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Amol Rajan: Gisele sells me on vegetarianism, or a version thereof


You probably think, on the basis of the picture to the left, that I don't have much in common with Gisele Bündchen. And you're right. But the Brazilian model aroused my deepest solidarity in an interview with Vogue this week. She loves to eat meat, she said. "But I also love animals. So what I find really helpful – you might think I'm crazy – is that before I eat meat I always take one second of silence to put my hands over it and bless it and be grateful at least that it was a life".

Crazy? Au contraire, sister. Over the past few months – and triggered by a particularly indigestible restaurant rib-eye – I have been doing a secular version of this ritual. Meat-eating is the thrice-daily guilt trip that I am beginning to find intolerable. The case for vegetarianism is so overwhelming that the mere sight of a bacon rasher – succulent, salty and grease-laden though it might be – is bringing forth pangs of anguish each morning. That case has three parts: health, ecology and animal welfare.

Health is the most indecisive, but there is strong evidence linking red meat with greater risk of various cancers (especially bowel). Ecologically, breeding animals for food is extremely energy-intensive, which is why the UN Secretary-General has said if you're worried about global warming, cut out meat for a day each week. Western environmentalists ought to act on this long before they counsel the world's poor to breed and consume less.

Morally, the case against causing animals prolonged suffering is convincing. Because they are sentient, animals have rights. Murdering them for food is a violation of those rights. That is the deontological case. But there is also a utilitarian one: in breeding and killing them for food, we cause them more suffering than the pleasure we gain by eating their carcasses.

Enough with the cod philosophy, you might say (and in fact eating fish isn't quite as bad). Like many of you, I see the case is overwhelming, but when confronted with venison ragu on a menu find it impossible to resist.

But it strikes me that, of those three strands, the first two – health and ecology – have risen sharply in public consciousness and will only continue doing so as the poor world gets richer and the rich world gets poorer. Expect, then, for the global campaign against meat-eating to enter a new, energetic phase in the coming years. For Gisele and I, it could be the answer to our prayers.