The Herbivore’s Ethos

My formal training in economics means that I’m a data lover at heart. Even more, I especially love making use of market design and analysis background in understanding what it is that leads people to make the decisions they make.

The other day, I read an interesting paper on various experimental methods that researchers hoped would lead to lower rates of tax evasion. It turns out, that appealing to people’s ethos– the moral obligation to pay one’s taxes as a civic duty—does nothing to increase tax payer participation.

This study got me thinking. What is it that drives people to make decisions about eating a plant-based diet? Is it a moral obligation to do our part in mitigating climate change? Along this larger-than-ourselves argument, maybe it is an ethical belief to value the lives of living beings as equal to our own. Perhaps the horrors of factory farming and the merciless slaughtering of animals who feel pain, happiness, and life the same we do leave us with no other choice but to follow a plant-based diet?

On the other hand, it could be all about us. The desire to be healthier and to lose weight is also an oft-cited reason in people’s decisions to turn to a veg*n diet. Animal and planet welfare is just a secondary concern, if one at all, in one’s desire to cut out meat on the path towards a slimmer figure. Juice based diets, after all, leave little room for consuming full meals. Especially filling animal products.

Surely some (like myself) are born-and-raised vegetarians who either carry on the plant-based diet out of tradition or a conscious decision to do so in adulthood. Speaking for myself, it was a combination of both.

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Plants and I are still friends today

I question plant-based eaters’ motives because surely it must have an impact on one’s long-term adoption of a veg*n diet. Once we arrive at our decision, what determines how long we’ll give up meat and/or dairy? Does the dieter, who, after witnessing unsatisfactory results in her weight loss goal switch readily to a diet less full of sugary fruit and carb-laden starches? Indeed, a paleo diet rich in meat might be the key in reaching weight-loss goals. In the veg-dieter model, eating a plant-based diet is only a means to an end.

Surely, we give up meat at a cost. When our friends insist on trying out the local hamburger joint or enjoying a fine dining experience at a steak house, we show up as the veg head ordering a salad. But we hold steady in our commitment to animals and the planet because we see no other option. The price we pay in the form of side-eyes and strange looks dwarfs in comparison to the strength we find in acting on what we believe to be fundamentally true.

Could it be true that the ethos affirming we are part of something more than ourselves be the sole driver of a devoted plant-based eater?

What do you think? If you follow a plant-based diet, what are your motivations behind doing so? What about others you know who don’t eat meat?

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13 responses to “The Herbivore’s Ethos

  1. Very interesting post and thoughts. I have been fully vegetarian (and 99% of the time vegan) for over twenty years now after being raised on a VERY meat-and-potatoes style diet. Although over the years I have found hundreds of good reasons to be proud to be a vegetarian, I didn’t go veg for the usual reasons I suppose. Quite honestly, I am vegetarian because my body feels better this way. Pure and simple. I started out just eating less meat and found that I had way fewer health issues; few stomachaches, fewer upsets, I had more energy etc. I also found that I was saving money. So eventually, I dropped the animal products altogether and being that I was doing all the cooking, my family ate this way as well.
    I suppose in many ways, that makes me a quite selfish vegetarian, doesn’t it? I’m vegetarian mainly because of how it benefits ME rather than the benefit to animals or the planet!! (Sad, but true)

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    • Thank you so much, Laura, for your reply. I absolutely did not mean to imply that some vegetarians are better than others. I really hope you or no one else reading feels that way.

      So generous of you to share that eating veg*n helps you feel better. In the long run, that seems like one reason to stick with eating plant-based foods!

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  2. We don’t follow the plant based diet, per se…meat is still a large part of our diet BUT I can honestly say that whenever I go to the grocery store or Farmer’s Market I look at the prices of meat, fish and seafood and chicken and I wonder just what the price difference would be if we were to completely cut meat, or at least beef/pork, out of our diet.
    Since me and math are pretty much enemies I doubt I would do the cost analyses but when I come home from the grocery and look at how little I got for that $60 I gotta wonder just HOW much different it would be .

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  3. Like you I was born and raised vegetarian and kept it going into adulthood and now raise my children this way too. As they get older I let them know that it is their choice if they want to start eating meat, and I make sure to educate them on what meat is. I hope they follow in my footsteps yet I remain open to the possibility they might choose to become non veg. As for me, any reason why someone would choose to be veg*n applies to me. Except for the money thing. I eat a high raw diet so I probably spend more money on food than most meat eaters. I love animals and when I see meat I see death. It’s harsh but true. And u can’t attest to feeling better on a veg*n diet because I’ve never been a meat eater but the thought of dead flesh trying to be digested in my intestines sounds pretty putrifying to me. Can you tell I feel strongly about a plant based diet 😉 ? Great post btw, thanks for writing and engaging us!

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    • I don’t have children yet but I fully expect to follow the same philosophy you do.: raise them veg*n and let them decide how to eat as adults. I definitely agree about the dead animal flesh– that’ll keep me eating plants forever! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, always so insightful!

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  4. This is a very thought-provoking post. I can honestly say that eating a plant-based diet for me is about both proper nutrition (nourishment that our bodies are designed for) and caring deeply for innocent, vulnerable creatures of the earth. I suppose many people are primarily in it to lose weight, and animal welfare is secondary.

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