Meat Free Mondays: Having the “right” versus it being “right”.

[This post originally appeared on the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics’ blog, for which I am a regular contributor.]


Some context: “Meat Free Mondays” is an international campaign that encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays to improve both their own health and the health of the planet (also, y’know, not killing sentient beings unnecessarily). Sounds like a good idea, no? Apparently not.

My Facebook feed has been inundated recently with controversy over the implementation of Meat Free Mondays at Wadham College, University of Oxford. Indeed, this whole issue has been perfectly representative of Sayre’s Law: in any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues of stake. In a world with global poverty, famine, climate change, gender inequality, homophobia, and so on, not being served meat at one venue on one day a week seems rather unimportant. And correspondingly, the debate has been intense.

Today, I was ‘invited’ to like a page protesting the implementation of Meat Free Mondays (MFM) at Wadham College. As can be seen in the screenshot, the main argument seems to be that people should have a right to be served meat by college everyday. That is, it is morally wrong to infringe upon people’s liberty by not serving them meat on Mondays. This, I argue, is more than a little absurd.

Yes, rights are important. Liberty and freedom are essential values and we should all be prepared to fight for them. We should fight for women to be able to participate fully in an equal society; we should fight for the right of homosexuals not to be imprisoned and executed; we should fight to create a more sustainable future; we should fight against poverty.

Should we fight to be served meat at college every day? What is at stake? What rights does MFM infringe upon? The right to be served a meat dish? Well, you can eat in the other 99% of restaurants in Oxford. No-one is banning anyone from eating meat; they are banning the serving of it in one location on one day a week– and that is an important distinction.

The key question must be: is quality of life substantially impaired by not being served meat on one day a week?

I’d be interested in hear some compelling reasons for this, because I really cannot think of any.

In fact, all I can think of is the question on the other side of the coin: is quality of life substantially impaired byallowing meat to be served every day? And clearly the answer is yes.

This is not the place to go into detail for arguments for vegetarianism. Suffice it to note that eating meat causes substantial and overwhelming pain to animals; is an unsustainable approach to eating; is a major factor in contributing to climate change; and directly leads to the lack of food in the world.

I don’t believe that people have the ‘right’ to eat meat everyday. But even if you do: do you really think it is morally right to do it? And even more pressingly: do you really think it is morally right to actively campaign for it?

Of all the problems in the world, is the ‘right’ to be served meat every day the battle we really need to be fighting?