Visitors to the VHS website will note that we have a project called ‘Eat less meat,’ which provides information on the consequences of meat production and consumption. It explains the animal suffering caused by factory farming and also refers to the negative impacts on the environment and human health. And, obviously, it encourages people to respond to these issues by eating less meat.
For some, especially ethical vegans and vegetarians, eating “less” meat may seem a tepid response to a system responsible for the slaughter and abuse of billions of animals.
It’s absolutely true that veganism, abstaining from all animal products, is the best response to factory farming and other forms of animal cruelty. If all human beings were vegan an immense amount of animal suffering would simply disappear. It’s something worth aiming for, as both a personal goal and as an ideal for human society.
VHS’s position is that any movement toward that goal should be encouraged and that no one who falls short should be demonized. So a heavy meat-eater who reduces meat consumption or a flexitarian who becomes a vegetarian or a vegetarian who becomes a vegan should all be applauded. They are all on the same path and they are all making a difference.
Animal advocates, academics and philosophers are currently engaged in complex debates about human responsibilities toward animals and the moral issues surrounding meat consumption. Sadly, these debates can be bitter and divisive, leaving the animal rights movement fractured and fractious.
To outside observers it can sometimes appear that the debate is about competing for moral purity rather than addressing animal suffering. Negative stereotypes of vegans and vegetarians, often fostered by the media, portray them as intolerant, humourless zealots. Such misconceptions, though unfair and untrue, do have to be taken into account when encouraging people to address farm animal suffering by moving toward a plant-based diet. Perceptions matter.
There is some evidence that omnivores resent ethical vegetarians because they perceive (inaccurately) that they are being harshly judged. It is possible that the very people the animal rights movement wants to engage on this issue are being turned off by this perceived “holier-than-thou” attitude. They feel demonized as morally inferior before anyone can even begin a discussion with them about the benefits of reducing or eliminating meat consumption.
That’s why VHS advocates eating less meat. Anyone can do that. And, once you start, it’s not hard to reduce meat consumption one step at a time. There has never been a time when cutting out meat was so easy. There are more meatless options in supermarkets and restaurants than ever. There are more vegetarian and vegan cookbooks available and a wealth of online information on plant-based diets.
There are also plenty of studies showing why reducing meat consumption is good for human health, the environment and, of course, animals. More people are becoming aware of these facts. By becoming one of them and taking whatever steps you can to address the issue, you can make a difference.