To ‘v’ or not to ‘v’….
Vegetarianism—a universally-known concept, yet widely considered to be one of the world’s great dividers. Although the act of refraining from eating meat (whether for medical, ethical or personal preference reasons) is a noble one, even in this day and age which celebrates the freedom of speech and actions, people feel very strongly about such a contentious subject. Vegetarians are steadfast in their belief that (to borrow a phrase from a much-loved Disney classic) animals are “friends not food”, yet carnivores are equally staunch in their belief that meat is the staple ingredient of any diet. Whatever side of the fence you personally sit upon, the issue of vegetarianism is and always has been a hotly-contested topic.
Therefore, given that this week—Monday 15th-Sunday 21st May—is touted as “National Vegetarian Week”, Global Property Scene will delve into the world of vegetarianism to find out why this subject almost above all others has the uncanny ability to divide the masses.
The case for vegetarianism
Data from the 2014 Meat Atlas of the Friends of the Earth shows that a rather substantial 375 million people around the world have embraced a diet that doesn’t involve eating animals (or a vast majority of their by-products), whether induced by ethics, medical advisement or even personal preference. However, this is dwarfed massively by the remaining 96.9% of the population (7 billion), who continue to embrace a rich with meat, with the majority considering anything to the contrary nothing short of an aberration.
Whatever the reason for their dietary decision to abstain from eating meat, many vegetarians adopt their ‘alternative’ lifestyle with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Whilst many for example can relate to American TV personality Ellen DeGeneres’ simplistic rationale—“I suddenly realised what was on my plate were living things, with feelings. And I just couldn’t disconnect myself from it any longer”—others feel a lot more strongly about the issue; take legendary artist Leonardo Da Vinci as a classic example, who famously announced: “My body will not be a tomb for other creatures”, or even infamous British musician Morrissey, who went as far as to declare his position so publicly as to name his second critically-acclaimed studio album ‘Meat is Murder’.
And it’s not just celebrities who endorse the vegetarian way of life. Hundreds of medical professionals have long since preached of the benefits of a vegetarian diet, with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics commenting that a meat-free diet “can be nutritionally superior to any other way of eating, [because] a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease, [as well as] lower cholesterol levels, lower rates of type 2 diabetes, a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), lower overall cancer rates, and lower risk of chronic disease”.
You can't argue with this level of medical research—it’s an uncontested fact that a healthy vegetarian diet can be better for you than a diet laden with meat. So why, then, is vegetarianism still so frowned-upon by the opposition?
The case against
The case against vegetarianism, as told by almost-devout carnivores, is mainly subjective, based solely on individual opinions and beliefs. Bandying around words like “natural” and “primitive”, meat-eaters’ main rationale to support their meaty diet is mainly tied to the history of the human race. Time Magazine, citing a study in Nature, “makes it clear [that] not only did processing and eating meat came naturally to humans, [but] it’s entirely possible that without an early diet that included generous amounts of animal protein, we wouldn’t even have become human—at least, not the modern, verbal, intelligent humans we are”. Scientific American magazine concurs, citing irrefutable research that proves “our enzymes evolved to digest meat whose consumption aided higher encephalization and better physical growth, [and even] co-operative hunting promoted the development of language and socialisation”.
Science doesn’t lie—since the dawn of our caveman ancestors, humankind has evolved to consume animals, even shaping our teeth for ease of meat consumption. Yes, meat does make up a fundamental part of people’s primitive need to eat, but this doesn’t explain what Psychology Today calls humans’ obsession with meat. Science Journalist Marta Zaraska has long since preached about the existence humanity’s ‘2.5-million-year obsession with meat’, with The New Scientist assigning this to the fact that “our taste for flesh is rooted in evolutionary history, dietary requirements, chemistry and taste, big business and the political power it wields, psychology and culture”. In layman’s terms, that means the obsession with meat has permeated every single aspect of society, from culinary to corporate, political, psychological and cultural. Meat is everywhere, an inescapable part of everyday life.
However, this ‘obsession’ with meat goes so far that it almost exists at the detriment of cohabiting peacefully with people who don’t share the same ideologies. To explain, take for example Sharri Markson, a journalist for The Australian Magazine, who summed up her experiences as a vegetarian thus: “I would never dream of enforcing my personal eating habits onto other people. Yet on a daily basis I encounter some form of opposition to the way I choose to eat. Meat-eaters seem to be offended by vegetarians, as though my decision not to eat meat is an unspoken criticism on their way of life”. And this is an all-too-common occurrence—ask any vegetarian how many times they’ve been faced with questions like: “But why don’t you eat meat?”, “How can you give it up?”, and “Well if you don’t eat meat, what do you actually eat?”, and the answer will invariably be a lot.
Whether the stigma of a meat-free diet will ever become as widely-accepted as meat-eating remains to be seen, but there have been great strides made to make vegetarianism more mainstream. Pop-culture movements like “Meat-Free Monday” are attempting to show carnivores the ease of adopting a meat-free diet (if only for one day a week), while animal charity PETA are aiming to slowly introduce vegetarianism into the everyday consciousness with campaigns like “The World’s Sexiest Vegetarian”, an annual poll which inadvertently shows aspirational celebrities who don’t eat meat in order to normalise a vegetarian diet and encourage people to think: “If this celebrity is a vegetarian, I could be a vegetarian, too”.
I'm sure the majority of vegetarians wouldn’t want the entire world to go cold turkey, but for most of the world’s 375 million vegetarians, allowing people to coexist no matter their dietary preferences without fear of judgement is the ultimate goal.