This article is one that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. It’s a long read, so turn back now if you have no interest in the debate behind vegetarianism and veganism.
Rhys Southan put together a humorous article on the arguments for and against veganism, something he’s particularly qualified to do, as someone who attempted veganism, but had to drop it for health reasons.
Unfortunately, I still cared about animals and thought they had a right to life. Part of the reason I became vegetarian and then vegan is that I’d internalized the animal rights belief that you couldn’t care about animals and also eat them.
What followed was a period of depression (my life doesn’t matter) followed by some undepression (if my life doesn’t matter, neither does a cow’s). He encountered vegans for whom empathy and compassion towards animals was secondary to the human ethics involved:
Logical Vegans were irritatingly intelligent plant eating philosophy nerds, and were better than anyone else at finding flaws in my reasoning, but debating them was like dueling a vegan Deep Blue… It appeared to me their main motive in going vegan was to win online flame wars.
In response to the challenge that they posed, he put together a set of arguments that Vegans use, with ways to beat each, depending on how you feel and how vested you are in conquering them.
The first counter involves admitting that you’re okay with the harming of humans in addition to animals for selfish purposes:
“I only care about myself and by extension, those who can make my life better—and even then only to the extent that they benefit me. This can be mostly compatible with human rights, because I don’t have a taste for babies and I benefit in a practical sense from not hurting humans if they in turn agree not to hurt me. But since there’s no such mutual benefit from banning the murder of animals, too bad for them.”
I found this pretty amusing. But the more intriguing counter is the one with regards to consistency – that human nature is not consistent, and even veganism is an arbitrary cutoff in the search of reducing suffering.
Our ethics are a protective duvet weaved from genetics, culture, logic, traditions…ethics are not so simplistic as following a straight line from one inevitable and objectively correct belief to the next…Since vegans cannot prove that there’s an obligation to be consistent in all actions and beliefs, the best they can do here is call you too illogical to debate.
I’d probably take issue with this. If you believe that a certain thing is right, and you discover something else that you do is in counter to that, shouldn’t you try to adjust your practices to align with what you think is right? The drive to fix problems is as much a human trait as our various inconsistencies are – veganism as a response would be appropriate by extension.
Also, it’s likely true that to procure the plant-based equivalent of the nutritional content of a single deer, you would have to kill more than one animal because of the deaths from pesticides, mechanical harvesting of plants, fertilizer run-off and the destruction of animal habitat for agriculture.
The “We could do better, so we better not do anything at all” is something conservatives say in counter to Medicaid. Never mind that it’s Bio 101 – it takes exponentially more biomass (and suffering) for humans to get sustenance through animals, as compared to cutting the chain in the middle and going right for the most direct connection we have to the sun – plants.
Most of the debate fails to take into account climate change, and vegetarianism’s potential to impact this, not to mention the fact that we already produce more than enough food for everyone – it’s just that a lot’s wasted.
Ethically, veganism might be an arbitrary stop, but when you frame it from a global production, environmental, and human survival perspective, the difference between it and omnivorous behavior is very real.
Nonetheless, this is a great discussion – and worth having.