Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Feds ought to support vegetarianism

These days the world is beginning to see how smart environmental decisions can lead to efficient economic solutions. Being green has never been cooler. Everybody from college students to CEOs is seeing the light and making concerted efforts to change the way we use energy.

While we’re in the mood to think creatively about energy, the economy and the environment, consider the following: Eliminating meat from your diet, at least some proportion of it, is as green a decision as you can make personally.

To start, putting meat on your plate is far less efficient than using vegetable products because it requires more land and water resources — about 10 times more.

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Vegetarianism also makes more economic sense to you as a consumer. Contrary to popular belief, a vegetarian diet is much more inexpensive than buying meat. The next time you’re at a restaurant, look at the average price of non-vegetarian entrees versus the average price of vegetarian entrees. More often than not, the difference will be significant. If you make just a little bit of effort to shop intelligently, you’ll find that your grocery bills will decline significantly even without having to resort to junk food options like frozen cheese pizzas.

Finally, vegetarianism can help save the environment. Some academic research has shown that a non-vegetarian diet contributes an extra ton and a half of carbon dioxide-equivalent beyond a vegetarian diet, making it every bit as much the culprit in global warming as the cars we drive.

Unfortunately, vegetarianism has not received the same kind of attention that alternative energy and emission control ideas have. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that meat is delicious. I agree: meat is delicious. But that really doesn’t change the fact that through small personal sacrifice, even cutting your meat intake by 25 percent, you can have an enormous social impact. To continue eating meat at the rate we do is selfish, irresponsible and even irrational.

But if the environmental movement has taught us anything, it is that truly radical thinking about environmental and economic problems are likely to sit on the sidelines until it is far too late to make up the lost ground.

Therefore, I propose more radical action. At least in places where it is feasible (e.g. Madison), local and state governments should pass laws mandating that all restaurants and eateries of any kind, even steakhouses, must have some significant proportion of their menu dedicated to vegetarian options. The idea is to give customers and restaurants more incentive to choose to forgo the meat on any given occasion.

Some libertarians might find this proposal as an unacceptable encroachment on free choice of both restaurants and their patrons. What is unclear is how that criticism would be even remotely applicable. Nothing about such a law would mandate anybody to cut their meat intake, and if patrons did not like the meat menu at any given restaurant, they would be able to choose another restaurant that was more creative with their meat dishes. And the principle of regulation of menu content is nothing new in our society. All FDA jokes aside, it has long been accepted that government has the right to prevent dead rat/bird particles from ending up in your peanut butter, so why wouldn’t it have the right to regulate the menu content of restaurants (at least short of positively eliminating meat from the menu)?

Of course, this modest proposal might not have immediate effects. People might keep ordering meat every time. But my guess is that — over time — restaurants would have incentives to make the significant proportion of their menu that had to be vegetarian more innovative and intriguing so that people would begin to order vegetarian meals more often. At any rate, the important contribution would be to get people thinking and to give them more options so that they can cut at least a small portion of their meat intake without sacrificing much.

Overall the proposal is, more than anything else, a thought experiment, but I think it highlights something that we need to think much more about. It is unfortunate that, to date, government has done little to encourage vegetarianism. It is even more unfortunate that most people have failed to consider it on a personal level. I imagine that some of this has to do with the popular impression that vegetarians are smug, Volvo-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, animal rights advocates. Well, that’s probably true for the most part, but only by pure chance. I have not made any arguments about animal rights in this column because I don’t think that case has to be made to support vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is about more than elite left-wing, postmodern issues; it is at least as much about simple economics and sustainability.

Ultimately, I concur with Henry David Thoreau, who said, “Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way — as anyone who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn. …Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals … ” We’re at a critical juncture for great improvement of the world, so the question must sooner or later arise, why not vegetarianism?

Dan Walters ([email protected]) is graduate student majoring in political science and law.

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