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  • Oct
  • 16

Common Arguments Against Vegetarianism-and How to Answer Them

Posted by at 5:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

calf1I’ve been vegetarian since 1995, and over the years I’ve fielded a lot of questions about it. At first, I found it hard to resist the soapbox. I had just learned about animal abuse on factory farms, the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, and the human health risks associated with animal foods, so I had a lot to say. My friends were quick to inform me of my mistake. Over the years, I got better at handling the questions gracefully and at finding opportunities to share information with people who are interested.

Just about everyone is opposed to cruelty to animals, and many people are aware of the specific abuses endured by animals killed for food. But it’s a basic human tendency to resist change, so people will defend their animal-based diets to their vegetarian friends. It helps to have answers ready for some of the most common questions that people ask.

People are natural omnivores. We’ve been eating meat for thousands of years.

That’s true. People have also owned slaves, kept women from voting, and forced children to work in factories. Just because something has a long tradition doesn’t mean that it’s right. Modern factory farming and slaughter practices inflict horrendous abuse on billions of individual animals, and we directly support those practices every time that we eat animal foods.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine giving a hamster and a carrot to a small child. Which one does she play with and which one does she eat? Now imagine giving the hamster and the carrot to a cat. Natural meat-eaters don’t need their meat shrink-wrapped, cooked, and served with a nice sauce.

I respect your right to be vegetarian. Why can’t you respect my choice to eat meat?

I agree that personal freedom is a fundamental right, but as a society, we must set limits on personal freedoms when others might be hurt. For example, people have the right to care for their children and animal companions as they see fit, but that freedom doesn’t include the right to beat a child or a dog with a baseball bat. The right to humane treatment for all outweighs the right to personal freedom.

Animals raised for food are routinely treated in ways that would result in felony cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were the victims. The choice to eat meat leads directly to terrible suffering for the animals involved.

But I love the taste of meat. I could never give it up.

Someone once put it to me this way: “I love animals. They’re delicious!” Meat is tasty to many people, and if vegetarianism is going to be a lifelong exercise in deprivation, who wants to sign up for that? Here’s how I answer this one.

I enjoyed eating meat for many years myself, and it does taste great. But once you know how cruelly farmed animals are treated, it’s hard to insist that your dietary preferences are more important than the pain of animals who are just as intelligent and friendly as your dog.

Sure, I miss some of the things that I used to eat. But I’ve discovered delicious new recipes and flavors as well as amazing vegetarian convenience foods. And with so many things wrong in the world that I can’t control, it’s incredibly satisfying to know that I’m preventing suffering every time I eat.

Going vegetarian is great for animals, but it’s not the only way to help them. If you feel like you can’t give up all animal foods, start by not eating meat just one day a week, or try not cooking meat at home. Most people know and cook only a dozen meals, so you really only have to learn 12 new meat-free recipes to reach this goal. Another way to help is to share this video with friends. Don’t let the size of the problem prevent you from doing what you can to help animals.

What about humane/grass-fed/cage-free animal products?

Buying humanely raised animal products is a step in the right direction. But slaughter practices for almost all animals raised for food, even the humanely raised ones, are very bad news. Chickens are often scalded to death in feather-removal tanks while they are still conscious, and it’s not uncommon for cows to reach the knives on the assembly line while still alive.

Many nice-sounding labels used on animal products don’t ensure humane treatment and are not strictly regulated or enforced. “Cage-free” egg-laying hens have more room to move, but most of them still have part of their sensitive beaks burned off. “Natural” beef must not contain artificial ingredients, but the animals are still dehorned and castrated without pain relief.

Is it OK if I order meat? (asked at a restaurant)

I love this question. The people who ask it are kind enough to consider that it might be difficult for me to watch them eat meat. Someone who shows this much compassion for a friend might also be sympathetic to the plight of animals. I always say, “Please go ahead!” and then answer their questions about vegetarianism with gratitude for their thoughtfulness.

The best answer to questions from your meat-eating family and friends might be the unspoken one. Every time that they see you enjoying delicious vegetarian food, they’ll think about the choice that you’ve made. Learn some great veg recipes and take them to parties and dinners. Live a happy and cruelty-free life, and people will notice.

You can find more answers here, and the “Vegetarianism in a Nutshell” podcast outlines all the facts.

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  • Mark says:

    I’ve written an article considering arguments against vegetarianism in more depth: http://mb27.blogspot.com/2011/09/reflecting-upon-arguments-against.html

    Hopefully it will be of interest to people reading this page.

  • Tina C. says:


    As for the religion issue, I am a Christian & I know that Jesus would NOT be (& is not), pleased with the immense cruelty of the slaughterhouses & factory farms! Before the Flood, humankind was vegan and I believe that is God’s ideal. It’s certainly not a sin to eat meat (from a Christian perspective), but to say that God would want us to eat meat is not correct because God would want us to each follow our conscience on this matter. Whether or not we eat meat is not an issue with God, the only issue would be if we believe that vegetariansim somehow puts us on a higher spiritual plane than others and we preached that as a doctrine. But other than that, we are free to choose to eat or not eat meat and the only thing God would care about is that we don’t judge one another in our food choices & lifestyle. Also, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, so vegetarianism & veganism is definitley a healthy lifestyle to follow to take care of our bodies. These are just some things you can say to your Christian co-worker. She may say that the Bible says that those who eat vegetarian are weak in the faith, and if she does, you can tell her that when the Bible says that it is talking about the Jewish converts to Christianity not wanting to eat meat sold in the markets due to much of the market meat coming from animals slaughtered for idol worship. So it has to do with the Jewish convert’s consciences’ regarding idol worship, not vegetarianism of & by itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being vegetarian/vegan from a Christian/Bible point of view. And considering the torture that the animals (God’s creations) suffer in the hands of factory farm workers, being vegetarian/vegan goes a long way in being a good steward of God’s creation! Anyway, hope this helps!!!! PS: BTW, more & more of us Christians are becoming vegetatrian & vegan; there’s even a Christian Vegetarian Association! You can check out their website for more answers for your co-worker! Take care!

  • Audrey says:

    This article really helped me a lot! I will be able to have many answers for my friends, colleague and family as I am the only vegetarian among them. I consider myself as a vegetarian since one year although I still eat fish sometimes. My partner and I are together since 5 years. My partner moved to another country since 1 year and I am supposed to go too this year. My partner totally disapproves the fact that I am a vegetarian. I am really anxious about it and don’t know how to deal with this…

  • Carolyn says:

    Nice article! It really helped with my persuasive essay. It also helped with my daily life and how to answer questions that people ask. Thanks!

  • Ginger says:


    Why does this subject elicit such a strong emotional reaction from you?

  • amanda says:

    okay i read the article and then skipped down here and read the comment above, and if you can’t even spell humans then don’t try to argue with them. Hunting maybe useful and certainly more acceptable then factory farming and abusive inhumane slaughterhouse practices, but we have come a long way from the days of throwing spears and hunting for survival. Also would like to point out darwin’s natural selection the animals that survive are ment to, but we as evolved species should not harness life to suit our means. We do not need to kill animals to survive, we have plenty of means of nurishment that do not involve the deaths of creatures and we a re morally responsible to uttilize those means and provide a healthy and safe world for animals and future generations

  • Jerod says:

    Okay your argueing against people who can’t even fight back, how does that make things fair? Another thing is hunting is a natural way of keeping animal popul. at a reasonable #, if you take this away you are taking away ecosystems limitations, because i live in an area without any predators other than houmans and coyotes. You can’t deny ,no matter how much you argue (even though you have us outnumbered), that hunting doesn’t help, and if you do take it away, you are going to destroy animals more than help. Now either post this or don’t but if you don’t your afraid and you know i’m right just like a famous ecologist by the name of Aldo Leopold who supported hunting. You can’t argue against a scientific fact so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lisa Towell says:

    Thanks for the question! You raise an excellent point about worldwide food shortages due to the burgeoning human population. The answer to your question lies in the fact that eating animal foods is a biologically inefficient way for humans to get their calories. If you feed a crop like corn or wheat or soybeans to a cow (for example), most of the ingested calories go towards fueling the daily activities of the animal. (It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of animal flesh.) If people eat the plant crops directly, they get a lot more of the calories! So, in an increasingly hungry world, it will be necessary for more and more people to get their calories from plant sources — it’s simply too inefficient to channel those plant calories through animals first. Just a comparison — the average vegan requires 1/6 acre to generate their food needs for a year, but the average meat eater needs 20 times that much land.

    You might then wonder what happens to all the livestock if more people are switching to plant-based diets. It’s a simple question of supply and demand. As fewer people buy meat, farmers will cut back on production until it’s in line with demand. So, no mass starvation of cows, pigs, and chickens as people eat more plant crops. Wild animals benefit, too — it’s a lot better for them if the human consumption of the total world plant crop is smaller — as it will be if humans eat less meat.

    Take a look at this for more details:
    You’ll see a reference to the U.N. report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, which concludes that the raising of livestock is one of the top contributors to the world’s most serious environmental problems.

  • Lisa Towell says:

    Many people have successfully raised healthy children from infancy on vegetarian and vegan diets. In fact, vegan children tend to eat more healthful foods overall (more fruits and vegetables, and less junk food), and they have fewer problems with food allergies, so your son may see some significant health benefits. No less an expert than Dr. Spock has recommended a vegan diet for children!

    Here are some resources with more details on the advantages of vegan diets for kids:

  • David says:


    Scientists tell us that in order for a living thing thing to feel pain it must have a brain and a central nervous system. Plants do not have either one so, as far as anyone knows, they cannot feel pain when harvested even though they are living things.

    Animals, on the other hand, have both a brain and a central nervous system and, as we all know, the horrific cruelty inflicted upon them via current animal farming practices causes them unimaginable suffering and agony.

    Given this, you might tell your friend that since we are all dependent upon certain living things for nourishment why not choose the living things that cannot feel pain when harvested, that are beneficial for the environment and human health, and that don’t contribute to the cruelty that only compounds the suffering for animals?

  • Brandy,

    There’s a great podcast right now on the PETA Web site all about Religion and Vegetarianism. Here’s the link: http://www.peta.org/actioncenter/podcast.asp

  • Brandy says:

    So I started a new job, and my co-worker says to me, after I revealed I am a vegetarian, that if I’m going to go to the extreme of not eating living things, that I shouldn’t be eating plants because they are living things too. Ugh, some people are just sooo…ridiculous! I did not have anything to say to her. Then, another day she came by to tell me that God is the most important thing, and God would want us to eat meat. Then I really didn’t have anything to say as I am a non-believer, that would just go into another issue we disagree on as she is extremely religious. Any suggestions for a response???

  • Nicholas says:

    How do you answer this question: In a world where food shortages are already as normal as sunshine, and poor growing seasons are as common as windy days, how is it not naive to believe that there will be enough edible vegetation to go around for 6.6 billion people and all the plant eating animals who we’ll have to share with?

    Animals are already suffering from lack of vegetation to provide for their diet due to several factors. By not containing the growth of their population, wouldn’t they eventually starve themselves by exhausting their own resources? It wouldn’t help that we too would be consuming their source of food.

    If your movement is based on the moral obligation to be compassionate toward brutally slaughtered animals, is it not a contradiction to believe that it is okay many humans and animals will die off from starvation if we all require the same source of food?

    How will we support people who live in environments where meat is the only significant food source? IE: Deserts, land with poor growing soil, etc.

    If you know that there is enough vegetation to go around for ALL OF US, please explain and cite a scientifically based source to support your claim. If you can do this, then perhaps I will consider vegetarianism.

  • Anastasiya says:

    Sorry for my English! It is not my native language…..

  • Anastasiya says:

    I am vegetarian for a few month (and I LOVE IT:)) but working on to become vegan. My problem is that I have son 18 month and husband who thinks “meat is harmful for adults but not for children”. And to eat meat is essential for toddler’s development. Please! help me if you have any facts or names I can go for to prove scientificly or convince him any other way)
    P.S. Thanks to Lisa and Steve!!!!

  • Tammatha says:

    Well said Steve!

  • Kathie says:

    As far as the overpopulation of deer if it weren’t for hunters- there was once something plentiful on the land called wolves…they too have suffered a great blow to their existence. They culled the deer the way nature intended, the weak or old, in a swift manner.

  • Merilyn says:

    Just what I needed!! Thank you so much!! We can also let meat eaters know that the red liquid they think is fresh blood, thus fresh meat, is a dye on that otherwise gray meat. That the bovine steroids are maturing their daughters, giving them their periods at 7, 8, and 9 years old. There is so much we could say. Thankfully, like a bumper sticker I saw, VEGETARIANS ARE SPROUTING EVERY DAY.

  • Steve says:

    No offense taken – we are here for civilized discussions of these issues, and I thank you for your heart-felt comments.
    I do disagree with the arguments for hunting, however. One problem is that, unlike in natural ecosystems, hunters take the largest and strongest animals. Wild predators generally capture the oldest, weakest, slowest, and often sick prey. Natural selection at work. This is a bit off topic, but in some populations of African elephants, for example, hunters have wiped out all the glorious males with huge tusks, and now some populations have only very small tusks or even none at all. Not what nature intended.
    The diseases that can devestate deer populations, like chronic wasting disease, are spread in part by hunters, exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. And natual populations generally control their own reproduction and growth, so I’m not convinced by the need for hunters to “manage” populations.
    I’m sure your husband is a good shot, but no hunter is 100% accurate. I know people who have been hunting deer all their lives, and they all have stories about the blood trail they followed for miles or the second deer they shot by mistake.
    In the end, we all must make our own decisions about whether we want to end the life of a fellow sentient creature because our culture has traditionally eaten meat, whether from hunting or farming. I can no longer take another’s life for the sake of a meal or two. The vegan alternatives are just too easy, too healthy, too environmentally friendly, and too compassionate to ignore.
    Thank you for your kindness toward animals.

  • Lynnette Pate says:

    Hi, I practie organic habits in all my household. I just the past several months turned vegetarian. However, my husband cannot and will not. I’m slowly working on my daugeter. We eat 100% organic products .There is one comment I have to make. I realize the in-humane treatment of animals in farms and facilities. Makes my stomach turn! I do eat eggs, cheese and milk. I get these products from my friend’s farm. I can assure you that these animals are raised 100% organically and completely cage free and roam happily and never cooped up and never mistreated. The only meat I will allow my husband to eat is the wild game he kills and butchers himself. I know this may upset some of you. However, you have to understand the circle of life. If we did not have HUMANE hunters, then the wildlife population would be exploding and all animals would be disease infested and hungary. This has been proven and has actually happened in the Doe population just last year in Tennessee and Arkansas….very sick deer b/c of lack of food b/c the herd was getting to populated. I totally detest the killing for fun and ‘trophy’, that is dispicable and unacceptable. My husband would never do that. You also must understand, that killing an animal with a gun in the heart ( where you are to legally aim for) is quick and the animal does not suffer and is not beaten or mistreated, the animal never knew what was coming. My husband only kills one deer and one turkey a year. Please do not get me wrong, I protest animal farms, I donate to the help of getting laws passed for more humane treatment of animals. I protest carnivals who have animals… I do not even like zoos.. I adopted 4 dogs from shelters. Animal farms, chicken houses and slaughter houses are just wrong. I believe eating meat in a restaurant is bad because you have no idea where it came from or at anyones home, because they prob. buy from a grocery store…yuck! I’m sorry if this has offended anyone

  • Lisa Towell says:

    Carl: I couldn’t agree with you more about the cruelty inherent in the dairy industry! Additionally, egg-laying hens are some of the most abused of all animals raised for food–most are confined for life to tiny barren cages that don’t allow them to even spread their wings. I am a vegan, for exactly the reasons that you raised.

  • Pamela says:

    I started out by occasionally eating meatless meals and now can no longer eat meat; there are so many soy and vegetable-based alternatives that I have grown to prefer them. I don’t eat fish, but do use milk, cheese, and eggs. When I eat with family or friends who have prepared meat, I just say, “No, thank you.”
    Lisa says it best at the end: “Live a happy and cruelty-free life and people will notice.”

  • carl says:

    Well said Lisa but shouldn’t you be going one step further and become vegan? After all, dairy products contribute to some animal suffering. IE, calves being taken away from their milk-machine mothers to become veal.

  • Bunnylove says:

    Thank you for printing this article! It helps alot. Please continue to post up more articles like this! Thank you!

  • Margo Carter says:

    My meat-eating adult grandson said, “Jesus ate fish.” My response was: Jesus didn’t have supermarkets.

  • Whitney says:

    Great article, Lisa! I have many rebuttals that I use but you have taught me some new ones. I love the guinea pig and carrot analogy and the paragraph on personal freedom versus fundamental rights. Let’s hope they work! 🙂

  • Ieva says:

    Thank you! Wonderful article.. 🙂

  • jakub says:

    After reading your article :
    I respect your right to be vegetarian. Why can’t you respect my choice to eat meat…

    I send it to my best friend because I keep hearing this from him all the time.

    Thank you for the info!


  • kerry says:

    i love the analogy of the carrot and the guinea pig. In restaurants My dad often offers to buy dinner for people as long as they dont order meat. its surprising how many people will go vegetarian when a free meal is involved. When we are travelling, The guys i work with usually let me pick the restaurant. I love it when a whole group of us go into the restaurant, ask to see the menu, and then leave saying “sorry. we cant eat here because you dont have anything vegetarian on the menu” Although I have to sit there while my coworkers eat meat, I always make it clear that I will move to another table if they eat veal or lamb. It’s worked so far, and even the biggest carnivore among them can agree that veal is MEAN MEAN MEAN>

  • Betty Towell says:

    Lisa: (Yes, this is your Mother). Great article, very well written, and to the point. The other day, on the tennis court, when “suggesting” to my friends that they vote “Yes” on Prop. 2, I encountered “Well the animals are only going to be killed anyway”. I may not have articulated my reply as well as you would have, but I got the point across. Keep up the good work!

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