Food Ethics: A moral dilemma – A conversation with VegeTARAian

**Thanks to Simon from Simon Food Favourites for the use of your images in this post.**


The weekend before last was the culmination of months of hard work, long nights and learning. Adelaide’s first attempt at a Food Bloggers Conference, Eat Drink Blog, took place and it is safe to say it was a roaring success. For a round-up have a look at my previous post and then head on over to the conference website for the full listing of coverage. I want to spend some time now focussing on a session that has sparked a significant amount of debate post-conference, it’s a departure from my usual content but is an important conversation that needs to be had and I’m keen to hear your thoughts at the end of the post, too.

One of the sessions that was held at the conference over the weekend was somewhat controversial. When designing the program, selecting the hosts and crafting the questions we knew it would be. We expected it to be confronting and challenge many of our conference goers deepest held ideologies and ideas. The session was entitled ‘Local and Seasonal’ and hosted by well-known chef and vegetarian, Simon Bryant, and Tammi Jonas, a cultural theorist and pig farmer with a focus on ethics in food production. The premise of the session was clear, the decisions we make about what to eat each day can have an impact on the world around us. The decision to eat chicken that is not free-range, to eat food that is out of season and imported from another country, while seemingly insignificant, is one that ultimately encourages cruelty and damage to the environment so can we continue to turn a blind eye to it? But what about the decision to turn down food from someone who has taken the time to prepare it for you? If you are vegetarian and served meat, would you eat it? I’m not talking about a situation where someone is being deliberately awful, serving you meat despite knowing full well you don’t eat it, I’m talking about those situations, however rare they may be, where someone has genuinely not been aware of your vegetarianism.

Meat: To eat or not to eat.

This was perhaps the most controversial element of the talk and certainly sparked an internal dialogue that kept me tossing and turning long after the delegates had returned home. I had intended not to write about it, it seemed the kind of debate that could get out of hand – like politics and religion, perhaps this subject is one of those we only talk about with our nearest and dearest, safe in the confines of our shared ideas and ideology. Late last week I saw that Tara from VegeTARAian had posted a response from her perspective and I was instantly drawn to the debate unfolding over on her own page, I encourage you to read it and weigh in. I started out writing a comment over on Tara’s page and it turned into a bit of an essay so I decided I would post it over here and call it a conversation between friends.

For me this particular dilemma became a reality a few weeks ago at the Good Food and Wine show. I attended a food and wine matching session hosted by Maggie Beer’s chef, Chris Wotton, and Oxford Landing Estates flavour specialist Olivia Barrie. I signed up for the class not really thinking, I suspect the result of an earlier wine tasting session that had lessened my sense of reasoning *ahem*. I wandered in to the spectacularly decorated room, sat down and was promptly served a stunning platter of food, carefully plated. The thing is, there was meat on that plate. What the hell was I thinking? My first reaction? Run. Anxiety built inside but it was difficult for a range of reasons, not least the prospect of eating meat. I had started up a wonderful conversation with the couple next to me about their farm down south where they are almost completely self-sufficient, to the point of raising and killing their own rabbits. Across from me was Maggie’s chef whom I had been chatting to about local produce, growing your own and eating by the seasons. They were the kind of people who would have an open mind, be accepting of my decisions and grounded enough to know not to take it personally and yet in front of me was a plate of food that I knew to have been created using quality, ethically sourced ingredients – the chicken, Saskia Beers for example. So, you know what?

I ate it.

I didn’t hoe in, I pushed a lot of it around my plate, and mostly ate around the meat but I tried it. I sipped the wines and ate the food and participated fully in the exercise all the while knowing that people around me would be shocked, appalled perhaps. So when Simon started talking about how he has eaten meat when served to him, I found myself nodding away in agreement. I see my decision to give up eating meat as a lifestyle choice, I know others see it as much more than that, I respect that, I honour that, but at the same time it is not how I view it. Part of the decision-making process for me was my love of animals and not being able to reconcile this with consuming their flesh, I am also passionate about the environment, love vegetarian food and found it harder and harder to source ethically produced meat, so I gave it up. I don’t miss it and have never found myself going hungry. But I don’t see that my decision to ‘go vego’ is necessarily anyone else’s responsibility, nor is it their responsibility to cater to my needs. My dear friends and family always offer vegetarian food for me when I go their place for dinner and I love them for it, often I will bring a plate to lighten the load – it seems unreasonable that they should go without their lamb roast, for example, because I’ve decided to give up meat. When I am invited out to dinners by a PR company I tell them that I am vegetarian and ask if that will be a problem – I get that a chef is preparing a meal based on the story he wants to tell, it doesn’t feel right to turn around and say you should construct an entirely different menu for me because I’ve decided to give up meat. I’ll ask and if they can’t do it, I probably wouldn’t go. Someone who wants to eat meat should take my place. I wouldn’t be insulted, I wouldn’t feel outraged, I’d probably just feel bummed because I’d missed out on an awesome meal.

Such is the life of a vegetarian food blogger.

When we travelled overseas recently, I was acutely aware that finding vego food was probably going to be a difficult exercise. On the way out to a rural town where dinner was likely to be ‘village chicken’ I was obviously worried about the food situation. I told Paul that I would look for a vego option but if I couldn’t find it, I would eat meat. Do does that make me a ‘bad vego’? Absolutely not. What is a bad vego anyway? Are we doing this to score points? To be in some kind of holier than thou club where we judge each other for the decisions we make. The decisions I make about what I put in my mouth are mine alone. I have no desire to go back to eating meat full-time, and next time I’d probably check in advance about the options available for vego’s before signing up to something like that. But make a scene, refuse a perfectly good meal because I’ve made a decision to give something up? I’m sorry, I can’t, I won’t do it. As Simon said, the act of cooking for another is a beautiful and generous act. In the case of the meal at the GFWS, I knew that the selection of produce was important, I knew that the chef was as passionate about ethical produce as I, it’s just that our passions had taken different forms. Had the situation been different, had it been factory farmed meat and out of season produce I might not have been so hasty. The dilemma becomes in that instance whether ideology overrides that generous act and this, in many ways, was at the heart of what Simon was talking about – for me, it does not, it should not because life is not black and white – there are varying shades of grey. To me it is not about being offensive, I agree with other commenters who have said they would be horrified to know that they had served meat to a vegetarian, but would I feel comfortable about knowing I had caused that reaction in another? Especially given they had gone to so much effort? I don’t think I could and this is what has kept me awake at night – what is more important in that instance, sticking to your ideology or being kind?

Simon Bryant – Agent Provocateur.

After the session Simon told me that he was being deliberately provocative, a troublemaker, if you will. It is something he is known for and as I lay in bed, tossing and turning, pondering whether I am a bad person for having consumed some meat after making a decision to give it up, Simon’s admission played in my mind as a kind of inadvertent baseline. It occurred to me at that point that the true purpose of this conversation was not a matter of who is right and wrong, clearly the decision needs to be a personal one made on an as needs basis, judgement is inevitable but you make a decision and then you own it. What does define this debate is the importance of the conversation itself. I ask myself and I ask you to consider also, how many people are even discussing this issue? Is this something you had thought about much before this session? How many people are sitting back and thinking about the issues of factory farming, the moral and ethical dilemmas of eating meat and sourcing free range only, for example. Is this a concern for the population at large? Is this something you could strike up a conversation about at the water cooler? Seeing such passionate and reasoned responses to a deliberately divisive statement, while confronting, is reassuring. It reminds me that the debate is important and that there are people who are passionate about these issues and willing to go down that road. It also reminds me that there needs to be more of it – an objective discussion of the issue of ethics, an acknowledgement that these issues are important and are worth getting fired up about, that it is important to take a position and be proud of it, willing to defend it if need be. That to be lax in our approach to eating is to be lax in our moral and ethical approach to life.

So, Tara, I salute you, I love your blog, I think you are wonderful and kind and I admire your passion. Thank you for continuing this conversation, I’m not sure I agree with everything you’ve said but I really appreciate your insight and, above all, thank you for the opportunity to take this out into the public arena.


What do you think readers? If you were offered a meal containing something you don’t eat/like would you still eat it? Do ethics play a role in your food choices?

Please play nicely.

Edited to add: There are a couple of great posts I’ve read since this has gone up that I encourage you all to have a read of yourself if this subject interests you.


  • Miss Piggy says:

    I’m not a vegetarian…but I used to be and was offered a “fish curry” at someones home as their vegetarian option to me. I ate it as they were so proud of the dish and they had the best of intentions (and there was nothing else for me to eat). I had been a vego from birth – it might have been a different story.

    I do wish that the talk had focused more on eating ethical meat (for those of us who are meat eaters) – to make people realise that most of the meat we come across these days is from factory farms. It is a VERY important message – to eat free-range – that I do feel was lost in this new debate that surfaced. When Tammy said that “mindful eating was the kindest kind of eating we can do” she was spot on!

    • Amanda says:

      Miss Piggy – it is NOT true that most of the meat we eat in Australia comes from factory farms. In fact, 80% of Australian beef is actually organic – just not certified so. Like hundreds of other Australian farmers, I raise beef on pasture which is rarely, if ever, sprayed with the rotation of stock through the paddocks being the most effective method of weed control. The fact is that 85% of Australian beef is grass fed and, of the meat which is grain fed on lots, they are only held for a limited amount of time. The same is true of lamb. Of course, factory farmed chicken is still a blot on our dinner plates and pork production has a long way to go too.
      It is most important that Australians realise that our meat production system is vastly different from that of the US.

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Mel, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I know that factory farming is a huge issue for you and I totally respect the work you’ve done to bring a greater awareness of it to your readers. I think you did the right thing in eating the curry and would have done the same if I were in your shoes.

  • vegeTARAian says:

    A wonderful post Erin. Thanks so much for the shout out! I’m fascinated by the situation you were in, sounds like a challenging predicament.

    I whole-heartedly agree that it’s a very personal issue and there is no right or wrong response. I’m loving the conversation it has generated, it’s fantastic to hear so many passionate and interesting points of view.

  • Where to start.

    Was it bad for you to eat meat that was served to you? I don’t believe so. As you said, it’s not as though the cook was being awful and treated the occasion as some sort of sadistic prank. As you’re aware, I’m an ethical vegan. I have eaten dairy and eggs that have found their way onto my plate many times. If I am dining out, I will certainly make a point of alerting the staff to their mistake but most of the time I will eat it as to not have it go to waste.

    Should the decision as to what one puts in our mouth be private? I don’t think so. Just as other immoral or illegal acts aren’t exempt from criticism. If we ought not comment on the issue of food and, in particular, animal ethics no progress would be made. It’s to say that people should shut up about the benefits of organic, or free-range or “happy meat”*. Perhaps you wouldn’t be a vegetarian today if it wasn’t for the discourse. With the amount of cruelty and exploitation that goes on in the world, I think it is very important to open up the discourse. How one should go about this is a difficult question to answer. I feel, as an activist, that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t a lot of the time. However, that will not silence me. I think this topic is one on which we are differ. I believe that animal ethics is something that should be discussed at every opportunity. And I have found people are genuinely interested about the topic: it’s rarely me that brings it up in a social occasion. I order a vegan dish. My companions ask me why I am vegan. It goes from there…

    Does ethics play a role in your food choices? I believe it ought to play a role in everybody’s food choices. It is a moral question after all, therefore, ought to be put to moral consideration. Tradition and habit aren’t good excuses.

    * Whilst I do not support the premise of free-range, the movement wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for a vocal bunch of people that identified a moral wrong. Same with “humane meat”.

    • Erin B says:

      Hi Paul, I know you feel strongly about this issue as evidenced by your comments both here and over on Tara’s site. While I agree it is an important issue and that discussion is important, I acknowledge that we have very takes on when, where and how to have ‘the conversation’. I’ve been organising and training activists for a long time and it is my firm view that people will change their world view when it is done in a way that acknowledges and supports a mental shift, exploration of new ideas through questioning and sharing information is the key, allowing people to come to a decision in their own time is a must.

      I don’t believe guilt, aggression or ‘home truths’ work, rather they further entrench the very ideas we are trying to shift and alienate people into an ‘us vs. them’ mindset. So while I accept your position I would ask that you refrain from denigrating or trivialising the ideas of other posters simply because you do not agree with them.

    • Paul says:

      “Just as other immoral or illegal acts aren’t exempt from criticism. If we ought not comment on the issue of food and, in particular, animal ethics no progress would be made.”

      What, precisely, is “illegal” about eating meat?

      As for “immoral”, that implies some form of absolute code against which behaviour can be measured. If necessary, I would kill an animal in order to eat meat. Is that “immoral”? According to what standard? What distinguishes me from any other carnivore/omnivore? Do I lose my meat rights when I evolve from ape to man? Is a tiger immoral?

      I suspect what most vegans (and militant vegetarians) would find hardest to truly accept is that most people know exactly what happens to animals in order to produce meat. And they are fine with it. The reason that people like free range, organic farming of livestock is that while they are fine with animals being killed for food, they would prefer it if this avoided any unnecessary suffering. But they would also prefer that it ends with a cow being killed and turned into a steak.

  • Wendy says:

    What a wonderful post which could not have come at a better time for me! I have recently become vegetarian and starting to tell others of my decision has been tricky. I am currently struggling about what to do about Christmas lunch – with the usual over abundance of food (ie ham, turkey, chicken, lamb etc etc). I will buy the ham and chicken to take to my Mum’s to ensure that at least they are free range but I know that won’t be accepted at my M-i-Laws. I think that to save the fuss I will just eat it – but fill most of my plate with vegies!! Thank you so much for easing my mind x

    • Miss Piggy says:

      Wendy – I think you have to do what is right for you at Christmas. Don’t let your MiL (or anyone) make you feel silly for not wanting to eat meat. If there are alternate choices on the day I’d go with them…in my personal opinion.

    • Erin B says:

      Hi Wendy, I had my first Christmas as a vego last year and had a very similar thought process. I ended up making a nutloaf for Christmas lunch and people were falling all over themselves to give it a shot. Worth considering!

      ps – I agree with Miss Piggy though, you’ve got to do what you feel is right for you.

  • Beeso says:

    I find ethical vegetarianism or veganism interesting. I eat a meat based diet, in particular egg and chicken and dairy as i raise my own chooks and milk my own cows. Not all my food has the same connection, but more and more does.

    There is an ethical cost to everything you eat. If you are an inner city living vegan who purchases everything you eat, is that more ethical than the farmer that raises beef for a living and does a bit of homekill?

    My land is not really good for anything. It will sustain my two cow with care and improvement but it would not be practical or even possible for me to grow enough veg to feed us if i wanted to.

    I think if you are an ethical eater than you can eat meat, in fact to not do so is to shut yourself off from how systems can work and how animals can be an ethical choice.

    • It sounds like you’re trying hard, Beeso. That’s great.

      You posed a question: “If you are an inner city living vegan who purchases everything you eat, is that more ethical than a farmer that raises beef for a living and does a bit of homekill?” Firstly, you are comparing two different lines of moral reasoning here: that concerning the environmental and that concerning animals. Whilst the environmental ethic I tend to agree with is “deep ecology”, we are comparing two different sorts of agent: sentient and non-sentient. One can suffer, the other cannot but we ascribe an intrinsic value to it nonetheless.

      I don’t believe it is good that animals are used as a means to our rather arbitrary ends. Thus, I don’t agree with the use of animals for any human end. Actually, more to the point: I am not convinced by any of the arguments given for their use. (Maybe there is one out there for some medical testing, but for the most part I am unconvinced.)

      Some environmental wrongs will come of the inner city vegan who buys all their food. However, it is at a different level to the slaughtering, and the overall exploitation, of any animal to satisfy an unnecessary end. The vegan will buy fruit and vegetables but so will the meat eater. And, as we all know, so many more plants are fed to animals which are converted into meat. And water.

      I’m an inner city vegan but I am attempting to grow a vast amount of my food. I try to live a fairly uncomplicated, self-sufficient life. I am not perfect but I am trying to get better.

      • Paul says:

        I have real trouble with the logic of veganism insofar as it involves absolute militance about humans directly using/influencing animals, but appears relatively silent on indirect use/influence.

        At the most basic. By being born, you are using up space and resources on the planet which could be used by another animal. You restrict the available habitat for other (non-human) animals and due to population pressures, some will not survive which otherwise would. Including those I assume you (somehow) label as sentient.

        If you live any vaguely western style of lifestyle, amplify that by many thousands. The resources involved in, say, providing you with clean water and electricity indirectly affect many animals. Do you reject those things?

        Ultimately, you would have to favour the abandonment of technology and especially medicine. And, basically, higher intelligence. Otherwise, humans will never be limited by the types of natural pressures which would allow other animals to compete with us ‘fairly’, and we will continue to have a huge indirect impact on animals of all kinds.

        I think my point is – on a scale of 0 to 100 in terms of the impact your life has on other animals, being the most brutally militant vegan possible in a first world country puts you at maybe 60 or 70, where a person who eats steak three meals a day is at 100 and a vegetarian bird is 0.

        • Paul says:

          To be clear, what I mean is: dedicating your efforts to, say, ensuring that humans move to a totally sustainable energy production cycle is likely to have a vastly bigger impact on the welfare of animals (many thousands of species of which are doomed to outright extinction due to global warming) than fussing about whether people eat a bit of the local cow herd every now and then. Ditto human population growth, deforestation, non-sustainable fishing practices, etc.

          Changing those things without attempting to forbid eating meat according to some sort of moral code will actually avoid far more unpleasantness for animals than one person refusing to eat meat and waiting for excuses to hassle their friends about the same. And it would in my view be possible to reach a point where we are not causing net harm to the planet’s ecosystem (and thus avoiding the catastrophic harm to millions of animals worldwide current occurring) while still enjoying bacon at the expense of a pig which, if properly farmed, had a great life until it moved from the pig to bacon phase of its existence.

    • Erin B says:

      Thanks Beeso, your comment made me smile and I really appreciate you stopping by to add to the discussion. I agree with you that it is possible to be an ethical eater and still eat meat and in reality that is the more likely scenario for the bulk of the population. For me to tell my brother, a lifelong carnivore, that the only solution is to give up meat is like telling someone to stop breathing air. A more productive option is to encourage him to care about where that meat comes from and encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of what it means to ‘eat ethically’.

      As other commenters have pointed out, where ‘no meat’ is not an option then the logical consideration needs to be ‘how can I be more conscious of what I’m putting in my mouth and make better decisions?’. Your scenario about the inner city vegan is also food for thought, the answer will inevitably be determined by your own moral compass. Again, as I said in the post, you make that decision and while judgement is inevitable, it does not define you.

  • Megan says:

    Thought proking stuff indeed Erin. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I still haven’t put my blog post on this subject to bed. My mind is swearling!

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Megan, I know this was a hard subject for you and that it affected you greatly, thanks for having an open mind about it. I would love to hear your thoughts when you are ready.

  • Great post Erin.

    As a meat-eater, the presentation really hit me. I know I am totally naive and was terribly ignorant but I just assumed that in Australia, all our animals, before they become meat, were happily out in the open enjoying their lives. This is possibly because the only exposure I’ve had to the ‘behind the scenes’ on my uncle’s cattle farm where the cattle roam practically free.

    On Monday after the conference I started Googling pork production in Australia and was in tears seeing photos of pigs in tiny little pens and piglets suckling through a wire fence. While I believe eating meat is part of the food chain (I have nothing against those who think differently) I most definitely believe that those animals should have a happy life before the become food.

    From that day on I vowed to only buy free-range meat. It’s not that easy to come by in Brisbane which is terribly sad. I think it’s just that people (like me until 2 weeks ago) just assume that animals are treated well.

    There’s also the argument that free-range is too expensive. It’s a bit like green energy though. Yes it’s more expensive, but if more people supported it, it would be less expensive and become the norm.

    I’m still researching and once I get my head around it all I’m going to write a post too.
    I think what Miss Piggy said was right. I would have liked it if the panel had been a bit more educational and helped us meat-eaters with how to be ‘ethical eaters’ and that’s what I’m hoping I can write about once I gather all the info. (sorry for the essay… clearly I need my own post!)

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Claire,

      No need to apologise, I loved reading your comment. I am sorry you had to go through that stuff (the reality of pork production) it was something I struggled with when I made the decision a couple of years ago, too. To this day I still struggle to see this kind of footage, it upsets me deeply. I am really happy to hear that this has caused you to start thinking more about where you get your meat from though, it is a wonderful and huge step forward and, I believe, the kind of response the presenters were hoping to elicit. They will be stoked to know that they had an impact.

      I look forward to reading your response!

  • Amanda says:

    Lovely, thought-provoking post thanks Erin.
    It was a great session and one that Tammi, Simon and I talked a lot about before presenting it. It’s a shame it was so short, but I suspect we could talk around this one for days and days!

    • Erin B says:

      Agreed, you did a fine job, Amanda. It sounds like next years presenters should consider a session on the ins and outs of ‘ethical eating’, it would be a great discussion.

  • Katie says:

    Such an interesting set of posts. My two cents worth? I recently had some friends to stay, I wanted to be generous and in turn enjoy their company. It all turned out to be so hard. Each had a different food ideology. In fact it was too bloody hard. I probably won’t try again. Can’t help but wonder if these are 21century cyber-walls between us going up. (ok shoot me)

    • Erin B says:

      Hi Katie,

      Lol! I know exactly what you are talking about. Paul can’t eat onion, his sister is coeliac and I am vego. When we go out for dinner together it always makes for interesting conversation with the wait staff, but we embrace it and are under no assumptions that people should be catering for us. I think in making a decision to give something up (be it voluntary or otherwise) you also need to decide how you will approach it with other people.

  • Interesting post and debate. I applaud Tammi and Simon for raising this discussion, because it has resulted in food bloggers/consumers giving serious thought to the topic of ethical eating and humane choice! Don’t hate me, but I don’t think it was up to Simon and Tammi to educate us. We are intelligent adults with the capacity to research… so find out about it and spread the word!

    Actually, Mel (Miss Piggy) and I had a short chat on the Saturday evening during the dinner about whether or not we could watch an animal being slaughtered for meat (this was before the ‘controversial session’). And at the weekend I watched a doco titled Meatwork (did anyone else see it!?).

    Am I a meat eater? Yes. Do I condone animal cruelty? No way! In fact, it disturbs me terribly. Can I care about animals and still eat meat? Interesting question… one that I am grappling with. Could I slaughter an animal? If I was starving and had to, yes I suppose I would. It would have to be done ‘humanely’. Do I want to? No. Did I enjoy the juicy fillet steak that I just ate with salad for my evening meal? Indeed, I did. Have I turned my nose up at food that was offered to me. Yes. Tripe. It stunk and I could not eat it and still won’t eat it.

    • Comment moderated – please play nicely

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Lizzy, I caught the end of it briefly last night and was reading about it today – I think it is being replayed on ABC2 on Wendesday night. It is certainly confronting viewing but I am glad to hear that more and more people are having the conversation. I don’t know that I could slaughter an animal myself, I struggle when I take the cats to the vet and they need an injection!

      • I am with you… bringing the end of life to an animal is definitely not an easy thing to do. This topic is a very sensitive one…. the Meatwork program was amazing! A real eye opener for meat eating (and veg) city folk. The only time I saw an animal killed, other than being euthanised (sp?), was a chook with its head chopped off… but I was so small at the time I barely remember it.

  • What a wonderful post! I love how controversy can raise awareness and open eyes! I was vegetarian for 10 years andim the final year started eating fish because my boyfriend’s (at the time) dad was a chef and refused to cook without any meat.

    I actually enjoyed it and felt better for it. I don’t think I could have eaten any other forms of meat and even now I struggle with some kinds. I still call myself a vego for ease of getting something served to me that I might not be able to handle.

    • Erin B says:

      Hi Clare, thanks for stopping by, I can relate to your story (gosh, it’s all coming out today, isn’t it!). My brother is a keen fisherman and always looks really sad when I turn down the fish he catches and cooks for us at family dinners. I ate some the last time he served it because I know how sad it makes him when I don’t eat it, the look of joy and pride that washed over his face as I took my first bite far outweighed any guilt I might have felt about eating meat.

  • Hotly Spiced says:

    I’ve been in that situation where I’ve been presented with a meal that I didn’t want to eat. I was visiting a Middle Eastern family living on Sydney’s outskirts. I told them I would arrive after I had had my dinner at home. When I arrived I was forced to sit down at their table where they presented me with a huge meal (and I’d only just finished a huge dinner at home). I knew it would be an insult to them if I refused their food so I forced it down. It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. I agree with Simon that it’s rude to refuse food that someone has taken the time to prepare for you xx

  • Tammi Jonas says:

    Erin (& Tara and Lau & others!), thanks for your thoughtful contributions to a difficult conversation. I’m about to catch a flight o/s, but I felt guilty for not participating given it was my & Simon’s session that sparked so many posts and debates. And thank you, Erin, for linking to my conviviality post at the end of yours – that one and the ‘vegans and ethical omnivores unite’ are probably most relevant, but there’s also, ‘should animals be off the menu’, and perhaps even more relevant, ‘the omnivorous ethics of ecosystems’. Sorry for no links – just search the ‘ethical’ category on my blog.

    So I think I’ve written at length already on the questions covered here, but a couple of points that have come up from everyone’s posts and comments:

    I totally agree with many who have said that what we eat is not *only* a private issue, it is also a political and environmental one. We don’t eat in a vacuum, and our choices impact on others around eating possibly more than most other ways. So while smoking next to someone may have a more immediate impact on their well being and capacity for pleasure, eating a factory-farmed piece of chicken or pork is part of a net impact on the planet and the well being and pleasure of millions of animals (including human animals) every day.

    However, while our choices are in fact bigger than personal, they are, of course, *also* personal and part of being in communities. My conviviality post was intended to highlight something I mentioned in the session, which Simon had raised about eating what’s been prepared for you – every choice we make has immediate and long-term consequences. Sometimes it is best/does the least harm to choose the convivial to one’s hosts option over the ethically-raised meat option.

    Unlike Simon, I’m not a vegetarian, and haven’t been since 2003, though I was for seven years before that. I’ve detailed that story in the ‘vegans & ethical omnivores unite’ post. So when we were discussing eating what’s in front of you, for Simon as a vegetarian, it’s a bigger ask to accept meat as a non-flesh eater by choice. But he is vocal on the topic – being a generous guest is important to him. Simon does, however, speak and write regularly on why we shouldn’t eat factory-farmed meat, and practice vegetarianism in his home and where he is in control of food prep.

    I guess my ethical omnivorism is similar – I won’t have factory-farmed meat in my own home, and I don’t choose those items on menus when I’m out, and my friends and family are well aware of my position and advocacy for ethical animal husbandry, so quite unlikely to serve me factory-farmed meat. However, sometimes I am offered such things and I choose to eat them, out of respect for my hosts. It’s a personal choice with private, political and environmental implications. Sometimes all I do is choose ‘less bad’ rather than ‘right’. I know what I’m doing, it’s a well-considered ethic, and it works for me. If Simon’s and my session helped others work through your ethics or discuss your own well-considered positions, I reckon that’s exactly what we had hoped for. Knowledge is power.

    For those who are earlier on the learning curve of understanding the broader impact of food choices and developing a praxis, there’s plenty of reading out there on the topic! And thanks, Amanda, for pointing out the huge differences in US and Australian livestock practices. Again, I’ve written on some of those differences in the aforementioned posts.

    Finally, I’ll repeat what I said in the session… Mindful eating is joyful. 🙂

    • “Sometimes all I do is choose ‘less bad’ rather than right. I know what I’m doing, it’s a well-considered ethic, and it works for me.” I think a portion of this statement should be removed. I think it should read like this:

      “Sometimes all I do is choose ‘less bad’ rather than right. I know what I am doing, it works for me”. Your assertion that it is a “well-considered ethic” isn’t supported by the conclusion you’re trying to defend.

      Simon may call himself a vegetarian but doesn’t seem to back it up with his actions. He seems interested in animal ethics yet cooks meat routinely and argues that we are doing wrong in rejecting a meat dish. Definitionally, his habits aren’t consistent and morally they are corrupt.

      People like Simon are given plenty of time and consideration even in light of the above. Meanwhile, the more morally consistent amongst us–I’m not trying to toot my own horn; I can demonstrate how this is so academically and behaviourally–are denounced as “extreme” and it is insisted that our views ought not be imposed onto those that believe certain issues are “private”. If what we eat is ethical, political and environmental, it is necessarily a public issues that ought to be talked about in the open.

      • Erin B says:

        Talking about it in the open or attacking people for having differing viewpoints? There is a very fine line and with all due respect, I feel that you have crossed it. You might consider yourself an activist, Paul, but activism, passion or even a self-imposed sense of righteousness does not give you the authority to put words into another person’s mouth, edit their statements or call into question their character, that is not how this works.

        Please respect the conversation that is unfolding here, and that it is good and right for people to have differing points of view, even when you do not agree with them. I encourage respectful discussion of the issues but if you would like to rant, label and pick apart others points of view without acknowledging how disprespectful that is then I suggest you create your own post on your own blog and go from there.

      • Amanda says:

        Unfortunately, Paul, it is the smug, arrogant and self-righteous among us who seek to impose their own views of what is ethical and moral who cause a great deal of heart-ache in this world. At least as much as those who choose to eat meat and, in reality, significantly more if the moral high ground taken by religious extremists is taken into account.
        And I wonder if you have taken into account the small animal lives lost in the production of your morally consistent meals – i.e. that of mice, rats and other vermin who are poisoned wholesale in efforts to safeguard grain silo’s and crops?

  • these are all thought provoking comments and experiences (and on tara’s site, too, which i’d never been to before, so thanks for the re-direct). i would hope amongst friends and family there is understanding of one’s choices in life (be it food or anything else), though i understand in restaurants or on travels it may be more difficult. over the past six months or so i have quietly started to eat less meat for various reasons (but i cannot give up the fish my dad catches fresh) so do not label myself anything. the only thing i’m worrying about is christmas this year, as i am doing the cooking for my parents who do eat meat.

  • This is a really interesting topic and it’s been insightful to read everyone’s comments. It really is a moral dilemma. In fact I’ve rewritten my comment several times because I’m worried about offending someone. But this is my situation.

    I am a vegetarian, in that I don’t eat animal flesh. I’m not a vegetarian for any ethical reason, and I definitely don’t support animal cruelty in anyway, but the taste of meat quite literally makes me sick. Always has done, right from when I was a child. So I don’t eat any animal flesh or even animal stocks and sauces. Maybe it’s strange, or all in my head, as people have told me over the years, but it’s my personal situation, and has been for 20 plus years.

    Whenever I am invited over for dinner I face a moral dilemma of how to handle the situation causing the host the least discomfort. Usually when I’m invited over people know I am vegetarian and are more than happy to cater appropriately. If it’s someone who perhaps doesn’t know I explain I am vegetarian, explain what I can and can’t eat, because, from my experience, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what a vegetarian is as some people assume vegetarians eat chicken and fish. Some will offer to cook something specifically for me, which is absolutely wonderful and extremely generous, and certainly not something I expect. Others will point out that the salad or the roast vegies are vegetarian and I’m happy with that. I’m happy to make do. In fact I will even suggest that so that they don’t go to any trouble for me. And I will always offer to bring something vegetarian along, which invariably the host thinks is a wonderful idea and everyone else can enjoy try it too. It’s part of the sharing of food that a dinner party is about.

    When I’m dining out I always read menus online to make sure they offer vegetarian options, and if they don’t I simply won’t dine there. No big deal. I certainly don’t expect the restaurant to cater to me, because I’m making the decision to dine there, but when I find one that does that’s fantastic and they will get my repeat business. One thing I do find…I’m not sure of the word to use here as I don’t want to offend…perplexing people who dine out at restaurants who tell wait staff they are vegetarian, sometimes even making a big deal of it, and despite being presented with vegetarian options or even a vegetarian menu they then choose a meat menu item. I think this then leads to the confusion I mentioned above about what vegetarians do and don’t eat.

  • Georgia says:

    I really enjoyed reading your insights Erin. It’s a very tricky issues, and I think you’re spot on about it being a personal choice. I eat a mostly vegan diet, with the inclusion of eggs from my own chickens. My reasons for eating this way are complex, but based on what I can reason as the most ethical way possible, and my choices are always changing and being challenged. Though I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been served meat, I am often served dairy, and similarly, I choose to eat it. In some situations it’s possible to dodge things you don’t eat, but often I feel it would be rude and ungrateful of me to turn down food prepared for me. I’d also feel worse about this food going to waste once already prepared, because I chose not to eat it. That seems worse.
    I wrote about this topic a few months ago, which you might be interested in reading ( I often find it helpful to hear others’ thoughts and reasoning, even if I don’t always agree, it’s a great way of solidifying one’s own ideas and values.

  • Kerry says:

    I have been vegan for the last 4 1/2 years, and vegetarian for 16 years before that. What turned me vegan was being told that cows cry for days after their babies are taken away so humans can have their milk. The suffering that animals go through is hidden from mot people, and I suspect that if what happens to them is made more generally known, more people would stop consuming animal products. So for me, if I were offered food that somebody had gone to lot of trouble to make for me that contained animal components, I would without reservation politely decline. I see no problem with that. If someone for example was served up a dish who then said they only eat kosher or halal or similar, I don’t think the one who offered would have a problem with that. Despite claims to the contrary, there is really no such thing as ‘humane’ meat. We do not need to eat animal products, and it is increasingly being proven that a whole food plant based diet is the healthiest you can have. See ‘Forks Over Knives’. I have companion animals whom I love greatly. If I wouldn’t kill and eat them, why on earth would I feel any different about a lamb or a calf?

  • Samm says:

    I loved this post. As a new vegetarian living in the midwest (meat country), I run across this problem alot. I tend to not make a big deal of it unless I specifically ordered something without meat and even then I hesitate to have a reaction. I also just ran into a parallel issue when traveling to Seattle. I have no interest in eating mammals due to factory farming and really their intellectual and emotional reactions that are similar to humans, but fish I gave up as vegetarian due to the fact that it is another animal too, obviously. However, it is also the only animal “meat” I miss. I went the whole 6 days craving seafood until my last day when I had some fresh clam chowder at the market. I immediately felt guilty after walking away from ordering it. I’m still sitting at home thinking if this makes me vegetarian, if I am ok with my choice, what my opinion on eating fish is, and I am sure it will go on. At this point I feel better about eating fish from its natural environment then eating eggs likely abused in factory farms. I’m glad you mentioned it being a shades of grey issue because it really is. 🙂

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Samm, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter, I really empathise with how you are feeling. I think you have to do what is right for you, and try not to worry about or define yourself by what others think you should be doing. Good luck on your journey!

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