5 Reasons Why Meat-Eating Can’t Be Considered A ‘Personal Choice’

Written by Robert Grillo – Founder of Free From Harm

Of all the convoluted rationalizations for eating meat in an age when eating meat is not at all necessary for our survival or health, many people today are borrowing a popular slogan I like to call “the personal choice self-deception.” It goes something like this: “My decision to eat meat is a personal choice.” And it is usually followed by a statement sympathetic to their vegan and vegetarian friends, acknowledging that they too are making personal choices that are right for them. Sounds great on the surface, but it’s what lurks beyond the surface that I find deeply disturbing for five key reasons.

1. Eating is a communal, multi-cultural activity until the vegan sits down at the table

First, let’s take a closer look at what personal means in the context of the highly social human activity of eating. Personal food choices had never been discussed at the dinner table until a growing number of vegans and vegetarians — by their very presence at the table — question the legitimacy of eating animals. A person who tells you that their meat eating is a personal choice is really telling you “stay away.” They don’t want you to question their highly-coveted moral beliefs or perhaps they object to exposing their unexamined moral quandary over how one can justify using and killing animals for food in an age when it is completely unnecessary. In other words, “They have made this issue personal precisely in response to you making it public.”

2. There is no free choice without awareness

The irony is that while meat eaters defend their choice to eat meat as a personal one, they will nonetheless go to great lengths to defend it publicly when confronted with a vegan or vegetarian. Like some apologetic white liberals who defend themselves by defiantly exclaiming to a new black acquaintance, “But I have black friends too!”, some meat eaters will go to great lengths to explain how intimately they understand veganism since they have vegan friends, have already heard and evaluated their reasons for going vegan and respect them dearly.

They’ve considered being vegan carefully, they will assure you, and have concluded that it’s just not for them. But instead of arriving at some novel new understanding of why humans should eat meat, they simply revert back to the traditional arguments that are all pretty much centered around what social psychologist Melanie Joy calls the three N’s of justification: eating meat is normal, natural and necessary. But their reasoning reveals the fact that they have sorely overlooked the big idea behind veganism which author Jenny Brown points out so eloquently in her book The Lucky Ones: “We can become prisoners of our earliest indoctrinations or we can choose to look critically at our assumptions and align our lives with our values. Choosing to live vegan is how we’re able to do that best.”

3. The choice has a victim and the victim is completely ignored

Let’s take a look at the issue from the animal victim’s perspective which has been completely denied by the meat eater’s unexamined assumption that animals have no interest or understanding of the value of their individual lives. Does the animal who is being bred, raised and slaughtered for someone’s food care if the person who is eating meat has given the prospect of becoming vegan any serious moral consideration? Of course not.

The notion that these conscious meat eaters think they have done their due diligence by examining the pros and cons of eating animals means nothing for those that value their lives as we do. The fact is the animals we raise for meat have at least as much of an interest in staying alive, avoiding pain and suffering and seeking pleasure as these meat eaters’ pets. As activist Twyla Francois so aptly puts it: “All animals have the same capacity for suffering, but how we see them differs and that determines what we’ll tolerate happening to them. In the western world, we feel it wrong to torture and eat cats and dogs, but perfectly acceptable to do the same to animals equally as sentient and capable of suffering. No being who prides himself on rationality can continue to support such behaviour.”

4. Many personal choices we make have dire consequence for ourselves and others

Now let’s take a closer look at the meaning of choice itself. The act of making a choice implies that the actor has free will and awareness of the options and their consequences. In the spirit of justice, we live in a society where our actions and choices are governed by what society deems acceptable. We can make a personal choice to maim, rape or kill someone, but these actions will have consequences that serve as a deterrent. It is generally accepted in a democratic society that we are free to do what we want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or infringe on the same rights and freedoms of others.

Yet, for the meat eater, the choice of eating animals is completely disconnected from this concept of justice since justice does NOT for them apply to other species, only to humans (how convenient). In other words, there are no visible, negative consequences to eating meat. The victims remain invisible and silent to those who eat them, and that is perhaps the greatest deception of all.

5. Atrocities are never personal

In reality, the choice to eat meat negates the very meaning of choice because the animal that had to be killed to procure the meat had no choice in the matter at all. And the notion of characterizing such a choice as a personal one is even more problematic since the choice required the taking of another’s life, not a personal sacrifice. Nothing could be more public than the taking of a sentient life that cares about his own life, particularly when the act is not necessary and therefore not morally defensible.

When 60 billion land animals and another approximate 60 billion marine animals are killed every year across the planet for “personal” food choices made by a single species that are based on palate pleasure alone, eating meat ceases to be a matter of personal choice; it becomes a social justice movement to protect the rights of animals. To deny animals the right to live their lives according to their own interests is wrong and to attempt to defend our choice to eat them as a personal one is delusional.

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Ilona Randall
Ilona Randallabout a month ago

I understand it can be alarming to receive this information and it does shake your world but that's no reason to ignore or reject it.

Let's stop being emotional, cool down and use our heads. Examine the facts. Eating "tasty" food (vegan food is tasty too anyway) is less important than the environment (and for most of us, animal cruelty).

Ilona Randall
Ilona Randallabout a month ago

I see a lot of comments being overly emotional and not actually considering logical arguments and facts. I'd argue that most points talked about (like how a personal choice isn't really personal if it harms others) is sound, but people don't want to hear the painful truth and go into cognitive dissonance instead of being rational. But for those that aren't convinced by moral arguments, I'll just put a few facts here about the environment...

The meat industry is very harmful to the environment. It takes tons of grains, water and land to raise animals... Instead these could be used directly by humans. It also produces a large amount of CO2. Look it up on Google, it's an immense amount. Only for one burger: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-WBpg4anlCtY/Uy8kqf2eltI/AAAAAAAAWQs/qVEsoAwIJqk/s1600/quarter+pound+hamburger.gif

Meat demand and global population is growing. How do you plan on feeding all these people with an increasing demand for animal flesh? There's already issues concerning world hunger, water shortages, factory farms with poor practises (large use of antibiotics, animal abuse, diseases spreading, etc)... Those things will only get worse.

We are being told our entire lives what to eat, by our family growing up, by industries advertising food so they make money off of you, by "experts", etc. What difference does it make that a vegan or vegetarian does? It only makes you re-examine what you assumed to be "normal" and view things that were previously hidden from you. I

Marie B.
Marie B.2 months ago

Thank you Robert Grillo (and Sharon Setzler). I know this is from 2012, but I happened to stumble on this article. It's amazing that it is an article about veganism/vegetarians and the same people 'bombard' (really, 'trolls') are basically 'angry', because some people actually have a conscience and they stopped eating animals. It's strange that there are people who really get mad, it seems, completely give up 'meat'. Weird.

Fortunately, the people who are giving up 'meat', there are more and more every day!
I've been a vegan for over 28 years, and it's gotten so much easier! I mean it has always been easy, but you can buy labeled foods and they say on the box/package 'vegan'. 😊
I love it because there are so many vegan people every day, and a LOT of people are learning how animals are treated (abused and horrifically they are killed), the environment, the people, and the future of the Earth. There is hope for our future.🌞

Thank you Nikolaos! And everyone who cares about animals, and the future!

Dennis D.
Dennis D.about a year ago

I see yet another We vegans are better than any nonvegan fest..

Instead of looking for common ground. Here we all are arguing about our dietary choices and lifestyles. Seriously. Look your vegan diet does not make you any better person. Any more than my being a non vegan.

We have a lot of common ground. Really we do. Fighting for stronger herbicide and pesticide regulations, Looking at better agricultural practices. That yes will include raising animal for both meat and dairy. Fighting Monsanto and its willingness to genetically alter plants. With out even understanding what any long term effects might be in reality.

The above is just some of the things we all can be finding plenty of common ground. Instead of fighting over dietary choices and lifestyles.

Melissa Flaherty
Melissa Flahertyabout a year ago

"No being who prides himself ..."

Using sexist language semantics should be a thing of the past by now. Why are so many people resisting the use of gender fair language?

Fi T.
Fi T.about a year ago

Pay attention to balance of nutrients intake

Diane L.
Diane L.about a year ago

Exactly, Marilyn! I'm sure that meat eaten by people who ONLY obtain it from CAFO's and factory farms that inject growth hormones, antibiotics and WHO KNOWS WHAT into their livestock could contribute to an increased risk, BUT that is also the case with produce that is grown on such farms where chemical fertilizers, pesticides and WHO KNOWS WHAT is sprayed on them.

Those of us who have done our research therefore avoid such sources. We buy our produce AND our meat from sources that raise their products as naturally as possible.

about a year ago

The truth is, vegetarians and vegans also get cancer. My neighbor just died of bone cancer last year after 40 yrs as a veg.
My dad's vegetarian cardiologist ironically died in his 40s while jogging on the high school track as he did every morning. He was found dead by students arriving at school.

Cancer does not care what you eat.

My mother in law lived to 91, my grandfather lived to 96, and both ate meat 3 times a day.

Diane L.
Diane L.about a year ago

Aaaah, the air is THIN up on that soapbox you're on, Matt P., do you ever get off it and actually take a BREATH? Meat, in and of itself does NOT cause cancer. State some substantiation besides your personal beliefs, which, gathered from months of reading your comments, comes from what you've "heard" somewhere or read on sites put out by PETA or PCRM (it's so-called "medical" branch). Smoking causes cancer. Breathing causes cancer (asbestos) and being in close proximity to electrical gadgets cause cancer. Working in coal mines or transporting it cause cancer.

Matt, if you're going to insult other members for having a difference of opinion (such as Suba), at least learn to properly spell the words your using in your insults.

Nikolaos Bestas
Nikolaos Bestas1 years ago

I totally agree that humans should stop breeding, the main reason why there is cruelty on this planet is because it has humans on it (not discussing that nature is cruel).

On the other hand all these pseudo-moral argument about plants being sentient, that come from the loose definition of the term sentient, they are ridiculous, without any proof and boring.

I will descend a bit into that argument:
- Where is any proof that plants feel pain? (just don't tell me ask the scientists, let me know where you found the information, so that I can evaluate it for myself).
- How long does this pain last? For the animals for instance, I can tell that as long as an animal is screaming in agony (agony not defined, but clearly visible), while it is hanging from the meat hook, not yet dead, but its blood dripping on the floor, until tha animal dies (see, the adrenaline keeps the meat fresher this way), this pain, lasts until that animal stops screaming. Then it is dead. I assume that when you chop off a tomato to make a salad, it is instantly dead, or? Please elaborate.

Additionally the crops that you say involve animal cruelty (again missing reference and/or proof), even if I accept this to be true, the counter argument is that the amount of crops needed to feed the animals in a meat farm, is by large amounts larger.

Finally, having said all that, I have chosen the lesser of two evils (being vegan). What is your excuse for posting such a comment? Have you given up meat or pla