Recent research has confirmed what some have long
suspected: the percentage of Americans who are truly vegetarian has not
changed significantly in the past 30 years.(1) And the
percentages are unlikely to change very much unless those who believe
that the deprivation and suffering caused by human carnivorism is intolerable, learn something from those who came to the conclusion that slavery was intolerable.
As long as
people did not want to appear "judgmental" in regard to those who
upheld slavery, there was no chance of abolition.
As slavery became more widespread and its atrocities
multiplied, growing numbers of people became disturbed by its abuses
and distanced themselves from participation in it. But they
could not distance themselves from the people with whom they
worked, worshipped, and lived. So in its earliest stages the
issue of slavery was treated as one of personal choice. This
allowed people to live comfortably and without dissent among
neighbors and family who supported the status quo. It also allowed
them to be viewed as Good Christians who subscribed to the
biblical directive "judge not, lest ye be judged."
This was a
position as politically correct and self-serving in its own day as
is the espousal of ethical relativism and value-free judgments
in our own time. It was also a position that ignored another
passage of scripture which directed the believer to "judge with a
But a growing number of people began to understand that
because the abuses of slavery were upheld by custom, law, and
religion, the buying and selling of other human beings reflected a
societal standard as well as an individual choice. And they
understood that as members of a society which validated and
perpetuated its cruelties, they shared the moral responsibility for its
offenses. Only when this happened did abolition become a
And it is only when those who understand that killing
other beings in order to satisfy an appetite for their flesh
is much more than a personal choice, that human carnivorism will
become an anomaly. Only when the cruelty and immorality of
breeding animals for the slaughterhouse is recognized as an evil sanctioned by society and upheld by its laws, will
vegetarianism reach the next stage of its evolution in Western
In Western civilization? Yes. We can set an example for
others but our own culture, with its values and traditions, is
the only one we can hope to change. People of other cultures will
have to find the basis for change within their own belief
systems. Should this discourage us from working for the abolition of
human carnivorism? Of course not.
Although slavery was ended
in England almost 200 years ago by legislation and in the United
States by civil war, there are still, literally, tens of thousands
of people who are being sold into slavery in our own day.
And although other countries and other cultures continue to
traffic in the buying and selling of human beings, that does not
stop us from continuing to outlaw it in our own country.
For those who are aware of the ways in which the buying
and selling, the killing and the consumption of animal
beings permeates every aspect of our society, the odds against
its abolition can seem overwhelming. And were it not for the
example of the end of slavery in Western culture, an end to
human carnivorism would seem a Utopian dream. But we do have
the example of slavery to show us that no matter how deep
its roots, nor how great its antiquity, a spiritually evolving
human race is able to overcome its failings.
Because slavery and carnivorism can be traced back to
the beginning of historical times, both have been accepted
as enduring components of human society. Millennia of women
and men were carefully taught to rationalize or ignore the
cruelties and deprivations endured by enslaved human beings and to
claim divine sanction for brutalities that were devised by men.
just as biblical support was claimed for slavery, the Bible has
also been used to validate the eating of other creatures, although
the scripture clearly states that men and women were created
to be herbivorous.(2)
In times past, people were content to claim that God
supported their carnivorism. But in an increasingly secularized
society, various pseudo-scientific explanations have been
developed to account for the brutality that demands a diet of dead
animals for its sustenance. Scientism--or junk-science--has
manufactured various theories to explain the continuing brutality
that insists on killing and eating other creatures.
For the secularist, the claim that God said it's all
right to eat other creatures has no creditability. So anthropology
and physiology have provided rationalizations to fill the
void left by those who believe that God-is-dead or never was.
These alternative excuses allow contemporary humans to blame
pre-historic ancestors for their modern-day food choices.
Anthropologists offer the theory of enculturation and physiologists vaguely speak of "adaptation" and assure
you that it is your genes that make you want to kill and eat
Among family and friends, most vegetarians have been
subjected to these ongoing religious and secular arguments, offered
as proof that carnivorism is okay/normal. Of course, the
adversarial answer to that position is that it's not okay/normal to
eat your fellow creatures. Ultimately, these arguments lead
either to a rift in relationships or an agreement not to discuss the
subject again. Every vegetarian knows how painful either
decision is and no suggestions will be offered here, about the way it
should be resolved.
However, at the level of infrequent encounters with
neighborhood, church or social groups, there are guidelines that
should be observed. When those who refuse to eat the chicken kiev
at the annual luncheon are challenged about their refusal, they
have automatically become spokesperson against animal
suffering. And when asked "why" they don't partake, the answer is
usually a variation on the theme of a nonviolent diet. But if the
dialogue continues, and they are asked if they think it's wrong
to eat meat, many will begin to equivocate. And generally
speaking, it is those who consider themselves well-educated and
intellectually aware, who do this.
Above all other considerations, they do not want to be
thought of as ignorant and judgmental. Value-free is the way to be
if you aspire to be considered a highly developed, rational
being by those who have decided the criteria for that
designation. For some people, this is even more important than the fate
of the animals for whom they may truly be concerned.
The mind-set of this kind of person prevails even at the
media level. Unfortunately, this writer has been privy to what
went on at a meeting between a journalist and the spokesman for
a vegetarian group. When asked whether or not eating meat
was wrong the spokesman, who is a medical professional, said
"no," he couldn't make such a statement. It might be wrong for
him, personally, but he certainly would not make that
judgment for others. Having established himself as an intelligent,
value-free observer of the human scene, he went on to volunteer the information that we must also consider the fact that
there are people who struggle with a physical or psychological
addiction to eating flesh. Of course, this value-free standard also
absolves a Hannibal Lector of responsibility for his food choices.
In order for vegetarianism to become a societal
standard, those who refuse to eat other creatures need to resist the intellectual, religious and social pressures that try to
make it simply a matter of individual choice. Although carnivorism has overwhelming majority approval at this time, that does
not make it a moral or ethical choice. And in a society in which
optimum nourishment can easily be had without the slaughter or
cruel confinement of other creatures, those who understand the brutality of human carnivorism have an obligation to
speak their truth when they are asked "Do you think meat-eating is
(1) Donna Maurer, Ph.d "Vegetarianism: Movement or
Moment."For more information: www.veganoutreach.org
(2) Genesis 1:29. For further discussion see "The
Biblical Basis of Vegetarianism" at this website.
Copyright 2003 J. R.