Calls to reduce meat consumption are needlessly sanctimonious
Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services has historically served as a vehicle for the university’s militant moralists to peddle their various, specious ideologies. The most notable episode of this phenomenon was HUHDS’s embarrassing embrace of the fallacious dogma of the superiority of organic foods, a notion whose popularity among cultural liberals has withstood endless debunkings. It would come as a shock to no one, therefore, were HUHDS to cave to the whims of the latest dietary fad—The Harvard Meat Less initiative. This online petition, an effort spearheaded by Talia B. Lavin ’12, calls for HUHDS to serve less meat and offer more vegetarian options. As a lifelong vegetarian, I find the implications of this initiative repulsive. Admittedly, there are undeniable advantages, however overstated, that come with adopting a vegetarian lifestyle that go beyond the mere, unmerited sense of moral superiority. There are numerous health benefits, including lower fat and cholesterol levels, higher carbohydrate intake, lower blood pressure, and lower susceptibility to a variety of diseases ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer’s, that come with vegetarianism. Then there are the usual hackneyed concerns about animal cruelty and the right of humans to take the lives of animals that vegetarians oft invoke. Another argument is that of world hunger, for, as evangelical vegetarians often mention, if the sheer acreage devoted to feeding livestock were instead devoted to feeding humans, hunger would be eradicated as a human rights concern. This latter argument, of course, misattributes the culpability for food shortages in the Third World to a nonexistent supply shortage rather than market forces.
But concerns about health benefits, animal rights, and world hunger, valid or invalid as they are, are not the impetus for this particular meatless initiative. As yet another symptom of the green fever afflicting college campuses all across the United States, concern for the environment is the prime motivator for this self-righteous crusade.
Again, even here, there are some merits to the concern, as livestock production is accountable for significant reduction in topsoil, deforestation, and the eradication of numerous species of plants due to livestock grazing. Some argue that the meat production industry contributes significantly to anthropogenic global warming due to carbon emissions stemming from meat transportation; transportation of vegetables, on the other hand, are magically emissions-free.
Nonetheless, it is not the legitimacy of the concerns about a meat-based economy with respect to the environment, hunger, animal rights, and health that is in question here, for many if not all of these concerns do in fact hold water, just like the concerns about many aspects of our civilization (How much would eradicating computers reduce carbon emissions?). Even the convenience or inconvenience of students, while also a concern, is still not exceptionally relevant to this discussion, for Miss Lavin’s proposal is merely to reduce, not eradicate, Harvard’s meat consumption.
The real question is whether or not the university need be indulging in such ideological adventures as the imposition of a narrow agenda championed by what must be, with Ms. Lavin’s proposal having thus far only garnered a paltry 217 signatures, a trifling minority of its students on the rest of the student body.
The answer, in the opinion of this vegetarian, is an emphatic and indignant “No.”
“Sometimes you’ll have chicken and beef at the same meal. Who needs to eat chicken and beef in one meal?” Miss Lavin asked in an interview with the Harvard Crimson. This statement encapsulates everything that is wrong with the attitude of those advocating the deployment of HUHDS as an organ for promulgating their worldview. Regardless of Miss Lavin’s personal assessment of the virtues of consuming two or more varieties of meat in one meal, this decision is one that ought to be made by individuals, not by HUHDS, and certainly not by Miss Lavin. To say the least, any such judgment would be arbitrary. Individuals have every right to consume chicken and beef in one meal if they so choose, and it is no one’s place to tell them that they should not do so due to someone else’s disapproval.
The advisability or lack thereof of eating meat is by no stretch of the imagination a consensus, so for HUHDS to make this decision on behalf of students is exceedingly and offensively intrusive. Again, at this point, some might point out that the proposal is only to limit and not abolish access to meat on campus, but one cannot discount the fact that the purpose of such a step would be to send a message about the university’s opinion on the dietary choice of billions of people. By disincentivizing meat consumption, HUHDS would be communicating to students that those who do choose to eat meat are acting imprudently.
In some circumstances, such a judgment call is merited. For example, divesting from tyrannical regimes is a laudable approach to sending a message about human rights. But vegetarianism is hardly accepted to be a moral good; its moral superiority, which I dispute, is a matter of controversy at best. It would thus be inappropriate for HUHDS to tell its students that the vegetarian lifestyle is inherently better than the non-vegetarian lifestyle, and that adherents of the former are consequently morally superior to adherents of the latter.
As Brian N. Dai ’11 put it in the same Crimson article, “eating less meat is a decision each of us should come to by ourselves.”