By Joe Perez
Although I have felt guilty since childhood for eating animals, I have not succeeded in the past at becoming vegetarian and probably will never totally give up meat or dairy products. The moral case against eating meat is strong, but that doesn’t mean I have found the arguments in favor of strict vegetarianism convincing.
I was raised with a stereotypical American diet in which meat is served in nearly every meal. But I have evolved to find for myself a stance which is less absolute than Vegetarian v. Carnivore, and done so by examining my actions from a worldcentric perspective.
The bottom line is that I have gradually found myself eating significantly less meat as a personal matter and choosing meats which are farmed humanely. I have rejected approaches to diet based on mere personal preference or ideology. Instead, I’ve chosen an ethos of meat on a middle path, one which would please neither vegetarians nor carnivores.
As I see it, a dietary philosophy which bans meat and brands opponents as murderers or one which reduces animals to objects for domination are unnecessarily extreme. Instead, an Integral vision asks us to consider animals as worthy of respect as our co-inhabitants of the Earth with intrinsic value, but it stops short of viewing their consumption as an intrinsic evil. We are asked to maximize our compassion for animal life as an integral part of the spiral of evolution and to weigh the costs and benefits of our relationship to animals.
The costs of a meat-based diet are projected to get worse in the years ahead. According to a 2012 report on Climate Central by John Vidal of The Guardian, leading water scientists have warned us that food shortages will become catastrophic over the next 40 years unless the world’s population switches almost completely to a vegetarian diet. Already hunger or malnourishment are a fact of life for 2 billion people, and the water and food shortages ahead will grow much worse if meat eating continues on its current trajectory.
When we take a worldcentric perspective – for instance, trying to weigh the needs of the planet as a whole in our individual decision-making – we may ask: How much would the world need to change? The leading water scientists say that humans currently derive 20 percent of their protein from animal-based products right now, but this may need to drop to just 5 percent to feed the larger world population which will be alive by 2050.
Living less selfishly is the ethical imperative. Regardless of what one may think about animal welfare, one can find reasons to feel good about eating less meat if only because it is virtually an ecological necessity. In order to live in a way which is sustainable for the entire world over the decades to come, it appears that the average individual might need to change their diet so that instead of deriving 20 percent of their protein from animal-based products, they would need to drop to 5 percent.
The average American diet consists in twice the protein than is actually needed, according to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. The USDA estimates that a person weighing 150 lbs. requires 54 grams per day. While it is probably not realistic for most people to cut out all meat and dairy, a good place to start for most people would be to eat no more protein than is necessary to maintain good health, and to reduce the percentage of protein received from animal-based products. For many people integrating vegetarian or vegan protein supplements could help.
I am suggesting that eating benefits from taking a moral and philosophical approach which puts at the center the care of the spiral of evolution as a whole. For this reason, finding an integral path between the Vegetarian v. Carnivore options is a spiritual process. With conscious eating choices, we are impacting other sentient beings and weighing whether or not to support animal consumption and cruel farming practices.
Worldcentric wisdom demands the practice of what we might call a “worldcentric diet” or “globally sustainable diet”, which is similar to the identities of being a “near vegetarian” or “gradual vegetarian” or a “conscious carnivore”. Why do we need to choose between these labels at all? It is time to stop asking people to identify with either vegetarianism or carnivorous behavior at all and start living at the edge of their capacity for healthful and ethical discernments.
Vegetarians may object: “But if someone eats meat at all, that disqualifies them by definition from being a vegetarian.” The problem with this reply is that it assumes that an absolutistic definition of vegetarianism is fixed and immutable. Think about vegetarianism as a sort of “vegetable-philia”, an ethos which says everything about how much one adores vegetables but which does not imply an exclusive commitment. An evolution in terms of our use of the term vegetarian would make it more useful.
And while no one ought to malign the movement to bring more consciousness to meat eaters, the term “conscious carnivore” isn’t great. While it is intended to help shift food culture in positive directions, it still reinforces the notion that people are defined as carnivores simply by the inclusion of meat in their diet. People who eat meat also eat other sorts of foods and are accurately described as omnivorous. Perhaps the term “conscious omnivore” needs a boost as a replacement of both “vegetarian” and “carnivore”, for it shifts the focus away from exclusivistic definitions and opens the door for fresh discussions.
About Joe Perez–Joe Perez is a spiritual mentor, author, poet, and scholar. He is best known for his 2007 book Soulfully Gay. one of the first memoirs in the tradition of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Associate Director and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality. His work in progress includes Gay Spirituality and Kalen O’Tolán.