Lots of Young Vegetarians

I’m not a vegetarian, but for a variety of reasons I tend to approximate one to first order, as a physicist might say. And I’m highly sympathetic to the ideas and don’t mind seeing them spread, so the following, from an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer, makes me smile a bit:

Eighteen percent of college students are vegetarian now. There are more vegetarians in college than Catholics, there are more vegetarians than any major, except for business, and it’s very close, by about 1%. That’s something I feel very good about.

As I said, I’m not a vegetarian myself, and vegetarianism is not something I would try to actively “convert” people to (most vegetarians I know feel the same way). I do think, however, that quite a few people who aren’t vegetarians at the moment would find that they can live perfectly well without meat, or at least with less meat than they currently consume. So it’s nice to see that people are experimenting with vegetarianism or it’s various approximate forms while they’re still young enough that they haven’t been trained to think of a meatless meal as an empty one.

By the way, sometimes my more meat-and-potatoes friends scoff at vegetarianism as though it were some kind of social ill, and this always baffles me. I can understand mild teasing, the way we tease all people when they do things outside the social norms. But to act like they might be causing some kind of damage to the world strikes me as ridiculous. I think what happens is just that people get “vegetarianism” and “environmentalism” bound up together in their heads (tied up with a hemp string, no doubt) and then convince themselve that, since environmental protection measures tend to cost money and have some downside, vegetarianism must, as well. But I defy anyone to find a net negative cost of eating less meat which we do not commonly tolorate in association with other activities.

Of course, this goes both ways. If you’re one of the annoying vegetarians out there, you should knock it off. Your smug sense of moral superiority makes other people defensive, and in a lot of people this defensiveness causes people to invent reasons that they think vegetarianism is bad. Which of course makes people like you more smug and more standoffish about your opinions on meat-eating. And as usual, self-sustaining polarization rarely leads to social change of any kind.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

One Response to Lots of Young Vegetarians

  1. Paul West says:

    Thanks for the day brightener! As a long time vegetarian I am much accustomed to the discomfort that disclosure of my “religion” tends to provoke. The underlying motivations for not eating meat are generally understood to be for health or for ethical reasons (though environmental reasons are increasingly being discussed). People are less perturbed by those who embrace a meatless diet for health reasons, figuring that it represents just one of many fad diets. Nevertheless, there is some resentment at the implication that their meat-based diets are unhealthy. Being a vegetarian for ethical reasons tends to provoke more negative reactions from meat eaters, who naturally resent the idea that the vegetarian might consider their life style as unethical. This usually is manifested in challenges seeking inconsistencies that might reveal the vegetarian to appear to be hypocritical (“Is that a leather belt you are wearing?” or “Do you ever kill mosquitoes?”). So, it is encouraging to learn that people may be becoming more tolerant of those who follow a vegetarian diet!

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