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!
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.
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?