The Reducetarian Solution: a review

Following on from my last post, a natural question is this: what have I changed my mind about? My two biggest mind-changes occurred within the last 3 years. The first led me to change what I wear, what I eat, and the value I place on non-human animals. The second led me to change how much money and time I donate, where I donate them to, and what I want to spend my career doing. It is the former that motivates this post.

It has become clear that animal agriculture is a large contributor to climate change, animal suffering, the obesity epidemic, antibiotic overuse, deforestation, species extinction, ocean acidification, and inefficiencies in the food system contributing to world hunger. Reducing animal product consumption is a great way to reduce your negative impact in these areas by encouraging the industry to move towards plant-based products. Learning about the destruction caused by the animal agriculture has influenced my purchasing decisions significantly over the last few years. I would like to give others the same information to see if they would like to take similar steps.

What I really want to find is a book that I can recommend to people which gives a summary of the main problems, including ethical, environmental, health, and economic inefficiency, caused by animal product consumption. One candidate is Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. This is the book that changed my world-view more than just about any other. It made me realise that speciesism - the commonly held belief that different animals, including humans, deserve different moral value purely based on species - is not only wrong, but is one of the motives behind the huge amount of suffering humans inflict on non-human animals.

The first chapter of Animal Liberation is one I would recommend to anyone. It lays out the philosophical underpinnings of the anti-speciesism movement. However, published in 1975, the rest of the book shows its age. It's descriptions of industrial practices from the mid-1900s are outdated and, by mainly focussing on US agriculture, it can be too easily dismissed as "yeah, but this doesn't happen to the animals I eat/wear/fund the experimentation of" by non-Americans resistant to questioning the status quo.

Peter Singer also restricts his focus to just one aspect of the animal story - animal suffering - and neglects discussion of other destructive aspects. Finally, it takes an abolitionist approach to the problem of animal liberation. Whilst I agree that abolition of animal exploitation for culinary and non-culinary entertainment is the appropriate end goal, I am swayed by the evidence that taking a more pragmatic approach is more effective.

Book cover

That's why my interest was piqued towards a book, published last year called The Reducetarian Solution - a collection of short essays about reducing consumption of animal products, compiled by Brian Kateman.

The Reducetarian Solution is unapologetically trying to motivate you to reduce your meat, dairy, and egg consumption. The 70+ authors of the bite-sized and independent chapters call on the ethical and philosophical, the environmental and existential, the physiological and psychological, and the religious and fictional, to get this point across. In this respect, in this book I found what I was looking for: a multi-dimensional description of the redundancy and repugnancy of animal farming.

However, I found many of the mini-chapters too short to go into sufficient detail. While I applaud the general attempt to advocate a reductionist approach rather than an abolitionist approach, I found it bitty and boring at best, and contradictory and hyperbolic at worst.

But that sweeping statement doesn't do the brilliant essays justice. While some of the essays deserve skipping due to their fallacious and unscientific pleas for change, some of the essays are genuinely some of the most well written, concise, and powerful writings about the reducetarian movement. These are some of my favourites:

  • Chpt 1: The bizarre forces that drive people eat too much meat / David Robinson Simon,
  • Chpt 16: The inner lives of farmed animals / Jacy Reese and Peter Singer,
  • Chpt 19: From MRES to McRibs: military influence on American meat eating / Anastacia Marx de Salced,
  • Chpt 25: Effective reducetarianism / William MacAskill,
  • Chpt 27: An anthropological survey of carnivory and morality / Avi Tuschman,
  • Chpt 49: Antibiotic resistance at the meat counter / Lance B. Price,
  • Chpt 63: Through alien eyes / Nigel Henbest and Heather Couper,
  • Chpt 65: Feeding the world and making room for all species / Emma Marris,
  • Chpt 68: Making the invisible visible: exploitation of livestock workers supports the meat industry / Molly Anderson.

I don't think many people will enjoy every single essay in this book - I certainly didn't. Different essays motivate reducetarianism using different and mutually inconsistent philosophical frameworks. While the bad bits are a struggle to get through, the good bits make it worth it. And you don't have to read the bad bits at all - just enjoy the recommended chapters above!

PS, chapter 25 contained one of the best quotes I've ever read that sums up effective altruism:

Just as science consists of the honest and impartial attempt to find the truth, and a commitment to believe the truth, whatever that may be, effective altruism is the honest and impartial attempt to work out what's best for the world, and a commitment to doing what's best, whatever that turns out to be - William MacAskill

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