Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I am not a Demi-vegetarian

A demi-vegetarian is a person who eats little meat and is conscious about where they get it, trying to minimize the suffering of animals.  Peter Singer calls it Compassionate Omnivorism.  I think thats a mouthful, so I like to call it demi-vegetarianism like R.M. Hare.  I was a demi-vegetarian for about 4 years before I converted to being a full vegetarian (with the exception of gelatin.... man you just can't get away from that stuff).

Michael Pollan really turned me into a vegetarian, contrary to his own thesis. In the Omnivore's Dilemma he goes out of his way to show us that there are humanely treated animals. I don't disagree. However, he points out that the industrial organic machine of Whole Foods isn't much better in terms of animal treatment. I agree.

So our alternative is to find the humanely treated meat.... But how exactly do we do that? Its rather impractical (at least for me) to research all of our food options to discover the treatment of the animals.  The farm that Pollan features in his book, he also points out will not ship any of their meat.  So if I want the idyllic farm setting that Pollan describes in his book, I think I have to go to Pensylvania to get it, which is impractical for me, considering I'm in California.  The alternative was of course humanely treated meat.  Whole Foods might be a place where the typical demi-vegetarian would shop.  But Pollan's description of the industrial organic machine wasn't much better than the standard factory farm.  Sure things would be organic, but organic doesn't equate to humane, and when producing food at the scale that Whole Foods demands, its difficult to imagine that the food would indeed be truly humane.

It forced me from considering my self a compassionate omnivore, to what I really was, a-hope-and-faith-in-the-compassion-of-people-who-are-saying-they-are-compassionate-to-their-animals-and then-trying-to-turn-a-profit omnivore.

Consider the analogy of clothing. If you were vehemently against sweatshop labor, and you found a label that said that it was not made in a sweatshop, and bought it on faith that it was not from a sweatshop, even though it was in fact from a sweatshop. Would you be any better than the person who was not conscious of buying their clothes from a sweatshop? Maybe in terms of character you would be... But good characters want to ACTUALLY do good things, not seemingly good things.
Peter Singer spoke at Stanford last year about compassionate omnivorism, advocating it.  I asked him how it we could actually get that kind of meat, and he replied that it was simply readily available*.  I don't buy it.  It strikes me as being naively trusting in a network of suppliers that have never earned my trust, and have been shown time and time again that they don't deserve our trust.
There can't be a middle ground on this until the meat industry is willing to make food production transparent.  Only then can we really be assured that the animals we're eating are humanely treated, and a middle ground, demi-vegetarianism, becomes reasonable.  Until then, the argument for demi-vegetarianism is a good one, but not one that is practicable by the majority of people.

*I'm simplifying my question and his response for the sake of brevity here.


  1. I agree with you. Many people who eat meat feel horribly guilty about eating meat and so seek a way to continue eating meat without feeling guilty. If someone comes along and says, "this meat is kosher, the cow begged us to butcher her, since her deepest desire was to be eaten," they're not likely to investigate too closely, since they've heard what they want to hear.

  2. I would be interested in finding an organic and humane source of meat, but until its available (and reasonably priced), I will continue to be an unethical/immoral and ignorant demi-omnivore shopping at whole foods, cause meat is tasty and frankly, it seems to be the only thing that satisfies my hunger. I've tried not eating meat and I continue to be hungry all day long. Despite soy protein shakes, bean and cheese burritos, etc, I can't satisfy hunger and gain enough protein without eating dead animal flesh. Perhaps the only way you'll ever know for sure whether the animal is organic and humanely treated is to raise the meat yourself. This is, of course, not very practical for sub/urbanites, but my sister lives in a semi-rural setting and raises chickens for their eggs. Its a start, but its not going to produce enough to sustain the local population, let alone her family of six. So what is the answer? I don't know.

  3. Well one answer is to eat less meat. Most people have it at every meal of the day, including a snack. Including fats in your meal like peanuts, avacado, and if you're just a vegetarian, cheese, milk, butter, etc. can help you feel satisfied... but hunger is a product of the mind more than anything. If you simply didn't reward your hunger with food all the time, you'll be less hungry.

  4. One of my favorite quotes of the bands I listen to would be
    "Murder is a family value in almost every home, Murder is a family value..3 times a day" definatly always sticks with me.

    I feel where you are coming from, as I have/HAD a few friends (1 or 2 friend that currently IS) demi-vegetarian. I respect the iniative, and concern of people who try to eat more compassionately. Let me just say this though..(damn its hard to find the nicest way to say it)
    Animals that come from more "friendly farms". Did they really get treated better before they were just killed for human consumption? I honestly doubt it for the most part. (I do hope some of those people live up to their word) Instead of hanging the cow by a meat hook while its still alive, or running into them with fork lifts, or beating them senseless, they use a little hammer gun thing that just SHOOTS right through the cows head and instantly and peacefully puts the cow down.. I really don't think so. But of course, any company that is making their money off the exploitation of defenseless animals really isn't gonna go out of their way, or budge an inch to insure that these animals had some what of a decent life before they just kill them anyways. I've heard Whole Foods is run by some republican who like to jack up prices so feel-good liberals ect will just buy, buy, buy, all the "organic" food anyways. Go figure.
    I've been vegan for 4 years now, as of this month, and it makes me real sad to see that even the "compassionate" food, and the "organic" food, really isnt what they say it is, and a lot of people get tricked or suckered into paying more for some bs. ah but anyways.
    I think that Peter Singer advocated compassionate choices, and talked about food that is cruelty-free and READY to be bought is because that is probably the first step to get more people to be an actual vegetarian. The general public will laugh or ignore you if you tell them to stop eating meat, (even with every fact about how its bad or cruel right in front of them), but some of the kind hearted individuals might answer to the call of Cruelty-free farms, it might help them feel better about themselves and their choices, or like feel they've helped, and its a good first step twords vegetarianism, and total animal liberation. With all that being said, I still think that it really is important and a good thing to at least buy from "free-range, cruelty free" places when you do get meat because hopefully those animals were treated better, and your not sending your money to some blood thirsty giant corporation like Foster Farms. KUDOS!
    -Patrick C, intro to phil

  5. The only thing that is going to bring any change is a change in the law. What people need to do if they really care about the quality of their food, and or the inhumane treatment of the animals is to vote on it. For some crazy reason the government has been purposely pushing this issue aside (I wonder why...)OH YEAH! Former CEOs of meat companies are members of the FDA...