Ending the battle between vegans, vegetarians, and everyone else | Brian Kateman | TEDxCUNY

Ending the battle between vegans, vegetarians, and everyone else | Brian Kateman | TEDxCUNY


Translator: Ghadir Younes
Reviewer: Denise RQ Can we save our planet? Will we continue to have access
to water, food, energy, and other ecosystem goods
that our planet provides? Each hour, three species disappear. Each day, 10.000 people die
from water shortage or contamination. Fourteen billion pounds of garbage
are dumped into the ocean every year; most of it is plastic, and it will take
nearly a thousand years for it to degrade. Due to global warming,
the Arctic may be ice free, and thousands of cities,
including New York City, may be underwater. You’ve all undoubtedly heard
of many of these statistics before, and likely, at least so far,
you aren’t impressed. (Laughter) Yet still, in some sense, these facts
turned societal platitudes, motivate us. They certainly motivate me, and I, perhaps like many of you,
am the typical environmentalist. I gleefully present my refillable cup
to the Starbucks barista, I love to shop at Trader Joe’s,
and I always bring my “Go green” bag. If you are anything like me, I spend one to two minutes
in a fit of confusion trying to recycle the fork, bowl, napkin,
and food that constitutes my salad. While my New Yorker instinct
is to avoid eye contact with an over-eager side walk
soliciting environmentalist, I proudly flash them a smile. Simply to remind them
that I support what they do. And as I reflect on my eco-friendly day,
I sleep like a baby knowing I made a difference. I know what you are thinking,
“You could do so much more,” and you’d be right. I could do a lot more. I could compost, and I don’t. I could walk to work
through Central Park, and I don’t. As one environmental campaign suggested,
I could get clean and save water by showering with a friend
or even an attractive stranger. (Laughter) Don’t get too excited for me, I shower alone, often,
for many minutes at a time. (Laughter) Undoubtedly, we all could do more, but what if I told you that I did make
a more difficult sacrifice for our planet? What if I told you that I am a vegan? (Laughter) Did you feel that? (Laughter) You did. One word and everyone
gets a little bit nervous. You can be honest with me,
this is TEDx, it’s a safe space, you feel a little awkward. Why? Because I am a vegan?
And presumably, many of you are not? What is that about? Well, we’ve all had
that conversation before. You are out to dinner
with a friend or colleague, and you learn that the person
you are with is a vegan. You had no idea, you are surprised, and while the person in front of you
may not look like this (Laughter) or like this, your perception of them
has immediately changed. There is no going back to whatever it was
you thought of them before this moment. Back at dinner, the vegan likely feels
compelled to explain to you that while he or she is a vegan, by no means does your culinary decision
inspire offense. You, in turn, decide to kindly acknowledge
that reconciling gesture, and attempt to, very quickly, move the conversation along
to a more unifying topic. Yet, you still feel whatever it is you or your neighbor
might be feeling right now. A tinge of nervousness,
a pulse of discomfort, the manifestation of a mouth twinge,
or the eyes widening. There is me, and then there is you. And somehow, our perception
of one another is no longer the same. Well, as it turns out, I am not a vegan. (Laughter) Uff! (Laughter) I am sorry to all the vegans in the room
who have lost one of their own. (Laughter) To the rest of you, you can safely take a deep sigh of relief knowing I’m a carnivore just like you. But whatever connotations
are in the word vegan, and the experiences
those connotations create in our mind, I am absolutely fascinated by them, and think they may hold, at least in part,
a key to solving complex problems like global warming
and the loss of biodiversity. Semantics aside for just a moment,
we all know that vegans and vegetarians, the modern day pioneers
abstaining from meat, are onto something, even if we ourselves
choose to eat eggs and meat. We know our planet is in trouble,
and we know that meat production, from the clearing of lands and trees
to the transportation of these products accounts for nearly 20% of global
green house gas emissions; 20%. That is why a vegetarian’s footprint
is nearly half that of a meat lover’s. And for a vegan, it’s even lower. We also know that meat production
requires a lot of water. Producing just one pound of meat protein requires ten times the amount of water
as producing one pound of grain protein. It’s a lot of water. We also know,
perhaps most morally salient, that due to factory farming,
animals are not treated very well. They’re not. They are incredibly smart
and experience pain just like us. So as we look into the eyes
of this very adorable baby pig, we have to ask ourselves, “Why do over 90% of Americans
continue to eat meat?” Bacon! (Laughter) Bacon is the reason we eat meat. For many, the mere smell
of bacon in the morning, that crispy crunchy texture,
that savory salty taste, they give us a reason to smile. That spicy buffalo wing, that juicy steak,
they are the reason we eat meat. They satisfy our most primal urges. So what should we do? On the one hand, we know that meat
gives us a reason to smile in the morning, and on the other, we know
it straddles our instincts to uphold our sense of morality, with it’s questionable
impact on the planet. Plus, as some
of the medical literature suggest, meat may not be very healthy for us. Certainly, we can treat
each meal as a choice, as it you indulge, or make
a more restrained decision, we could simply eat less meat
and more fruits and vegetables. That seems simple enough,
and as many have suggested, if we simply followed
a meatless Monday diet, whereby we abstain from
eating meat on Mondays, we’d have a billion vegetarians overnight. That would be huge. But what is a person who eats less meat? They may not be a vegetarian, or vegan,
or even on any particular diet. Where do they fall on the spectrum? I’ve discovered
that there are a few words, each with their own connotations, to describe a person who eats less meat. You could say: I am a semi-vegetarian, I sometimes eat meat,
and sometimes I don’t. You could say: I am a mostly-vegetarian, I mostly eat fruits and vegetables, I sometimes eat meat,
but I try not to eat a lot of it. Or you could say, and this one
is by far my favorite: that I am flexitarian;
I am flexible about it. (Laughter) Sometimes I eat meat,
and sometimes I don’t. So, imagine we’re back at dinner,
and the person you’re with has just explained to you
that he or she is a vegan. You decide to enthusiastically share
that you get it, “I am a flexitarian!” “I am flexible about it!” (Laughter) “I sometimes eat meat, and sometimes I don’t,
but I try not to eat a lot of it.” As you continue to eat your steak, and here she continues to eat
her vegetable kheema ball, you realize, perhaps unconsciously, that you still fall somewhere different
along this moral landscape. We know with simple intuition,
that flexitarian sounds, well, flexible. That by choosing to eat meat sometimes,
as opposed to never eating meat, you alter your moral standards
for primal urges and convenience. It’s weak, and it’s inconsistent. As we know from advances
in cognitive science, the brain does not do well
with inconsistencies, it loves false dichotomies,
and need compartmentalization. And we can see how this plays out, one minute, you are a noble lover
of all forms of life, and the next, you are a ravenous animal,
or at least, ravenously eating one. So, whatever it is about words
like flexitarian and vegan, we know they conjure entirely
different perceptions of who we are. And that these perceptions matter. This seemingly innocuous labels
to describe our eating choices matter a great deal. They determine how seriously we are taken,
how our messages are understood, and our feeling of belonging. Consider our related example,
climate change versus global warming. Scientifically, they have
different meanings, one refers to climate,
while the other temperature alone, but regardless of what they actually mean, they conjure different
mental associations. A 2014 study from Yale University
found that the term ‘global warming’ was associated with greater
public understanding, more emotional engagement and support
for personal and collective action than the term ‘climate change.’ Global warming generates more intense worries and negative
reactions than climate change. That is why I try to use
the phrase ‘global warming’ more than ‘climate change.’ So, we see the same type of problem with words like flexitarian
and semi-vegetarian. They all describe incredibly positive
steps to the more sustainable planet, but they largely invoke
negative associations, feelings of division,
and moral incompatibility. So it occurred to me, we need a word
that describes a community of individuals who are committed to reducing
their consumption of meat, and can encourage others
to reduce their consumption of cows, chickens, pigs,
lambs, and seafood. It is my hope that this word
is ‘reducitarian.’ That it can inspire a community
of individuals to simply eat less meat. I bet many of you here today
are already reducitarians. How many of you try to eat less meat? You are all reducitarians already. And to my vegan and vegetarian friends,
you too are reducitarians, because you are so very much committed
to reducing your consumption of meat. Reducitarianism is the practice of reducing one’s personal
consumption of meat; red meat, seafood, and poultry. Reducitarians may still enjoy
the taste of meat, or not concerned with making
a drastic lifestyle change, but they are committed to reducing
their consumption of meat nonetheless. With more fruits and veggies, reducitarians live longer,
healthier, and happier lives. They set manageable
and therefore, actionable goals to gradually reduce
their meat consumption. For example, they may order
a smaller steak, or skip eating meat for dinner
if they had it for lunch, or simply eat meat only on the weekends. Reducitarians know
that by choosing to eat less meat, they are not only going to improve
themselves and the environment, but farm animals, as well. The concept of reducitarianism
is appealing because not everyone is able or willing
to follow a completely vegetarian diet. This is a difficult
but important realization; not everyone is able or willing to follow
a completely vegetarian diet. A Gallup poll conducted in 2012
asked a diverse group of Americans the following question, “In terms of your eating preference, do you consider yourself
to be a vegetarian or not?” How would you respond?
What do you think they found? What they found was that on average, only 5% of Americans
consider themselves to be a vegetarian. But what was so interesting
about this 5% is that it remained
largely unchanged from the 6% that was recorded in 1999 and 2001. In other words, the amount
of vegetarians in the United States has remained about the same:
extremely low. As you might imagine,
this percentage is even lower for vegans. Similar statistics have been observed
throughout the world. just in case you aren’t convinced, a separate study found that among those
who consider themselves to be a vegetarian nearly two-thirds of them had indicated
that they’ve recently eaten meat when they were asked to recall their diet. These individuals were not vegetarians
or vegans, they were reducitarians. But they were forced to play
mental gymnastics with themselves without a word to describe who they are. And this used to happen
to me all the time. My friends and family knew
that I was a vegetarian. Once in a while,
we would go out to eat, I’d order bacon with my eggs and pancakes, and they would literally
catch me in the act red handed, eating a slice of bacon. (Laughter) Do you know what it’s like
for a Jewish vegetarian to be caught eating bacon? (Laughter) That is a double whammy no one wants
to experience with their morning coffee. So look, what I think this means is that even though we know
it would be better, more healthy, and environmentally friendly
if everyone just stopped eating meat. This is an ideal, a romantic ideal, that we have been unable to achieve. This message of completely eliminating
meat consumption has worked very well, or somewhat well, for the individuals who are
vegetarians or vegans, but has failed to capture
the attention of the rest of us. The 95% of us
who continue to inhabit this planet. So yes, reducitarianism
is a message for the 95% of us. We should consider eating less meat for the sake of our health
and the environment. We can learn a lot from
vegans and vegetarians who have so admirably reduced
their meat consumption, that they effectively eat none at all. But vegans and vegetarians
can also learn a great deal from those who simply strive
to eat less meat. In many ways, the use
of categorical imperatives that we must never eat meat,
has put vegans and vegetarians and those who simply strive
to eat less meat in a boxing match for moral superiority. It’s exhausting, and as the data suggests,
largely unproductive. Reducitarianism is a message that allows us to focus
not on our differences but on our shared commitment
to eating less meat, regardless of where we fall
on the spectrum. I believe that this reducitarian message
will absolutely terrify the meat industry. Because it is a message
that will produce the greatest impact on the causes we all care so deeply about. After all, what could possibly matter more
than the increased well-being of our health and the environment. It is my hope that we can
leverage “reducitarian.” A positive and inclusive term
of moral worth to encourage ourselves
and others to eat less meat, improving our health, and the environment, and making a lot of animals
very happy in the process. It starts with us, all of us,
to encourage ourselves and others to simply eat less meat. So this is my message to you, consider eating less meat this week,
and be a reducitarian. You can change the world
by ordering a smaller steak, or doing something more. But don’t just sit by and ignore
what you already know. Consider eating less meat
and be a reducitarian. Save our planet, improve your health,
and save a lot of animals. Thank you so much. (Applause)