Here's a question to ponder. Putting aside the value of a whole foods, plant-based way of eating to our individual health, which of the following is more compassionate and less damaging to the environment --- one person going 100% vegan or ten thousand people abstaining from meat one day a week (as in Meatless Mondays)?
I think the answer should be obvious. Fewer animals are killed per month by ten thousand people not eating any meat for four or five days out of the month than are killed by one person going vegan. And those decisions by ten thousand people will have a greater impact on mitigating climate change than will the decision of one person to become vegan.
But is that a fair comparison to compare ten thousand people to one person. I would answer that it is because in our society today, we can be much more successful at convincing people to go meatless one day a week than we can be at convincing one person to go totally vegan. And therefore, putting individual nutrition aside, if our concern is compassion or climate change, then what we should work towards is helping people to reduce their consumption of animal products.
In her book, Meathooked, Marta Zaraska talks about a conversation that she had with Peter Singer. He said to her, "We should stop abusing people if they are not completely vegan or vegetarian. If you announce that once you become vegan, you must starve to death rather than have any meat pass your lips, people are going to say: That's crazy, I'm not going to do that. If we want the majority to reduce meat consumption, I don't think insisting on dietary purity is the way to get there." And I agree with Peter Singer on that point.
Now, let's throw nutrition into the equation. Here it is an individual effort, and I believe that the more animal products, oils and processed foods that can be eliminated from a person's diet, the more successful that person will be at reducing or eliminating their need for regular prescription medications and the more successful that person will be at eliminating or mitigating diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more.
But the question is, does a person have to go 100% all in, and again I come down on the side of saying no. I started by following VB6, a plan developed by Mark Bittman, then of The New York Times. But even today, I will only say that I'm 99% whole foods, plant-based. There's a local restaurant that makes a great white bean and kale soup that I enjoy when I eat there. The soup is in a chicken broth though. Did they kill the chicken for the broth? I think not. I think they killed the chicken for the meat. The broth is a byproduct and by using it in the soup, the restaurant is ensuring that the food does not go to waste. So, could I convince them to change the broth? Possibly, but what would it matter? The chicken would have still been bred and slaughtered for its meat. Thus, compassion and climate change come out the same either way. And nutritionally, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has said in The China Study that there's no scientific evidence to say that we need to eat 100% whole foods, plant-based. In fact, in the Blue Zones, which documents pockets of the world where people not only live longer lives but also healthier lives, all but one of the areas documented does eat meat on at least special occasions.
I bring this up because I believe that how we eat and how others eat is essential to our survival as a species. For a lot of reasons, I think that how we eat needs to change, and that means that those of us who understand that, need to be effective at helping to make that change occur. And we're not effective when we get radical about it. And in fact, I could even argue that the more we insist on others being totally vegan the more we play into the meat industry's hands. And that's because the more we're like that, the more we turn others off, and it's even been shown that people will double-down on their current way of eating when confronted about it. We're just not effective when we insist on 100% compliance. We're not effective when we look down on those who haven't yet learned what we know.
We need compassion for the animals, yes, but we also need compassion for our fellow human beings who have been brought up and who have lived their entire lives in a world that is oriented toward animal consumption. We won't change that through taking what others see as a radical stand. We need to recognize where each person is at in their own lives and then how we can help them and in doing so, we will help the animals and the environment too. It's said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. That one step won't be a thousand mile step. But it will be a step in the right direction. Let's reward people for that as opposed to criticizing them for not being totally vegan. In the end, we'll be much more likely to reach our overall desired goals through that kind of an approach.