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.