Meat morality meet

Should Humanists eat meat?Should Humanists eat meat?

Should Humanists eat animals? Phil Walder, who has been a vegetarian for 30 years, will lead a discussion on the subject at a meeting of the East London Humanists at Wanstead Library this month.

I used to have a great job as a sports publisher and journalist. For a young man who loved football it was near to perfection, being paid to watch football and write about the game. Being a sports publisher, I was invited to lots of sporting dinners where, dressed in black tie just like all my fellow diners, I would enjoy an evening of sporting chat. We were all dressed the same and everyone ate the same. Except for me.

My meal would always stand out, as it was prepared specially. Not for me the chicken or lamb, but freshly prepared pasta or vegetable Wellington. My fellow diners would always raise their eyebrows and give me the stare I knew conveyed the unspoken question: "What's special about you?" Inevitably, I would end up explaining that I am a vegetarian, with the usual response: "Well, you don't look like a vegetarian." That always bemused and slightly annoyed me. I knew what they meant and I was rather offended on behalf of my fellow veggies. "What does a vegetarian look like?" I would respond. But I already knew they meant I looked too fit, too strong. As a 6'2" sportsman, I was not the image they had filed in their internal image bank under 'vegetarian'. No, they expected some weedy, anaemic-looking individual. Of course, you can't shout at people and point out their stupidity at a charity dinner – well, I can't. So I would resort to my standard answer: "You mean like a bison, an elephant or a gorilla?"

Things have changed a bit in the 30 years since then; people do seem to be getting the message that vegetarianism and veganism are healthy choices and consequently, they are lifestyles that are growing in popularity. It helps that, unlike 30 years ago, there are fabulous non-meat food alternatives in the supermarket and the restaurant, not to mention unbelievable high-quality non-leather shoes from the likes of Wills of London.

As a Humanist, I believe that there are very important reasons why we should not be eating animals. Firstly, whatever the industry says, the industrial process of slaughter is unbelievably cruel – and you only have to take a look at undercover videos to realise just how cruel. Secondly, it is inhumane for the slaughterhouse workers, many of whom suffer a form of PTSD (there is evidence that populations close to slaughterhouses suffer higher levels of violent crime). Finally, and ultimately most importantly, the single best thing that any human being can do for the planet is to become a vegetarian, as they will massively reduce their carbon footprint.

I believe there is a big change coming and that, in 100 years' time, humans will look back on our generation with revulsion. "Urgh, you mean they ate dead animals?"

Phil will be speaking at an East London Humanists discussion at Wanstead Library on 27 March from 7.30pm (visitors welcome; free). Visit

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