“Don’t tell me what to eat!” That’s many people’s first line of defence when challenged on their decision to eat animal products, followed by “It’s my personal choice”.
Of course, behaviours which have negative consequences for others are more than personal choices. Few would argue that killing and eating their pet dog is a personal choice. And it’s not just animals who are affected by our diets – there are numerous human consequences too.
But what I really want to address is the irony of claiming that vegans tell others what to eat.
Who really tells us what to eat?
In Western society, our parents and caregivers convince us to eat animal products from birth. Baby food comes in flavours like beef and lasagne. Meat is disguised in cute little ‘nuggets’, in the hope that we won’t realise what we’re eating. In school, we’re given free milk and told we need it for calcium. In Biology, we’re taught that meat is important for protein. School cafeterias offer few or no plant-based options. No-one tells us the truth about what we’re eating, or gives us the choice to eat differently.
Parents and teachers can’t really be blamed for this, especially since they’ve been through the same thing themselves. Most believe they’re doing the right thing; they don’t even realise there’s an alternative.
In our culture, advertising is an insidious form of propaganda. It’s virtually impossible to walk down the high street without being bombarded with adverts for fast food and animal products. The same goes for watching TV, reading newspapers and magazines, and browsing the Internet. Adverts for fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, are rare.
One McDonald’s campaign shows a burger with the slogan “The thing you want when you order salad”. Subway’s recent “Meet the meat”campaign hijacks an animal rights slogan. The US National Livestock and Meat Board proclaims “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.” The dairy industry spent millions on its famous “Got milk?” campaign.
Campaigning against plant-based options
Some chains directly attack vegetarians – for instance, Gourmet Burger Kitchen came under fire for an ad showing a beef burger with the slogan “Vegetarians – resistance is futile”. Many fast food companies market directly to children and families, knowing that dietary habits formed in childhood are likely to stick.
When these industries perceive plant-based options as a threat, they fight back with all their might. The US Egg Board viciously attempted to sabotage Hampton Creek, a company making vegan mayonnaise. The American Dairy Association and pro-dairy Weston A. Price foundation have successfully spread anti-soy propaganda, and the California Milk Processor Board recently made fun of plant-based milks.
The consequences of social pressure
We’re told what to eat every day of our lives. Those who choose to avoid animal products are often met with confusion, mockery and even hostility. Many former vegetarians cite lack of support from friends and loved ones as the reason they went back to eating animal products. Our culture is very good at persuading us to eat a certain way.
This persuasion has consequences. In developed countries, epidemic levels of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity and much more have resulted. Even when people become very ill as a result of their diet and lifestyle, they receive little encouragement to change – instead, they’re typically prescribed medications to treat their symptoms. This is despite the fact that a whole foods plant-based diet has been shown to prevent, arrest and in some cases even reverse the progression of these diseases (read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study for more information). Then there’s animal agriculture’s enormous contribution to climate change and animal suffering.
Many people can’t give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Why do you eat meat?” They tend to fall back on “It tastes good,” or “We’ve always done it”. The truth is, most of us haven’t thought too hard about why we eat the way we do.
When a doctor tells us we need meat, or a fad diet tells us fruit will make us fat, we don’t angrily exclaim “Don’t tell me what to eat!”, because we all like to hear good news about our bad habits. The continuing popularity of high-fat low-carb diets is testament to this. It seems we only object to being told what to eat if it means significantly changing our behaviour.
It’s so important that we educate ourselves and stay open to what others have to say. The ‘preachy vegan’ stereotype is too often used to derail meaningful conversations about the impact of our dietary choices.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you.