Assorted vegetarian dishes. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Assorted vegetarian dishes. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Should atheists be vegetarians?

Assorted vegetarian dishes. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Assorted vegetarian dishes. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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When I was in college, I temporarily became a vegetarian.

But after a few months of complaining about my meal plan and announcing my vegetarianism to my family at Thanksgiving, I was back to eating meat.

While my short-term vegetarianism was probably less about my ethical concerns and more about my subconscious desire to rebel, I eventually began to revisit my decision. I started reading serious arguments for vegetarianism—some I encountered on my own, and some suggested by friends. Inspired by what I read, I had numerous discussions with vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters about the arguments for and against consuming other animals.

Eventually, I was convinced that a vegan or vegetarian diet is more consistent with my values than eating meat. Thanks to the patient counsel of a number of friends—including Chelsea Link and Vlad Chituc, among others—I decided to cut meat from my diet.

Chituc—who edits and oversees NonProphet Status, a blog I started in 2009—first became vegan when, inspired by Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists, we experimented with adapting the practice of Lent (minus the theology).

For atheist Lent, I pledged to tell at least one person every day why I was grateful to know them. (I didn’t do a very good job, to be honest.) Chituc became a vegan. His Lent practice was more successful than mine, and it had a lasting impact: He has been a vegan since early 2013.

I continued to talk with him and others about my views on eating meat, and eventually decided to take action. So at the beginning of this year, I started proactively cutting back. Before long, I was going several days a week without eating meat.

I got comfortable there and then, in the last couple of months, finally decided to go further. This was partially inspired by the fact that I adopted a wonderful rescue dog this year—sometimes we need an extra emotional push to help us live in accordance with our values.

Chituc’s writing on the subject has been a helpful resource for me as I’ve made the switch, and I find his arguments for why more atheists should consider veganism pretty convincing. In September of this year, he wrote:

I should qualify this, but not by much: atheists should be vegans. Most serious issues have some inherent fuzziness involved, and this is no exception. The issue is fairly clear, however, for most of us. While there are some factors worth taking into account, like strict dietary needs, recovery from eating disorders, and surviving in areas where animal farming is necessary, most atheists nonetheless have no good reason to consume factory-farmed animal products.

After making a number of thoughtful arguments, he concluded:

This leaves us in an uncomfortable place—we know animals can suffer, have no divine reason to suppose that only our suffering matters, and we’re currently inflicting constant and severe suffering to a staggering number of conscious creatures. If we’re going to pretend to take morality and rational argument seriously, we can’t ignore the obvious right in front of us. This requires perhaps a radical change in the way we live our lives, and that may very well be demanding on us. It’s a shallow complaint, though, to say that being rational and moral isn’t easy enough.

His piece sparked a lot of discussion, with some people suggesting that instead of cutting meat from our diets, atheists (and others) should just eat ethically-raised meat. I confess, this is an argument I employed for years when explaining why I wasn’t a vegetarian.

So Chituc responded in a follow-up piece, arguing that raising animals to kill them is morally questionable, and that if cost is an argument against veganism, it’s even more of an issue for ethical meat, which is rare and expensive. I encourage you to read the full piece.

More recently, Chituc interviewed U.S. Senator Cory Booker about veganism, and he said something that really resonated with me.

“I want to try to live my own values as consciously and purposefully as I can,” said Booker.

As a Humanist, I share in that goal—and, for me, not eating meat is a step in that direction.

What do you think? Are you convinced by Chituc’s arguments? Should atheists be vegetarians or vegans? If not, why? What are some other arguments you find useful in this discussion, either for or against? Let me know in the comments.