Fox News reports that the vegetarian boom of the last several years is going into retreat. Bizarrely, Andrew Stuttaford writes on The Corner that he regards this as “good news.” I’m confused. I understand why a vegetarian would think it were good news that fewer people were eating meat: many of us think it’s morally problematic to support an industry that causes unnecessary suffering. But why would a carnivore care either way whether others kept vegetarian or not? Vegetable rights?
What’s really disturbing, though, isn’t so much the fact of the trend reversal in itself (sad though that is), but the reasons for it. It’s one thing if someone goes veg for health reasons, and then gives it up. If you think animal suffering is morally unimportant, then however mistaken I may hold you to be, you’re not doing any intentional evil. What’s kind of horrifying is when people acknowledge that there’s something morally wrong with eating meat, aver that this was their reason for stopping, and then go back anyway, because, you know, who wants to be a “buzz kill” at dinner parties? Gee, maybe I should start telling racist jokes when I’m around Klansmen. I wouldn’t want to kill their buzz. Then there’s this: “But for others it comes down to one yummy fact: Meat tastes good.” To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, toddler may taste like pumpkin pie, but I ain’t gonna eat the motherfucker. The combination of beliefs here is almost impossible for me to process. People really think both that (1) Animals “count,” and their brutal treatment in factory farms and slaughterhouses is repugnant, and that (2) That’s all trumped by the fact that I like Big Macs. What? Look, none of us can be sure our moral views are fully correct. People can make moral mistakes — most of us probably commit bad acts despite our best intentions, and that doesn’t make us bad people. What makes for “evil” — what leads us to say not just that the act is wrong, but that the person who did it is bad — is when people know something is wrong (or at least believe it to be, if you think meat-eating’s A-OK) and do it anyway. When they do it anyway for as grossly trivial a reason as liking certain flavors, something is seriously amiss. So probably the folks over at NR shouldn’t be too happy about this story, even if they see no problem with meat-eating or the meat industry. Because whether they’re genuinely wrong or not, this article reminds us that most of us are, in one way or another, moral cowards, willing to betray our own avowed principles for the most insignificant selfish reasons in the absence of social pressure to behave better. Yeah, great news.