When people say: “I just can’t give up meatballs”

Imagine. A person says to you:

– “I respect what you do, and I can almost see myself being a vegan, but I just can’t give up meatballs [or fill in animal based dish or product]”.

What’s your answer?

My answer previously would have been a combination of the following arguments:

– “Do you know how these meatballs [or x] are produced? Do you understand the suffering involved?”
– “If you would stop eating this and that and that, why wouldn’t you also stop eating meatballs?”
– “Is the pleasure you get from eating meatballs really more important than the animal suffering?”
– “It’s easy. If I did it, so can you.”

Etcetera. You get the idea.

My reaction today would be different. First I would tell them about vegan meatballs. But that’s not the point I want to make. I want you to imagine there isn’t a decent plant based alternative for whatever it is the person wants to keep eating. They won’t be fooled or forced into eating an alternative for their favorite dish. Let’s just assume that. So in that case, my answer would be:

Then just eat your meatballs and avoid all other animal products. That would be so awesome!

I think my opinion here boils down to this: if you ask for all or nothing, you usually and up with nothing. Especially, when in this case, the person already stated he doesn’t want or can’t do everything. We can deplore that fact and think or tell them they are selfish, but what is that going to help?

If that person becomes a “meatball-vegan”, that would reduce (assuming that they eat meatballs like once a month) 99% of their “animal suffering footprint”. That is brilliant. Besides, there’s a good chance that if they do this, they will at some point conclude they don’t need those meatballs anyway and that eating them doesn’t feel right anymore. Or maybe they’ll stop when the ideal “fake” meatballs (cheapier, healthier, even tastier) are available on the market.

A variation could be that the person says: “I can go vegan but I can’t stop eating the signature dish my grandmother prepares for me twice a year. She’s ninety and she won’t live much longer.” We could call out bullshit, we can say there’s got to be a way to explain one’s views to the grandmother in a way she gets it, etc. But it might be just better to “give permission” to this person to do what they think best, for now.


I know all this goes against “vegan orthodoxy”. Some people will say that this would be speciesist/condoning animal suffering/inconsistent/”un-vegan”… and that we can’t behave like that.

Am I being an apologist here? Am I going for something less than a vegan world? Am I saying the animals that were killed for those meatballs are less important than the other animals that person will avoid? Of course not. I’m just trying to adopt an approach I think will have real results, and for an attitude and a style of communication that will, in my opinion, get us to our vegan world the fastest way possible. It’s easy to make an elegant theory or a waterproof philosophy. But that doesn’t always help the animals. 

The animals don’t care about our orthodoxy, our sticking to the rules of our little philosophical systems. They need us to go for what helps them. 

7 thoughts on “When people say: “I just can’t give up meatballs”

  1. ‘It’s easy to make an elegant theory or a waterproof philosophy. But that doesn’t always help the animals.’

    So true. And with social networking, people seem more ready than ever to pounce upon those who don’t measure up to their ideologies of choice. Self-congratulatory puritanism is likely to alienate people and reinforce the myth of veganism being a fringe and extremist lifestyle choice, something unachievable and – perhaps saddest of all – undesirable.

    1. Ever since I found One Step for Animals’ website a few weeks ago, I have been quoting this from them:

      “Our bottom line is not how many people we can convince to think exactly like we do, but how many fewer animals are suffering and dying. We would rather help three people start eating half as many animals than convince one person to be a strict and strident vegan. ”

      We all would love nothing more than for the whole world to become vegan because the of the philosophy behind it. The sad & unfortunate fact is that just simply isn’t going to happen. Of course we wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. So, if we want to be practical and actually see change happen, we can’t afford to take an all or nothing approach. The animals can’t afford it.

      I back up Tobias here 100%:

      “I think my opinion here boils down to this: if you ask for all or nothing, you usually and up with nothing.

      And as One Step for Animals’ website also states:

      “If there were some magic argument that would persuade everyone to stop eating animals immediately, it would have been discovered by now.”

      Those with a Francione mindset who think in all or nothing terms must have a lot faith in the rationality and moral fiber of the rest of the human race.

  2. Loved this post. Thank you for writing it. Although I respect other vegan movements I find that a lot of them are in your face and tend to shame meat eaters rather than inspire. The only time I have seen lasting change is through encouragement and compassion.

  3. This is exactly how I think about the issue. For me it’s not even about the numbers of animals saved by thinking and campaigning like this. It’s about removing income from the meat and livestock industry. There’s a point where if the income fell to a certain threshold level, the whole edifice would come crashing down. Rearing, housing and feeding 53 billion animals is expensive. It is only profitable because people buy the products of the misery caused to eat and wear. Industry buys animal fats and hides, feathers and bones all subsidised by the foodies buying their meat, eggs and cheese. If people reduced the amount of meat, eggs and butter etc. to below the threshold level, industry would be expected to pay the true cost of the animal remains they buy and they’d quickly find vegan alternatives. That would also push up the price of the “foodstuffs” which had already risen because less of it was being bought for the table. Meat, dairy and eggs would go into an upward spiralling price vortex, with each price hike having an impact on the numbers of people buying their products, causing further price hikes. Eventually the profit would drop out of the market and livestock farmers would sell off their herds and sell their land as quickly as possible or convert it to grow crops for human rather than animal feed. That would ripple around the world. When it happens it will happen suddenly – I’m still hoping I’ll be alive to see it. When it happens everyone will then have to be vegan!

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