Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement

By Harold D. Guither | Go to book overview

9
Vegetarianism and Animal Rights

People choose a vegetarian diet for health, ecological, and religious concerns; affection for animals; belief in nonviolence; and economic reasons. Compassion for animals attracts most animal activists to vegetarianism. Food animal producers resent the animal rights movement support for, and promotion of, vegetarian diets.

V egetarianism is not a new idea. Plutarch, the Greek philosopher ( A.D. 46-120), followed a vegetarian diet and based his vegetarianism upon a general duty of kindness to human and nonhuman alike. He argued that much of the world's cruelty arose from humankind's uncontrolled passion for meat.1

The arguments for a vegetarian diet among animal rights activists carry two basic themes: If animals are your friends, why eat them? If animal products cause health problems, wouldn't a vegetarian diet be more healthful? The answers to these questions are intertwined with social, economic, scientific, and moral values. On the other hand, food animal producers resent the support for and promotion of vegetarian diets by animal rights advocates.


Vegetarianism Explained

Vegetarian literature includes several definitions. Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Traditional vegetarians who do not consume meat, but may consume dairy products, are termed lacto-vegetarians. Those who do not eat meat but eat dairy products and eggs are identified as lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Vegans, sometimes defined as ethical vegetarians, abstain from eating or using all animal products, including milk, cheese, other dairy items, eggs, honey, wool, silk, or leather. Some ethical vegetarians may reject any product or service, including medical procedures, tested on animals.

The number of vegetarians in the United States in 1992 was somewhere between 6 million and 14 million.2 A 1990 survey by Opinion Dynamics revealed that 7 percent of Americans claim to be cutting meat out of their diet completely.3 A survey conducted for

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