“BUT WHAT ABOUT . . ?”
The Top 20 Comments and Questions about Vegetarianism
There is one downside to being vegetarian: non-vegetarians
ask you the same questions over and over again. Here at Viva! we’ve
compiled our own list of the Top 20 questions and comments that
people make about vegetarianism. If you’re thinking about
becoming veggie, you may find the answer to something that’s
troubling you here. (If you’re in a hurry, Hitler is at No.
1a. If we all went vegetarian, we’d be overrun with
Farmed animals are not allowed to reproduce naturally and farmers
only breed animals when they can make a profit out of doing so.
As demand for meat goes down over time, so fewer and fewer animals
will be bred. That means that we will not be overrun by millions
of farmed animals, as some people seem to imagine. Eventually, the
few that are left can be allowed to go free: pigs can root around
in woodlands as it is natural for them to do, sheep will graze the
hillsides like deer and so on. Their populations will find their
own natural levels, just like every other animal.
1b. If we all went vegetarian – all the animals
would die out.
The converse of the above question – we veggies hear ‘em
all! It's true that the number of animals will fall as farmers breed
fewer and fewer animals as the years go by. Farmed animals live
a controlled, distorted life, often filled with pain and fear. The
vast majority of farmed animals are kept in indoor units where they
never see the light of day. Those that are kept outside are only
kept alive for a fraction of their natural lifespans before being
slaughtered for meat - often in the most barbaric manner imaginable.
All farmed animals are born to die at our command - a disgusting
idea. Also some breeds have been so changed from their natural ancestor
that it would be kinder to let them die out. For example, broiler
chickens and turkeys bred for meat are often so obese that they
can barely walk and suffer from crippling leg disorders. However
we could set up large nature reserves for the more traditional (now
rare) breeds that haven't been so changed.
There would be much more land available for reserves because most
of it is used to grow crops for fattening animals at present. Also,
there would be more space for forests and woods and other wildlife
reservations where genuinely wild British species of animal and
plants could flourish. In other countries we could encourage the
breeding of our farm animal's wild ancestors - the wild pig, turkeys
and jungle fowl (the forerunner of the battery hen) by stopping
the destruction of their homes.
Many people forget that all farmed animals have been bred from
wild animals – and that their natural ancestors need preserving.
In a vegetarian world animals would not be kept for profit and
greed but would be allowed to exist in their natural state and live
their life in freedom.
2. Our teeth/digestive systems are designed for eating
No, they aren’t. We can digest meat, but our digestive systems
are different to carnivorous animals: our guts are longer (so we
can digest lots of plant materials) and our teeth are not designed
to slice and tear flesh. Our teeth and mouths are the wrong shape
to be able to kill and hold captive struggling prey (compare our
jaw shape and teeth to a lion – or your pet cat or dog!).
That’s why humans cook meat before eating it and why we’re
no good at crunching and munching uncooked bones. As for our sharp
teeth, gorillas are entirely vegetarian – as are almost all
primates – and yet have far longer and sharper canine teeth
than human beings. The diet of the ancestors of human beings was
vegan until they began hunting about one-and-a-half million years
ago but even then meat formed just a tiny part of their diet. That’s
why people live long, healthy lives on vegetarian and vegan diets
but would quickly die if they ate nothing but meat.
To find out more, see our Nutrition Myths
page or read our guides, Fruits
of the Past and The
Healthiest Diet of All
3. Eating meat is natural.
As we’ve just seen, it isn’t. Humans have only eaten
meat in relatively recent evolutionary history and then only through
the use of tools like spears and fire. Only when we started farming
(hardly natural!) did meat become even a regular part of most human
beings’ diets and eating meat on a daily basis is very recent
- since the advent of factory farming after the Second World War.
This brought the cost of rearing animals down and the meat eating
explosion was the result. In 1946, for example, the number of poultry
eaten in Britain was 31.9 million and in 2001 it was over 800 million.
And what’s natural about factory farming, live exports and
To find out more, read our Guides, Fruits
of the Past, Justice
for All and Murder,
4. Lots of animals kill for food: why shouldn’t
Animals do lots of things we don’t do and wouldn’t
do! Anyway, we shouldn’t kill because we have a choice. Lions
and tigers etc have to kill to survive (they are known as obligate
carnivores): we don’t. Animals can only follow their instincts
but we human beings can think about the consequences of our actions.
We can recognise the suffering of other animals and we can choose
not to inflict it on them. If we choose to make them suffer, what
does that say about the human race?
Eating meat is causing mass pain and suffering; it is destroying
the earth and is costing the health services millions.
To find out more, read our Guides Murder,
She Wrote, Planet
on a Plate and the
healthiest Diet of All.
5. It’s alright to eat animals if they’ve
had a good life.
Would it be alright to kill and eat people if they’d had
a good life? And what do we mean by a ‘good’ life, anyway?
In the case of animals, we certainly don’t mean a long one.
‘Meat’ animals are killed as babies in the case of lambs
and veal calves or as soon as they become physically mature –
the equivalent of human teenagers - and never get to lead any kind
of adult life. Animals, of course, want to live just as much as
we do. The first instinct every animal has is to survive. By killing
them at all, we are taking away from them the most important thing
they have; we are denying their intrinsic right to life.
It is also naïve to imagine that any farmed animals lead
good lives: the overwhelming majority of them are exploited, neglected
and frustrated on factory farms – forced to lead lives of
misery by a farming system which sees them only as ways of producing
a profit. They then face a violent, frightening death in the slaughterhouse:
despite supposedly humane stunning, millions of animals are still
conscious when their throats are cut. Even free range and organic
animals suffer on farms (see Question 6) and they face the same
shocking death at a young age as factory-farmed animals.
To find out more about the lives of farmed animals, click here.
To find out more about the moral argument against killing animals,
read our guide Justice
6. I only eat organic/free range/fish/chicken anyway
Good. Any choice that people make which reduces animal suffering
is a welcome choice – but why stop at some kinds of animal
or some kinds of suffering? Fish and chicken feel pain and have
an instinct to preserve their own lives in just the same way as
cows and pigs. They may be less attractive animals to you but that
doesn’t mean that their lives and suffering are less important
Similarly, although free range and organic animals usually (although
not always) lead better lives than factory farmed animals, they
still suffer in many ways. For example, so-called free range egg
farms may involve thousands of hens being kept in a shed with limited
access to outside and to limited land. Even in the better free range/organic
egg farms, all male chicks are killed within hours – useless
by-products as they do not lay eggs and are too scrawny for meat.
All animals kept for farming are prevented from mixing in normal
social groups, and ducks never see their ducklings; hens their chicks;
pigs have their piglets taken away much too young; dairy cows have
their calves ripped from them at one day old. Even on free range
farms the male calves are shot as they don’t give milk and
are the wrong breed for beef. All farms prevent animals from living
natural lives. And all are sent for slaughter as soon as there is
more profit in killing them than in keeping them alive.
There is no need to farm or to slaughter any animal. Eating any
kind of meat contributes to animal suffering – and to the
environmental and world hunger problems caused by the meat industry.
The less meat people eat the better and many people find that cutting
out meat gradually works best for them – but ultimately, the
only truly consistent and ethical choice is to eat no meat at all.
7. Plants scream when they’re pulled out of the
ground or are cut up for food.
Yawn, yawn! This question is usually seen as a bit of a joke,
but if you want a serious answer here goes!
Plants do not feel pain. They do not have pain receptors, nerves
or a central nervous system. The ‘screaming’ that sensitive
equipment has detected when plants are damaged is thought to be
caused by movement of gasses. The cut releases the pressure allowing
gases inside the plant to move towards the cut, making a noise as
they do so. And even if plants did feel pain, the average meat eater
is responsible for ten times more plants being killed than the average
vegetarian (see Question 10) – because all the animals that
meat-eaters consume, eat huge amounts of plants themselves.
8. If you were stuck on a desert island, you’d have
to eat meat.
Maybe – but if you were stuck on a desert island you might
have to run around naked, never take a shower and wipe your bottom
with leaves: that doesn’t mean that you should do those things
the rest of the time.
9. God put animals on earth for us to eat
Most of us in the UK do not follow religious rules in our lives
- but even amongst people with strong religious faith, there is
considerable disagreement about whether God wants us to eat animals.
No major religions command their followers to eat meat and many
devout Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and Jews are vegetarian as
are all Hare Krishnas and Jains. Most Hindus, of course, eat no
red meat. For most religious people the question remains one of
individual judgement. Most religions, however, celebrate compassion,
kindness and mercy. The abattoir and the factory farm do not seem
consistent with that.
10. If we all ate vegetables and crops, wouldn’t
we need more pesticides?
No. Setting aside the question of whether pesticides are needed
at all, if everyone were vegetarian we would use less pesticides
because we would actually grow less crops. Meat animals all eat
plants and they convert them into food very inefficiently. On average,
a farmed animal has to eat 10kg of plant protein in order to make
1kg of meat – in other words, if the same land was used to
grow crops for people to eat, it would be ten times more productive.
To put it yet another way, 90% of the crops we feed to animals are
wasted. If we didn’t eat animals, we wouldn’t need to
grow those crops or use chemicals on them.
To find out more, click here.
11. Eating fish doesn’t cause suffering.
Yes it does. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that fish
do feel pain. Industrial fishing causes them immense suffering because
they are killed either by being crushed in the net, having their
swim bladders explode when they are brought to the surface or by
asphyxiating (being starved of oxygen) on the decks of trawlers.
Many fish, especially salmon, are also now intensively farmed and
suffer from infectious illnesses, parasites and overcrowding.
12. What would happen to the countryside if we stopped
having animals grazing on it?
As we’ve already seen, we would need to use less of our
countryside for agriculture if we were all vegetarian: that means
that more of it could return to a natural state. Britain has less
woodland than any other northern European country – we could
change that if we didn’t need to use land to grow crops like
soya and rape for animal feed.
Far from being a loss to the countryside as some people imagine,
ending livestock farming would mean a huge toll of suffering would
be eliminated and wildlife allowed to recover (see 1b).
13. Why not do something for people instead of animals?
Vegetarianism does help people. The meat industry causes environmental
degradation through things like deforestation, soil erosion, water
pollution and the production of greenhouse gases – we would
live in a cleaner, better world if we were all vegetarian. Secondly,
because meat production is such an inefficient way of producing
food it consumes resources which should go to human beings. In the
developing world, land is increasingly being devoted to the production
of animal fodder for export to the rich world instead of being used
to grow food for the local population. Finally, vegetarianism improves
human health, which brings rewards for individuals and also to society
as a whole which needs to spend less on health care and lost working
days through ill health.
Compassion towards animals is not in competition with compassion
towards people. Vegetarianism is a choice each individual can make
which improves the lives of animals and human beings. It is also
a choice about what people eat – not where they work, what
they do in their spare time or how they vote. Many vegetarians dedicate
their lives to human welfare – Gandhi is the classic example
To find out more about how vegetarianism benefits human beings,
14. Hitler was vegetarian.
No he wasn’t. He ate meat – just like Himmler, Goering,
Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Attila the Hun, Idi Amin,
Saddam Hussein, Harold Shipman, Timothy McVeigh, Myra Hindley and
almost every other killer in history. So even if he had been vegetarian,
it would prove nothing. But he wasn’t.
15. All the farmers would be unemployed if we stopped
People will still need to eat when we are all vegetarian so there
will still be plenty of jobs for farmers! (In fact the intensive
farming of animals has caused severe unemployment in agriculture
as so few people are employed to look after so many animals. A vegetarian
world would mean more employed in sustainable methods of farming.)
However, even if farmers did become unemployed that is no reason
to keep farming animals for food. Eating meat is harmful to animals,
to the planet and to ourselves – if it is right to stop it,
the employment prospects of those who work in the meat industry
are no reason to keep it going. As has been pointed out, if we got
rid of all crime, the police would be out of work and if we got
rid of all illness, doctors and nurses would be out of work: that
doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get rid of crime and
16. I don’t mind you being vegetarian – but
you shouldn’t try to impose your views on other people. It’s
a matter of individual choice.
Trying to persuade people to change their minds is not “imposing
your views” upon them. It is the kind of healthy disagreement
which democracy depends on and which is essential for change to
What we eat is also not simply a matter for individuals. Meat-eating
and vegetarianism are not two sides of the same coin: one brings
death and suffering to animals, damages the planet and harms human
health and the other doesn’t. The reason that vegetarians
try to change the minds of non-vegetarians is because their “individual
choice” affects countless other beings, human and non-human.
17. What difference will one person giving up meat make?
A huge difference. The average British meat eater consumes, in
the course of their lifetime, 5 cattle, 20 pigs, 29 sheep and lambs,
780 chickens, 46 turkeys, 18 ducks, 7 rabbits, 1, geese and half-a-tonne
of fish. That is a lot of lives saved. Just as importantly, the
best advertisement for vegetarianism is a healthy and happy vegetarian:
if you turn veggie you will be able to influence others to become
part of the movement towards a more compassionate and rational world.
18. We’ve eaten meat since we were cavemen.
We’ve lied, stolen, killed one another and made war since
we were cavemen too. That doesn’t make those things right.
(See questions 2 and 3.)
19. Why do vegetarians always look ill?
They don’t. That’s like asking why toupees always
look bad – it’s just that you only notice the bad ones.
If you know someone (who knows someone….) who was ill they
do not represent vegetarians! People like Martin Shaw, Pamela Anderson,
Joanna Lumley and Carl Lewis, winner of 6 Olympic Gold medals look
pretty good on their vegetarian diets. And you should see the Viva!
staff: we’re like gods and goddesses here . . .
20. If the animals weren’t happy and healthy, they
wouldn’t grow/lay eggs etc
Just not true. People don’t grow big because they’re
happy and neither do animals. Meat chickens today grow almost twice
as fast as they did 50 years ago – yet they live in far worse
conditions, crammed into stinking, windowless broiler sheds by the
tens of thousands and suffering from lameness and other problems.
They don’t grow big because they’re happy but because
they have been selectively bred to gain weight quickly, are given
growth-promoting drugs and are fed on special diets.
Similarly, dairy cows have been bred to produce far more milk
than is natural to them. In fact, the dairy industry relies upon
making animals unhappy – by taking their calves away so that
humans can drink their mothers’ milk – in order to function.
Laying hens have been bred to produce so many eggs that they lose
calcium into the shells and suffer from brittle bones and fractures
as a result. They don’t lay eggs because they’re happy:
they have no choice.