Monday, November 29, 2010

We can only do so much

I've been oscillating between being a vegetarian and eating meat for around three years now. There are some times when I'm able to go weeks or months without eating meat, and other times when I don't go for more than a day or two. I've tried to limit myself in different ways (no meat on weekdays, no meat on weekends, don't cook meat, don't eat meat when going out), but nothing has seem to stick.

I know and believe all the intellectual arguments for not eating meat. I know the overall social costs do not outweigh the individual benefits for me. But I always tend to slip back into eating meat in one way or another. Mostly, my degree of meat consumption depends on my life circumstances at the time. Right now, I'm eating more than I have in the past, probably because I'm making decent money for the first time in my life. My emotional state of excitement over a (sort of) new lifestyle outweighs the overarching intellectual arguments in the back of my mind. It probably shouldn't, but it does.

I lay this out because I think it's important to recognize that at different points in our lives, we are able to do different things. I write a lot about working for social change through nonprofits on this blog, but, in reality, we do not all have the privilege to do that at all points of our life. Brigid Slipka commented on one of my posts awhile back saying that she would like to work in a nonprofit, but the low-salary might not be able to meet the needs of her or her children.

This is a point well taken. I am able to work in a nonprofit for (relatively) low pay because I have no dependents, no debt and not many needs. I also scored a sweet deal on cheap housing. The nuances of nonprofit and social change work I and other bloggers discuss isn't an option for the majority of the population. I, and many of my fellow nonprofit employees, have the privilege to be able to give back, instead of having to focus on what is best for us or our dependents. (Not that we are all completely selfless. Like I said, I'm making decent money for the first time in my life and spending accordingly.)

I think we always need to keep this in mind when we consider the actions of others. Not only limited to the decision to work for social change or not, but also when considering what people doing with their positions at certain times. People cannot always give everything to their job. Creating change can't always be the most important thing to people. We shouldn't feel guilty about that. We can only do so much, and we should recognize that in the actions of others.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners


  1. Well said Jeff! Everyone contributes in their own ways to the world. Whether it is being a vegetarian, working in the non-profit sector, or taking care of our families. As long as you live near a five guys it's hard to be a vegetarian! :)

  2. Oh heck. I wish I inspired something more... inspiring.

    Perhaps a better perspective could be: we CAN accomplish it all, but we have to allow ourselves the time and resources to do it.

    There are definitely folks far more fearless than I who are doing a huge amount.

    But your larger point is spot on. Specific to vegetarianism, there's been many studies saying that if all Americans cut back to meat at one meal a day, it would have a huge impact. So in fact it's better to have everyone give 50% than to have just a small majority go 100%.

    (And thanks for the shout out. We should also meet up since we're both DC based. After the holidays?)