A Philosopher's Blog

Vegetarians Who Eat Meat

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on January 26, 2010
Spit barbecue meat hanging on Avenue C in the ...
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I recently ran across an article in Newsweek entitled “Vegetarians Who Eat Meat”, which got me thinking about two issues. The first is whether a person can be a vegetarian and also eat meat. The second is whether the way the meat animal is raised impacts the morality of eating it.

On the face of it, a vegetarian cannot eat meat and remain a vegetarian. To use an analogy, just as a bachelor cannot be married, a vegetarian cannot be a meat eater.  Of course, some folks might wish to be able to call themselves “vegetarians” yet have the occasional cheeseburger. A conversation with such a person  at a party might go like this:

Vegetarian: (loudly) “Does this have meat in it? I’m a vegetarian, so I want to avoid eating any meat.”

Me: “Yes, that ham salad has ham in it. That’s meat, you know. But, I’ve seen you eat meat recently-like that cheeseburger you had the other day.”

Vegetarian: “Well, I do have a little meat now and then. But I’m still a vegetarian.”

Me: “Ah. I know some people who practice abstinence that way: they only have a little sex now and then.”

But perhaps being a vegetarian is not like being abstinent, but rather like being honest. An honest person does not stop being honest just because they tell a fib now and then. What matters is that such a person is mostly honest. As such, perhaps being a vegetarian is like being honest: they do not have to always avoid meat to justly keep the label, they just have to do so the majority of the time.

Also, there are many variations on the vegetarian theme, so a person could (with a suitable category choice) be a vegetarian and still consume meat. This, of course, does lead to some questions about what it means to be a vegetarian if people can claim that title despite consuming meat. But, as I see it, as long a they are not too self-righteous about it there is no harm in letting them enjoy their self applied title.

I’ll address the second issue in my next blog post.

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10 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on January 26, 2010 at 10:21 am


    How can choosing a bad diet be moral?

    • A.K.A.Alias said, on January 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

      Interesting question. Do you mean immoral? First, morality is a highly debatable topic. But not for absolutists. Second, the choices we make don’t take place in a vacuum. Not even the small ones. It’s not only in science fiction that a small choice can trigger an event that leads to other events. Etc. It’s not likely these consequences can be predicted. Except by Conservatives :).

      • kernunos said, on January 27, 2010 at 12:15 am

        Liberals seem to think morality can be created in a vacuum though.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on January 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Since nobody has quoted Nietzsche for a while 🙂

    It says nothing against the ripeness of a spirit that it has a few worms. — Friedrich Nietzsche

  3. Arnab Das said, on January 26, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    i think a ‘pure’ vegetarian especially someone who has been so throughout most of his/her life is without a doubt malnourished. there’s nothing wrong being a non-veg person! man has since time immemorial been a hunter, gatherer aka meat eater. to be shying away from meat is just against the natural instinct of human beings. still many manage to do that, and in the process become the ‘holier than thou’ vegetarians. now if someone calls himself a vegetarian and consumes meat well he’s saving himself from severe malnourishment and probably osteoporosis in later part of his life. so, lets not ‘tag’ people. we all like meat (and thats a fact, most vegetarians hate meat coz a. they havent tasted meat or b. they have been told by their family members not to consume meat) only some like it more than others.

    • ABToklas said, on January 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

      I’d like to clear up some misinformation and misconceptions and generalizations here. My son is a vegetarian;he ate meat until he turned sixteen. The rest of us, including his older brother are carnivores. He’s 40 now, and measurably and apparently healthier than anyone in the family–or most of the people I encounter on a daily basis for that matter.
      There are vegetarians;there are lacto-ovo vegetarians; there are ovo-vegetarians. Then there are vegans. The vegans (who eat no animal products–such as meat,eggs, milk) are more susceptible to osteoporosis, but, if they eat enough soybeans and cruciferous veggies and leafy greens they’re more susceptible to flatulence but no more susceptible to osteoporosis than meat-eaters who, while they consume their daily ration of meat may become more susceptible to heart diseasehttp://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-full-story/index.html#where
      He’s not a holier-than-thou type of person;he isn’t a big fan of holier-than-thou holy people. Or holier-than-thou politicians.

  4. kernunos said, on January 27, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Women dig meat eaters….RAAAAAWWR!

    • A.K.A.Alias said, on January 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

      And vice-versa. . .ahhh UHnnh!

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