Meatless Monday: Capitulation or Progress?

Here’s a recent USA today report extolling the virtues of meat reduction, leading with a nod to “Meatless Mondays.”

It’s hard to object to any concerted effort to limit the consumption of meat and dairy. But the hard part for me is that, as an ethical vegan, it’s equally hard to condone any program that fails to explore the inherent problems with eating meat and dairy in the first place. This ambiguity situates me in a tight spot, one whose pressure I’m always trying to negotiate. Pragmatists argue that “every little bit counts.” And, yes, it does. But ethical vegans argue that it’s wrong to inflict undue suffering on a sentient animal. And, yes, it is. Is there a way out of this bind?

I think there’s a difference that can be split. One could argue that Meatless Mondays are a step in the right direction on what is ultimately the wrong path. Given that ethical vegans are necessarily burdened with the task of education, one accommodating approach could be to acknowledge that, indeed, eating less meat and dairy reduces the overall suffering of farm animals. That’s a good thing, as far as it goes. But then, on this basis, one can next explore why the effort to reduce suffering matters. Most consumers, I imagine, would concede that animal suffering should be limited because non-human animals have some level of moral worth.

And that acknowledgment provides an opportunity. If animals do in fact have a place in our moral consideration–a belief verified by adherence to Meatless Mondays–then the meat and dairy eater should also be able to answer the most obvious related question: if they have moral worth, what is it about that moral worth that gives humans the right to take their lives unnecessarily? If we can use Meatless Mondays–and the kernel of compassion at its core– as a springboard into a public exploration of this question, then we’re getting somewhere. In other words, if we can use Meatless Mondays as starting point toward Meatless Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, then we’re on the right path.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

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