The Ethical Dilemma Inherent in the Weekday Vegetarian Plan


At the recent TEDxDirigo conference, we watched a 4-minute TED talk, Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian, by founder Graham Hill. Hill explained why, despite everything he knows about the cruelty, health problems and environmental destruction associated with meat-eating, he wasn’t a vegetarian. “Why was I stalling?” he asks in the face of the truth that “my common sense and good intentions were in conflict with my tastebuds.”

Hill’s answer is to become what he calls a “weekday vegetarian,” someone who is vegetarian during the week and chooses whatever he or she wants on the weekend. Such a plan, if adopted widely, would dramatically reduce meat consumption and thereby diminish the abuse and death of billions of animals, the environmental harm caused by their production and the number of heart attacks, strokes, cancers and incidences of diabetes.

So why wasn’t I more enthusiastic when I heard his talk? Given the power such a talk has to make a difference (it has been “liked” on Facebook 19,000 times), why didn’t I find myself cheering at the end? I think it’s because, while I realize that Hill’s idea is positive, it still strikes me as a failure of conscience. For Hill to allow his desires to eclipse his values is surprising coming from someone so committed, engaged and active in improving the world. I like his idea; I just wish he would hold himself to a higher standard. I wanted him to advocate “weekday veg” to people as a path on which to begin, but not an end point, and not his own end point.

I began thinking about how we would all react if we heard a talk by an activist working to end slavery who said that during the week she avoided chocolate produced through slave labor, but on weekends ate any chocolate she felt like. Or an environmentalist who said that during the week he only drove a Prius but on the weekend would drive a Hummer. I even imagined a man who spanks his kids, but is unable to resist coming to the decision – surely positive – that he’d only do it on the weekends and become a “weekday good dad.”

For the animals Hill eats on the weekend, life is still brutal and cruel; it is still, as he says, something that would never be conscionable if done to a dog or cat here in the U.S. And sadly, because Hill says that eating cows causes the most environmental destruction, if we “take it to the next level” by choosing a different meat than “red meat” on the weekends, as he advocates, we’re condemning many thousands more animals to suffering and death. Most of the sustainably-harvested fishes he recommends (and all of the chickens and turkeys people might choose instead) are so much smaller than cows, meaning adopters of his approach may eat several animals over the weekend instead of a small portion of one.

I want leaders for a better world, environmentalists and those who are active in the peace and justice movements, to both inspire by example and remind us that living according to conscience is not a sacrifice, but an honor; not a burden but a liberating responsibility. Perhaps others will feel that Hill, in admitting his weaknesses and his failures, paves the way for more people to follow because they will be willing, like he, to give it a try, at least for 5 out of 7 days. Hill’s may ultimately be a very effective approach, but it still rankles when someone recommends what they themselves identify as cruel and destructive acts (albeit fewer of them) because of personal weaknesses cast as too hard to overcome.


Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.


Related Stories:

Would You Eat Shmeat?

Should Kids Know Where Meat Comes From?

EWG Tackles Meat, Cheese and the Environment

Image courtesy of Christina Hoheisel via Creative Commons.


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn2 years ago

personally in my life..........i'm thinking about going vegetarian again, even though our body is designed's not designed for meat twice a day, at 350 grams each serve..................i don't each much meat anyway................................................................mostly considering for ecological and to prevent animal abuse......and because i feel like i have to make up for the millions of people who don't give a shit

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn2 years ago

i have talked and written about this if everyone on the planet ate 3 serves of meat (red, pink, white, fish) every week that would save more animals than the 650 million vegans and vegetarians.............i have done the math, several times....with proper sources.........................................................................................and it saves more animals including fish from death ................... and the soul searching............because with 650 million vegans and vegetarians, that leaves a whopping 5.45 billion people (1 billion are starving) who eat meat once a day, twice a day and many 3 times a day...............most of those people love meat and they are not going to give up meat but it is reasonable that they could cut their meat consumption to 3 serves a week (or you can get them to go vegetarian they will give up in 6 weeks, return to eating meat and likely eat more meat than before cos they missed it so much for 5 weeks, so they saved 3 animals from death in that 6 weeks or they could cut consumption by 2 /3rds so if they consumption is equalivent to of 1 animal a fortnight usually (cows and pigs are huge) it would be only 1 animal each 6 if they live eg.another 30 years they would have killed 248 animals in 30 years.........ooohhh yes its horrible!! until you consider it would have otherwise been 745 in 30 years...........multiple that by how many people you could get to convert to eating 2/3rds less m

Julie S.
Julia S2 years ago

Weekday vegetarian is better than not vegetarian, but still I'm totally agree with the author as I'm an everyday veggie.

Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

I understand and empathise with the author. I feel the same way about many issues. I can't understand why some people would never beat their dog or cat, yet happily sip champagne while watching exhausted horses being whipped over and over again. Examples abound.

However, any little thing that anyone does is a step in the right direction. If someone tells me they are going to start buying free range eggs, I happily congratulate them. The conversation about what happens to unwanted male chicks can wait for another time. If someone tells me they are going to have a Meatless Monday, I say that's great and ask if they need any recipes. The conversation about what happens to unwanted male calves in the dairy industry can wait for another time.

Baby steps, baby steps!

Marion Friedl
Marion Friedl3 years ago

I´m an everyday Veggie, have been eating and living this way for almost 30 years so far and don´t plan to ever change this again, but I find it great if meat eaters eat vegetarian at least once or twice the week, too, it won´t do them any harm!!!

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

It's up to individual choice

feather w.
Feather W3 years ago

this is a good point..

donnaa d.
donnaa D3 years ago


patti montgomery
patti montgomery5 years ago

better than nothing... but come on, do what is right.