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In one online community I'm part of, there is someone who is saying that changing the human diet to vegetarianism is not possible and that it would take around 200 years of work for the world learn to become vegetarian.

It's clear that there is a long history and huge culture of vegetarianism in India alone:

So how it is possible for someone to believe that the human world cannot switch to vegetarianism?

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  • Many friends I know (in India) where family used to eat meat but they have left it altogether, without any issues. I doubt there is any medical basis to such claims.
    – sbharti
    Oct 17 '21 at 22:51
  • how it is possible that someone is saying the humans world can not switch their diet to vegetarianism? ... it is because that someone believes it ... people believe and say many things ... why are you surprised by this? ... don't believe everything you hear
    – jsotola
    Oct 18 '21 at 3:48
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My interpretation of what this person is saying is that it would take a lot of time and cultural change for all humans (or the majority of humans) to become vegetarian.

I agree with them.

While in most societies almost any individual person can certainly very easily become vegetarian, many people around the world have no interest in becoming vegetarian and are not going to become vegetarian any time soon. Also, a significant number of people live in regions/societies where avoiding meat might leave them with an insufficient diet because there are very few plant foods available.

Focusing on places where almost everyone could easily become vegetarian if they wanted to, there would need to be significant cultural shifts for them to do so. Here are some examples of factors that might prevent people from giving up meat:

  • People often value their traditions and customs especially with regard to food. The pleasure of eating familiar dishes cooked to an old family recipe, or tasting regional delicacies on holiday make it uncomfortable to imagine eliminating key ingredients.
  • People might want to consume meat because of its association with wealth and status, or to affirm their non-vegetarian identity (this is notable in India where many people rarely eat non-veg for economic reasons, and attitudes towards vegetarianism carry connotation of caste discrimination).

However, with increasing awareness of the contribution of animal agriculture to climate breakdown, there has been an increase in people giving up meat and other animal products, at least in some countries. The UK Vegan Society found that

the number of vegans in Great Britain has quadrupled from 2014 to 2019. The numbers rose from 0.25% (150,000) of the population in 2014 to 0.46% (276,000) in 2016 to 1.16% in 2019 (600,000).

Note: vegans do not consume (or use) any animal products - this is more comprehensive than vegetarianism.

This has called forth a backlash, with meat producers campaigning heavily to keep meat on people's tables. It's widely known that cattle farming is the main driver of rainforest destruction and murder and displacement of tribal people in South America (though mining and other industries are involved), but these days I see many newspaper and magazine articles (often issuing directly from meat farmers) pushing the idea that meat is good for the environment and it's vegans who are destroying biodiversity and rainforests and dispossessing indigenous people by eating soya or avocados. (In case it's useful to anyone, this review examines one farm's "carbon negative beef" claims).

This backlash is a good sign - it shows that the meat market is under pressure - but it also shows that people like me who would like to see the present forms of commercial animal agriculture ("factory farming") disappear as the majority of humans who can do so stop eating animals are up against powerful interests as well as cultural traditions and personal preferences. If commercial animal agriculture is really to be stopped or immensely downscaled, I think there is indeed a long slog ahead.

However, accepting the position that all humanity is not imminently about to become vegetarian does not require us to accept that becoming vegetarian is somehow wrong or futile. Even a single person abstaining from meat-eating has a real impact. As a small illustration of this, the UK Vegan Society has a tool to tell how many animal deaths could be avoided (or have already been avoided) by the user going vegan.

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A lot can happen in 200 years especially with current technological progress. There could be other possibilities.

Consider that if the world keeps going in the direction of seeking greater and greater efficiencies using science and technology (I don't actually know if this is true btw... seems more like seeking greater and greater profits which does not always equal efficiency), it is possible that much of the developed world move to more efficient forms of meat (lab-grown, cell-cultured, 3D printed, artificial meat etc) which are supposedly suffering-free. This is still very unclear, maybe it will always just be cheaper to grow full animals. According to this article it will be 10 years to get it cost competitive with traditional beef.

The ultimate efficiency meat could be taking human biological waste straight out of the sewers and turning it directly back into meat again (!). The numbers in the above article are impressive, potentially spiralling the environmental footprint of meat even lower than many current vegan protein sources. It's possible by then that vegan protein sources will have some efficiency boost too (but so far I have not heard of anybody doing lab grown beans).

If you don't limit your imagination, there comes further weirdness where the line between plant and animal becomes blurred. Fun times if you are particularly attached to your identity as a meat-eater or vegan.

If this sounds all too unappetizing to actually happen, well I'm sure the meat eaters of 100 years ago would find our current animal husbandry practises rather unappetizing too.

I'm just saying, moral, health and environmental issues with meat might just go away and nobody will give up meat in the long run, who knows. For right now, I personally think vegetarian is a good idea, but I cannot say whether it will always be.

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