Brown: 5 of the worst arguments against vegetarianism


Vegetarians have a bad name, according to columnist Phil Brown, that isn’t really deserved. While some can be “jerks” about others’ eating habits, vegetarianism has merit in itself.

Phil Brown

Oh, no. You are out to eat with a group of friends and someone you were just introduced to asks if the restaurant offers any good vegetarian dishes. You roll your eyes and wait for the inevitable. They are obviously about to go on a rant about the evils of eating meat that no one wants to hear… 

But wait. Where is the incessant condescension? Where is the open disdain for “murderers” who eat animal flesh? Why aren’t they being as offensive and rude as you know all vegetarians really are?

As it turns out, there are vegetarians — and vegans — out there who are not jerks about their chosen lifestyle. Not every person who refrains from eating meat will take every opportunity to laud their “enlightened” viewpoint over others.

Unfortunately, there are vegetarians who act the fool far too often, just as there are meat-eaters out there who do the same. Instead of blabbing on about how everyone else is a disgusting killer, though, meat-eaters who attack the decisions of vegetarians blab on about how vegetarianism is just plain wrong.

Here are five of the worst arguments these people commonly make — and why they are total hogwash.

First, the all-too-familiar “You can’t get enough protein unless you eat meat” schtick. Well, sure. We all learned in elementary school that animals are made of protein, breads are made of carbohydrates and plants are made of… plant… stuff? What the average person doesn’t realize is that all living organisms (this includes plants) have quite a bit of protein in their scrumptious body tissues.

Not even counting the extremely protein-dense legume family — beans — and tree nuts, so-called “regular” vegetables have more than enough protein — and as long as you are eating a variety of vegetables, all essential protein types — to fulfill a normal human body’s demand. So unless you are a professional bodybuilder or the only vegetables you’ll eat are the tomatoes in pizza sauce, vegetarianism won’t cause a protein deficiency.

Second, an argument used to rebut animal cruelty concerns is usually something along the lines of, “How do we even know animals feel pain — or that plants don’t?” These are intriguing questions that deserve real answers. Thankfully, those answers were provided hundreds of years ago.

Animals, like your neighbor or that tasty-looking cow you drove past last week, have these things called “nervous systems” and “pain receptors.” As that last one might imply, this means animals feel pain, especially if they are treated like inanimate objects.

Plants, on the other hand, do not have these nervous systems. In fact, many plants have evolved fruits specifically to be eaten, so that their seeds can be deposited in new locations. I’ll let you figure out just how that one works.

Then, there’s the classic argument: “Who are you to say what I can and can’t eat? I’ll eat delicious flesh if I want to!” This argument is actually quite valid, given the proper context. If someone else is telling you that you can’t eat meat or is trying to shame you for doing so, then absolutely blast back with one of these babies

But it would be going too far to assume that every vegetarian automatically wants you to behave like them, so be careful to not pre-empt their potentially offensive claims with certainly offensive ones of your own.

Fourth, an economic argument centered somewhere around the idea of “What about all of those livestock farmers? Do you want them to lose their jobs?” Well, shucks. If people don’t eat meat, I suppose there won’t be any demand for beef, pork or chicken, so all of the workers who make a living off of them will be out on the street.

Oh wait, that’s right, people are still going to eat food, and they are still going to spend their money. So while those workers might unfortunately have to update their resumes, there will still be plenty of jobs created by our demand for foodstuffs to keep our economy from collapsing.

Finally, some of the duller bulbs in the drawer out there might think about all of the nonmeats vegetarians are eating and say something like: “If we were all vegetarian, the world couldn’t even grow enough food to feed everyone.” Again, this argument stems from complete ignorance.

It is well-known to anyone familiar with the energy cycles of plants and animals that it takes far more energy — food — to raise an animal to slaughter than is gained by eating said animal. In addition to all of the body parts an animal grows that we don’t eat, the vast majority of the energy a livestock animal takes in is lost as heat.

So the next time someone tells you they are vegetarian, go ahead and ridicule them right back if they try to make you feel inferior for your life decisions. Just don’t make it about them being a vegetarian. Make it about them being a jerk, because no matter what you eat, being a jerk just isn’t cool.