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Becoming vegetarian

My name is Georgia, and I am a vegetarian.

I know that in writing that, I have already turned a significant proportion of my audience. The omnivores among you are rolling their eyes, skimming by, and looking for something else to read that will hopefully be less moralising and self-righteous. The vegetarians among you are probably already irked I’ve structured my introductory sentence as though stating I am an alcoholic or drug addict, conditions that while increasingly understood and even forgiven by society are hardly desirable to have on a resume. The vegans among you have sniffed condescendingly, but are possibly still reading.

I am a vegetarian, but I have only recently become one. Maybe that is why I am currently more interested in the politics of vegetarianism than I am in the actual eating of vegetables. (And other things, people. Vegetarians also eat things beside vegetables, let’s keep that in mind).

I became vegetarian around six weeks ago, after reading Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer. Great book, great arguments, completely convincing to me. I made the ultimate switch because I finally found out the kind of lives animals actually have, and it was too revolting to perpetuate. But I’d been trending gradually vegetarian for years, largely because of concerns about sustainability and the environment’s ability to absorb the impacts of our choosing to eat large and unhealthy amounts of meat. I ate meat perhaps twice a week – rarely red meat because of the larger impacts of cattle – and got by. I probably would have turned completely, except that being allergic to dairy made turning completely vegetarian difficult. (Honestly, how often do you see vegetarian options in cafes or restaurants that do not involve cheese?)

Looking back at the above paragraph, I don’t know why I’m explaining my vegetarianism to you. I don’t know why I offer a defence without being asked. I don’t know why I am explaining a choice that has no impact on anyone but me (unless you’re cooking for me). I don’t know why I have to explain.

I do know why I’m trying, though. It’s very simple. It’s because any time I tell anyone I am vegetarian, they ask why. It’s a decision put on display for public scrutiny, for analysis and deconstruction. It’s not enough to state that I am vegetarian; I have to have a reason. And in most cases, my reasons will be deconstructed.

Vegetarians vs meat-eaters graph

If I were in danger of starving, would I eat meat? The answer is of course I would, if I would otherwise die, which is taken as some sort of admission of defeat or failure, or a lack of moral absolutism. And this is ridiculous. That I choose not to eat meat on a day-to-day basis because I considered it immoral is not undermined because I would eat meat if I were in danger of dying – much in the same way that while I do not wear a safety harness walking on the street, it would not detract from my right to wear one if I took up mountain climbing. Choices for day-to-day life are not on the same tier as life and death decisions.

While I don’t eat meat, I will still eat fish. How can I believe in the sanctity of all life if I am willing to murder and consume innocent fish? Again my moral choice is being sabotaged, questioned, derided.

My answer is this: I choose not to eat land animals because I believe it is unsustainable, and because the animals undergo immense suffering. While fisheries of the world are largely also unsustainable, if only because of bycatch issues, I do not believe fish and other sea creatures feel pain in the same way as most animals do.

I eat fish once a week at most, therefore detracting from the sustainability issues. Eating fish also makes the life of a vegetarian who is allergic to dairy marginally more livable. Yes, I’ve compromised my moral ideals for the sake of practicality. I don’t actually think that detracts from my right to call myself vegetarian. Nor do I believe it exempts me from acting as morally as I can in all other situations.

Forget the defence for a minute – I’m sick of giving it. My real question is: why am I obliged to give it? Why do omnivores feel they have the right to interrogate me on this topic? Why is such glee taken in my inconsistencies, my so-called hypocrisy? Why is my vegetarianism seen as a personal attack?

I don’t actually feel the need to advocate vegetarianism to everyone I meet. I do believe if you are an environmentalist, you must also be vegetarian, but this is actually the first time I’ve declared myself one in public. I don’t much care about what you do or don’t eat in your kitchen, provided you don’t require me to do so. And I actually have no interest in your eating habits – so why are you so threatened by mine?

Eating meat takes a considerable toll on the environment. Factory farms have repulsive amounts of repulsive wastes that take huge amounts of land and resources to clean up. My job has required me to visit a chicken farm and an egg and meat farm that produced barn and free-range eggs (but no cage chickens). Even that was disgusting: there were dead chicken carcasses piled up for the rats to eat, and, strangely, four cow carcasses abandoned around the property, one in a revolting state of bloat.

Eating meat requires more water, more grain, and more land for each kilo of food consumed than eating grains or vegetables, and it produces more waste.

Eating meat also affects our health. Overconsumption of meat contributes to everything from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. It also causes more health risks, including the development of swine and avian flus, and has caused more deaths.

Really, I should be looking at the people in my life who do eat meat, and asking them to defend their choices. They’re taking more from me than I am from them. They’re damaging larger amounts of the environment, requiring more health care, and contributing to dangers that could affect everyone. And typically, not for any reason other than taste. When I tell people I’m vegetarian, more often than not, they say they couldn’t be because they would miss meat. Guess what? SO DO I.

I am just not willing to cause that much damage to the world so I can eat steak.

I know writing this isn’t going to make much difference. There are still going to be jackasses everywhere who feel my vegetarianism somehow comes from sentimentality, who feel threatened and the need to criticise. That’s okay, I deal with a lot of jackasses. I’m not asking you to become vegetarian, or to suggest that I am more moral than you. I’d just like a few people to acknowledge that my choices, for all of these reasons and more, are my own, and do not require a defence.

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Comments

  1. Great graph. I’m not a vegetarian, but my brothers & brother-in-law are and I am shocked by how much pressure they are under to explain themselves. I have no idea why people are so confronted by the idea. As you say, it’s meat eating that one should justify.

    • Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for the supportive words. And I’m glad to know someone else has noticed!

  2. I’m pretty sure a degree of moral superiority is implicite when you opt for vegetarianism for environmental reasons. But who cares?
    I was vegetarian for years and I never felt pressure to explain it to anybody.

  3. I’ve been vegetarian for over a decade now, and the pressure to justify it never really goes away. I’ve had people tell me they couldn’t be vegetarian because they just couldn’t eat that much food (when the meat industry had those ads with giant plates of spinach), or that I’m only vegetarian because I can’t ‘deal with the fact that humans are at the top of the food chain’ (huh?).

    It’s a pet peeve, however, when people who eat flesh call themselves vegetarians. I’m not suggesting for a second that anyone need justify their food decisions. But when people who eat fish (or chicken, for that matter) call themselves ‘vegetarian’ for the sake of convenience, it makes life harder for people who are vegetarian and don’t eat any meat at all. It means that a restaurant dish which we’re told is vegetarian could very well have fish sauce, or shrimp paste, or chicken stock, or even chunks of prawn in it (more than once I’ve been assured that a dish was vegetarian and not been able to eat it when it arrived). It means that if someone is going to make me a meal, we need to clarify that “I’m a vegetarian” means “I don’t eat meat, and that includes fish and chicken.” It means that if I don’t add this entirely redundant statement, there’s a risk I’ll be served a meal based around animal flesh, even when I’ve said I’m vegetarian.

    Please, the correct term for someone who eats fish but not other animals is ‘pescatarian’. I’m not saying this to make life harder for you, but it’s not fair to make it harder for us.

    • Hi Jac,

      I do take the point about making it harder for you. And to be fair, I am almost exclusively vegetarian. When I do eat fish, it’s because there’s nothing else at a place that I can eat, and I normally do have the discussion about why I’m eating fish when I’m vegetarian.

      The thing is: I often don’t have a choice. That may seem like a cop out, but I work as an environmental scientist, often a long way away from towns and cities. I take my own food as often as I can, but if I got stuck in a rural town overnight, I’d eat fish rather than go hungry. In less drastic circumstances, if I’m at a conference or whatever and the lunch is sandwiches, I will eat fish because I can’t have anything else that’s there.

      I really wish I could eat dairy, it would make my life easier. And more morally coherent. But no such luck.

      On a really technical note, being a pescatarian would mean I solely ate fish. And that kind of bugs me. :(

  4. As an omnivore (who was a vegetarian in the past) I am more than happy to acknowledge that your choices don’t require a defense. And really, the defense seems self-evident to me, regardless of what distinctions you choose to make in the spectrum. Moreover, I think you are probably being quite kind about the level of disrespect vegetarianism sometimes engenders. In my experience, some friends and relatives won’t simply interrogate but will actively try to push meat on you, or even hide it in your food. And then there are the strangers, like wait-staff who happily lie that the soup was made with vegetable stock.

    On the issue of environmentalism requiring vegetarianism though(excuse the paraphrasing), I would say that there is a lot more to the issue of ethical food than simply meat/no meat and that, while the compromises for practicality might vary hugely, it is possible for an omnivore to also be a conscientious environmentalist at the dinner table.

    • Hi Lani,

      I would say that there is a lot more to the issue of ethical food than simply meat/no meat and that, while the compromises for practicality might vary hugely, it is possible for an omnivore to also be a conscientious environmentalist at the dinner table.

      I think it’s far more complex than that too, to be fair. I just don’t have the word count to go into carbon miles AND my problems with vegetarianism in one post. Don’t doubt I’ll come back to the topic.

      Thanks very much for the kind words.

  5. Gosh. Can so identify with this. Was a vegetarian from my mid-teens to early twenties and the cop you flak from even acknowledging that you don’t eat meat (I used to say I “avoided it if I could”), is ridiculous. People seem to take it as an attack on their choices.

    I remember one particular time when my grandmother had me cornered in the kitchen and reduced me to tears with the most ridiculously long lecture about why I should be eating meat. She’d make beef/meatball soup, and just did not understand why I couldn’t eat around the meatballs!

    I started eating meat again after 6 years because I moved into a house where conscientious omnivorism was favored. They raised cattle, so I mostly knew where my meat was coming from, I knew they were killed humanely, we had free-range chickens, so an endless supply of cage-free eggs, etc. Don’t live there anymore, but was a great place, and was the healthiest I’d ever been.

    Am thinking of going back to vegetarianism, and have been avoiding Foer’s book like the plague. I’m tired just thinking of the questions/accusations/not-so-clever-quips already.

    I will read it, though. It’s inevitable.

    Thanks for this! I’ll bookmark and direct it to anyone who starts with the questions. It shouldn’t be “why doesn’t that person eat meat?” But rather, “why I do even care what their choices are?”

    • Hi Vikki,

      I am so sorry about your grandmother. I’m sort of expecting similar scenes with my soonish… my mother has made me cry, but I’ve been avoiding the grandparents so far. It’ll be fuuuunnnn.

      Am thinking of going back to vegetarianism, and have been avoiding Foer’s book like the plague. I’m tired just thinking of the questions/accusations/not-so-clever-quips already.

      It’s actually not so bad. I was still eating some meat when I read it, and I didn’t feel accused. I just decided in a hurry I didn’t want to do it any more.

      And I always LOVE being recommended. :)

  6. Georgia, great to read the thoughts of someone recently converted to vegetarianism. And congratulations. It’s a big decision and a hard one when all around you eat meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and can’t believe people still ask the same questions: what on earth do you eat? aren’t you worried about your iron levels? don’t you miss meat? They’re also quick to point out leather on my feet or milk in my fridge. Ironic, when I go out of my way not to make them feel uncomfortable about their food choices.

    One change I have noticed since I was first converted to a meat-free diet, is there seems to be fewer restaurants offering vegetarian options – if you’re lucky there’s one pasta dish on the menu with something ‘not-meat’ flung on the top of it.

    My other little gripe is that whenever I’m at a conference or similar, carnivores pounce on anything vegetarian proclaiming how they much they adore vegetarian food. Meanwhile the vegetarians, unless they’re at the front of the queue, go hungry.

    And they reckon we’re the party-poopers!

    • Hi Trish,

      Thanks! And yes, it seems crazy people have to ask. We’ve been practicing vegetarianism for a really long time. We’re getting really good at it now!

      carnivores pounce on anything vegetarian proclaiming how they much they adore vegetarian food.

      As a dairy free vegetarian dating a vegan, I know EXACTLY what you mean. Maybe more vego food should just be provided? Srsly.

  7. Good post.

    I’m often surprised by people’s immediate desire to hear why I’m vegan, and immediate desire to switch me off once I’ve given a three word answer (“I like animals”). Which I’m fine with, but why ask?

    I think sometimes people ask because they’re confused as to why you’d be vegan (and seem genuinely surprised upon hearing about veal or dead baby boy chickens), but curiosity is often followed by defensiveness.

    Before I was vegan I didn’t like hearing about animal cruelty because it made me feel guilty, and I didn’t like feeling guilty so I’d tune it out. I’ve had friends actually say: “I don’t want to read that book/read that article/watch that video, because I don’t want to have to stop eating meat,” or “I know I should be vegetarian, but I’m too lazy, I just can’t yet”.

    There’s this sense of inevitability: one day I may have to stop this, because it’s bad for animals and I like animals, but please let me keep going for just a few more McDonalds visits/Sunday roasts/Christmas lunches happy in my near-ignorance.

    And I get that, I do, because I was there, I was there for twenty two years — but I’m tired now of people purposely choosing ignorance, day after day. I’m not going to proselytise, but does it bother me? Yes.

    There’s a genuine opportunity to do something good every time someone asks you to explain your ethical choices, but no one wants to be “that vegan” (or vegetarian, in your case), and sometimes, it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

    • Hi Romi,

      but why ask?

      Because it’s unusual!

      I’m happy to be asked. I’m not happy to be interrogated. ANd we both know there’s a difference.

      There’s this sense of inevitability: one day I may have to stop this, because it’s bad for animals and I like animals, but please let me keep going for just a few more McDonalds visits/Sunday roasts/Christmas lunches happy in my near-ignorance.

      That’s actually really interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever thought it so specifically before. But that attitude is very present. Hmm. I think I had it for an awfully long time…

      Confession: I wanted a roast beef sandwich yesterday. They had them on the plate at my course, and it just was all mustardy. But I didn’t. It’s all good.

  8. What I find interesting is that Westerners usually tie their vegetarianism to enviromental and moral choices, whereas in other parts of the world, vegetarianism, or selective meat eating is often tied to religious/spiritual practices n(Rastafarianism, Buddhism, Hinduism etc).

    Then too, of course, moral vegetarianism,even more so veganism, is a choice of the privileged.

    We can walk into any shop and buy the vegetables and other foodstuffs we need to be healthy vegetarians or vegans. Or in some cases we can access seed and good soil to grow our own food in our own backyards.

    The moral and environmental argument is somewhat altered when you think globally: eg: The nomadic Massai who exists mainly on milk, maize meal and meat, or those living in extreme cold weather environments, who rely on high energy animal fat to stay alive.

  9. I agree with Tara, vegetarianism for environmental reasons impies moral superiority:

    “I do believe if you are an environmentalist, you must also be vegetarian”

    This statement lacks logic. You are saying to every meat eater that they are not an environmentalist. Despite the fact that you have no details of the manner or method of their meat consumption or other contributions they may make in relation to environmental issues.

    Then too, you clearly haven’t thought beyond your own backyard. Have you considered that Moral Vegetarianism, as we are talking about it, might largely be a Western (and priveleged) phenomenon? Vegetarianism and selective meat consumption have been historically tied to religion in other parts of the world (eg: Rastafariamism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism).

    Also, there has been no discussion here about the Vegetarianism, circumstance and privilege on a global level. The ‘moral/environmental’ choice argument can seem a bit ridiculous when you think beyond your own backyard.
    The nomadic Massai likes animals too: they are his livelihood. He lives, sleeps and works with them. But he still lives primarily off maize meal, meat and milk.

    Those dwelling in extreme cold weather environments where many crops are nigh impossible to grow depend on animal fat for their energy needs, to stay alive. Notably, these people also prepare their own meat.

    There is also no acknowledgement in this article that the manner in which animals for consumption are reared can have a huge impact on the debate.

  10. Right on, Maxine.

    I grew up in a Persian household eating mostly rice and fresh herbs, very lean meat was a sparce garnish to some dishes. I don’t think I tasted pork until I was in my 20s.

    “They’re taking more from me than I am from them. They’re damaging larger amounts of the environment, requiring more health care, and contributing to dangers that could affect everyone. And typically, not for any reason other than taste.”

    Isn’t this statement equally as judgmental/taking it personally/threatened/critical as the omnivores you describe who question your life-choices? The main difference being that you were an omnivore yourself a few weeks ago, whereas they don’t know what it’s like to be vego?

    Perhaps I was spoilt when I was a vego (and that means no fish/seafood, to me) because many of my friends were as well. Hell, I lived with a vegan who had celiac disease. So when my family would probe me about not eating meat I was happy to have a discussion about it. I found that approaching the topic sans-defensiveness to be convincing and stress-free.

    Don’t really understand why anyone would choose to ‘get into it’ about something as personal as what you put in your mouth. Also don’t really understand why anyone would shy away from discussions about their politics if somebody asks.

    • Hi Tara,

      Isn’t this statement equally as judgmental/taking it personally/threatened/critical as the omnivores you describe who question your life-choices? The main difference being that you were an omnivore yourself a few weeks ago, whereas they don’t know what it’s like to be vego?

      Possibly it is… however, it’s also based on scientific evidence, a lot of thought, and an actual decision. I think what frustrates me most about omnivorism is how unconsidered it generally is. People don’t think about the environmental impact of meat (or, hell, kiwifruit flown in the Italy. I keep seeing them lately and it bothers me).

      So when my family would probe me about not eating meat I was happy to have a discussion about it. I found that approaching the topic sans-defensiveness to be convincing and stress-free.

      I’ve had that conversation with my family, actually. In fact I was lucky in that my sister had it first, so I was greeted with greater acceptance. I guess the thing is, though, that while I am happy to discuss, and happy to explain, I also have other issues in my life. I’m happy to discuss it sometimes, but I don’t want to have to fight to be able to eat what is on my plate. I’m also worried about the environment, gay rights, disability, and Australia’s attitude to asylum seekers. I don’t have time to fight over every meal. And I shouldn’t have to. While I’m happy to write here for you guys, it isn’t my responsibility to educate every person who feels offended I’d rather eat a potato than a steak, when they feel the reverse.

      • I appreciate the scientific basis for politically-motivated vegetarianism. It’s the delivery of the message that I find to be equally as distressing as those creepy adverts for lamb. Then there’s the consideration that people aren’t strictly motivated by scientific fact. Otherwise nobody would drink or smoke either.

  11. Maxine said:

    “Then too, of course, moral vegetarianism,even more so veganism, is a choice of the privileged.”

    Or:

    “Then too, you clearly haven’t thought beyond your own backyard. Have you considered that Moral Vegetarianism, as we are talking about it, might largely be a Western (and priveleged) phenomenon?”

    Since getting your nutrients from animals consumes more resources than getting the same nutrients from plants, and since meat is more expensive than vegetables, it’s more accurate to say that eating meat is a choice of the privileged. That’s why, on average, richer countries eat more meat than poorer countries.

    (For example, according to this source, the average person in New Zealand consumed 142.1 kilograms of meat in 2002. In contrast, in Kenya and Tanzania – where the Massai are mostly found – the average person consumed 14.3 and 10 kilograms of meat, respectively, in 2002. In other words, the average person in New Zealand consumed about 10 times the amount of meat consumed by the average person in Kenya and Tanzania. The source didn’t include any information on meat consumption in Australia.)

    “The moral and environmental argument is somewhat altered when you think globally: eg: The nomadic Massai who exists mainly on milk, maize meal and meat, or those living in extreme cold weather environments, who rely on high energy animal fat to stay alive.”

    Or, if you prefer:

    “Also, there has been no discussion here about the Vegetarianism, circumstance and privilege on a global level. The ‘moral/environmental’ choice argument can seem a bit ridiculous when you think beyond your own backyard.

    The nomadic Massai likes animals too: they are his livelihood. He lives, sleeps and works with them. But he still lives primarily off maize meal, meat and milk.

    Those dwelling in extreme cold weather environments where many crops are nigh impossible to grow depend on animal fat for their energy needs, to stay alive.”

    I think Georgia largely addressed these rare circumstances when she wrote:

    If I were in danger of starving, would I eat meat? The answer is of course I would, if I would otherwise die, which is taken as some sort of admission of defeat or failure, or a lack of moral absolutism. And this is ridiculous. That I choose not to eat meat on a day-to-day basis because I considered it immoral is not undermined because I would eat meat if I were in danger of dying – much in the same way that while I do not wear a safety harness walking on the street, it would not detract from my right to wear one if I took up mountain climbing. Choices for day-to-day life are not on the same tier as life and death decisions.”

    The examples Maxine mentions have little relevance to day-to-day life in Australia. Indeed, since they refer to circumstances that are rare at a global level, on the whole they have little relevance to day-to-day life in global terms. Only a small proportion of people in the world – rich and poor – are forced to eat meat in order to survive.

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for the defense, and I’m glad to hear some reasoned argument for the cause. I hope to see you around.

  12. The examples Maxine mentions have little relevance to day-to-day life in Australia.

    You’re right: No Buddhists, Rastafarians or Jwish people here. Let’s restrict debate to these shores then, shall we?

    You misunderstand me, James. I was not talking at all about eating meat to survive. I was pointing out that there are cultural factors in play which haven’t been considered at all. Tara also touches on these in her comments. Your comment, however, reigns the discussion back to the narrow space it originally occupied.

    • Hi Maxine,

      I think James meant your specific example wasn’t necessarily relevant to the conversation. And in all honesty, I do feel he has a point. Of course there are people around the world for whom eating meat is a necessity, and of course being able to be vegetarian or vegan is an immense privilege.

      However, I do feel you’ve taken my arguments out of context. The discussion is about in my life, people who I personally know. I don’t know any Masai, I don’t even know any Torres Strait Islanders, who rely on meat to a far greater extent than does other people in Australia. And anyone who is reading this blog is almost certainly going to be Australian, wealthy enough to have access to the internet, and therefore privileged. Those are the people I am speaking to, who I am frustrated with, and whom I am tired of having question me.

      And for those people, what I have said above does largely apply. Ninety percent of all meat consumed in Australia is factory farmed, and it has severe environmental consequences.

      And no, I haven’t considered all the cultural issues in this post. I have thought about them, I’ve talked about them with my Jewish friends, and the solutions they have made (sadly I don’t have rastafarian or buddhist friends). I find that mostly my Jewish friends are vegetarian anyway, because they can’t be sure even with Kosher products that animals weren’t harmed and that environmental damage was minimal. In fact there was a massive scandal in the states a few years ago, because supposedly kosher meat was coming from cows which were essentially tortured on camera while the meat was produced. More and more, I’m finding that people who care about how animals are treated are becoming vegetarian, because we just don’t have the systems in place to make sure that meat is ethical, or environmentally neutral.

      Sadly, I don’t have the word count to handle every issue about vegetarianism. It’d take tomes at least, and I already killed my word limit for this one. I hope you won’t consider my future efforts narrow minded.

  13. Maxine is absolutely right: there are cultural factors in play. And they’re important. But if you’re writing for the audience of this blog, it’s fair to assume they’re privileged in one way or another. Perhaps the greatest privilege, an education that encourages thinking about these questions. And while I appreciate the intellectual arguments and don’t want to take the higher moral ground, my immediate impulse (to which I’m giving in to) is to say that it’s simple: if you care about animals, if you care about what they endure before they end up on your plate, if you care about the environment, don’t eat meat.

  14. James’ argument validates mine – he says that millions are vegetarian through essentially, extreme poverty not by choice, that meat eating is the privilege while I say many are meat-eaters due to circumstance and other factors and vegetarianism can be a privilege.

    We are both right. How both these arguments are central to this discussion is that the environmentalist=vegetarian comment, or discussion about Moral vegetarianism, is relevant to us, here and now, as privileged Australians with the means to choose what we do or don’t eat (and thus that the geography /context of the article should be discussed).

    I don’t think I said your efforts were narrow minded Claire. I’m really sorry if that’s how it reads. I just meant that the article needs to be contextualised (and attempted to make a hasty, though not entirely coherent, attempt at it). The post is a very brave one – and a worthy topic as you can see by the debate it’s initiated.

    Hearty discussion is what this blog is for, no?

    For the record, I have been vegetarian. I have also killed and eaten an animal.

  15. I am from the opposite side of the fence – although I am really more carniverous than omniverous, and I must say that not once has a vegetarian ever judged me for my choice of diet despite the fact they are right and I am wrong.

    It really gets my goat when meat eaters like myself judge the lifestyle choices of vegetarians. The great majority of these criticisms are based on ignorant stereotypes which really hold no weight at all in the real world – just in the minds of those who feel “challenged” by another persons choice of diet … because for every person who doesn’t eat a steak, an angel will die?

    I do realise, however, that I’m not really perfect myself being a person who has more meat in my diet than anything else. Maybe it’s time I stopped “considering” and started “doing”. As much for the benefit of my own abused body as for the environment.

  16. I do agree that it’s right to say there are some people for whom the decision of what to eat and what not to eat has much more significant ramifications than those faced by people in a rich country like Australia…I certainly wouldn’t want to underestimate the constraints imposed on, for example, pastoralists and hunters in extreme poverty.

    Just as an aside, the Wikipedia entry on the Maasai diet is kind of interesting, if it can be believed. It suggests that over time the Maasai diet is moving away from the traditional diet of milk, meat, and blood. One of the sources it cites is this article, which says:

    “Traditionally the Maasai diet was based predominantly on products produced by their own livestock, i.e. milk, meat, and blood. With the increasing pressure for land resulting from overgrazing and land alienation, the Maasai people began the transition from that of a traditional, subsistence system into that of a market economy. The establishment of the group ranching scheme, through which the Maasai borrow money that they have to repay to the government with the revenue from livestock sales, has also hastened this change. This transition from a pastoralist to an entrepreneurial economy appears to have resulted in changes in the dietary patterns of the Maasai people, in that purchased foods, particularly maize, are becoming an increasingly important component of their diet.”

    “Today, the staple diet of the Maasai consists of cow’s milk and maizemeal…Meat, although an important food, is consumed irregularly and cannot be classified as a staple food. Animal fats or butter are used in cooking, primarily of porridge, maize, and beans. Butter is also an important infant food. Blood is rarely drunk.”

    The article also suggests that, among the Maasai sub-households surveyed in 1982 and 1983 for the article (a sub-household consists primarily of a woman and her children), meat was consumed on only about 3 days each month, on average. (Meat consumption was probably higher among men.)

  17. So the Maasai are not eating as much meat because of outside influences on their traditional lifestyle? I don’t quite understand your point, James? Maybe it was just an information post?

  18. Yes, just an information comment – probably of most interest to me because of my bone-headed ignorance. The image I had of the Maasai seems to have already been outdated by the early 1980s, in particular in relation to their diet. I had imagined that the Maasai diet would be much more centred on meat than it actually is – for example, with meat being eaten on only 3 days each month, the Maasai seem to actually eat comparatively little meat. As I say, the comment was spurred on by my earlier ignorance. Nothing much to see here..move along…

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