People who follow this blog may have noticed how sometimes I take a somewhat unorthodox approach to veganism. Being a vegan myself, I don’t believe that veganism is the be all and end all of everything. I believe it is a means and not a goal. The goals and the principle underlying it are compassion and more happiness/less suffering. I think when we are consistent, we should be especially consistent with that goal or principle, rather than with the definition of veganism itself. If all this sounds “anti-vegan”, so be it.
If I take this idea further, it makes me wonder if sometimes… being vegan is not always the best thing one can do for the animals. More concretely, I wonder if there might be people even, who could do more as non-vegans than as vegans. And maybe I found an example of this in the figure of Brian Kateman, the prime mover behind the “reducetarian” idea. I decided to ask him a couple of questions…
Brian, why reducetarianism?
The problem with many present-day conversations around meat consumption is that they have been dominated by an all-or-nothing premise: you are either a meat eater or a vegetarian/vegan. As a result of this false dichotomy, many people feel immobilized to make any changes to their diet. This sense of hopelessness is unfortunate, because two people eating half as much meat spares as many animals from a lifetime of misery as one vegetarian. It’s great that we are seeing an increase in the number of vegans, but the majority of people in the world still consume meat. To be effective in saving animals, we cannot preach to the choir – we must find ways to engage meat eaters, even, and especially those who have no intentions of becoming a vegan or vegetarian at this point in time. Reducetarianism unites the growing community of individuals who are committed to eating less meat and ends what can sometimes feel like a tiresome battle among vegans, vegetarians, and all those reducing their consumption of meat. This new perspective provides everyone with a platform – not just vegans and vegetarians – to make small choices to eat less meat in their own lives and collectively make a significant difference in the world.
Another consideration is that, when it comes to meat consumption, gradual, incremental changes in behavior may be more sustainable over the long term. As summarized by Mercy for Animals: “Surveys have repeatedly found that those who reduce their meat consumption are much more likely to go vegetarian, and that those who go vegetarian are much more likely to go vegan. This is consistent with hundreds of studies from the field of social psychology that have found people are much more likely to be persuaded to make a moderate change than they are to make a major change, and that once people make the moderate change they become more open to the larger change.” (Admittedly, though, the goal of reducetarianism is not to solely increase the number of vegans but to decrease the overall amount of meat that our society consumes.)
What motivations do you emphasize?
It’s important to note that reducetarianism is also inclusive of motivations: it doesn’t matter whether a person is eating less meat to save money or to lose weight or to combat climate change or to spare farm animals from cruelty. Motivations aren’t important, certainly not to our health or the planet. There are some legitimate concerns that people who encounter reducetariansim will switch from beef to chicken and ultimately harm more animals, but we take extra precautions by raising the ethical implications of eating meat, and emphasizing the added value in eating fewer chickens and pigs, those most commonly abused on factory farms.
Ultimately, my goal with reducetarianism, in the spirit of effective altruism, is to provide as many people as possible with an entry point into eating less meat. As a college student, I personally was motivated to eat less beef and more poultry due to environmental concerns, and likely killed more animals than I would have otherwise in that period as a result. Gradually, though, I learned more about meat production and its harmful effects, particularly the suffering of animals (thanks to a classmate who encouraged me to read The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by my hero Peter Singer). I subsequently cut down on all forms of meat, and continue to spare farm animals from cruelty every day, usually three times per day, in fact.
What are your personal eating habits?
Today, my diet continues to evolve toward a more compassionate, healthy, and environmentally friendly one. I primarily eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. I eat poultry in one meal every three weeks and beef in one meal per month (usual small portions of both). Approximately half of my meals are vegan. I’ve completely cut out pork and seafood. One day, I’ll likely cut out all animal products. It’s a process, for me, and for many others – we have a long-term relationship with food.
Do you think you might be achieving more because you’re a non-vegan?
There’s no question that when it comes to meat consumption omnivores relate more easily to me, a meat-eater, than to a vegan. When a vegan with a “go-vegan” message approaches a hard-core meat eater, there is undoubtedly resistance. It reminds me of proposing marriage to someone on a first date – not the most effective strategy for entering into a relationship. Still, this likely isn’t true of children and teenagers who are generally more open minded than adults. I’ve often thought that the “go-vegan” message is probably most effective on young people, where as the “be a reducetarian and eat less meat” message is probably most effective on older people who have established habits and routines. In other words, admittingly in the spirit of Malcolm Gladwell, we have been looking for the perfect message, when we should be looking for the perfect messages. However, when a meat-eater approaches a meat-eater, even if the meat consumption is to varying degrees, there is mutual understanding and compatibility, even unconsciously. So, yes, I’m probably more credible and thus saving more animals than I would be if I were a vegan spokesperson for a reducetarian campaign. With that said, this is a highly unusual situation; in most cases, and certainly on a personal level in terms of impact, the less meat, the better. One day, I’ll likely be in position to save more animals by completely eliminating animal-products from my diet.
I think a more important take away is that animal advocates – vegans and non-vegans, can often be most effective by being compassionate to humans too, not only animals. In the words of Rob Greenfield, “We live in a messed up time and it’s very challenging to make ethical decisions. It’s not easy… to do the right thing. So much of mainstream society stacks the odds against us… So campaign hard and lead by example but remember that all people have feelings too and have their own challenging circumstances.”
Read more: www.reducetarian.com