Vegetarianism – A Choice?

August 9, 2013Category: WritingTags: , ,

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a status stating (paraphrase): You should avoid saying to vegetarians that “Well it’s not that you can’t eat meat. You choose to be a vegetarian.” I humbly disagree. It could be phrased better, certainly. The thought behind it, though, that being a vegetarian is a choice, is true.

Being a vegetarian IS a choice for most vegetarians. Granted, there are always those few people who are allergic to meat [Ref.]. However, the vast majority of vegetarians choose it for moral reasons. They choose what they perceive to be the higher moral path, which is to avoid being responsible for the killing of animals. Now I’ll grant that the question of the morality of eating animals is still being debated frequently and vehemently. However, if you are the type of person who reads this blog, you’ve probably read arguments on both sides before so I won’t waste your time rehashing. For the purposes of this direct topic, it’s enough to say that vegetarians believe they are making the moral choice.

The disconnect, I think, is that my friend believes that saying something is a choice makes it seem less respectable. More flighty, perhaps. This is probably a legacy of their experience in the marriage equality struggle. One of the main arguments of traditional marriage proponents is that being gay is a choice. By saying that, they are diminishing it. In this case though, saying that choice is the primary reason doesn’t diminish.

I hold that not only does the fact that choice is the primary reason not diminish being a vegetarian, it does the opposite. Saying that it isn’t a choice is what diminishes. That idea robs vegetarians of their free will. It robs them of their choice to take the moral high road. Lets use an analogy:

Person X is driving along out in the middle of no where, and they see hitchhiker. For the sake of argument, this hitchhiker is homeless with no family, and somehow Person X knows this. They are far from any witnesses or cameras. Person X could stop, kill, and rob the hitchhiker without getting caught. They don’t, and pass on by.

Person Y is driving along in the middle of New York City, and sees a hitchhiker. This hitchhiker has lots of family connections that would notice a disappearance, and there are witnesses and cameras all around. Person Y could stop, kill, and rob the hitchhiker, but would absolutely by caught. They don’t, and pass on by.

I hold that Person X’s action of passing by without doing anything to the hitchhiker is morally good, because it’s not under duress. It’s a totally free choice. Person Y is under duress. They are under threat of reprisal, be is jail-time, loss of income, maybe even the death penalty. Person Y’s action of passing by isn’t immoral, but it’s not moral either. Any time an action is forced, it’s not a free choice and therefore neither moral or immoral. That person doesn’t have the opportunity to made the moral decision.

This applies because if we hold that vegetarianism is the higher moral path, then if a person has a free choice and they choose to follow it, they are taking that higher moral path. If it’s not a choice though, we are robbing them of that opportunity to make the moral choice, just as the duress does for Person Y. Therefore acknowledgement of the fact that it is a choice does not diminish the vegetarian, it in fact is an acknowledgement of their taking a higher moral path. Not because it’s forced upon them, but because they of their own free will are choosing to take the hard road, the moral road. I think that that is a good thing to acknowledge.