As some of you know, I’m a vegetarian of sorts, but I consider myself more of a demi-vegetarian. British philosopher R. M. Hare, used it in the title of an essay: “Why I Am Only a Demi-Vegetarian,” chap. 15 in his Essays on Bioethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 219-35. According to Hare (who says he did not invent the term), a demi-vegetarian is “someone who, while not being a full vegetarian, let alone vegan, eats little meat, and is careful what kinds of meat he (or she) eats” (pages 224-5). Hare wrote that he and his wife ate little or no meat at home (except when hosting guests whom they knew—or guessed—would not like a vegetarian meal) and occasionally ate meat in restaurants when there was “no obvious alternative” (page 225).

Now Hare has exceptions as to when it’s acceptable to eat meat. Here are my exceptions and hopefully this will explain my reasons for demi-vegetarianism:

  1. If the meat is organic or local, I will eat it. If I could, I would be a locavore, but being in Utah, that would mean I couldn’t eat oranges, bananas, kiwi, strawberries, and many other fruits.
  2. If it’s going to waste, I will it eat. Let me give an example: let’s say that my friends and I are going out to eat. I will pick a vegetarian meal and most likely my friends will pick something with meat in it. Now let’s say that my friends are full, but I’m still hungry. Thus, I will eat the rest of their meal because it would’ve been thrown in the garbage anyway.

Now based on this, I am not a vegetarian for ethical or health reasons. So then, why am I doing this?

I guess it’s because I have a moral repugnance to factory farms. For a nice, perhaps cartoonish example of how factory farms operate check out the meatrix (Note: it’s not gross or sickening. If anything, it’s kind of entertaining.)

Let me ask this question: would you be against any form of torture to animals? Imagine taking cats and dogs and just drowning them for fun or burning puppies. Yeah, it’s an extreme example, but I would think pretty much everyone would agree that those activities are immoral. Well, I find the situations in factory farms similar, if not equal, to torture.

If it’s grown organically or locally, then they will not be in factory farm situations.

Here are some books that provides my philosophy well:

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

This is an excellent book describing how the fast food industry started. It’s an interesting story of the history of fast food but it also gives dark implications about how food has become “fast-fooditized” and that fast food in general is a detriment to our health.

These next books I haven’t read, but I definitely would like to in order to develop my philosophy of food:

The Ethics of What we Eat by Peter Singer

Peter Singer is always known for his vegetarianism combined with utilitarianism.

The Omnivores\' Dilemma by Michael Pollan


In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

are books that are next on my list when it comes to the philosophy of food. Pollan argues for eating locally because the way that our food system is going now will be a worldwide catastrophe.

I don’t see the arguments (but as I’ve said, I haven’t read the last three books) but I would like to learn about these philosophies and implement them into my own. Perhaps they have a point, but they may hold on to a nostalgic way of how food has been produced.

Update: 03/09/09.  I have finally read the books above and it was an adventure.  I am ready to say more about the developments of my thoughts on demi-vegetarianism conscienceness omnivore.  That’s the term that Pollan and Singer use.  Before I say more about these books, I re-read Hare’s article and there was something in there that really grabbed me.

Hare has three arguments for his demi-vegetarianism: health, economic, and moral.  The health and moral reasons are easy to understand.  What about the economic?  I think the economic is actually the most persuasive (although it’s mixed in with a little morals).  Basically, the argument is that in economic troubles, it’s more economical to grow food (vegetables and fruits) than to grow fodder, then feed it to the animals, and then eat the animals.  Food is produced more effectively and enormously through growing vegetables.  From this, it seems odd that most of the Western world has given up their land for the sake of raising meat.  When we eat vegetables, they’re mainly getting the source from the sun.  How much does that cost us?  Free. Feedlots to feed animals thrive on corn.  But the corn for feedlots requires chemical fertilizers.  In other words, oil.  Based on this, how much oil does it cost to feed a 534 lb. to a 1250 lb. steer?  284 gallons of oil just to fatten the steer. So economically speaking, if we wanted food for humans, it would be easier to feed the starving millions even outside of the Western World. Of course, we reach another problem of making sure that these people become self-supporting, but that’s a whole other issue. At the same time, there is land where it’s not suitable to raise crops, but it’s perfect to raise pasture and livestock.

With this, let’s say we argue for vegetarianism.  Since the US is about 8 percent vegetarian, this stops or slows the production of organic meat and local meat.  I doubt the regular meat-eaters will eat sustainable food because getting their meat at fast-food or any conventional store is cheap.  So what happens: the factory farms are still in business and the local foods drop because there’s no demand for them.  However, say we argue for demi-vegetarianism.  Now, there’s a demand for local and organic meat.  You’d have to shop at Whole Foods or get your meat from a sustainable farm.  I think more people are willing to do this.  With this, the factory farms will drop in the demand, thus their supply and so not many animals will suffer.  I think it’s a brilliant argument from Hare.

With the books, here’s the order I would suggest:

  1. Fast Food Nation. This is the book to start you off in looking at the reality of food.  You won’t want to eat fast food anymore.  If it’s too long for, I would read Chew on This.
  2. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. From here, you’ll expand your knowledge of fast food and work your way to sustainable food.  You’ll think twice about buying even organic food and trying to eat consciously.
  3. The Ethics of What We Eat. With this, you can bring in some philosophy but you’ll also see the sources for whatever diet you choose to eat.
  4. Finally, In Defense of Food. Now you know what to avoid, here’s what you can eat.

Of course, this is my order.  You can read it any way you prefer.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Ethics, Experts, Paper Topic, Peter Singer, Vegetarianism. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Demi-Vegetarianism

  1. Killer J says:

    Don’t have much to say on this other than I like your non self-righteous tone. (as opposed to other emasculated broccoli chewers)

  2. Pingback: Personal Morality and Public Morality « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  3. shaunmiller says:

    There’s an article in Newsweek about the whole “flexitarian” craze which you can read here.

  4. Pingback: Peter Singer on Ethics, Darwin, and Vegetarianism « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  5. Farrah says:

    Hmmm.. Food for thought, lol! I didn’t know such a thing existed. That’s very interesting, and definitely something for me to take into consideration if I struggle with this pledge. Thanks Shaun, I always enjoy reading about your take on things;)

  6. anticontra says:

    Interesting view. The only thing that I don’t agree with, is that animals on “factory farms” (or whatever they’re called) are being tortured. I have a friend who has such a company and the animals that live there really don’t seem to be “unhappy” or anything.

    The animals I saw are just used to their environment and to people and they don’t seem to be aware of anything else. So why would they be unhappy about anything?

  7. shaunmiller says:

    Then I would say that your friend doesn’t have a factory farm. If the animals can move about, graze in the fields, and can live their lives as if they weren’t on a farm, then I’m happy with that.

  8. Pingback: Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  9. Pingback: Book Review: Chew on This by Eric Schlosser & Charles Wilson « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  10. Pingback: Book Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  11. Pingback: Particular Interests of Mine | Shaun Miller's Ideas

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