by Pauline Seppey
Hello, friendly reader. Yes, this is yet another article about vegetarianism. No, I will not yell at you for consuming meat – I’ve been there. I used to think a life without bacon could never be worth living. And I’m not here to tell you how I changed my mind either. First, because if I wanted to tell my life story, I would write a blog (wait, what?). Second, because you’ve probably heard it all already – how terrible the conditions in industrial slaughterhouses are, how badly large-scale animal farming contributes to climate change, how excessive meat consumption is harmful for your health, and the like. Plenty of better-qualified people have written about these topics, and a quick Ecosia search will give you enough reading material for a lifetime (or, at least, a quarantine of undefined length). What, then, am I here to talk about? I want to present you with a little theory that I like to call: the imperfection paralysis.
I have observed, both in myself and in fellow humans, a curious tendency: if we don’t think we can do something perfectly, we often decide not to do it at all. How many times have you said something along the lines of: “Oh, sure, I’d like to start drawing more – but I’m just too bad at it”? Somehow, we feel that if we can’t be Leonardo da Vinci with our first brushstroke, it’s not even worth trying. Or that we don’t deserve to start playing tennis at 27, because we’ll never become the next Roger Federer. And the same goes for vegetarianism (and, even more so, veganism): we think “Oh, it’s too hard! I could never decide not to eat meat any day of my life ever again”, and so decide not to bother even trying. The imperfection paralysis.
This, of course, is nonsense: if we only ever did things we can do perfectly, we would be as active as I am on a rainy Sunday evening (read: not very). Such an attitude often prevents us from enjoying ourselves – painting that post-modern take on a Mona Lisa, or enthusiastically losing tennis games to our better-trained friend. In the case of vegetarianism, it’s even worse: it prevents us from making a difference. Because we don’t think we can completely stop eating meat, we keep our habits exactly as they are. But what if, instead, we decided to reduce our consumption to an extent that seems manageable? Say, if you eat meat every day, to start eating meat every second day. Or once a week. Or once every two weeks. Over the years, such a change would already amount to a substantial reduction in your overall consumption! “Oh, but I wouldn’t really be a vegetarian then”. I understand where the argument comes from – to be fair, it isn’t helped by the many passionate pleas you find on social media, asking you to go cold turkey on meat (get it?), accompanied by a tasteful video of little chicks getting crushed by a machine. Yet, what matters more – to reduce our meat consumption, or to be able to label ourselves with a certain diet? It’s 2020 people, labels are overrated. Personally, I don’t care if you call yourself vegan, flexitarian, or I-only-eat-meat-for-Christmas-and-when-my-grandma-cooks-it-arian. What I care about is that you are making efforts to have a more mindful food consumption. It’s a messy process; it’s highly personal, and there’s no one way to “get it right”. An all-or-nothing mentality means that a lot of us will change nothing. A more nuanced thinking allows each of us to make changes to their diet – to the degree that feels right for them at the moment.
Friendly reader, here is my input on vegetarianism: I think we would all benefit from taking a more flexible approach to our food consumption. If we got over our imperfection paralysis and obsession with labels and started wondering: “what steps towards an environmentally friendly food consumption are feasible for me now?” – then, we would start making a difference. All of us, not just the Roger Federers of vegetarianism.