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Will Vegetarianism Make A Difference?
An acquaintance of mine recently found out that my boyfriend and I are vegetarians, and, of course, was curious to know why. He said that he hoped it wasn’t to “save the cows” because it won’t work -- one person not eating animal products isn't going to change anything. I explained to him that I wasn’t the only one and that there are quite a few vegetarians around the world. He still insisted that it wouldn’t work because our food habits are so ingrained into our society and that people are basically addicted to animal products. I told him that there have been many examples in the past where something that was once an integral part of a society was abolished because we eventually concluded that it was wrong. He claimed that this was different and that our society is not going to change the way it eats.
I'm going to be a vegetarian no matter what. I don’t want to support this part of society even if it is going to be around forever, but perhaps more people would be willing to try it if they actually thought it would do some good. Can vegetarianism alone bring about large-scale change in today’s world?
There are countless choices we make every day of our lives that are based on the simple reason that we believe them to be the right choices for us. We don’t necessarily have to believe that the outcome of our decisions will be earth-shattering or momentous. In fact, in most instances, the end results are fairly inconsequential. Even if someone points out that our behavior is not going to have an impact on anyone else, chances are we will continue to make the same choices regardless.
For instance, as a society, we believe that stealing is unethical. Most individuals in our society believe this as well, so the majority of people do not steal. Because of this belief, we teach our children not to steal and we punish them if they do. There are material benefits that thieves derive from their actions, so they may continue to steal in spite of the harsh consequences they could face if they get caught. Nevertheless, few of us would say we do not steal merely because it is a crime and we are afraid we will get in trouble.
We don’t expect people to congratulate us for not stealing. We also do not say that we hope our non-stealing will encourage others not to steal. On the contrary, we generally say we do not steal because we think it is wrong. Even though we may be surrounded by tempting items, we typically don’t even entertain the idea of stealing them. This is because the ethic of non-stealing is an essential thread in the moral fabric of our culture and us as individuals.
For those who do not eat animals because we believe it is wrong, the inability to convince the masses of our belief would be a sorry excuse for abandoning it. We do not give up on other moral imperatives, such as stealing, simply because there will always be thieves. Why should vegetarianism be any different? It would be the same as saying, “If I can’t stop all the evils of the world, I may as well give up and engage in them myself.” Doing what you feel is right through practicing an ethic of compassion should not be contingent on a particular outcome. The world will follow when it is ready. A life based on truth, love, and caring will always bring about a future filled with more of these wonderful qualities, even if we don’t live long enough to see it happen.
Certainly, being a healthy, thriving example of vegetarianism could potentially influence those around us without any attempt at persuasion or even uttering a word about it. When enough people are open to the idea of vegetarianism, it will take hold. In the meantime, all we can do is take care to heed our conscience. By doing so, we are planting seeds for the future. But, more importantly, we are listening to our hearts right now. A life well lived doesn’t need to concern itself with its legacy. The right means will always bring about the right ends.
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