A recent study by the Humane Research Council (HRC) found that 84 percent of vegetarians go back to eating meat at some point in their lives. A total of 11,399 adults 17 and older were surveyed, which is a small sample size but with a sizable lesson for us all.
Now, on the surface this would seem to indicate that vegetarians as a whole, are sappy, spineless, flip-floppers with no ability to remain steadfast and who immediately tuck cloth napkins into their collared shirts and clutch utensils robustly when met with the faint, wafting odor of the cooking of a rump roast.
Let’s do this!
But let’s take a look at the wording here, specifically the “84 percent…go back to eating meat at some point in their lives.” There is a ridiculously expansive chasm of variables in this phrasing. This is why at times, the same statistics can be used by either side of an argument. Was it a decades-long, vegetarian couple, celebrating their 46th anniversary in Italy and one night as the moon glistened atop Lake Trasimeno, they dipped crackers in a bowl of tapenade that happened to have a hint of lurking anchovy? Or was it a vegetarian fad diet that 17-year-old Britney saw in Teen Beat, decided to try in mid-May to get down to her bikini weight but gave it all up for the first slice of thin-crust, boardwalk, pepperoni and sausage that she saw in early June?
You know what? It doesn’t really matter. Both examples, and every one in between must be considered absolutely integral to the cause. We can no longer risk alienating potential return contributors. Sure, making the decision to go vegetarian or vegan and never wavering is obviously ideal in terms of animal welfare. But efforts in aid of any kind and caring philosophies that endeavor for change, can never exist in an “all-or-nothing” vacuum. The effort itself will suffocate. These efforts must be given room to breathe, to grow and regress, and to slip a bit, to even fail. Failing is the greatest teacher we have. Try something heroic and positive for a week, then try it for a day, then try it for just one meal. Then try it again someday if it ever occurs to you, and then again and again.
Any little bit that we can decrease the demand of animal products is a positive step, and the fact of the matter is majority of Americans are cutting down on their meat and dairy consumption. According to a Harris Interactive study conducted in 2011, 33 percent of Americans are eating vegan/vegetarian meals more often, though they are not vegan or vegetarian. That is over 100 million people, or one third of the country consciously choosing more plant-based foods! With mounting evidence that cutting down on meat and dairy consumption is not only good for the environment, but is also a key ingredient to good health, this number can only be expected to grow in the years ahead.
Well, crap. Better hop back on and try again.
You might be interested to learn that being vegetarian for just one day, depending on your diet, your environment, your appetite and your vigor, can result in saving the life of roughly one animal. For those of you who were doodling pictures of your math teacher in a wizard cloak atop Mount Doom and not paying attention, that’s about 365 animals a year. Imagine that level of rescue in your backyard. Now imagine it in your neighbors yard. That’s an amazing amount of kindness and compassion and that’s just one person for one year. This is simply an amalgam of estimates, but I find it very encouraging.
You shall not pass!…math. You won’t pass if you don’t start paying attention.
Not to mention the environmental impact that eliminating or even merely reducing meat consumption can have. Factory farming is a huge contributor to green house gas emissions, water pollution, land degradation, deforestation and unsustainable water usage. Just by participating in Meatless Monday, one person can save 65,000 gallons of water per year. That’s only going meatless one day per week! A person who does their best is always going to have a larger impact than a person who does nothing, so why are we getting our panties all in a twist about someone’s lack of perfection again?
If we take the 84 percent number at face value, our instincts might consider this number a “failure rate.” We might have the infamous, knee-jerk, holier-than-thou, reaction. I can’t say that it wouldn’t have been my own response at one point or another in my life. I suppose we can’t completely ignore that exchanging a long integrated lifestyle for another, kinder lifestyle might be too difficult a change to maintain flawlessly and forever, for some people. But instead of the judgment that so often comes with this, we vegan and vegetarian folks might be better served thinking about the issue in terms of an overall reduction in animal product consumption. It’s very much like the building of a wall, or a house, or a community, or a movement. Every effort in aid of that progress should be welcomed and encouraged, no matter what happened in moments or days past.
By way of example and very recently, the ever enchanting Anne Hathaway, retreated from her vegan lifestyle stating that her health was less-than-ideal during her vegan stint. But Mrs. Hathaway did a lot of good in her time as a vegan, going as far as serving an entirely vegan menu at her own, rather well populated, wedding. Now, would Annie (do you mind if I call you Annie? Oh. Ok. Mrs. Hathaway then. That’ll be fine. My apologies…) be more or less likely to reconsider a return to eating vegan at some point in her life if all we vegans do is condemn her for her weakness or her lack of vegan efficacy? The idea will invariably return to her consciousness. As it will, I imagine for much of the 84 percent previously referenced. This is what the study does not indicate. Let us consider a vegan and vegetarian, long-view every now and again. Let us trust that the virtuous choices will once again find virtuous hearts.
You’ll be back Hathaway. We know it.
My father once, when he was 22, famously ate six and one-half cheese steaks in one sitting. The man ate meat like there would soon be a shortage. When my dear old pop was 73 years old, he adopted a vegan diet so that we could be more connected and so he could exercise efforts that more represented his newly adopted idea that, in his words, “I’m no better then them.”
To the 84 percent, we’ll be here when you get back, and if it’s up to us, our arms will be wide open, and until then, do the best you can.
Lead Image Credit: Stephanie Y Lin