Is There an Ethical Dilemma In Graham Hill's Weekday Vegetarian Plan?

graham hill at TED

Last year TreeHugger founder Graham Hill gave a TED talk entitled Why I'm a weekday vegetarian, (transcript here)

Zoe Weil at Care 2 just watched it, and summarizes it as " 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 is this not a good thing? Zoe isn't so sure. She discusses The Ethical Dilemma Inherent in the Weekday Vegetarian Plan.

Zoe thinks Graham should do more:

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.

She then uses analogies to explain why she thinks it's not good enough:

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.

And this is where, I think, Zoe's argument breaks down. The chocolate analogy discusses a moral issue, slavery. The Prius analogy discusses carbon footprint, and that so-called environmentalist is still producing less CO2 by driving the hybrid during the week. One is absolute, and the other is relative.

I can understand vegans and vegetarians being absolutist about this; killing animals is brutal and cruel. But TreeHugger is an environmental website and we are trying to convince people to live a lower-carbon lifestyle, and Graham's plan is part of that. I try to follow Graham's plan and use the money I save to buy better meat that is raised sustainably with less cruelty and brutality. But Zoe concludes:

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.

I have to look in the mirror every morning and face my personal weaknesses. And I know that by giving up red meat, by paying twice as much to buy better meat, and by dialing way back the amount of meat I eat, that I am reducing my carbon footprint and the amount of cruelty and brutality. That's a start.

Read the whole article in Care2: The Ethical Dilemma Inherent in the Weekday Vegetarian Plan

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