In “I Admire Vegetarians. It’s a Choice I Won’t Ever Make,” Alicia Wittmeyer, the Senior Editor of the Opinion section of the New York Times, discusses her passion for eating animals even though she recognizes it’s immoral and harmful to the planet. She recalls hesitating to post an Instagram photo of a roasted pig with the pig’s head still attached because she didn’t want to flaunt meat in a socially unacceptable way.
But Wittmeyer doesn’t speak disparagingly about people who choose compassion over violence when they eat. On the contrary, she expresses her admiration but concludes she will unlikely ever make the transition. Wittmeyer associates eating animals with her culture and tradition. She explains she ate animals as a child and thus must continue eating them. Citing the joy she feels eating a turkey on Thanksgiving and her belief that food connects families, she asserts these experiences justify eating animals. Worried about alienating herself from her history and the people around her, she concludes that not eating a roasted pig would change her identity.
Despite Wittmeyer’s current beliefs, she may eventually stop eating animals either because the planet requires it or because she further evolves and decides to match her values with her actions. The early signs of her conscience tugging at her decision-making point to a future shift.
Wittmeyer suggests that tradition forces her to eat animals, but her traditions mirror the traditions of millions of people who no longer eat animals, so this argument falls flat. I also grew up eating animals, especially on holidays. Relatives passed down recipes from Thanksgiving turkey to brisket and matzoh ball soup. But I stopped participating in this exercise when I learned eating animals misaligns with the principles of kindness and thoughtfulness that guide my life.
Wittmeyer expresses her concern that not eating animals would change her as a person. Indeed. It would help her transition from someone clinging to cruel traditions to a forward-thinking person who adapts when they learn new information. It would change her from someone harming animals to form bonds to someone who thinks critically about what truly matters in a relationship. And it would turn her into someone who explores exciting plant-based food that matches the taste, texture, and smell of food that should never have been food.
What does it say about human culture that relationships are so heavily based on food rather than values, understanding, diversity, meaningful life experiences, and the pleasure of company? We can improve society by challenging our ingrained views of relationships and by not allowing unsustainable and pain-causing food to serve as a bond. Also, people might be surprised to learn about the powerful bond of plant-based food–the shared joy it brings to people knowing they’re doing less harm. It should be everyone’s new tradition–the new normal.
Wittmeyer fails to recognize that eating plant-based food doesn’t require sacrifice. I used to eat parts of animals’ bodies until I learned about the horrors of animal agriculture. I never think about those old, terrible choices except to regret them because the food I eat now is healthier, more humane, delicious, and better for the planet. Making more compassionate decisions required so little effort.
Wittmeyer doesn’t need to admire vegetarians or vegans. She can become one. Everyone in my family continued eating animals after I stopped. We still loved each other. Eventually, most of my family ended or reduced this awful habit because they realized eating animals didn’t match their values either. Even before they stopped, they only ate plant-based food in my presence, but I realize family dynamics vary.
Making the moral decision to stop eating animals may not be an easy decision for some people, but it’s an important decision. Families should admire people for it–and it’s a choice everyone should make.