Friday, February 12, 2010

The Social Acceptance of Voluntary Vegetarians

In the section of A Sociology of Food and Nutrition written by Deirdre Wicks titled “Humans, Food, and other Animals: The Vegetarian Option” the root of vegetarianism is explored. Vegetarianism is defined as a diet consisting of no meat. However, as Wicks states, vegetarianism is a broad term that has been used to describe, more generally, those who refrain from eating flesh. The sub categories of lacto-veg, ovo-veg, a combination of the two, and those who eat fish all fall under the title of vegetarian. It is fair to say that this term has a subjective definition that is free for interpretation, except for vegetarians who take on the exclusive title of vegan. This notes their rejection of all animal products from their life including food, clothing, and furniture. Now how do these groups socially fit into a society such as the United States?

Micks notes in the reading that the vegetarian movement has “historically maintained long-standing links with movements such as ethical socialism, animal rights, anti-vivisection and pacifism.” For those unaware, the anti-vivisection movement is focused on removing animal testing from the realm of science.(See link for more info) These social movements are more often than not associated with the hippies of our culture, the radicals, “those people.” Many people stereotype all vegetarians and especially vegans to be the type of radical PETA people that are seen in the news throwing paint and making a scene for animals’ rights. Many people in the U.S. are uninformed and are unaware that most vegetarians and vegans are not the pushy, belief shoving groups looking to convert the world.

It is hard, if not next to impossible to completely change the way people eat. Many techniques have been used to try and inform the public of the horrors of the meat industry such as animal treatment. This information for many vegetarians has been the reason for their choice of diet. How else can the public possibly be inspired to take a minute and consider how high levels of meat consumption have led to the state of the meat industry? Many people when asked how they feel about the treatment of animals in the industry do genuinely feel bad, but they follow up the statement immediately with “What am I supposed to do about it?” or “I’m not the only one doing it.” If you ask the greater majority if they could possibly adopt a more vegetarian diet, the response will most likely be similar to what Wicks describes as the “I should but…” attitude. It is seen as such a radical change of diet when all it really takes is a little risk to try something new. It is hard to change the social momentum of a society that has been as dependent on meat as the United States. It is too easy to continue our fast paced lives just the way they are instead of stopping and considering “Hey maybe I should think about what I eat and where it comes from.” That’s all it would take. I think we would all be better off if we were to take a minute to consider the simple question, “Am I ok with the way I eat?” no matter what the answer may be.


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  2. I'd like to add that it may not seem feasible to get numerous people to stop eating meat because we are omnivores and need the protein and iron coming from meat. People do not have to be on 2 extremes of either eating meat, or not. As you said, by questioning where your food is coming from you can make better informed decisions when shopping for food. Good alternatives include local farmer's markets, beef from grass-fed cows, 'cage free' eggs and things of this nature. Not only is it scary to see what is being done to animals on a mass produced level, it is also very unhealthy for humans to consume the meat of an animal injected with antibiotics and other harmful drugs.

  3. I came across this interesting article about a Vegetarian Cowboy from the viewpoint of a meat hungry Cowboy. The cowboy is an iconic omnivore figure and the author, Lee Pitts discusses his cynicism towards accepting someone who violates the description. "
    "Not so," he replied. "How about soy burgers and vegetarian burgers?"
    "If you want to eat hamburgers made from "hydrogenated vegetable protein," I countered, "then you should get a job herding 'tofus' instead of cows."

  4. Last year in EcoLogic Abby came in and gave us a talk about food. That's when I learned about the environmental and climate change aspects of becoming a vegetarian. Those reasons are a lot more quantifiable. I agree with Kristin that it doesn't have to be extremes though. When she gave her talk she suggested not eating meat for one day a week and I think trying to suggest people to do that would be a good idea. Gradual change is easier on people. Maybe some sort of theme day or something. Maybe we could try to get something like that going at rpi.

  5. I have a friend who has been on a vegetarian diet for a month, and she confided that it has been a very bad experience for her. She feels tired and lethargic all the time. Of course, there are plenty of vegetarians and vegans who felt better after abstaining from meat, but in my opinion, people shouldn't be so quick to eliminate a specific type of food, because it gives a free pass to other things that can be bad for you.

    For example, I have another friend who's a vegan. He gets his faux-meat fix from tofu dogs. Just because it's tofu doesn't mean it's necessarily good for you. Tofu dogs, and many other tofu products, are highly processed and filled with chemicals. Of course, real hot dogs are just as bad, but he would have been better off eating some fresh meat rather than tofu dogs.

    We also have to consider the soybean industry itself. Over 90% of soy products in the US are owned by Monsanto, which is this giant company that abuses farmers and genetically-modifies its seeds to create homogenous crops that threaten biodiversity. Many soy and tofu consumers don't realize that they are supporting this awful monopoly. My recommendation would be to eat tofu from Hong Kong or Taiwan instead.

  6. I would definitely agree with Kristin that we do not need to stop people from eating meat altogether. I feel that people have this notion that by not eating meat one day that they all of a sudden become deficient of the elusive nutrient, protein. Yes we need protein but I feel that people have an exaggerated view of what is necessary for daily life.

    As it has already been mentioned, a simple decrease in the intake of meat, such as 1 day a week without meat would decrease the high demand on the meat industry. A more informed public about dietary requirements and quality of meat could possibly allow for more preferred techniques such as grass fed cattle to become more prevalent.

  7. This overall is a very good discussion. personally being a vegetarian i can say that its not as hard as most people claim it to be, however i don't think i would have become a vegetarian if i had only watched one of the many food inc. movies or something similar. Most people know that something is up with the meat, eggs, or milk they intake even if they aren't completely sure what. This isn't enough to make them completely stop what they are doing and have done their whole lives in order to answer this one question, however.
    Most people give the reason they can't stop eating meat (besides the fact that it tastes good) is because they need the protein, which yes, is important but is greatly exaggerated by our ill-informed pubic. How often does one hear that a person has a protein deficient, compared to large amounts of iron and fiber deficient citizens?
    I find the problem of our generation is not that we aren't informed, or aren't able to be informed in matters we are interested in, like the origins of our food, but that we lack the drive to search, evaluate, and internalize the information about one of the most important components of our life, what we eat. Food is what keeps us moving, and allows us to function in the ways we chose. Indifference is what prevents us from making possible, or well educated choice in our lives. If we were to start caring about the smaller things, then maybe these larger companies could be brought down and become more natural.