Many years ago a friend of mine was telling me about her abusive mother, and about an incident where her little brother got into something poisonous (a cleaning chemical or somesuch). She proceeded to praise her mother for calling poison control. I remember looking at her, stunned, that she was praising her mother for doing something any mother should do. But my friend’s frame of reference was so distorted by the abuses her mother had heaped upon her children that it seemed like a noble act.
That’s about how I feel about Ricky Gervais’ latest condemnation of the hunter who killed a lion. Or more accurately, how I feel about people trumpeting his condemnation. That’s great that he is condeming a murderer. But isn’t that what any halfway decent person would do? Is our frame of reference so skewed by the countless killings, both human and non-human, taking place every day that it takes a particularily sadistic, senseless killing for us to hear it above the noise?
I’ve seen an increasing number of articles which make a point to put “vegan” in the headline even when the article is only peripherally related to veganism, or not at all. But regardless, the headline always points out how wrong vegans are. It seems to me that this is a clickbait strategy. The word “vegan” has become clickbait, luring both vegans and anti vegans to click the link. But I am confused, where does that place us on the GandhiCon scale? Are they laughing at us or fighting us?
Case in point, I just ran into this article Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa? This sad piece of yellow journalism goes off the rails very quickly. This could have been an enlightening article about how globalism, and its father colonialism, destroys poor countries by making them produce cash crops for export. Perhaps the author’s next article will be about how vegetarians caused the Irish Potato Famine. One wonders why the author didn’t also point to people following a gluten-free diet as culprits as well. Oh, that’s right, gluten free is trendy right now, and many more people are doing that than going vegan. It’s easier to attack the little guy.
If one carefully reads around the irrelevant vegan bashing, there is an important point being made: we need to be careful to avoid buying products that resulted from exploitive or destructive practices. Unfortunately, this is rather difficult, both because such practices are the basis of global capitalism and attempts to fight that often get co-opted, as can be seen in the case of fair trade or organic food.
The article makes a single reference to a single failed attempt to grow quinoa in the UK, a useless bit of anecdotal evidence to show that the crop is incapable of cultivation anywhere else. This is simply laughable and an insult to clever farmers around the world. It can be cultivated in many places (including the UK) and further breeding can produce varieties which can further expand its range of cultivation as has been done with several other Andean crops. I will be doing my part by growing some myself.
Anyway, I suspect that this is GandhiCon 2, as vegans were pretty much ignored up until recently. I’m looking forward to GandhiCon 4.
I spotted this in a comment thread. This is argument is a tired bit of nonsense, but I’ve never seen it argued with such verbosity.
To anyone saying we should all become vegans because of the inhuman way animals are being treated. You are not thinking things through. Say we all become vegans. Eventually farms all over the world would go out of business. And do you think they would just let all the cows and chickens or all livestock go free to roam where ever they please? No, you would be condemning millions of animals to a needless death because their would be no use for them. Are you going to take the 500 head of cattle at the farm down the street and take care of them? Are you gooding to make sure they are kept healthy and well fed? I think not. Becoming vegan is not the answer to the inhumane treatment of animals.
Of course the problem with this argument is the premise that everybody will become vegan at about the same time. I don’t think any person can seriously say that is going to happen. Over the last 15 years, the number of vegans in the US have gone from less than 1% to about 2.5%. Let’s assume an outlandish scenario: that this continues to double each year. Given that, it will take about 55 years for everyone to become vegan. I’m sure everyone would agree that this is plenty of time for supply and demand to take care of things without widespread panic.
But given that faulty premise, the logic is correct. If, tomorrow morning, every single person woke up and decided to be vegan, we would have billions of enslaved animals that would need to be dealt with. It’s plausible that, in that scenario, countless animals would be left to wander across the land.
But wait! This is a fantastic premise for a post apocalyptic sci-fi novel! Get this: An advanced alien race comes to earth, and seeing our violent tendencies bestow upon us what they think is a tremendous gift: they manipulate everyone’s brain so that they are now vegans and pacifists. Suddenly the world is a peaceful place, no person ever harms another person or animal. But the farmers who, in their shame about what they had done to the animals, open the gates and give them their freedom. Billions of cows, pigs and chickens spread upon the landscape in ever increasing numbers. The highways come to a standstill due to wandering animals, the streets awash in their excrement, contaminating rivers and ground water. People begin dying of cholera and other new zoonotic diseases. The rag-tag remnants of humanity abandon the now overwhelmed landscape, drifting through the oceans in derelict cruise ships.
But the alien’s manipulation is not perfect. Eventually, mutations occur which weakens the changes. The selfish gene, indeed. Centuries pass. Our story follows a teenage girl who has visions of the circle of life, and that we are really supposed to be fierce predators (look at these canines!) She begins a new religion which preaches this and advocates for respecting the animals’ spirits by liberating them from their earthly bonds (by stabbing them) and eating their corpses. This becomes a mass movement. The animals are, once again, confined, enslaved and killed in increasing numbers. People retake the land from the marauding beasts, and all is right in the world again.
We’ll write this for a young adult audience, a cautionary tale about the dangers of veganism! It’ll be a bestseller!
After reading An Open Letter From a Farmer to Angry Vegetarians I was pondering how to respond…
I was driving home from my in-laws late at night, and one can’t help but notice the white crosses at the side of the road, or the bodies of many deer, raccoons, squirrels, etc. smeared across the roadway. And I suddenly connected the dots!
The truth is that there is no road we can drive on without killing. None. A trip to your local grocery store may not involve running over a single child or small animal, but the building of that road costs endless lives.
I know that is hard to understand. It was hard for me too.
It may seem that the best option is to drive less often, to do so more slowly and with more care to avoid such things. But like Jenna, I realized that I need to embrace it. If I drive fast enough through that school zone, if I do hit a child, it will likely be a clean kill, not to mention free-range. They had one bad day, one bad moment actually, and that moment surprised the hell out of them.
_So yes, I am a killer. There is a chance I could take a life of a sentient being whenever I get behind the wheel. I fully embrace this primal and beloved part of my person. _
N.B. by way of explanation, I should probably mention that I read Swift’s “Modest Proposal” around the time I wrote this. I’m sure that inspired the harsh tone. But hopefully, this shows the ridiculousness of the argument in the original article.
One of my favourite blogs was Suicide Food. After reading that blog I started noticing more occurrences of this repugnant practice, I started taking pictures and submitted some to the blog. But then the blog stopped. I still have dozens of images I have collected, and I find more every now and then. You can see the raw photos in my Suicide Food album. I may post about them every now and then, but don’t expect any noose ratings or well-written commentary like the aforementioned blog.
But here’s one that comes to mind as being especially egregious. I found this brick in one of my daughter’s Duplo sets:
[pe2-image src=“http://lh5.ggpht.com/-8xWeA9DiAl4/UoeVU8qeZxI/AAAAAAAAFmQ/evFbuNhz3Fc/s144-c-o/lego-milk.jpg" href=“https://picasaweb.google.com/109920212061848308238/SuicideFood#5946886020080232210" caption=“Found this on a Lego Duplo brick.” type=“image” alt=“lego-milk.jpg” ]
Most of the suicide food images I happen upon are in a grocery store or restaurant where such images are not unexpected. But for it to show up on a toy, a toy which I have loved as long as I can remember, aimed at my daughter was especially bothersome.
What could be more wholesome than a nice glass of milk, offered to you by a smiling, happy cow? “Of course, I’m happy. Parenthood is hard, so the farmer helpfully took away my newborn baby. Now I don’t have to deal with the sleepless nights and the endless nursing, what a hassle! The farmer has also helpfully hooked me to this milking machine to prevent my udder from exploding. So have a nice glass, the farmer assures me there isn’t too much pus in it.”
I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this earlier, but I just put Defensive Omnivore Bingo onto GitHub. So if you have any contributions, feel free to send me a pull request. Of course, email still works.
[I just found this blog entry had been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year, better late than never, I guess]
As I was reading On PETA and Weekday Vegetarians, I was reminded of a story I heard a long time ago: A guy did a rolling stop at a stop sign, and immediately got pulled over. The police officer told him that he failed to stop, to which he answered “But I slowed down!” The officer ordered him out of the car, and began beating the man, after a few seconds of this, the officer asked “do you want me to slow down or stop?”
I guess Ingrid Newkirk would condemn the law’s “all or nothing” attitude about stop signs? But just like those who “bend the rules” at stop signs, her inability to tell the difference between stopping and slowing down is endangering far more animals. Her “all or nothing” strawman and her “screw the principle” attitude is leaving those who would try to go vegan adrift, with no clear destination; no clear reason for doing so. Such people may end up remaining vegan, or, more likely, they may end up buying grass-fed beef and cage free eggs and feeling that this somehow makes animals’ lives better.
I am certainly not denying that one must be pragmatic or that “all or nothing” is unreasonable. To combat something as deeply entrenched as our pervasive use of animals we have to take an incremental approach. But without a principle guiding us, we won’t know which increments to pursue. We won’t know where we are going. We have no hope of getting anywhere near “all”, we are more likely to wander aimlessly and end up with “nothing”.
The only way we will end animal suffering is to stop using them. That is the principle we must stick to. That isn’t to say that everyone must become 100% vegan tomorrow. If someone can be vegan on weekdays (or one day, or even one meal), that is a good thing, and a step in the right direction. But knowing the principle is what will make them take the next step.
I have seen a number of Facebook friends join the cause NO DOG SHOULD BE BEATEN, and then I got an invite. Should I join or not? Of course, I cannot disagree with such a sentiment. However, it feels a bit odd. It would be like saying “No 4 year old Connecticut girls should get beaten with yardsticks”. Again, something very few people would disagree with, but far too specific.
If we widen the sentiment out to all animals, dogs, human or otherwise, that is better. Then replace “beaten” with “harmed in any way”. That sounds much better to me. But, I doubt that cause will get 1.3 million members, as it would require them to look at what is on their plate and realize they have to do something more than click the “join” button.
Very early in my career as a programmer, someone gave me advice that I needed to aim for the “ninety percent solution”, in other words, don’t waste time trying to get the perfect 100% solution. Tom Cargill of Bell Labs provided a concise explanation: ”The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.” This is analogous to the problem of distilling ethanol, getting it 97% pure isn’t too hard to do, but going beyond that takes enormous amounts of energy, and normally isn’t worth it (that is based on fuzzy memories of college chemistry class, so forgive any technical inaccuracies).
Recently I have read a number of articles which remind me that veganism can fall prey to this 90% rule. There are a number of reasons why one may become vegan: health, environment, animal welfare and animal rights (I exclude the “imitating a celebrity” reasons that PETA works towards, as that’s never a good reason for doing anything). The problem is that all but one of those reasons can only get you to 90%.
When I first became vegan it was for health reasons. So when a friend of mine told me that “a little steak now and then won’t kill you,” I had no good answer to this. He was right. I could eat a steak right now, and the impact on my long term health would be negligible. In other words, there was little difference between being 100% or 90% vegan, when looking at the health arguments. See How the Health Argument Fails Veganism for more about this.
Being vegan for environmental reasons suffers the same problem, as the mis-titled article Veggieworld: Why eating greens won’t save the Planet shows. If your concern is the environment, being 90% vegan is a pretty clear win. But arguing for that last 10% can be very hard. So “a little steak now and then won’t kill the planet.”
As the recent decades have shown us, the animal welfare arguments also suffer from this problem. Someone who is vegan because of how animals are treated, when presented with the flesh of an animal who was free-range, fed organic feed, and was gently asphyxiated with a gold-lined silk scarf at the moment of orgasm, they would have a hard time refusing. Thus we see the parade of now-ex-vegans marching into Whole Foods to buy their “happy meat” with a clear conscience. Or so they think.
So, finally we arrive at the animal rights position. Gary Francione presents the clearest, most consistent and most concise presentation of this position: “We have no moral justification for using nonhumans for our purposes.” Here we have the 100% solution we’ve been looking for. This is where we all need to start when we tell people why we are vegan. And why they should be vegan. And why you should be vegan.
I just read the article Why I Hate Telling People I’m Vegan, and I can partially understand the frustration with the barage of questions (often silly) and nutritional misconceptions. Go play some bingo to get a sampling. When I first became vegan, I often wouldn’t have clear answers in these situations and dreaded them. Over the years I’ve read enough that I can now address many of these questions.
However, there is a passage in this article which begs the question “why are you vegan?”
Raise the beef, cut it up... sell it. Fine by me. I have no problem with what you're doing, I simply choose not to partake.
I might have said the same thing years ago, largely because I became vegan, initially, for health reasons, which makes such a decision a personal one. Thankfully within a few years I heard an interview with Gary Francione, which provided a simple and compelling reason for being vegan.
So if I were in the same situation as the author of the above passage, my thought process would go like this: “I can’t stop you from raising the cow, killing it, cutting it up and selling it. I consider this immoral behavior, and I have a big problem with it.” But saying that out loud won’t gain any friends, let alone converts, so such situations must be handled with delicacy.
But the more interesting passage was amongst the comments, by the same author:
I mean, can you imagine if meat-eaters evangelized about their diets? Vegans would have an absolute fit - sprouts and farrow flying willy-nilly out of their re-usable Whole Foods bags! Yipes!
Setting aside the dismissive, stereotyping imagery, the fact is that meat-eaters are evangelizing all the time. We are bombarded by it on every billboard, in every aisle of the grocery store, on every restaurant menu, &c. (see the Suicide Food blog displays some of the more egregious cases). I have had many conversations with meat-eaters who were clearly bothered by my veganism and were determined to find an inconsistency in hopes that they could justify their behavior and, hopefully, bring me back into the fold. In short, evangelizing. The evangelizing is such a constant part of the background noise of life, that many, like the author above, are not even aware of it.
I’m sitting in a doctor’s waiting room looking at a diet/nutrition magazine, which really seems to be a “how much meat and cheese can we squeeze in and still be healthy” sort of magazine. I just ran into the “special diets bookshelf” section and see a vegan cookbook listed. The reviewer says
... with dozens of recipes each proving that "lactose free," "ethical" and "environmentally sustainable" are not synonymous with boring or difficult.
If readers weren’t thinking that being a vegan was boring or difficult before they read that, they are now. Everyone knows that doing ethical or environmentally sustainable things must always take a back seat to taste. However, if a chef cannot make an interesting or flavorful vegan dish, they are incompetent. Any moron can throw a slab of flesh onto a plate and and have a flavorful meal. Many do.
My comment about ex-vegans in a previous post was, apparently, ahead of its time. Recently, a couple of newly ex-vegans have blogged about their experiences, and while there have been a number of good responses, including this, this, this and this. I wanted to address a different angle.
I have run into several ex-vegans (or ex-vegetarians) over the years and have recently started to think of them more as “born again meat eaters”. Like the stereotypical born again Christian, they hang onto a pile of partly-understood rationalizations for what they are doing, believe they have discovered absolute truth, and won’t shut up.
But a recent posting from an ex-vegan has shown that I forgot something: a religious experience. Here are some excerpts (emphasis added):
My first bite of meat after 3.5 years of veganism ... I just ate, and ate, and ate. I cried in grief and anger, while moaning with pleasure and joy. ... my face felt warm, my mind peaceful, and my stomach full but….I searched for a word to describe how it felt….comfortable. I had only eaten a small piece of cow flesh, and yet I felt totally full, but light and refreshed all at once. ... How beautiful it felt to be able to eat the exact thing that for so long my body had been begging for. I felt profoundly joyful in finally listening to the wisdom of my body. **What a revelation**.
She didn’t eat a steak, she saw Jesus! But the miracle continues!
Then I noticed something else odd: my heart was beating slowly, steadily. ... my heart was in perfect shape. ... Now after eating a single piece of steak, my heart thudded on, steady, strong, and slow. It made me cry all over again, this time in joy.
I am healed! Praise the Lord! Amen and pass the butter!
The Oct 9th issue of New Scientist had an article titled “Eating Skippy?” written by a now, former vegetarian about the merits of eating the flesh of Kangaroos.
I like to think of former vegetarians (and vegans) more as “born-again meat eaters”. Like some born-again Christians, they often hang onto a pile of partly-understood rationalizations for what they are doing, believe they have discovered absolute truth, and won’t shut up.
Fortunately the author of this article doesn’t seem to be one of these. Her article seems to be pretty compelling, but in the end it shows that if you do something for the wrong reason, it won’t stick.
There are a number of reasons one might become vegan: for health benefits, for reducing environmental impacts, to imitate a celebrity (that’s what PETA counts on), for animal welfare or for animal rights. The problem is that all reasons except the last one are arguable, and only a few rationalizations from vanishing.
The article does show that Kangaroos consume less water and food and produce fewer greenhouse gasses than other animals. Oops! there goes the environmental arguments. She also shows that flesh is more healthy than that of other animals. There goes the health reasons.
Kangaroos are very easily stressed, and that stress ruins the taste of their flesh. Therefore they can’t be confined and must be free-range; they can only be hunted in the most stealthy manner, which means they know nothing of their fate until the moment the bullet enters their skull. And there goes the animal welfare reasons.
The article does mention “animal rights” at a few points, but, as is so often the case, it ends up confused with “animal welfare”. Here are the two mentions of “animal rights”: ”Many animal rights groups remain opposed to kangaroo harvesting, saying it is cruel…” and “Animal rights groups, such as Australia’s Voiceless, say any orphaned young at foot will starve to death.” This shows that most groups which use the phrase “animal rights” are really welfarist groups. And, while I don’t know if the author intended this, these statements are strawmem: by using the phrase “animal rights” but then bringing up welfare concerns, which are easily dealt with (q.v.), the implication is that the animal rights concerns can be dismissed.
But the animal rights argument is straightforward: Kangaroos are sentient beings and we have no right to kill them. But that wouldn’t fill four pages of a magazine, now would it?
When I read Omnivore’s Dilemma the first thing that struck me was their use of the word “symbiosis”. I grew up on a farm, and I took care of the chickens, and I started thinking about “symbiosis”. Symbiosis implies that when the two creatures interact, they both benefit from the relationship. But for anyone involved in animal agriculture to use this word is simply a whitewashing to hide what really happens, or a way for them to assuage their conscience.
For example, the relationship between the dairy cow and the farmer is nothing short of parasitism. The cow’s life is greatly shortened, she has to live in filthy conditions, she is repeatedly impregnated and then has her babies taken away from her (and so-called free-range cows only gets the second condition mitigated). The only benefits the cow receives only serve to keep her alive to produce milk. Any meat-based agriculture is strictly parasitic as the animals are brought into existence for the sole purpose of being killed, after an exceeding brief and brutal life. I see no benefit for the animal.
However, based on my experience, I do think it is possible for humans and chickens to be in a symbiotic relationship. I think I was near this situation with my chickens. My chickens had about half an acre of pasture to roam freely in, they had a clean coop, fresh straw in their nest boxes, they always had fresh feed and water, and I never killed any of them. I would collect their eggs, but, unlike dairy cows, chickens will lay eggs fairly regularly whether they are breeding or not. Of course, in this exchange I took away their reproductive freedom, but every other freedom was accorded them and they lived out their full, natural lives. In my opinion, that fits the definition of “symbiosis,” anything less is parasitism.
The comments that followed the blog entry were largely filled with ignorance and intolerance, in accordance with internet traditions. But my favorite was this astounding display of all-out ignorance:
_[...] if we all become strict vegans, where's all the food going to come from?_
Obviously this person believes that the animals live on air. Animal agriculture consumes at least half of the U.S. grain production. That’s enough grain to feed 800 million people (see this), compare that to the 10.4 million children who die each year of malnutrition. How does that steak taste now?
Let’s review the three main reasons for being vegan: for the animals, for the environment and for your health.
The health argument seems obvious: whether the cells are grown in an animal or in a test tube, they are still animal cells, with all the well known health risks that go along with that. Of course, by carefully engineering the cells, it may be possible to reduce these harmful components, though it is unlikely that a profit-driven enterprise will do this. Furthermore, a number of chemicals will undoubtedly be involved in the production, and at least some of those will be in the end product.
The environmental issues are less clear. Reducing the number of factory farmed animals would certainly be good thing for the environment. But there are many unanswered questions about the production process, but they are the same questions asked of any industrial process: What sort of chemical inputs will be required? Where will they come from? How much energy will required? What sorts of chemical wastes will be generated? The process may be slightly better for the environment than animal agriculture, but it will always be far better to simply to eat plants.
What about the animals? Reducing the number of farmed animals would certainly reduce suffering. But the original animal cells have to come from somewhere, and even if these cells can be gathered painlessly, there would still be animals in captivity. But in the end, whether the meat comes from an animal or a vat, it still reinforces the idea that animals are simply property, a disposable resource, and not living, breathing members of our moral community.
Let’s think of the ethical issue in another way: What if a company was able to culture human cells to produce human “meat”. Would you eat that?
So wherever meat comes from, it is still harmful to our health, the environment and our ethics. And the sole reason we would do this is because we like the taste. That is the only reason. And that is never enough of a reason.
I spotted this on http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/grist/daily_grist/~3/285422414/index.html
“Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm.”
Uh, no it wouldn’t, that happens every day. 10 billion animals are killed every year in the US alone… granted, that probably doesn’t represent the one out of three statistic, but it should “raise alarm.”