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I returned a couple weeks ago from Bolivia, after working with our partners CENDA on our project Small Animals, Big Changes, in which we are promoting improved animal husbandry and increased meat, egg and milk consumption. I think we will succeed in increasing food security and health... but more on that later. I want to discuss now a seeming contradiction between my participation in this project which promotes increased meat consumption and my personal choice of being vegetarian.

My reasons for being vegetarian include (1) adult men really don’t need meat for a healthy diet; (2) most meat in North America is from “factory farming” (perhaps 99% of the total) in which animals are raised in horrific conditions, cruel for the animals, harmful to the environment, and dehumanizing for the people who work there (see “Eating Animals”); (3) meat production is ecologically costly and it would be less harmful to the planet, with fewer greenhouse gases, if we all ate less meat. How then can I justify promoting meat consumption in Bolivia?

In response to those three points:

(1) Andean families eat the same foods at every meal. The men don’t really benefit from the meat, but the women and children certainly do, and so to ensure that the women and children get meat it is most efficient to promote it at the household level;

(2) the animals are not raised in factories, but rather in the open air, eating the foods they are designed to eat and, until the time of slaughter, living a relatively good life. Raising animals for food allows the people to maintain their culture and livelihoods without unduly harming the animals;

(3) the families use very little fossil fuels, few manufactured goods, and eat very small amounts of meat (we would like to increase meat consumption to 100 grams/capita/day). While we have not formally quantified it, their ecological footprint is likely tiny, and they are not the ones whose behaviours can be modified to fix climate change.

And so, this contradiction between my personal diet and our work in Bolivia, isn’t a contradiction at all. My avoiding meat makes sense for me here, and promoting meat makes sense in rural Bolivia.