Ethics of the vegetarian

Motives for becoming and being a vegetarian vary widely, as do the ethical beliefs behind these motives. First, the word vegetarian is formed from the Latin word vegetus, which means alive. This quickly implies our first meaning of vegetarian: a vegetarian is someone who does not eat anything living. This immediately raises questions: What is the difference between living, dead and inanimate? Are there cases in which something living can be eaten? Are there splits in the group of vegetarians? And do they have their own names? The answer to each of these questions ranges from simple to very complex.


Yes there are different versions of vegetarianism, nicely organized below:

  • Vegan: No meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy.
  • Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, eggs, but dairy products.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, dairy, but eggs.
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, but eggs or dairy.
  • Pollotarian: No meat, fish, but poultry, eggs or dairy.
  • Pescatarian: No meat, poultry, but fish, eggs or dairy.
  • Pesco pollotarian: No meat, but poultry, fish, eggs or dairy.

Each variation arose from its own beliefs, so it is best to start with the general beliefs to choose vegetarianism itself. Because the question of motives often sounds suspicious, answers often come back asking: Why must other living things die for us? It’s healthier, right? It’s better for the environment, right? Isn’t it fairer to people who are too poor to eat meat?


The most common argument:

  • It’s sad for the animals.
  • What?
  • How we treat them and make them our food.

In all these points certain values appear, the most important being justice and equality. These values can be found in the compassion for these animals. Sympathy for the way they are treated, as unequal to us humans. And also the question of whether even if they were unequal, whether they still deserve to be our food. We use animals to make food from them, to survive. Many don’t know exactly how that happens. Many vegetarians say they know this and that is why they have chosen this belief. Yet the chance of this happening is very small, the food industry is very secretive, especially when it comes to something as delicate as meat. A good book to learn more about this world is Jonathan Safran’s book Foer Eating Animals. This book delves deeper into the concept of eating meat, why? Why only some animals? How far do these preferences go? But the writer does this even though he himself has already indicated that he hesitates between vegetarianism and being an omnivore.

This is a good basis for answers to our questions, but questions still need to be raised. A good question to start with is what food sources are there anyway? Since the dawn of time, people have lived from berries, nuts and fruit, food from wild nature, after which they also started hunting animals from animal sources and then when sedentary societies emerged because nomads settled down, people started to live from agriculture. This was mainly arable farming at the time, and when animals were domesticated, livestock farming, natural and animal resources were added.

Although historical sources all support this, this description lies not only in science, but also in faith. The Bible also starts like this; In the beginning of Genesis, people only eat the fruits of the trees of Eden. After the snake’s betrayal, this changes: God punishes the snake (he strips it of its limbs) and man will hate him forever. Happiness becomes unhappiness, animals are no longer tame but wild and people, like animals hunt each other, also hunt them. When Adam and Eve expand their family with Cain and Abel (and Cain kills Abel and has to wander), humanity spreads and settles here and there.

As humans, we have evolved into omnivores, but we have actually always eaten living things. Assuming that plants and their fruits are also alive because they also fulfill the functions of life. Namely: homeostasis, organization, metabolism, growth, adaptations, irritability and reproduction. Examples of inanimate things are stones, raw materials, and other elements. (although raw materials such as oil and coal once lived and living things also consist of elements). According to this definition, eating something that is not alive would be very difficult, because stones do not really sit well on the stomach.

That is why for many vegetarians it often means that they do not eat animals, but do use products that come from them. This includes eggs, dairy, but also honey. In a sense, the animals are the workers of the farmers. In exchange for their products they get a good life. This deal was made thousands of years ago, with the domestication of animals. Only since the beginning of time has there been a certain clause that the end of the animal’s life may be caused. For example, to keep the guardians alive.

Vegetarians do not comply with this clause, for them the animal should live until it dies a natural death. (But what is natural?) This means that vegetarians must be extra aware of the companies and people where they get their products from, because what promises that that laying chicken will really not become a meat chicken. And that their eggs come from a chicken that has had a good life.


An important reason why people rate animals as equals has to do with the theory of evolution. If humans evolved from animals and we ourselves are animals, what is the difference between us and them. And if there is such a distinction, is there also a distinction between other animals? Apparently yes, we are less likely to eat animals that we can identify with ourselves than animals that do not resemble us. Just think of the difference between monkeys and bears. If a wild bear is shot, a piece can still be cut off to eat. A monkey really shows too much human behavior to even qualify for consumption. It looks too much like cannibalism, something that our taste buds also dislike.

Is there a further division into types? Yes, unhygienic animals such as vermin (rats and mice) and insects are also not given preference. In addition , some people have difficulty eating animals that they consider cute. You will not easily find small animals and dogs (man’s best friend says it all) on your plate in Western countries. Of course it is known that dogs are a delicacy in Korea and other countries in Asia, but dogs are also seen culturally differently there.

Yet it remains strange that among people who do not eat meat because they believe that animals and humans are the same, there are also those who make a distinction between animals. An example is the pollo-pescatarian (and both separately).

A discussion

  • They don’t eat meat, but what is chicken? And the nutritious part of the fish is also called fish meat. And aren’t these animals alive?
  • Yes, but their intellectual capabilities are smaller and inferior to those of mammals.
  • Do you have proof of that? and what is the difference between not eating mammals because they are equal to us, but other animals do. Mammals also have fewer intellectual abilities than humans. Don’t we treat disabled people as normal and not differently because they are disabled?
  • Yes, several studies have shown that pigs are smart animals, as far back as 1789 an English naturalist wrote about a sow who opened the gate to go to a boar from another farm further away and ,satisfy her needs, there. These stories occur regularly and tests show that a lot can be learned from them. Have you ever heard something like that about fish or birds? This difference is of a completely different order.
  • Oh really? Dr. Lesley Rogers wrote after forty years of research on chickens and other poultry that their brains were equal in power to those of mammals and even primates. And nowadays the face of fish knowledge has also changed, they have a reasonable long-term memory, they keep monogamous relationships, recognize each other as individuals and apply punishment and reconciliation. In addition, they teach their little ones about good feeding grounds and breeding grounds; so-called long-standing cultural traditions. So what’s the difference?



Modern techniques have made it easier for vegetarians and vegans to eat vegetarian by introducing soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh that can be processed into imitation burgers or schnitzels. By eating this, vegetarians do not miss out on too much protein in their diet and also fewer vitamins, which usually come with meat. In addition, these products can provide the taste sensation that is missed due to the loss of meat because they easily absorb flavors.

So yes, it sometimes sounds ethically better to become a vegetarian, but isn’t it true that every aspect of nature can suffer if it is eaten. And if humans were created with teeth that can eat animals, isn’t it strange to reject a food source? Especially when we are at the top of the food chain. Should people use that power ethically or is it just as ethical to mainly take care of themselves. Egoism is also an ethical movement, even though it seems to have many more values that are not focused on others. A utilitarian’s choice for or against eating meat is interesting; it depends on whether he includes the animals in his ethical calculations and what his choice will be. Yet utilitarians often assumed that animals were also affected by feelings and opinions. Given a better option, they would probably choose this instead of harming animals. Kant recognizes no free will in animals and therefore no choice, therefore no ethics. This also means that people may eat animals to serve humans. As discussed, it is customary to eat meat in the Bible and although meat must be kosher according to Jews, no fuss is made about whether or not to eat meat.