James E. McWilliams

American historian

James E. McWilliams (born 28 November 1968) is Professor of history at Texas State University. He specializes in American history, of the colonial and early national period, and in the environmental history of the United States. Some of his most popular articles advocate veganism.


  • Vegetarianism is not only the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It's a necessary prerequisite to reforming it. To quit eating meat is to dismantle the global food apparatus at its foundation. … Until we make that leap, until we create a culinary culture in which the meat-eaters must do the apologizing, the current proposals will be nothing more than gestures that turn the fork into an empty symbol rather than a real tool for environmental change.
  • The transformations initiated by a healthy vegan diet go well beyond physical health. For those who want it to be, a plant-based diet is also a potent political comment on our broken food system. … we're looking at a diet for which the ultimate beneficiary is the individual. Healthy veganism explicitly serves no corporate or industrial gods. In fact, it counters these interests. … If the prospect of simultaneously giving corporate food executives nightmares while achieving personal dietary empowerment -- not to mention lowering your carbon footprint and minimizing animal suffering -- has any appeal, then veganism is for you.
  • Nobody wants to cook "Five Spice Stew With a Mother Deer Shot With a High-Powered Rifle While Her Baby Slept Nearby." But what about "Five Spice Venison Stew"? Much more palatable. … But when we tell ourselves that we're humanely harvesting venison out of reverence for the deer -- rather than killing a sentient being to satisfy our palate -- we're not so much connecting with our food as we are manipulating language to avoid knowing what we don't want to know.
  • We’ve been bombarded with nauseating narratives about the evils of factory farming for over 40 years. The fact that we have not, as a collective gesture of consumer outrage, monkey wrenched these hellholes into oblivion speaks either to the human tendency to procrastinate or, worse, our pathological indifference.
  • The “animal rights movement” … is at once colossally powerful but ultimately hobbled by a weak spot both miniscule and fatal. … That colossal power emanates from hundreds of thousands of everyday activists who justifiably believe that conscientious consumers can, through a wide variety of measures, take gradual steps toward removing animal products from their diet. These true believers do the grunt work of activism: they hand out pamphlets, write books, blog, make documentaries, start campus veg societies, publish vegan recipes, open vegan food carts, work for animal sanctuaries, run veganic farms, and do basically anything they can to encourage consumers to contemplate the face on their plate. I consider myself a member of this noble tribe. The heel of the movement, by contrast, consists of a handful of radicals, mostly academics, who do little more than set an unrealistic benchmark of success … First, it seeks to eliminate all animal exploitation, in every realm of life, immediately, and without compromise or strategic capitulation; and second, it aims to eliminate all forms of oppression … The heel does not want the good, or even the better. It wants perfection.
  • In the case of agriculture and drought, there’s a clear and accessible action most citizens can take: reducing or, ideally, eliminating the consumption of animal products. Changing one’s diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint. Going vegetarian, a better option in many respects, reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent.
  • Identify an agrarian problem—greenhouse gas emissions, overuse of antibiotics and dangerous pesticides, genetically modified crops, salmonella, E. coli, waste disposal, excessive use of water—and trace it to its ultimate origin and you will likely find an animal. … Research shows that veganism, which obviates the inherent waste involved in growing the grains used to fatten animals for food in conventional systems, is seven times more energy efficient than eating meat and, if embraced globally, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from conventional agriculture by 94 percent. … But with rare exception, those in the big, lumpy tent have thrown down a red carpet for “ethical butchers” while generally dismissing animal rights advocates as smug ascetics (which they can be) and crazed activists (ditto) who are driven more by sappy sentiment than rock-ribbed reason. It’s an easy move to make. But the problem with this dismissal—and the overall refusal to address the ethics of killing animals for food—is that it potentially anchors the Food Movement’s admirable goals in the shifting sands of an unresolved hypocrisy. Let’s call it the “omnivore’s contradiction.”
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