How to Make a Case for Vegetarianism

Three Methods:Emphasizing the Individual or Personal Benefits of VegetarianismDiscussing the Global Impact of Meat-EatingMaking a Persuasive Case based on Ethics

There are a variety of attitudes about eating meat and vegetarianism. Not everyone will understand why you are a vegetarian. However, you may feel strongly about your choice and want others to join you. Here's how you can make the case for vegetarianism with reference to individual benefits, environmental concerns and ethics.

Part 1
Emphasizing the Individual or Personal Benefits of Vegetarianism

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    Present the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. There is compelling scientific evidence that a plant-based diet, comprised of vegetables, legumes and whole grains is considerably healthier than the typical meat-eater's diet.[1] This shows up in several different metrics that you can mention to make a strong case:
    • Life expectancy. Studies show that a vegetarian diet is linked to lower death rates and longer life expectancies.[2] Geographical and historical studies have shown that societies with low meat consumption, such as in the Russian Caucasus or the Hunzakuts of Pakistan, live considerably longer (generally over 80 years old) than societies (such as the Eskimos or the Greenlanders) that have the highest meat consumption in the world.[3]
    • Cancer. There is evidence to suggest that vegetarians have about half the cancer risk of meat-eaters.[4] Red meant and processed meats like hot dogs, ham, sausages or bacon, in particular, have been labeled by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic to humans.[5]
    • Heart disease. Studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity and coronary heart disease.[6] This is often attributed to the fact that vegetarian diets are generally lower in fat than non-vegetarian diets. However, evidence suggests that it is not just consuming less fat that lowers your risk of heart disease but that consuming more vegetables, legumes and whole grains can in itself decrease cholesterol levels, which is a primary indicator for coronary artery disease.[7]
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    Emphasize the positive aspects of vegetarianism. A vegetable-based diet can be delicious and nutritious, sufficient even for top athletes who burn a lot of calories and seek to build muscle.[8] Emphasizing the positive aspects of vegetarianism, such as how it might increase well-being, is a good way to convince people rather than making them feel guilty about their choices.
    • Remind them that eating meat, at least in industrialized, developed countries, is no longer a necessity but an active choice with ethical and environmental consequences.
    • Acknowledge that eating is an intimate act, laden with social meaning and tied up with deeply-held ideas about pleasure and comfort. Changing habits is not easy, but it can happen. Many people actually report losing their appetite and desire for meat over a period of time.[9]
    • Terms like "conscious" or "compassionate" eating may be more appealing to some people as they emphasize the positive consequences of making certain food choices rather than requiring them to fit into the strict category of being "vegetarian".[10]
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    Mention that becoming vegetarian can save money. Meat is expensive and is generally the highest priced items on grocery bills. A recently published study suggests that vegetarians can save at least $750 per year by avoiding meat.[11]

Part 2
Discussing the Global Impact of Meat-Eating

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    Urge them to consider the negative effect that meat-eating has on the environment. It is well documented that meat production is environmentally troubling in several ways.
    • Greenhouse gas emissions. A UN report determined that meat production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, primarily methane released from livestock agriculture.[12] Methane is a particularly problematic greenhouse gas because its impact on climate change is more than 20 times that of carbon dioxide.[13]
    • Deforestation. The expansion of pastures for livestock, and particularly cattle-ranching, accounts for 80% of the overall deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest.[14] This has serious ecological consequences like loss of biodiversity, soil degradation and increased carbon dioxide emissions.[15]
    • Pollutants. Giant livestock farms which house high volumes of pigs, cows, or chickens can generate a massive amount of waste equivalent to that of a small city. These farms have been linked to high levels of nitrates in drinking water which can increase the risk of methemoglobinemia or "blue-baby syndrome.[16]
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    Draw attention to the unsustainable nature of industrialized meat production. While one person's decision to stop eating meat will not have a direct impact on the meat industry, taken as a whole, the current meat production system is deeply unsustainable. Not eating meat can be a positive choice not to support this system.
    • Intensive animal farming uses up resources faster than they can be replaced. For example, meat production has a considerably lower energy return ratio (food energy per fossil energy expended) than food plant crops.[17]
    • This mode of agriculture has consequences for both the treatment of animals and the health of humans. On meat farms, the animals are often closely packed together, without access to fresh air and are bred to grow unnaturally fast and large for the purposes of maximizing meat.[18]
    • In these conditions diseases spread quickly. Antibiotics are used widely, which can in turn enter the food chain and promote antibiotic resistance in humans.[19]
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    Point out issues of efficiency and food scarcity. Raising an animal for slaughter requires considerably more grain, water, and land than simply growing grains and vegetables for direct human consumption.
    • Given the current situation of food insecurity and the estimated 795 million of the world's population who are undernourished,[20] some ecologists believe that the increased yield of grain could be enough to save millions of people from starvation each year.[21]

Method 3
Making a Persuasive Case based on Ethics

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    Ask them to consider the question of animal rights. There is broad agreement that human beings have certain inviolable rights, such as the right to life and the right not to be killed, yet the question of whether non-human animals also share these rights remains an open philosophical question. Nonetheless there are a few arguments you can reference.
    • Some philosophers argue that animals also have a right to life, which humans violate when they kill animals for food, especially given that such killing is not necessary for human flourishing. [22]
    • Animal rights activists and philosophers use the term "speciesism," to refer to the human disregard for the interests of non-human animals. Many philosophers argue that this is morally unjustifiable.[23]
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    Articulate a strong desire to avoid unnecessary suffering. Similar to the question of animal rights is the principle that killing animals for food, particularly as we do in the current system of meat production, constitutes unnecessary cruelty.
    • Animals are sentient beings who are aware that they are alive and can be said to have consciousness. A prominent group of cognitive neuroscientists supported this with The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in 2012.[24]
    • Therefore, they also experience suffering. This suffering is unnecessary and cruel, because humans can survive and indeed thrive off of a diet consisting of only plant materials.
    • Furthermore, vegetation that produces crops (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes) will rot or otherwise go unused if not imminently consumed. This involves no loss of life whereas the consumption of animals involves the premature termination of their lives.
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    Respond skillfully to common counter-arguments. There are several common arguments that those in favor of eating meat will bring up. Here's some ways to respond to them.
    • Eating meat is natural. Both vegetarians and non-vegetarians use arguments about nature to support their position.[25] The fact that there is evidence to support both conclusions shows just how open to interpretation apparently "natural" facts may be.[26]
    • Question why we make such appeals to nature. Current evidence suggests that most people in modern societies (who do not need to eat meat out of necessity) can live healthy and sustainable lives without eating meat.
    • We might conclude that the current norms about eating meat are historically and socially conditioned. Indeed they vary considerably from culture to culture.[27] The choice whether or not to eat meat therefore unfolds within a particular cultural and social context, and it is not just a question of doing what is natural.


  • Do your research so you can make sound arguments. Unlike some debates where you have time to look up statistics before you start, your opportunities for making your argument for vegetarianism will be spontaneous and you don't want to have to improvise. Since vegetarians are a decided minority, education is a must to promote a positive image.
  • Make your arguments in a concise manner. When someone counter you, try to build a dialog. Do not think their reasoning is incorrect before listening carefully to it. If you realize they are incorrect, explain why.


  • Vegetarians have a reputation with some people for acting smug and superior. Some people may never have even seriously thought about vegetarianism, but some will have been harassed or put down for eating meat and expecting more of the same, will be understandably hesitant to engage in any sort of debate about the issue.
  • Beware: If you talk convince and preach too much, people may get annoyed and turned off.
  • Don't insist that vegetarians are superior to meat eaters. Arrogance and condescension will simply anger people.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Health Activism | Vegetarian Health