vegetarian friends always comment when I eat meat "How can you do that? Do you know what they do to those chickens? Do yo know how they treat their cows." So, if this vegetarian is just going about their lives, no reason to chalenge them, but like the interest over Elliot Spitzer, plenty of prosecutors do something immoral or illegal from time to time, but Spizer was just so bullying and moralistic all the time, making him even more of a hypocrit than others.

    For those vegetarians and especially vegans who think they are not hypocrites: do you swat mosquitos when they are sucking blood from your skin? It's not self defense as most mosquitos that will bite a vaccinated human will not kill.

    If you were on a boat, with no water and food, and you knew you wouldn't be rescued for thirty days, would you kill an animal on the boat to survive? If it's okay to kill animals to survive, then presumably, as long as animals are being treated humanley, a vegan would not mind the human race eating animals.

    Finally, what if a couple ran over a dog (accidentally)--is there anything wrong in cutting up that dog and eating it? It may be disgusting or repulsing, but anything logically or morally wrong? (Especially considering they did not kill the animal).

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  7. This (American) vegetarian (who went veg pre-Junior High) seconds EVERYTHING Medically Brunette said.

    Thank you!

    Blonde Justice, I was devastated to see how close minded you can choose to be about something that doesn't impact you at all. It's good this is all anon, I'd hate to know how you would judge me.

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  8. Jeez. I should have posted my comment here instead of under the original post. I am a vegetarian and I don't care if you are too or if you enjoy meat. If it makes you happy...so be it. It's not my job to change the world, or yours for that matter.

    Look, we are all hypocrites in some way, just as sweetpea said. But at the same time, don't judge someone unless you want to be judged. (Now before you all start bashing me for getting biblical, I just chose that saying because it was appropriate, OK?)

    The problem is that we as a society seem to get our underwear all bunched up because some says something we may not like or agree. I suggest that those of you who find the comments judgmental, ask yourselves if you have not done the same thing? If you say you have not, you are either lying or delusional.

    Lighten up, folks.

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  9. Yikes, BlJu,you do rant on so about someone else's personal choices. What do you care what someone else eats? I've come to expect more from the defense bar in my 15 years as a prosecutor. My 16 yo son has been the sole vegetarian in our family for 4 years, and has never used this trait to seek attention or preach. We all manifest our personal differences in multiple ways. Isn't this what makes life interesting? Happy Easter, Brunette (w/a bit of gray) Justice in Maine

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  10. Another reason to be a vegetarian: I just don't happen to like meat. I don't even talk about it, try to avoid it, but will not insult someone or ruin a gathering by insisting that someone else provide separate food just for me. And I have a friend who is a vegan and never mentions it, just avoids meat, eggs, milk, etc. There are plenty of obnoxious vegetarians, but not all are.

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  11. I have comments for both this and Western's comments...

    First Western, why do meat eaters always make up ridiculous hypothetical questions? The best one i ever heard was "If you were trapped on a desert island (a meat eater favorite), and the island was inhabitated by chickens (or other random animal), and poisonous plants that are only poisonous enough to make you very sick, but not kill you, which would you eat? " What the hell... of course i would eat the chicken. This is the same as your comments, though more imaginative to be honest. In regards to your hypotheticals and speaking as one who is vegetarian for animal rights reasons, I present the following:

    I would swat the mosquito because they cause really annoying bites. While this does not cause major injury, having dozens of these on your body makes life more difficult. The animal rights reasons generally stem mostly from the current state of animals for food lifecycle. I don't see it as hypocritical because they are causing a harm to you (regardless of how minor) versus people not wanting to look else where for food, or finding it so tasty they don't care.

    2. I agree, it would be ridiculous to not eat the animal. I would do my best to kill the animal quickly and painlessly. People who come up with these and think the vegetarian is hypocritical for saying they'd eat the animal are crazy. It is human nature to do what you must to survive. This also goes back to the farm/food industry and the way that animals are treated. This is the example i hate the absolute most.

    3. Nothing wrong with cutting up the animal and eating it. It's already dead. If you need it to survive, then go for it. If i had to do it to survive i would. This also brings up an interesting phenomenon of (at least american) meat eaters. The idea that eating one animal is ok, and another is not. People can eat pigs, seafood, chickens, duck, cows, deer, sheep, etc, but not dogs or cats. Is it a personality thing? Pigs have been shown to have similar personalities to dogs, and some believe they are smarter than dogs. Is it a cuteness thing? Deer are super cute, but tons of people eat venison. Loads of people have pigs as pets, think they are cute, but many think those people are crazy, and eat them without a problem.

    Lastly i return to Blond Justice. Of course he may or may not be hypocritical. Without knowing his reasons for eating animals, there really is no way of knowing this. The automatic assumption of the hostess is purely rude. Maybe he is jewish or hindu or 7th day adventist, and doesn't want to bring religion into the discussion. Meat and brussle sprouts are in two completely different categories.

    I am a vegetarian, but i don't bring it up, and most vegetarians i know, i didn't find out until long after i met them (some as many as 2 years later). Even going to vegetarian gatherings, the consensus i hear is that most don't like to bring it up because they don't want to deal with the barrage of hypotheticals that invariably happen. I believe in the idea that people tend to highlight the things in their life that align with their current belief system, and filter out most that doesn't. Religious people grow up hearing that the atheists hate them, and are trying to destroy their beliefs, and control everything. Atheists are a minority in this country, despite what people say. There is no chance that one will become president, and as far as i have found, none have been elected even to congress. This is the same as vegetarian beliefs. People grow up hearing how vegetarians are preachy, and never shut up about this that and the other thing, and so when they hear it, they tend to focus on it.

    Anyways. my 5 cents (a little long to be 2 cents).

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