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January 11, 2013: Vegetarianism and freedom of choice

Originally posted on this blog.

In many parts of the world, there are more and more vegetarians, and most people, even when they don't really know much about our diet, do accept the fact that someone can choose to live meat-free. The problem, I find, arises when someone like myself tries to spread the word about the benefits of vegetarianism. Why, some would say, would I want to impose my beliefs on other people? Isn't vegetarianism just a choice, just like eating meat is a choice? Since the freedom to choose one's lifestyle is a very important one for most people, they often get very defensive whenever they feel someone tries to take that freedom away from them.

The first thing to consider here is why someone chooses to become a vegetarian. If one chooses a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle for dietary reasons alone (and there are indeed health benefits to doing so), and we ignore all other aspects of the issue, then yes, this becomes a question of a simple lifestyle choice. Another popular reason why people become vegetarians is the whole negative environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry on the planet, namely the misallocation of resources and land, the pollution tied in to various factory farms, etc. This is a valid concern, so encouraging people to become vegetarians for this reason is no different than encouraging people to recycle, to not buy clothes made in sweatshops, etc. As with any environmental issues, one is still free to choose a path that causes more damage to the environment, though most of us would agree that a path that ensures a sustainable existence for future generations is the better way to go. The third reason why people become vegetarians (and this one applies to most Effaists) is because of respect for the life of other animals. Those of us who truly care about other animals do our best to respect the life of other sentient animals as much as we do human life. While we consider human life to be very precious, we would never equate being human with the right to exploit and kill other species for our benefit. When someone begins to value all life, then, it becomes as important to raise consciousness about our injustices towards other animals, as it is to raise consciousness about our injustices towards each other. while someone who has not progressed to the same level of compassion might not understand this, for someone who has opened their minds and hearts to the suffering of all creatures, this becomes perfectly clear.

Having said all this, eating meat, ultimately, is still a choice. We are all free to choose to act in a way that either encourages or minimizes violence in the world. Still, injustices do have to be exposed and discussed. This is how societies progress. While we, as a society, have come to the realization that other forms of violence are wrong, and will punish murderers, rapists, child-abusers, hooligans, etc., we, more often than not, still stop short of including our abuse and killing of other animals in the equation. Effaists like myself are trying to challenge and change the belief that humans have some sort of inherent right to exploit other animals. We are trying to create a world where there is less violence, one in which all of us, humans and animals alike, suffer less, and live together in a more harmonious way. As long as this is done in a respectful, informed way, I believe there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to take steps towards a fairer relationship with other living beings.

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