Yes, you can be a meat eating environmentalist

In the post being vegan doesn’t trump everything, I wrote that it’s not necessary to be vegan in order to do good for animals. In other words, you can be an animal activist (at least of sorts) without being vegan.

You can also be other things without being vegan:

You can be an animal lover without being vegan.
(I read somewhere: “The privilege of being able to identify oneself as an ”animal lover” belongs only to vegans.” Ouch.)

You can be an environmentalist without being vegan.
(I often read: “You can’t be a meat eating environmentalist.)

In fact, you can be a lot of things without being vegan.

Think about the absurdity of the last claim, for instance. Say a non vegan person consciously never takes a plane for environmental reasons. Compare them to a vegan who flies five times a year. The carbon footprint of the vegan will be a lot bigger (all else being equal). (One could comment here that “you can’t be a meat eating environmentalist” doesn’t imply that you are an environmentalist when you don’t eat meat, but this is often what is implicitly communicated or understood).

But I want to make a bigger point here. When people identify as something (an environmentalist, an animal lover, a vegan, a writer… whatever…) it is probably detrimental in most cases when someone else says they are NOT that. I get it, I get it: we can identify factual mistakes (they’re not a vegetarian if they eat fish, for instance). But mostly, by saying they are NOT this or that (while we ARE) we will often probably only widen the gap between them and us. It could very well alienate them from whatever we want to get them closer to. I’m especially talking about situations where a person identifies as a vegan, while we spot him eating or using this or that, which we consider or know is not vegan.

I have been considering myself a vegan since 17 years, but one thing I’m not picky about is wine. Usually I can’t find the needed information on the bottle, so in this case, I give that wine the benefit of the doubt and I drink it (also because, frankly, I think drinking wine as a vegan helps to dispel the austere image of veganism that some have). Now, if you, True Vegan, would tell me I’m not a real vegan because of that, it wouldn’t help anything, I think – even though I’m more prone to feelings of guilt than most people. It would alienate me from you and from part of the vegan movement, and I would probably be irritated with what I would perceive (maybe incorrectly) as a holier-than-thou attitude.

I think big factual mistakes (like fish eating vegetarianism) can be corrected, but it can always be done in a non confrontational way (and best in private).
Debunking non vegan animal activists, animal lovers or environmentalists (saying that they are a contradiction in terms) should, I think, be avoided, if only because these are unclear terms anyway for which we often have no waterproof definition.  Of course, subtle, gentle, humorous hints never harm anybody.

16 thoughts on “Yes, you can be a meat eating environmentalist

    1. This artical was a waste of the writers time.
      Looking into this issue even on a shallow level, and if u have any cents u see very quickly that the idea of being someone who is concerned about the planet, at the same time
      You are participating in its destruction is an oxymoron.

  1. I’m sick and tired of how a lot of vegans act as if they’re more intelligent and more virtuous than meat eaters. And I am a vegan myself, mind you. The truth is vegans cause suffering too. You can’t possibly live on this planet and not use/consume something that causes suffering. We drive cars everyday.The process of harvesting grains kills animals and insects. Some suffering is caused by our living here. Vegans are not better, period. It is true that eating less meat will be better for the planet and will cause less suffering, but scrutinizing meat eaters and judging them all the time isn’t going to get us anywhere; it will only repel them from veganism. My two pennies worth.

  2. Hi 🙂

    So on one level I completely agree with you. If we define environmentalist as “a person who cares about the environment and takes actions to protect it” then it is possible to fit that definition without being vegan. But I think while the literal meaning of “You cant be an X without being Vegan” is often wrong, most of the time the intended message is correct and the effect of people saying things like it could be positive.

    For example lets say there is a person who claims not to be homophobic but uses the F slur. A gay rights activist says to him “You can’t be an ally to LGBTIAQ people if you use the F slur.” This seems to be analogous situation. While it is possible to be an LGBTIAQ ally while still using the F slur, what the activist is trying to do is to exploit the person self identity as an LGBTIAQ person to get them to modify their behaviour in a way that will help LGBTIAQ people.

    Of course there are some people who will react negatively to this kind of argument and i am not sure about its relative effectiveness. You may be right that people shouldn’t this argument but i would need more evidence to be convinced.

  3. Hi Tobias, I just stumbled upon your blog and I am happy to read all the very interesting points you bring across. And although I get what you’re saying in this article, I feel the need to reply to shine with a different light upon it. (No idea if this is an expression, hopefully you get the message :)).

    The documentary Cowspiracy eventually got me to instantly and fully commit to veganism while being a ‘flexitarian’. In this documentary a guy says “you can’t be a meat eating environmentalist”. Actually, this single line got me, someone trying to be as environmentally conscious and active as possible, volunteering for environmental organizations etc., pretty deep. I instantly was confronted by this mirror who tested my ego (or self-made image) of me doing the ‘best I could’. Another confrontation was with a vegan girl who found my choice to be a ‘flexitarian’ stupid and hypocritical, another moment which helped me really go for it.

    But I am afraid, and what I experience so far, that not many people are able to put aside their ego and confront themselves with possibly hypocritical choices (Not trying to be arrogant and self-praising here). Most of their egos will put on full-on (mostly irrational) self defense and as a result be further away from where we want to get them. So I agree with you when it comes to having a new look on how we communicate. Although I think that since humans are so varied, the message and type of communication must and can be varied as well. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

    I wrote something about how I think we could enhance our vegan communication by focusing on non-vegan’s their obstacles and not flooding them with facts and horror. Wonder what you think about it 🙂
    https://veganbackpacking.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/vegan-vipassana/

    Take care and keep writing!
    – Mittch

    1. hi mittch, thanks for your input. i think in the strictest sence of the expression, i meant that one is a meat eater even if one eats 1 steak per year (according to the definition of veg*ism), and obviously you can be a great environmentalist doing that 🙂
      But i guess your point is about the “recruiting” power of the phrase. i think it works for some, but i would be surprised if it worked for most environmentalists, first of all because it is blaming, secondly because i think it’s factually untrue.
      The danger is always to take your own experience (see what something did to you) and generalize it.
      But of course, definitely, different people will have different reactions to messages. i’m just always looking for what turns on the most people and turns off the least 🙂

  4. You can also be a bomb dropping pacifist.

    You can be whatever you want to be…… But facts remain the same, regardless of what you want to be, and this may just lead to you being a complete & utter hypocrite.

  5. I really like this article. It is possible for a meat eater to be an environmentalist and an Animal lover. Sir David Attenborough is certainly a great example. I don’t really buy into oxymoron or outright hypocrisy. An animal lover hypocrite which would be an “animal lover” that consciously beats their pet or animals, not an animal lover who is a meat eater who might be doing It for their health. Ask any meat eater and they will most likely disagree with malicious animal abuse. They might go vegan and I agree veganism is a good lifestyle, I have no problems with vegans themselves but please remember that veganism is not the only way to care for animals or the environment. There are meat eating vets, animal rescuers and carers who risk their life just to help an animal. Now don’t get me wrong there are some pretty asshole meat eaters out there. For example i don’t eat Ham, Pork or Bacon because I love Pigs and while i have no problem with anyone who does, i do get teased with……*sigh* bacon jokes….so as an Omnivore I do want to help animals and put an end to factory farming and I’ll tell my fellow omnivores to back off you vegans and leave you guys be. I’ll build a bridge from my end please meet me in the middle. Thank you

    1. thanks for your input michael. yes, there definitely are other ways to help animals. i think i would say, though, that the things you mention are abovioulsy not incompatible (indeed are very compatible) with being vegan. So it’s not an either or.
      But as was the point of my article, we need to appreciate the fact that people can do great things without being vegan. I’ve talked about this elswhere on this blog.
      In any case, i applaud every step you take (and encourage you, as i encourage myself, to always keep trying to do better still)

  6. I understand your drift, I’ve read several arguments about meat eating environmentalists and I still fall firmly on the side that you simply cannot be, in the West at least, but I am open to hearig out arguments. But to love and respect animals, and then farm, violate and consume their bodies? Impossible, one completely negates the other. It’s one of the biggest oxymorons going. If that’s ‘love’, we can all do without it.

  7. Hahaha whatever allows you to sleep at night (or get more followers)!

    Fact, animal agricultural is NOT sustainable and IS destroying the planet. RAPIDLY!

    Fact, if you love animals, you don’t pay someone to torture and kill them.

    Fact, vegans are smarter! Haha 😉

    1. What you said about animal agriculture is the truth. People don’t realize that. Animal agriculture accounts for way more air pollution than any other form of human pollution (yes, including planes and other forms of travel).

      I watched Cowspiracy and was completely skeptical. But then I did my own research on peer-reviewed academic databases and found out that the documentary is entirely truthful. Animal agriculture (yes, even fishing, and arguable ESPECIALLY fishing) is NOT sustainable as some claim it is.

      Just look at the science, people. However, Karla, I would never go as far as to say that vegans our smarter. As mentioned earlier in the message board, this only further discourages those who are uninformed to be further alienated from even trying veganism. Please, be kind to people regardless of their dietary choices. That’s the best we can do: be kind and educate people in a non-confrontational manner.

  8. It’s funny how most people will watch Cowspiracy and say, “Meh, life’s too short.”

    I always say, “Life’s short to make it even shorter for my kids.” I may not become a TRUE ENVIRONMENTALIST, I am only human after all, I will strive my best to commit to a plant-based diet. I feel it’s better to say it that way as veganism has somehow been tainted with words like expensive, extreme & condescending.

    1. I agree. I tend to shy away from using the word “vegan”. As soon as you say that word, non-vegans automatically have some preconceived notion that you think you’re better than them and thus they shut down and refuse to believe or even listen at all to anything in the conversation thereafter.

      People need to be kindly educated about the truth of the matter of what they are eating and the full magnitude of the effects of that choice. It’s not that hard to find legitimate academic articles that show the actual science rather than solely dishing out an agenda.

      Yeah, we all may be dead by the time we run out of resources, but, as you said, Hyacinth Rose, what about our children and grandchildren? Are we really willing to continue enjoying our meat, which tastes so good, just so we can be satisfied, even if it means killing our children and grandchildren?

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