Following a recent talk organised by Sceptic Soc, a society I co-founded, here’s my take on it. I obviously can’t cover all the many aspects of the issue so here’s a response to what was mentioned in the talk and ensuing discussion.
The main argument put forward was the economic one – the whole argument about each kilogram of meat requiring countless gallons of water and stacks of food to grow, while millions are starving in Africa. It’s true that meat production is hugely inefficient, however I do wonder why vegetarians believe that by depriving themselves of all meat, the suffering they incur on themselves, their friends and family is worth less than the infinitesimal benefit to people in Africa. What’s wrong with depriving themselves of just a bit of meat? Let’s take a look at a diagram:
Assuming the law of diminishing returns is true: if vegetarians eat enough meat to make them OY happy (maximum possible) – let’s say eating that much meat is of maximum utility to the person. Africa consequently gets minimum food. But almost the same utility (OC) can be achieved by eating much less meat, giving Africa OD food – much more. So I can understand the logic behind limiting intake of meat. what I can’t understand is what happens when vegetarians eat O meat. Africa gets OX food, but all one needs to do is deprive Africa of a tiny amount of food to provide just a bit more meat to vegetarians. This might be just half a steak every weekend, but is nevertheless still some meat. The utility this gives to vegetarians is huge, since it is a very rare luxury for them. So by depriving Africa of BX food, the vegetarians get OA utility. One would have to be very concerned indeed for Africa to create such misery for oneself by not eating any meat when by just eating a tiny amount of meat and having a tiny effect on Africa, personal happiness is increased so greatly.
The argument that one should be prepared to kill one’s own meat is also flawed. As pointed out by Dr Zetie, killing meat is incredibly messy (disembowelling hares etc.) and doing something like killing a cow requires tools that most of us simply haven’t got, although a taser in combination with a large knife might work.
The religious argument was also put forward. I guess I’ll always have to differ with religious vegetarians as I just personally find religion as a list of rules to be obeyed blindly nonsensical. The apparently famous quotation ‘only fools argue whether to eat meat or not’ was used – I personally believe that it’s more intelligent and less foolish to debate about it before making a decision than just accept it and say ‘God said so’. The same religion on the other hand believes each animal has a soul and that each soul is part of God’s big soul and by killing any soul you’re damaging God and therefore yourself since your soul is also part of God. Maybe this makes perfect sense to some people, but I personally can’t see myself buying this idea.
Overall, I think it’s true that by reducing meat consumption the world can dramatically change the distribution of food and help countries which really need it. But vegetarianism, with its inconsistent treatment of fish (if anything fish is more in danger than other animals) and dubious religious links is just not for me. Besides, even on a serious note, meat is very, very tasty and nobody should be forced to live without ever having eaten meat.