Spoiled Child Syndrome

While changes in food production may be warranted, vegetarians need to realize that their chosen lifestyle is outside the norm. ( . )

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

Collectively, we’ve become like a bunch of bratty babies.

You know what I’m talking about. You’re in a store waiting to check out, or you’re sitting down to what you hope will be a relaxing meal at a nice restaurant, and a toddler (or older!) starts crying and pouting because the parents won’t let the little darling have a candy bar or allow them to continue racing around annoying everyone within earshot.

It’s bad enough when a little kid runs amuck, but these days millions of mature, (allegedly) grown-up adults now mimic the same behavior when anyone challenges their cherished beliefs, political, religious or otherwise. Instead of a discussion over differences of opinion, or at least a dialogue about alternative approaches to dealing with what are significant challenges affecting everyone (food production, economic development, energy security), all that gets aired are the same whining tantrums regularly exhibited by far too many two-year-olds.

Take the rise of the alt-meat category. For born-again vegan believers, these innovative products, even though they’re priced beyond reach of 99% of the world’s population, are the ultimate “solution” to what is now positioned as Public Enemy No. 1: The meat, dairy and poultry industries.

We must get rid of all livestock, stop eating all animal foods and switch our collective diets to beans, greens and cornmeal mush in order to save the planet from imminent destruction, they insist, and any arguments to the contrary are met with anger, vitriol and denial.

It’s the Spoiled Child Syndrome: What I want is all that matters, and if I yell loud enough, I’ll get my way.

Dialing down the anger

That’s not to say that such immature behavior isn’t evident among those who are part of animal agriculture, as well. I wouldn’t say it’s widespread, but at virtually every industry meeting, conference and convention I’ve ever attended over the years, once the drinks started flowing, all it took to spark a derisive remark was to suggest, “Hey, how ’bout them vegetarian protestors, huh?”

And the f-bombs and name-calling would proceed apace.

Maybe such reactions are better characterized as Mean Girls Syndrome, but they’re on the same spectrum of aggrieved, self-centered behavior as some little brat melting down in the supermarket checkout line.

All of us would benefit by taking a step back and realize that as diverse as our country’s population is, it’s axiomatic that there are equally diverse opinions on every subject anyone cares to discuss.

As for the militant veganistas who so loudly proclaim their own superiority, along with everyone else’s depravity, they need not be accorded total credibility, but they do have a point. The world’s food production capabilities cannot sustain a diet that mirrors American consumption levels of animal foods for all of the soon-to-be 10 billion people expected to be alive in just a few short decades.

Nor is it remotely plausible to insist that agricultural systems dependent on significant inputs of fossil fuels and petro-inputs can operate indefinitely with zero impact on energy security.

But neither of those caveats means that the only pathway forward is a vegan lifestyle for everyone on Earth.

Should the livestock industry continue to pursue more efficient, more sustainable production methods? Of course, and quite frankly, the low-hanging fruit with that initiative is to be found in much of the developing world, where primitive subsistence methods still prevail.

Should the populations of Western nations continue to diversify their diets beyond meat and potatoes? Of course, and to be clear, such a continuing shift in demand would help drive agricultural diversity, which is sorely needed in terms of both food security and sustainability.

In the end, though, veggies need to realize that their chosen lifestyle is outside the norm — nothing wrong with that, but one shouldn’t pretend that the reverse is true.

For example: If a friend from college were to announce one day that they had no intention of ever getting married or having children, we (hopefully) wouldn’t condemn or demonize them for that choice. However, we also wouldn’t entertain the idea that they’re “normal,” and the rest of us who are married or intend to be are somehow misguided.

Substitute “vegetarian” for “married” and that’s how I believe the majority ought to respond to that slim fraction of the population who have decided to stop eating meat.

Respect their decision, while (politely) agreeing to disagree.

Such a response is impossible for a toddler in the midst of a tantrum.

But as adults, we’re better than that.