No, Avoiding Meat and Dairy Is Not 'Elitist'

CC BY 2.0. Dale Simonson -- A homemade veggie burger

We live in a market-based economy. We have no obligation to buy a particular product.

I recently saw someone on Twitter—an advocate for small family farmers—decrying 'elitist' climate activists for promoting plant-based eating. That person even went as far as to call such activists 'evil', because of what they saw as complicity in the (very real) crisis facing many dairy farmers.

But here's the thing: We apparently live in a market-based society, and it seems bonkers to decry someone as 'elitist' because they choose not to purchase or consume products from one particular part of it.

In the case of animal farming, this point holds doubly true. Even if we ignore the fact that eating less meat and dairy is a great way to curb carbon emissions, the devastation wrought by flooded animal feeding operations down in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence reminds us that there are major localized environmental impacts associated with farming animals, and that these impacts often hit the poor and the marginalized hardest.

Refusing to participate in such industries is about as far from elitist as I can imagine.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that everyone should give up meat and dairy entirely. It's simply too entrenched in our cultures and our history as a species to imagine humanity going cold turkey (sorry!) overnight. Despite my own lean toward more plant-centric eating, I still indulge from time to time and continue to sit on the fence regarding a wholesale shift away from animal agriculture, versus a more measured approach that sees society lessen its dependence and shift to more humane and sustainable models.

Whatever we do, and especially if society reduces its meat and dairy intake, taking care of rural farming communities should be every bit as important as ensuring a just transition for coal miners. But let's not decry plant-based eaters or advocates as 'elitist'. They are making a choice based on their own values and their reading of the evidence they have available to them.