Vegan 101: The Ethics of Veganism

by JL Fields on March 25, 2011

I cannot tell you how excited I am to offer the latest in the Vegan 101 series. Gena is one of the smartest bloggers I read. Seriously.  She is able to take complicated issues and present them in an accessible way.  She is thought-provoking, clever and she lives a passionate vegan lifestyle.  I have learned how to be vegan from Gena. And Gena has inspired me to eat a higher raw diet.  As I considered the issues I wanted to cover in the Vegan 101 series, I knew the toughest would be about the ethics of being, or going, vegan.  It’s tough stuff and I really don’t know quite how to express myself on the matter.  I went vegan for my diet but I feel that I’m remaining vegan for the animals. That’s about as articulate as I can be about it … for now.  In the meantime, Gena gives us much to consider.

***

Gena Hamshaw, C.C.N., is the author of Choosing Raw, an online space devoted to conversations about nutrition, body image and plant-based diet. As a certified clinical nutritionist, Gena works with clients of all different backgrounds to achieve optimal health and wellness through wholesome eating. Gena is also a premed student at Columbia University in New York City. She plans on bringing her passion for plant-based nutrition and compassionate living to the medical community.

Vegan 101: The Ethics of Veganism

A few weeks ago, my friend JL wrote to say she’d be doing a series of posts called Vegan 101, and would I consider contributing? I said I would, of course—JL and I go way back, and her blog is one of my favorites. When I asked what she’d like me to write on, however, I was a little taken aback by her answer. “I’d love it,” she said, “if you’d do a post on the ethics of veganism.”

To be honest, I almost said no. I became a vegan in my early twenties, but it wasn’t driven by ethics: it was something I did to feel healthier, and to make peace with a decade of disordered eating. While it’s true that I’ve had a huge ethical and ideological awakening in the past two years—an evolution that I chronicled on my blog,  Choosing Raw, and which you can read more about here and here—I’m hardly an animal rights expert. In fact, I’m a legitimate novice to veganism as I now understand it—a lifestyle that is animated by compassion.

The more I thought about it, though, the more it occurred to me that my newness to animal rights might actually make me the perfect person to write this post. I can relate directly to a beginner’s confusion, curiosity, or questions about the ethics of a vegan life. I’m guessing that a lot of you are reading because you’ve gotten interested in veganism for its health benefits, or because you’ve read about Oprah’s recent vegan challenge, or another celebrity’s discovery of plant-based eating. I’m guessing that you’re wondering about the ethics of veganism, too, but you’re a little wary: you’ve encountered hardcore animal rights people in the past, and they seemed a little strident to you, a little preachy. And you don’t want to be like them. You like to think you’re doing something good for animals, but you’re nervous about saying that you’re a proponent of animal rights.

Heck, at this point in the game, you’re sort of afraid to tell people that you’re vegan at all.

If you feel this way, then you feel exactly the way I did six years ago, when I transitioned into a 100% plant-based lifestyle. And guess what? That’s great. There’s no wrong way to get interested in veganism. All paths into the vegan lifestyle lead to good things: if you’re exclusively interested in health—in optimizing your own life—you’ll still save countless other lives, too. Not to mention the life of our planet. Going vegan is a win-win decision.

Even so, it’s my own belief that veganism can be even more rewarding if you happen to feel at least some stirrings of compassion for animals. And my goal today is to help elucidate the fundamental beliefs that underlie vegan ethics, because I think that they’re a lot more sensible, a lot more simple, and a lot more persuasive than you might imagine. So put aside, if you can, any prejudices you have about “animal rights vegans”—we’re not all preachy, I promise!—and prepare to listen with an open mind.

Common Sense: The Foundation of Compassionate Thinking

One of the reasons that animal rights appeals failed to capture me in the past was that they always seemed predicated on outrage, shock, and guilt. I saw images of factory farming, as you probably have, too; I read some of the statistics, just as you have. I somehow managed to continue eating dairy, eggs, and fish in spite of it. The statistics and images were real, and I’m glad I saw them: today, I feel their impact more than I ever could have imagined. But I think we all have a hard time accepting that we’re directly responsible for these kind of atrocities, and I was no exception. The images and videos and statistics made me feel guilty, and that made me recoil from veganism. This wasn’t a mature response, but it was, I think, a very human one. I managed to continue ignoring my own role in the mistreatment of animals even as I began to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

So what was it that ultimately did move me in the direction of animal rights? Common sense, plain and simple. My road to veganism was more intellectual than emotional, more logic-driven than passion driven—at least at first. I had always assumed that one had to be a lifelong animal lover, or a pet owner, to feel strongly about animal rights. I was both right and wrong: vegan ethics are often driven by a strong personal relationship with animals. But they don’t have to be. They can be equally driven by rational consideration of facts.

What are those facts? Glad you asked. Let’s start with the most fundamental principle of vegan ethics: sentience.

Sentience

Sentience: you’ve probably heard the word before, but what does it mean? If you’re exploring veganism, this is a good time to ask. Sentience is a capacity to have the basic experiences—called “qualia” in the Western philosophical tradition—that are fundamental to being alive: seeing, hearing, smelling, experiencing pain and pleasure and emotional attachment. This is not the same as human consciousness: when animal rights advocates talk about animals’ sentience, we don’t mean that they can engineer bridges, compose verse in iambic pentameter, draft a constitution, or perform open-heart surgery. (By the way, there is very good research to prove that some animals do experience something very close to human consciousness—the capacity to prioritize, to think in a premeditated way, and so on. But for the purposes of this particular point, let’s put that aside). When we say that animals are sentient, we mean that they participate in the most fundamental parts of lived experience, and that this makes them worthy of our reverence and care. As Jeremy Bentham wrote in the 17th Century, “The question is not Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

It’s very difficult to convince those who aren’t sympathetic to veganism of the validity of sentience as a moral imperative. Try it: you’ll see. They’ll ask—not irrationally—why sentience alone should make animals worthy of our non-interference, especially if it’s in our own interest to interfere? My answer to this question is simple: a creature needn’t be possess all of the benchmarks of higher consciousness (and again, many animals do experience some) to be spared unnecessary and profound suffering.

Speciesism: The Overlooked Prejudice

Look at it this way: infants aren’t yet fully capable of language, self-awareness, intentionality, or creativity, either. Neither are human adults with various sorts of impaired cognitive functioning. Are these people therefore less worthy of protection from suffering and death?

That last comparison tends to make people uncomfortable, and with good reason: we squirm at the notion that a baby and an animal are comparable. But why? Well, there are various religious traditions in which human beings are situated at the top of a chain of being, and if you subscribe to such a world view, then it may be easy for you to accept that animals lives are inherently less valuable than human ones, even if their capacities are in some cases comparable.

But if your feelings about animals aren’t governed by a religious creed, then it’s very difficult to answer for why animal life should inherently be less worthy than human. If the answer is that humans are capable of self-awareness and intellectual achievement, and animals aren’t, then how do you justify preferencing a cognitively impaired human being over an animal?

Various animal rights champions have suggested that our reluctance to make these sorts of comparisons is based purely on speciesism: a prioritizing of human life simply because it’s human. This isn’t so very different from racism or sexism, or other forms of prejudice that rest on the simple assumption that one’s own ethnic or gender or class or race is better than another.

This is a very important point to keep in mind as you explore vegan ethics, especially when you encounter arguments about historical precedent. People often point out that we humans have always killed and eaten and used animals for our own purposes, so why should we stop now? I like to point out that, until quite recently, we also killed and used different racial groups for our own purposes, too; two hundred years ago, the notion of racial equality was utterly foreign to an average white man or woman. Perhaps the notion of animal rights, no matter how marginalized in this day and age, will be equally vindicated in future centuries.

Back to Basics: Compassion for Suffering

With all of that said, I don’t think you have to fully accept the notion of speciesism in order to feel that animals are worthy of protection from suffering. Today, I see animal and human life as equal, but it took me a long time to feel this way—it was a very foreign notion to me, and it wasn’t an ethos I was raised on. It took me no time at all, however, to grasp the concept of sentience. I asked myself: need a living being be capable of the full scope of human ability in order to be entitled to basic freedoms and protection from pain? My answer was a definite “no.”

Do we know for a fact that animals do feel pain? Do we know that they’re capable of suffering as we are? This question has been hotly debated in the past, but the evidence is actually quite clear: animals are without question capable of feeling and expressing physical pain, and some animals are likewise capable of feeling and expressing emotional pain. Many animals—especially mammals—have nervous systems quite like our own, and most neurologists will concede that mammals feel physical pain as acutely as we do. There’s new evidence that fish have sensory neurons and nociceptors (these are the sensory receptors that detect physical damage) that are similar to ours.

More compelling still, there is a world of evidence to suggest that primates, dogs, cats and birds (this includes the more than 8 billion chickens killed each year for chicken meat, and the more than 280 million hens who are used for egg collection) are also capable of experiencing emotional pain, and will indicate their suffering in many of the same ways we do: through listlessness, anorexia/self-starvation, lethargy, and anti-social behaviors with other animals.

Do we need any more evidence that animals are fully capable of suffering? They may lack the language we have to express that suffering, but then again, so do infants. Do we consider babies any less capable of feeling pain because they can’t articulate it the same way adults do?

Companion Pets and Farm Animals: The Great Double Standard

Of course, I don’t have to tell most of you that animals feel pain—along with affection, empathy, loyalty, and devotion. Most of you know this, because most of you have owned a companion animal, or pet, at some point in your lives. And if you did, you saw clearly how very capable animals are of a rich spectrum of emotions. You know that they feel loyalty to the creatures they cohabitate with. You know that they have an uncanny capacity to recognize and share your emotions—in other words, empathy. You know that they can yelp, wimper, or cry when they experience sickness and hurt, and you know that they find all sorts of glorious ways to express joy and contentment: tail wagging, running, jumping, barking, and so on.

We Americans are obsessed with our companion animals. In 2007, two-thirds of all American homes housed at least one pet, and that number was on the rise. We write memoirs about our pets. We buy clothing for our pets. We sleep, eat, and lounge with our pets. We speak to them, pet them, cry with them, and play with them. We trust them to guard our families and keep our children company. Yet we are also inhabitants of a nation in which over 27 billion animals are killed each year for food—our food. Farm animals such as pigs, goats, and cows are no less intelligent, empathetic, or loyal than our cats and dogs: their death and exploitation causes no less suffering than if companion animals were subjected to the same treatment. None of us can deny these facts, and yet most pet owners refuse to make the connection. It suits our own purposes to enjoy our pets, and eat our burgers.

Let’s make that connection. We all have the power to opt out. That’s what veganism is: it’s opting out. It’s recognizing the value of animal life—something we’ve all learned to do through our exposure to companion animals—and refusing to partake in its exploitation.

What About Grass Fed? What About Local? What About Organic?

Yes, there’s some reason to believe that small farms and organic farms treat animals more compassionately than do factory farms. But that’s hardly saying much, and you might be surprised to learn that “organic” and “grass fed” labels are hardly synonymous with humane treatment. Animals raised under “organic” ordinances can still be gassed, caged, or force fed according to species. “Grass fed” cows can still be confined or spend small periods of time in feed lots. “Free range” chickens are still subjected to unchecked crowding, and indoor time isn’t regulated; outdoor lots are often hastily added to buildings, and they aren’t easily accessed by all animals. “Cage-free” chickens are still subject to crowding, and newborn male chicks of egg-laying hens are often exempt from all of these protections.

And let’s not forget that most of these animals, no matter what language has governed their confinement, are killed, and that their slaughter causes pain and fear. Grass fed and organic foods may be better for our bodies than their conventional counterparts, but don’t let the trendy labels fool you: they, too, lead to animal suffering.

Where To Begin?

If you’ve read this far, and you agree, you may be feeling stirrings of vegan ethics already. You’re also wondering how to act on these stirrings. You’re ready to start living with compassion for animals, but you don’t want to stop buying wool sweaters. And as much as you find the arguments I’ve summed up for you to be persuasive, you don’t really feel comfortable calling yourself an “animal rights vegan.”

Yet.

Don’t worry. Veganism is a journey, a process of evolution. I do and say things all the time that belie my newness to a compassionate viewpoint: just the other day, I used the idiom “to kill two birds with one stone.” My bad—language can be lacking in compassion, too! Add to this the fact that it took me ages to stop buying leather riding boots, and I still stare wistfully at the J. Crew cashmere section.

Even so, I’ve slowly and surely arrived at a moral framework that shapes and informs all of my thinking—from food choices to feelings about social justice and to constant reevaluation of my own egocentrism. That framework can be summed up in just a few sentences: I believe that animals are sentient beings who are entitled to freedom and relief from unnecessary suffering. I’m conscious of their lives, feelings, freedom, and worth. I no longer make the casual assumption that human welfare is the only welfare that matters. And I do my best to live in accordance with these core beliefs .

There it is, guys: vegan ethics, plain and simple. They’re really not much more complicated than that.

The “living in accordance” part can begin in small ways. Maybe you go meatless once a week; maybe you stop buying anything with fur, or only buy shampoo that’s not tested on animals. Maybe, if you’re eating mostly vegan already, you have the courage to finally eliminate animal foods from your diet—because that is the most direct and effective way to do your part in not supporting the annual death and mistreatment of tens of billions of farm animals. While you’re at it, you’ll also be taking huge steps toward preserving the environment, making more crops available for the hungry worldwide, and helping to drive the price of produce—which is simply out of the reach of most impoverished families—down.

But to answer my question above, you can begin anywhere you want to. Start small. Do one small thing every day that makes you more conscious of animal life. See where it takes you. I think you’ll be shocked at how long and enriching the journey is.

The Take Home Message

I hope I’ve managed to show you that “animal rights” doesn’t have to be a frightening phrase, or one tinged with negative associations. The fight for animal rights is a commonsense one, once you consider some commonsense facts. Can they suffer? Yes, they can. We human beings pride ourselves on the capacity to evolve, to shake off our own prejudices, tyrannies, and misdeeds. We may not always succeed, but when we do—when we do manage to identify and reverse the unnecessary suffering or injustices we’ve caused—it’s our finest hour.  Let’s not exclude our relationship with animals from that possibility.

WANT TO READ MORE?

Evidence of Animal Cruelty

I tried to avoid the standard tactic of shocking you with the real life horrors of animal cruelty, but if you need a kick in the pants, I suggest these videos:

Vegan 101

Vegan Starter Kits / Aid

These online, free starter kits will help you take the first big step toward compassion:

Information About Vegan Nutrition

***

Gena, you are amazing. I cannot thank you enough for giving us all something to consider, deeply.

Readers:  my mind is racing.  Is yours?  I read many, many vegan blogs. And they are almost always all about the food.  Please, share with us here.  What about the animals? Where are you on the ethics of veganism?

Be sure to add Gena’s blog, Choosing Raw, to your Google Reader— you do not want to miss her posts!

  • It is such an honor, JL! Thanks again for letting me weave my scattered thoughts into something halfway cogent 🙂

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    Great post. I will read this more than once (probably many times.) The longer I eat vegan the more I feel compassion — compassion is not why I started to eat vegan — and it feels… peaceful.

  • fabulous post! I will be referring this to anyone who has a question about veganism!

    I always tell people, the reason I went vegan doesn’t matter, its the 100s of reasons why I stayed vegan, that matter.

  • Great piece! I’m not vegan, but eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I’ve been on the edge for a while and this has really made me think twice about the few times I do eat meat.

    It blows my mind that anyone could argue that animals DON’T feel pain. Love the concept of “opting out.”

    Thanks Gena (and JL)!

  • Merryn

    I would add the environmental ethics – the land / water / petro-energy required to feed all the animals.
    The humanitarian ethics – feeding people grain instead of feeding it to animals (that aren’t meant to eat the grain anyway).
    And just a comment on the general evolution of veganism, from ‘soy meat replacement’ products, to realising, that actually that isn’t really the best answer either, and continuously moving forward, seeking better health & happiness for all beings on the planet. I don’t think there will be a final vegan destination, we are all learning & adapting every day.
    Thank you both so much for sharing!

  • Gena…you’re awesome. I love how you can discuss touchy subjects without coming off as judgmental. For real, that’s one of the biggest reasons I admire you and your writing!

    • YES! When I found Gena’s blog I just felt comfortable. I could be anywhere on the journey and feel support but also learn so much. I think she did amazing job tackling this topic that is new to me!

  • This is a really wonderful post – I tried veganism to help with various health issues, and ultimately went back to eating limited amounts of animal protein, but with a level of ambivalence I had never experienced before. As Gena knows, I will not under any circumstances eat a non-vegan meal outside my kitchen, but every time I buy a carton of duck eggs at the farmer’s market, I second guess myself – do I really need it (answer, some would say yes, seeing as my cholesterol dropped lower than any low cutoff). Recently I started actively disliking the various leather purses I own (all bought several years before all of this). It is a journey.

  • Clairealisetillman

    Thanks Gena and Jen! I became a vegan first and foremost for the animals and find that this overview is very helpful. I am now armed with a clear and concise “elevator speech” about why I am vegan! Thank you!

  • Very well-written article (though the passage above, “Let’s make that connection. While it may be humbling to acknowledge our part in animal suffering—especially for those of us who claim to be animal lovers.” isn’t written in the most convenient way, I think its meaning is still somewhat relatively apparent).

    Though I likely won’t adopt a vegan lifestyle (because of my own principles), I find the argument for it interesting and provocative. If I’m understanding it correctly, if your premisses were to be put into a syllogism, the syllogism would look something like:

    i) Animals which humans typically consume are sentient creatures, capable of feeling both emotional and physical pain.
    ii) Animals “needn’t possess all of the benchmarks of higher consciousness…to be spared unnecessary and profound suffering.”

    Therefore, since food harvested from animals brings enormous amounts of pain and suffering, we ought to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

    Am I close?

    • Cynic, I think your understanding of the “syllogism” is pretty solid.

      And you’re right: that sentence is a syntactical mess. Thanks for the excellent editorial eye — I’ll ask JL to clean it up for me! 🙂

    • anna

      i think the syllogism is,

      1. it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering
      2. eating animals causes unnecessary suffering

      therefore, eating animals is wrong.

      • Your first premiss is controversial, though, because it’s an ethical judgment. Is it an objective fact that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering? How can we prove this? I’m not saying I think causing unnecessary harm is permissible, but for a strong syllogism to be created we need to leave our subjective opinions out of it.

        The premisses I gave are what the article purports to be objective facts (notice a lack of “in my opinions”).

        • anna

          a premise can be an ethical judgment. for example, the second premise you gave is an ethical judgment.

          • Just getting to comments, but thank you, Anna, for explaining the syllogism better than I did, and I agree, too, with your statement above.

            I’d also say that a lot of the moral choices and decisions we make are based upon syllogisms that are based upon ethical judgments (for example, deciding that it is wrong and illegal to murder another human being is based on the ethical judgment that it is wrong to murder another human being). Syllogisms based on ethical judgments abound in our society, and while there will always be a tension between the subjectivity of moral rulings and the need for moral rulings, I would say that if any of our ethical standards is worthwhile, than this one, too, is worthwhile.

          • “Syllogisms based on ethical judgments abound in our society, and while there will always be a tension between the subjectivity of moral rulings and the need for moral rulings, I would say that if any of our ethical standards is worthwhile, than this one, too, is worthwhile.”

            This is what meant earlier when I wrote, “Though I likely won’t adopt a vegan lifestyle (because of my own principles), I find the argument for it interesting and provocative.” The syllogism is interesting but not persuasive. In it, I don’t find a striking incongruity of how things are, opposed to how things ought to be, in the same way I do when I consider the syllogism of Socrates’ mortality. One conclusion follows logically and inescapably (Socrates), the other, barely and not without a subtle appeal to emotion.

        • “Animals ‘needn’t possess all of the benchmarks of higher consciousness…to be spared unnecessary and profound suffering.’ “ is not an ethical judgment, it’s a biological fact. Animals with less advanced consciousness still can feel pain, and that’s all this premiss is stating.

        • Bernat

          Nothing is objective

          • Bernat

            (In my opinion)

          • cynic

            Including that statement?

  • Danielle

    I find that there are so many personal pluses from veganism but that is all rooted in the avoidance of animal suffering. There are entire industries that thrive off of people’s waning willpower, namely the diet and exercise industries. But if you acknowledge the health benefits and get educated on the animal issues, the lifestyle will be long lasting.

  • Mangogirl

    I personally do not eat meat, but I do eat raw milk and plenty of fresh eggs, both from an organic, local farm that I have personally visited and know to be completely humane. Personally, I see absolutely nothing wrong with eggs and dairy if they are sourced from a facility that treats their animals and the environment compassionately. Hens will lay eggs whether we eat them or not, so we might as well eat them. That said, I completely agree with most of the points made here- all except the specieism argument. Since I travel in a largely vegetarian/vegan circle, I hear this argument often, but can never accept it. I do not hold to religious dogmas, but I do believe that humans have an eternal soul. And while I do believe that animals can experience emotions, I believe they lack a soul. Thus, to me, caring for humans is more important than caring for animals, but I do not use this as an excuse to NOT care for animals. Humans can and do thrive in the absence of meat, so even if one does believe that human life is worth more than an animal life, this absolutely does not constitute a reason to torture and slaughter animals. The argument that many meat advocates make is this: humans are more important, thus we should eat meat. However, the reality is that this constitutes a non sequiter fallacy, ie the latter does not follow.

    • I respect Gena more than anyone in the blogging world, and I agree with many of her convictions. I also know that she is an intellectual, and will not take offense at questions that are earnestly and openly seeking answers. In fact, I think she would be glad to continue the discussion fruitfully. So here are my questions, open to anyone’s response. I am genuinely eager to get feedback on some of these, so please don’t attack me for presenting them…

      I have been wrestling with this decision for a long time. We are lucky that we live in a relatively vegan-friendly area (Boulder, CO). We have a plethora of resources at our disposal as we consider the ethics of eating. We don’t consume meat, for some of the reasons listed above. But, I agree with the above poster that I see eggs as a grey area, if we are able to visit the farm and be intimately acquainted with the practices of their care… I would love to hear objections if anyone has them.

      Some of my questions arise when I consider that I refuse to blame someone in a different culture (e.g., a developing country) whose circumstances are far more limited than mine. I wouldn’t blame a family in Ethiopia going through a drought for slaughtering and consuming a goat when it will save their lives. That seems like less of an option for them. We are so privileged to have the opportunity to make this decision, I fear that we are quick to disregard empathy for others who lack our resources. We have countless vegan and vegetarian foods readily at our disposal…this is not the case in other areas of the world. I hope to hear others’ perspective on this issue, because I really don’t see how we can tell someone that their way of life is wrong, when there are perhaps no other choices aside from starvation. (In that case, I suppose I do adhere to a specieism of sorts…)

      I must confess, I felt that there were some broad strokes in the implication that all or most religious creeds condone specieism. I grant that this is somewhat justified, as much of the ethics of eating are tied up in interpretations of religious dogma, but I don’t think we can blame religion, per se. (I assume I am misconstruing the argument.) I know many people who are vegan solely because of their faith convictions, and it seems unfair to lump all who follow a religious creed into the same category… I don’t want to make this entire comment (long as it is already…sorry) about religion, but I say this because I sense there is a philosophical jump going on that will end up hurting this argument for veganism more than helping it. At least, that’s been the case in my experiences of discussing this with vegans and non-vegans. But then again, I am totally open to being proven wrong.

      Thanks for a thoughtful and wonderful post, Gena!

      • Angela

        To address your question about eggs, by consuming eggs from humanely raised hens you are supporting the notion that eggs are acceptable to include in one’s diet, which may make others feel it is ok to eat eggs regardless of their source. For instance, if you have a delicious recipe that includes eggs you purchased from a “compassionate farmer” that you share with others, they probably will make the recipe with factory farm eggs. So you may be indirectly supporting the consumption of eggs from caged hens on factory farms.
        More simply, just because an animal produces a product that we can consume doesn’t mean we should eat it. Chickens are not here just to produce food for human consumption and are much more complex individuals. Eggs are not required for humans to live and can actually promote chronic diseases that reduce our quality of life (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.). Eggs are a part of a hens reproductive cycle just like the eggs of reptiles, fish, humans etc. and we should respect the bodies of all animals. Eating eggs just because they taste good and are convenient seems irresponsible and inconsiderate. There are so many plant-based foods out there to enjoy! I’m still in the process of figuring out my animal ethics, but these are some of the arguments that I have heard and I’ve decided to leave eggs off my plate. I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong, but just presenting some thoughts and knowledge so that you can decide was personally fits in with your morals and beliefs.

        However, I do wholeheartedly agree with you Katie that this is a thoughtful and wonderful post.
        Gena, you never disappoint with the way you deliver you ideas in such well composed posts. Thanks for inspiring a constructive conversation on this topic.

        • Sylvia

          If you believe that human’s don’t have the right to decide to force chickens to produce eggs for us, then would you also go so far as to say that:
          -horses should never be ridden by human’s this is non-consentual and forces them to work for us
          -pet’s should not be “owned” by humans because this is non-consentual and we are using them solely for our pleasure and entertainment.

          • Angela

            These are some good examples to think about Sylvia. Right now I don’t think we should be burdening horses with loads like carts and making them work for us, since there are other options to completing these tasks. I’m a bit conflicted about recreational riding because it seems that it would be uncomfortable and unnatural for a horse to be saddled up, bridled and have a human on its back, but that a human and horse could have a close bond that would not make this an issue for the horse; I guess its just hard to know how they truly feel about such situations (however, at least we do acknowledge that they have feelings and opinions about situations just like us). I do know that I do not support the use of animals in circuses or confining them to cages in zoos.
            In regards to pets, I don’t really consider myself owning my pets, but rather think of them as companions. Yes, I did pay for my dog and my rabbits were given to me, so I guess there is a level of trade or commodifying of animals; however, personally this feels like a label and formality that humans have made, but in terms of our relationship I consider myself as a friend to my pets not a master. Kind of like, do parents “own” there children? This is why I think adoption is best, because any money transfer is most likely a donation to the rescue organization/shelter/sanctuary, not a way of placing a monetary value to an individual animal.
            I want to note that I don’t think that in all cases humans “force” chickens to lay eggs. Sometimes domestic chickens are kept as companion animals and simply have eggs that are part of their reproductive cycle, which is a natural process. Like I said in my original comment, I’m still trying to figure out my vegan ethics and sometimes its hard to know where to draw the line and difficult to make general judgements that my not apply to every single situation. I’m just making decisions with the goal of causing as little harm as possible and respecting all animals, both human and non human. Thanks again for bringing up these topics that get my mental wheels turning….

          • Mangogirl

            To further Sylvia’s line of thinking…
            Is it wrong to purchase clothes from a responsible producer because others might see said clothes, think they are cute, and purchase clothes that are produced by Indonesian children in sweat shops?

          • Sylvia

            Right. Good point. I think the examples thing is a bit much. I mean one could always tell everyone that they are eating compassionate farmed eggs and be vocal about that just as they can be vocal about buying only responsibly produced clothing items. Of course some person in the world may see your clothes/eggs and get the wrong idea.

            Good point about pets not being “owned” but we are still choosing to have them in our homes to make us happy (of course also to give them a safe and nurtured life). Pets have been bred and have evolved alongside humans now too, because we are helping their species and it works for them to be taken care of by us. I would argue that farm animals have also benefited by agriculture and have evolved alongside humans because we do take care of them long enough to propagate their species. I am opposed to factory farming, but regarding the from of traditional smaller scale agriculture that has taken place for most of the history of agriculture, this is true.

            Re: Speciesism.
            Okay. But. if we get away from factory farming and think about for example hunting or traditional agriculture eating animals has been a form of nutrition to us, part of a circle of life that animals do to each other as well this contributes to biodiversity and the food chain.

            In reality in North America 98% if farming is huge scale industrial farming so I would say that veganism is a good, practical alternative to that here, if one is against the morality of factory farming and/or environmental impacts. Veganism for health reasons is another huge argument but now one that is being discussed in this conversation obviously. I just can’t agree that Veganism is the only truly moral answer, but I respect these arguments.

        • I.G.

          “by consuming eggs from humanely raised hens you are supporting the notion that eggs are acceptable to include in one’s diet, which may make others feel it is ok to eat eggs regardless of their source…”

          This is a very dangerous argument because it can be applied to any situation where both mistreatment and ethical conduct are possible, or even any other situations where ambiguity exists. It can easily be transformed into:
          – It’s not okay to buy clothing from responsible producers because some of it is made in sweatshops and would make people think that sweatshop clothing is acceptable
          – Women should not become housewives even when it is their choice because it makes some people think it’s okay to impose traditional roles on the rest of us

          I have seen this logic before in arguments and personally, I strongly oppose it.

      • ayako

        “I must confess, I felt that there were some broad strokes in the implication that all or most religious creeds condone specieism”

        I’m a vegan & conservative Christian. I made a switch recently, so you can imagine all the interesting reactions I’ve been getting from my church friends, who are, amazingly compassionate and make great sacrifices helping people on the streets, lonely seniors citizens, donating
        much resources to women’s shelters. I’m hoping to slowly point out to them the benefits of diets that contain less animal products & more plants!

        I became a vegan for all the reasons Gena wrote beautifully about. But I was able to do so because I live in North America. If I were to visit Amazonian village like I did for mission/volunteer work few years back, I don’t think I will be refusing the foodthat’ll be prepared for me by a villager who will have used his very limited resources for a foreign guest, whatever it might be.

        I’m still trying to figure this out myself. But like Mangogirl, I believe that one can believe that humans and animals are not exactly the same and humans are more important (If I have to choose to save either a man or a dog, I’d save a man) , I still decided to be a vegan.

        Ultimately it was very much in line with my faith in God, who asks me to be a “good steward” of whatever He gives me. And for me, at this point and where I am now, giving up animal products made most sense, personally & ethically.

        • Thanks for your reply. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to say that we should eat meat just because of these philosophical difficulties; I’m simply pointing out that this is not black and white to me. I don’t eat meat, but as I stated above, there are scenarios in which I find eating animals to be a lesser evil of sorts… So I don’t see a huge dissonance in what we’re both getting at here. (Perhaps you weren’t trying to illustrate that, and I just wrongly inferred it, in which case I apologize for misconstruing. Just wanted to clarify my point in case it was confusing.)

          • ayako

            I agree with you very much Katie, sorry if my reply was confusing. Like I said, I’m still trying to figure this out. It is not quite black & white to me either. I see my newfound veganism a journey, as well. I now know that veganism is so much more than “not eating meat.”

      • Hey Katie!

        As for the religious thing, I think you may have simply overemphasized it; I don’t think all religions prioritize human life (after all, many religions condone vegetarianism). I simply said various religious creeds — and a great chain of beings with humans at the top does exist in some!

        As for the question about those in developing nations or impoverished circumstances, I would actually recall the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism, which is:

        “. . . “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose . . .”

        “Possible and practical” is key. If one is in a circumstance that absolutely precludes making vegan choices, that complicates the matter, and I think most vegans would feel compassion if someone in near starvation scenarios were to find it challenging to choose a vegan life. This post is intended to address those who are in a position where they are fortunate enough to make choices — choices with their meals, money, and message to others. I have a choice, and veganism is my choice.

        I think Angela answered the egg question beautifully below 🙂

        G

        • Thanks Gena!

          Sorry if I overemphasized that — I think I would attribute it to my experiences of seeing discussions regarding veganism and vegetarianism cut off immediately when religion comes into play, which is unfortunate for both parties. That was an immensely helpful response, and I truly appreciate the clarifications. I look forward to mulling this over further, and hopefully being able to continue asking questions. Thank you for being open to them 😉

    • Well “humans are more important, thus we should eat meat.” is a weak argument for a bunch of reasons (it only has one premise, for example). You’re right, the conclusion from that argument- that we ought to therefore eat meat- is a non sequitur. However, though this is an example of poor reasoning, the conclusion “We ought to eat meat.” may still be valid.

      It would be analogous to Bob’s being a car driver:

      BAD ARGUMENT:

      i) All Toyotas are cars.
      ii) Bob doesn’t drive a Toyota.
      . ‘ . Therefore, Bob drives a car.

      GOOD ARGUMENT:

      i) All Toyotas are cars.
      ii) Bob drives a Toyota.
      . ‘ . Therefore, Bob drives a car.

      The conclusion (namely, that Bob drives a car) is true, regardless of the fact that it’s not a Toyota. The two premisses in the bad argument don’t support the conclusion, but the conclusion does follow logically from the good argument, preventing us from being able to dismiss the conclusion solely on the grounds of the former argument’s weakness.

      In this same way, it could be the case that we ought to eat meat, in spite of the poor argument people may give about our species being more “important”. But that is what needs to be proven.

    • There are definite and nuanced differences in our viewpoints, Mangogirl, but I think you make an articulate and intelligent and insightful point!

  • Tricia

    I’m a christian vegan and I adore animals :). I believe that animals possess an eternal soul like people simply because they do feel as we do and unfortunately many christians think animals aren’t capable of possessing a soul. I feel that God wants me to point out animal suffering to my fellow believers. In the past, white people used to believe black people didn’t have souls as justification for enslaving them, and I don’t want to assume something doesn’t have a soul when it very well could.

    • Anonymous

      Tricia, if you read Genesis 1:26 it says “And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Also, their is no mention of animal ensoulment in the Bible. This does not however justify cruel treatment of animals. It was only after the fall that man ate meat, and even then God told man what animals were clean and good to eat. I choose high veganism (I have cream occasionally) because I believe man has abused the dominion God gave us and in order to change the source of meat and the amount of meat people eat, I am taking a stand. I want to teach people that it is okay to eat meat in small quantities from a humane source. I know that was a bit rambling…

      • I am not a theologian, but I wanted you both to know that I find this particular dialog fascinating; thanks.

      • Roselie

        Quoting the old testament doesn’t make much sense actually , since the god they were talking about was a cruel one, killing innocent people in order to punish the villains. In the end it’s just what a few people’s opinions were on the matter, the testaments weren’t faxed from the sky to quote Dan Brown. Much more important is to use our own brains and hearts to make each of our desicions as moral and compassionate as possible. And the path is clear I think, I am not a christian but I believe in what Jesus and Mahatma Ghanti and many others said before me and that’s love and compassion. Any religion or point of view that condones pain, suffering, racism and the like has nothing to do with love, and that makes it unworthy of consideration of not downright hurtful of everything we’ve managed so far,every civil rights victory that made us better people.

        Oh and Gena I thought of something as I read what you’ve written. The double standard between domesticated animals and farm animals reminds me of issues of race were a few hundred years ago. The whites were perceived as more noble, worthy of consideration and decent life not unlike the domesticated pets. On the other hand blacks were perceived as worthless, souless and disposable creatures born to do our biding (eek) just like farm animals.

        It all goes back to interconnectedness we’re all the same, worthy of the same love and compassion , our minor physical differences are completely insignificant.

        • This will be fun:

          “Quoting the old testament doesn’t make much sense actually, since the god they were talking about was a cruel one, killing innocent people in order to punish the villains.”

          1) Even if God existed:

          a) How does the relation between God and Man change by calling it “cruel”? This seems to presuppose that human judgment is the arbiter of moral truth, and that God must subscribe to it- most theologians would contest this, no doubt, and say the reverse is true.

          b) It seems a bit like an unfounded assumption to call the people “innocent”. We never knew them. We would need not only more information, but also the ability (if you think about it) to demonstrate that God did not have morally sufficient reasons for permitting their deaths- that is, if we want to stick to calling their lives “innocent”.

          2) “Much more important is to use our own brains and hearts to make each of our decisions as moral and compassionate as possible.

          While possibly a good suggestion to live by, no doubt, this dictum of yours suffers two fatal weaknesses:

          A) It’s contrived. This, unfortunately, means that its reverse is just as valid (that we ought to not “…use our brains and hearts to make each of our decisions as moral and compassionate as possible.”)

          B) It’s non-binding. If God exists, then maybe the dictum holds water- you will be held accountable for your actions, in the end making your behavior on Earth significant. If God doesn’t exist, however, then there is no difference, really. The fate of the evil man and the fate of the good man are the same in the grave. There is no difference between the Hitler and the Gandhi, if atheism is true, because their lives are unaccounted for. They were born, engaged in tasks, and died. And that is all.

          3) “And the path is clear I think, I am not a christian but I believe in what Jesus and Mahatma Ghanti and many others said before me and that’s love and compassion. Any religion or point of view that condones pain, suffering, racism and the like has nothing to do with love, and that makes it unworthy of consideration of not downright hurtful of everything we’ve managed so far,every civil rights victory that made us better people.”

          Again, contrived. Does it mean well? Certainly. Should everyone adopt it, would society experience an increase of quality of life? Quite. But is it real, is it a real, enforceable rule? Not a chance. Again, it’s something which sounds good, has positive real-world application results, but by its very nature will always be subjective, relative, and likely to change per society.

          4) “Oh and Gena I thought of something as I read what you’ve written. The double standard between domesticated animals and farm animals reminds me of issues of race were a few hundred years ago. The whites were perceived as more noble, worthy of consideration and decent life not unlike the domesticated pets. On the other hand blacks were perceived as worthless, souless and disposable creatures born to do our biding (eek) just like farm animals.”

          As unpleasant as this may sound, a lot of these issues (and ethics in general) boil down to the question of God. And not merely the shallow disbelief in the existence of God, but knowing the fact of the matter on truth of the statement, “Does God exist?” If God exists, then you would be able to build a convincing case for the ethics of animal/animal byproduct consumption because there would be a purpose behind animal/human existence.

          But as many atheists know, science simply cannot demonstrate the existence of God or a purpose for human existence. We are left in limbo, questioning, “Do I live for self, flouting the socially agreed upon morals concocted by my peers, or do I abide by the established, arbitrary rules knowing full well they are nothing more than social constructions?

          5) “It all goes back to interconnectedness we’re all the same, worthy of the same love and compassion, our minor physical differences are completely insignificant.”

          How are we all the same? Clearly evolution makes this not true at all.

          • Roselie

            I have posted my reply in a new comment since it was too long and it would be too difficult to read it in such a narrow space

        • Anonymous

          The Old Testament may not make sense if it is not read within the context of the entire Bible. God demonstrates the entire definition of love which is grace and mercy but also justice. The words of the Bible were not faxed down from the sky, as you said, but they were inspired by God. Men who followed God were inspired by him to write about truth through history. Who created brains and hearts? Who invented morals? How could compassion just evolve?

  • Flsseaton

    Fabulous post! I identified with quite a bit of it and found myself nodding along while reading. I’m dipping my toes in the lake of vegan due to health reasons (IBS-C sufferer). What I truly love about how Gena and JL write about veganism is the emphasis on the personal journey. I’ve given myself permission to take baby steps and part of the strategy is to educate husband and son along the way. Thank you to both ladies for writing and posting this. I foresee it being printed and used at a later date during a family meeting. 🙂

    • Susan, baby steps have been key for me. I went vegetarian for an animal but I went vegan for diet (go figure) but has I read and learned more I found that I was making “vegan” decisions that had nothing to do with what I was putting in my mouth.

  • What a wonderful post! Thanks Gena and JL, such an honor to have Gena do a guest post! I initially started my path to veganism for health reasons, but went 100% and became passionate about the ethics as well finding I didn’t miss animal products at all and knowing my diet was not supporting cruelty just sat so much better with me.

  • Wonderful post! Animal rights is a big reason why I became a vegan, yet I ALWAYS downplay that when talking about my diet to others to not be preachy, off-putting, pretentious, etc. In my experience, if you support animal rights, people often see you as naive, sentimental, or silly for caring. I hate that! This post is none of those things; it is logical and compassionate. Thanks for having the courage to share! And I love your point about how it’s a journey for everyone. It IS, including myself. I’m new to veganism, and I still wear/own leather and wool, though that may change as I continue to learn more about these issues. Thanks to you both!

    • Kelsey, this is one of the (many) reasons I love Gena’s post. She is equipping me to talk more honestly with friends and family about the ethics of veganism.

  • This is such a wonderful and well-written post! I am a vegetarian, verging on vegan, but am very confused about where I stand. I too thought I had to be some life-long animal lover to care about their treatment, but this post has opened my eyes to a new reality. Thank you so so much.

  • Wonderful post, Gena. I too went vegan for my health, but when I finally allowed myself to feel compassion, I managed to stay vegan (I’d failed many times before). I’ll definitely bookmark this one!

  • LauraC

    Great argument, I like it. I’m with the other readers asking about animal products (eggs, dairy) raised on family farms. I do realize that it’s easy to believe your eggs come from a utopian farm when it’s not at all the case, but I’m wondering about the cases where that farm is indeed what we’d all like to imagine it is. This isn’t abstract for me at all- there’s a student in my program who is beginning to sell eggs and raw goat milk from animals she is raising. I do understand how complete veganism is a more morally clear stance and might make a stronger statement, but I’m always a fan of creating an example through taking ethical decisions seriously and realistically, determining what exactly we believe is OK vs not, and then mapping that out onto the real world, however messy. I don’t believe clams are sentient in at all the same way as cows or chickens, and I really doubt they can suffer. Neurologically they might be able to feel a bit of physical pain. In my own ethics I consider both animal pain and suffering and I consider environmental impact, which I feel in the same visceral emotional way as animal suffering. Environmental degradation is also an enormous cause of suffering to animals and human alike and in the long term may be the biggest determinant of animal welfare or even existence. That means that I would consider it ethically better to eat clams I had dug from the beach myself than to eat non-organic foods shipped from Asia or wood products grown on stripped rainforest land. This way of thinking is certainly more difficult to act on as there are ethical considerations in literally every product, food and not, that we buy. But it leads to general priorities on local, plant-based, and organic products, as much as I can. I’m certainly not perfect or consistent in these decisions- far from it- but they form my moral compass. The best argument against seafood in my moral system is that of environmental assault on the oceans- some awful practices of the fishing industry, for example, that kill enormous numbers of species as a byproduct of their practices (eg info in Eating Animals).

    • LauraC

      PS- I think an equally compelling but really orthogonal argument can be made for veganism from the premise of acting to preserve the environment and to address world hunger (or act for social justice, even). Factory farming is one of the most significant causes of global warming, and one of the most wasteful, energy-intensive ways to produce a given number of calories for human consumption (and distribute them unequally). So for those who aren’t persuaded by animal sentience (or persuaded OF animals sentience), it’s an alternative place to start!

      • This could be an interesting argument. Develop it further.

        • LauraC

          Hi cynic,
          Well, it’s been a while since I was in a philosophy class, so I’ll give you my basic idea and perhaps you can develop it further or clean it up, as I can see you’re a pro at formal argument:

          1. The vast majority of animal products produced for consumption (in the developed world) are produced on factory farms
          2. Factory farms use approximately 16 calories of plant food to raise 1 calorie of meat (beef for this figure) and raises the cost of those calories
          3. Factory farms are a primary cause of antibiotic resistance, water pollution, global warming, and land use. “Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions” (according to PETA- based on report from Al Gore’s Live Earth organization). also “A German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan’s diet.” ; “It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein” ; “A totally vegan diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day, while a typical meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day.”; “”Studies have shown that [animal waste] lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”” (see PETA- not objective, but I believe the stats are accurate: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources.aspx)
          4. Purchasing animal products supports the continuation of 2-3
          5. (In general), food will be distributed less equitably when its cost (to the consumer) is higher
          6. (from 1, 2, 4, & 5): Abstaining from the purchase of animal products will increase the number of calories available for people to eat and decrease inequality of their distribution
          7. (from 1, 3, & 4): Abstaining from the purchase of animal products will lessen environmental assault and decrease pollution of land, air, and sky
          8. (from 1, 4, & 3): Abstaining from the purchase of animal products will help maintain the efficacy of antibiotic medicine and decrease airborne chemicals that cause illness (and help with health in other ways too- not included in premises)
          9. Summary: Going vegan has a positive net impact on human health, the environment, and accessibility of food in the developing world

          also, regarding seafood: “most forms of commercial fishing are depleting the world’s supplies of aquatic life, pushing many species close to extinction. With one in six people on the Earth depending on fish and other sea life as primary sources of protein, this practice is further threatening the food security of people in the so-called “Third World.”” (http://www.angelfire.com/il2/figskating/issues/vegreasonssocial.html)

          • Very interesting facts, Laura. While the only “ought” we may be able to deduce from these is a sort of utilitarian one (i.e. “Because the earth’s finite water resources are depleting, if we want our species to survive the next millenia, then we ought to therefore adopt vegan lifestyles as they require less of our limited water supply.”, etc), I still find the facts incredibly interesting nevertheless.

            I actually was a vegetarian for a year (all of 2007). I didn’t decide to do it for ethical reasons, but rather to see how the change in diet affected my body. It was surprising. While I still did take in animal products (milk and cheese), I did feel much better a few months after my first week (which felt like hell, I will admit). Everything from losing a healthy amount of weight, to my skin clearing up, to bowel movements being easier, to realizing how much money I’d saved by avoiding drive-thru- it all made the meat-free lifestyle very pleasant.

            Though I must be cautious to avoid mistakenly assuming that correlation implies causation, I feel that, should studies show my new diet was the cause of these consequential occurences, I would not be honest with myself if I denied them and instead explained them away as being due to some other external factor I had not taken into account (2007 was a fairly good year overall for me).

            One question I would like to ask others: Have any of you who have adopted a vegetarian diet noticed a considerable change in skin color? Before, I had a great Orange County tan, but about 2 months into the new diet I started to notice a yellowing setting in. At about 5 months I had all but lost the great tan I once had, and by the time 10 months came around I had an all new skin color- a dimmish yellow which wasn’t terrible but was, I’ll admit, disappointing. Once this occured, I soon after began to visit the beach more often, quickly regaining normal skin color; at 1 year, I ended the diet (being exactly 365 days to the day) and had a turkey dinner with family.

        • LauraC

          I replied but my comment went into moderation… maybe I used a word that got flagged for some reason? not sure.

          • Hi Laura! I approved the post. The Disqus system holds comments with links to help me keep spam off the blog. It’s all good! 🙂

    • The problem with eggs – even if hens are well-loved and cared for – is that the whole system requires the death of male chicks. I do sometimes eat eggs from a friend of mine who keeps chickens. Her hens have names and run to greet her every morning. These eggs are as ethically sourced as any I can think of…but she has 20 hens and 1 rooster. Realistically, I have to accept that this is impossible unless male chicks are culled.

      Same with dairy. How many bulls are there for every dairy cow?

      Even “ethically sourced” eggs and dairy are problematic.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful! Thank you for lending some clarity to this issue.

  • what a beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes. Gena you are amazing!
    My journey, like Gena’s, started off for mostly health reasons but I was always a huge animal lover and wanted to do something about maltreatment. As I learned more about the animal rights aspect to it, I knew that I would never be able to ‘go back’ from then on. I ‘made the connection’ overtime and it is one of the most sure decisions I have ever made in my life. I completely underestimated how much my compassion- for myself, others and animals- would grow during this short 2 years time I have been a vegan. I lived for over 10 years hating myself with an eating disorder and I now feel fillled with so much love which has been very surprising to me.

  • Hannah

    Hi, Im happy to offer a little on my thoughts on eggs if you’re interested…
    On a basic level, as a vegan I believe that humans have no right to take from animals what is theirs. As you point out, I am lucky enough to live in a society where I do not need animal products, I have the knowledge to get adequate nutrition and the shops to provide the vary necessary. Therefore, whether it is eggs that belong to chickens, honey to bees, cow milk to baby cows, it is not my place to “steal” it (emotive wording I know but that is what I think it is)
    Next up would be that chickens are reared and kept for their eggs and although they have a naturally very long life span, most farms consider them “spent” after two years as the intense forced egg production weakens them so considerably. Ultimately the chicken will be killed once it is no longer useful making someone who eats eggs just as culpable for killing chickens as someone who eats chicken. No matter how “happy” its life, chances are it will not come to a natural end.
    We must also consider the “by-products” of laying hens – male chicks. To the farmers these are of no value, they wont lay eggs and make profit in the future and they are often ground up for animal feed or left in bin bags to die. The cruelty is wide-reaching.
    These are just a few of my thoughts. I hope you don’t find me aggressive, thats not how its meant but I feel passionately and that so etimes makes me inarticulate.
    May I direct anyone interested to http://www.viva.org.uk as the are running a campaign and expose of the egg industry as Easter approaches and eggs are traditionally eaten. There are some nasty pictures.
    Also I would HIGHLY recommend ‘The Face on your Plate’ by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and ‘Vegan Freak’ by Bob and Jenna Torres

    • It is posts like these that I do not enjoy. Citation of events, but with no clear, straight-forward conclusion. Aside from referring to the loss of chicken life, what is your post about? That we ought not to eat animals?

      • Hannahpbowen

        Oops sorry. This was meant to be posted in response to Katie (NourishingFlourishing) who asked “I see eggs as a grey area…would love to hear any objections if anyone has any”. But cos i didn’t manage to post it as a reply, it does look a bit like a random ramble. However, it also wasn’t really intended to make a “conclusion” , simply to raise the egg issues that Katie was curious about. Sorry for confusion/annoyance.

  • Roselie

    *this is in reply to a comment from cynic and explores many issues but all of them apply to veganism too*

    To Cynic

    Keep in mind please that I wrote as little as possible because otherwise I ‘ d write pages to even attempt to do justice to these issues and also english isn’t my first language (meaning if you answer back I would thank you if you used a little more common expressions-I was lost in a few cases) nevertheless I ‘ll write back.

    1)

    a) The reason I wrote this argument is that most people who follow this religion do it because they believe it’s the most moral one but many parts of the old testament show a god that is completely different from the kind and loving one told about in the new testament.Yes you might say now that what we call him may not be accurate. But still they’re different. So in my opinion you choose what to follow.This I write for you to understand why I wrote it. To answer your questions, both of these presumptions is risky because of the lack of evidense about god,whether he exists and his intentions. All we have right now is our common sense, and our moral compass to decide what is right and wrong. There are teachings (religious and non) but in the end they just offer suggestions of how to live.

    b) Indeed innocent being used as a certainty in this case would be wrong for the reasons you stated. But I didn’t state it as certainty but as a lack of evidense as to how could entire nations be judged as one, and not as individuals. In short I believe we have only “innocent until proven guilty” to go with for now and might I add that I think it’s worse to punish an innocent than not punish someone guilty. Lastly it’s just as unfounded to believe that they were guilty (or to believe anything actually) without evidence.

    2) a)I’d appreciate it if you would expand more on what you meant. What do you mean by contrived?And what do you mean by the rest? If it’s valid to not use our hearts and brains what exactly are we making desicions with?and what’s your point by saying this? even if what I said is weak?

    b)First of all am an atheist agnostic. That is all things heaven and hell and judgement and what supposed deities want from us are not things that have anything to do with what I believe, how I live my life or how I treat others. I want to live my life as compassionately as possible and to work on being the best possible me not because I want to gain something, or because my god wants me to, or out of fear or any of the reasons that many relgious people cite as their primary reasons. I do it because I want to. I believe in love, compassion, kindness,empathy and all those things that are the reasons this life is worth living for. I want to help people as much as I can and I want to try to be a better person and I don’t care if what I do will be rewarded in an afterlife (indeed I think it’s selfish to do it only for that). Yes it might all end in the grave. But that won’t make what I ‘ve done worthless. Did all those people who’ve died so that we can be free and live a decent life died in vain? Did all those who sacrifised themselves or gave from the little money they had to the poor and suffering or were ridiculed from trying to change the status quo to be a more free and just nation and did not live to see the day their efforts gave results lived(and died) in vain? No they didn’t. I disagree completely with what you said about not making a difference. We tend to think in numbers and how indidivuals aren’t doing much comparably but that is misleading. One person’s actions might change another’s life. Or nations. So yes there couldn’t be a greater difference between Hitler and Ghanti. Their actions are etched in other people’s lives (literally in Hitler’s case). And don’t forget there’s also . the matter of integrity of acting in one’s values. If you believe that we shouldn’t condone unnecessary murder, whether or not you’ll go in heaven for stoping it or whether there’s someone to judge you for what you deside to do is irrelevant.It’s your actions that matter.

    3) Interesting. Are you talking about universal change, as in every single person in this world could change completely and we can tranfrom it into a perfect utopia? Cause I doubt you’ll find even the most idealist of us to be that unrealistic. Certainly I am not talking about universal change. There will always be people who care only about themselves (and all the consequenses that arise from that) and only laws will make them not hurt others (and they too aften fail as we know). But we can can change even little by little so that the majority of people will be the best they can, for themselves and for others. Think about this if you were born a few hundred years ago, would you believe that it would be possible that there would be a time where black people would be considered equals and not disposable creatures, women would live for themselves and not be a man’s (or father’s) property, children would choose their own paths in life, on many countries queer people would start to have a voice and be considered equals, slavery would be abolished, there would be anti-discriminatory laws that protect disabled folk and others,we could live every lifestyle we want (freely most of the time), there would be laws against torturing animals, a few regulations in farm factories that keep coming, that there would be people who started civil rights, workers, vegan revolutions???that we would have (relatively) peace and freedom, food on our table, and education (most of us)to begin to think for ourselves and try to make our world and better place? It’s mindblowing what we’ve mangaged!! If we despair now or think there’s nothing to be done then what should all those people say? If they threw the towel and done nothing we wouldn’t have come so far. And while we still have a long way to go and we are doing baby steps we can get there. We WILL get there. And might I add to that that it wasn’t cynics who made the revolutions. While they offer valuable insight and pose chalenging questions that need to be answered, they do nothing, the don’t act or fight. It is idealists, who are changing the world, believers of love and anything that’s good, it’s people who try their best without looking for rewards, who often don’t live to see what they managed, are not recognised until after the die and they die too often tortured while fighting for their vision.
    In short it’s people who actually act on what they believe. And the most important thing of all? we don’t need to do grand actions to do our part.I used these examples to show you how we got this far but it’s not necessary. Personal is political and we vote with our money. Every single and simple thing we do we added up it a LOT. Couple that with a few other’s. That’s how you get a revolution.

    4) As I wrote above I disagree completely with the notion that we only do good because we believe in god. Not only that is false logically, (there are many who believe in god but cause others pain and misery if not downright hurting them as evidenced by the many examples of christians who hurt others in the name of their god, who by the way send his son to teach us love and not hurt others-this part always baffles me) but is insulting to all those of every religion and non religion whose primary if not only reason of helping others is because they want to lessen other’s pain and misery. Whether god(s) exist is irrelevant to whether or not we should condone unnesessary suffering. And lacking a specific and unquestionable set of quidelines for ethics doesn’t mean we can’t use our own hearts and brains to understand and at least attempt to live as compassionately as possible.

    About the purpose, what exactly do you mean? That you need someone to do their biding and follow their instructions? Isn’t simply living your life to the fullest while helping others do the same and protecting the innocents purpose enough for you? Why would we care (or want) to have someone tell us what to do? Some might think if their lives don’t have a purpose and set of quidelines to force them to live without causing suffering so they feel free to do whatever they want. I beg to differ. Whatever might be up there is none of my business and nor is what might happen after I die. What matters is what I do now, in this life, with the choices I make each second, the lives I can change for the best or for the worst, and the trail I’ll have left behind when I hit the dust.

    This part confused me a little.”Do I live for self, flouting the socially agreed upon morals concocted by my peers, or do I abide by the established, arbitrary rules knowing full well they are nothing more than social constructions?” Which are which ? religious rules, laws, ethics like the ones I ‘m talking about? Are you saying perhaps that there is a choice between being selfish and live without a care for others or trying to be selfless and help others regardless of whether or not this will be recognised by anyone? Cause if you are saying this then I my answer is obvious. Attempting to live selflessly to the best of our abilities (which are far greater than we think) is the path that has the most integrity, self worth and growth than any other.It’s a read less traveled for sure. But choosing this path of love and kindness will transform you and the world around you. No ,it won’t become a utopia and neither will we become perfect beings with no flaws who make no mistakes, far from it. But if only judging by how far the world has come because of the efforts and/or sacrifices of those relatively few people who make the desicion to TRY to make the world a better place for them and for us there’s hope we can make it.

    5) You mean that your whole value resides in how far you ‘ve come biologically? Meaning what if you were born thousands of years ago were we weren’t that much different from animals it would be ok for someone to kill you? In that case would you consider someone who is more evolved than someone else (or a genius e.t.c.) to be more worthy of living than someone else who is not than smart? Or if another species were to show up in earth more avolved it would be ok for them to kill us? Serisously? That’s the only reason someone would be allowed to live their lives as they see fit? Genes? What about their sentience, personalities,dreams? If someone were to kill you now you’d say no, come on we’re both evolved so you shouldn’t touch me? Not I want to live my live I want to be happy in peace? and what about disabled people? Many consider them disfunctional, faulty, worthless (eek). Do they make your list of pure bloods or do we leave them to die? I find your notion deeply troubling. More than being speciesist, it reduces us into mere things, robot like creatures who have no sentience nor feelings, whose worth is in genes, and comes from mere luck, being born in the lucky few who make your list. It is our sentience,our personalities and most importantly our choices that define who we are. And might I add to this that this notion you believe in has been widely used (though by no means I am accusing you of supporting it) to demean groups and minorities, women as being less evolved than men so they are being used by them, queers as disfunctional and so second class people, blacks than as being less than in everything by people who were too blind to see that we are all the same and physical differences as well as genes have no importance at all?

    And now I have a question. What did you mean by this will be fun? You thought I was someone who just wrote down a few il-considered things and you ‘d show me the way by picking apart what I wrote?Actually, in a way I have to thank you for giving me the chance to write back and explain properly what I meant since at first I was too tired to write a commet(a proper one would take long) but was too important to pass by.

    Peace,
    Roselie

    (it might take me a while to anwer back if you write a reply, I’ve been up all night and I need to sleep)

    • “The reason I wrote this argument is that most people who follow this religion do it because they believe it’s the most moral one but many parts of the old testament show a god that is completely different from the kind and loving one told about in the new testament.Yes you might say now that what we call him may not be accurate. But still they’re different.”

      Agreed.

      “So in my opinion you choose what to follow…All we have right now is our common sense, and our moral compass to decide what is right and wrong.”

      Agreed. And they vary. One person’s moral compass may say that the moral thing to do is exterminate millions of Jews.


      “There are teachings (religious and non) but in the end they just offer suggestions of how to live.”

      Agreed. And that’s what ethics is: competing conceptions of The Good.

      “Indeed innocent being used as a certainty in this case would be wrong for the reasons you
      stated. But I didn’t state it as certainty but as a lack of evidense as to how could entire nations be judged as one, and not as individuals.”

      From what I’ve studied, theologians refer to God’s morally perfect character in situations like these. God, being the Anselmian “that which nothing greater can be conceived”, by definition, has to be maximally good, maximally powerful, maximally knowing, etc., else (they conclude) It/He/God would not be worthy of worship. Since it would be inconsistent for a morally perfect being to unjustly allow harm to befall a person, they conclude that no harm has ever fallen upon someone for which God had no morally sufficient reasons for permitting.

      Admittedly, this puts the objection at a standstill- how in the world are we going to demonstrate that God did not have morally sufficient reasons to permit the pain/death of “the lost” (as theologians call them)?

      “In short I believe we have only “innocent until proven guilty” to go with for now and might I add that I think it’s worse to punish an innocent than not punish someone guilty. Lastly it’s just as unfounded to believe that they were guilty (or to believe anything actually) without evidence.”

      Mine is the safe position, though. My positions acknowledges that if God exists, then It/He/God would likely have morally sufficient reasons for the acts of Judgment It/He/God chooses to execute (again, because of Anselm’s ontological definition).

      While I agree with you that “innocent until proven guilty” is a good precept in a Democracy, when it comes to ethics, it is nothing but an a priori leaning one has.


      “I’d appreciate it if you would expand more on what you meant. What do you mean by contrived? And what do you mean by the rest? If it’s valid to not use our hearts and brains what exactly are we making desicions with?and what’s your point by saying this? even if what I said is weak?”

      A) Google defines “contrived” as:

      1) Deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously.
      2) Giving a sense of artificiality.”

      I think that’s a good definition. In this sense, I mean that the ethics you’re sharing with us are not really grounded in reality (say, in the way mathematical truths are), but are instead creations of your own. Why ought I take serious the ethical knowledge of others if they’re just creating it themselves? Why ought I trust someone else’s moral judgments over my own?

      B) I’m not suggesting it’s “valid to not use our hearts and brains” (I don’t see how you even mistook me for saying this), I’m saying that because the position is contrived (made up, artificial, etc), it’s not real. It’s just something you’re saying. A suggestion, really. This necessarily entails its reverse being equally as valid since if it (yours) is neither true nor false, then its opposite is also neither true nor false. You can say to me, “We ought to love people.”, but if it is only a suggestion, having no real relation in the same way mathematics does, then the person who says to me, “We ought to hate and enslave.” is just as right as you are. It makes no difference.

      Both of you are neither right nor wrong. There is only opinion. Make sense?


      “First of all am an atheist agnostic. That is all things heaven and hell and judgement and what supposed deities want from us are not things that have anything to do with what I believe, how I live my life or how I treat others. I want to live my life as compassionately as possible and to work on being the best possible me not because I want to gain something, or because my god wants me to, or out of fear or any of the reasons that many relgious people cite as their primary reasons.”

      Noble. Insignificant and ethically neutral, but, noble (relatively).


      “I do it because I want to. I believe in love, compassion, kindness,empathy and all those things that are the reasons this life is worth living for.”

      …to you. To Adolf Hitler, power, the advancement of human evolution, and the success of a certain race were what made life worth living to him.

      Calling your beliefs things which “are the reasons this life is worth living for” is a naive thing to do. People clearly disagree with what makes life worth living.


      “I want to help people as much as I can and I want to try to be a better person and I don’t care if what I do will be rewarded in an afterlife (indeed I think it’s selfish to do it only for that).”

      I have a question. Maybe this example will better illustrate the point I’m making here.

      When you were in school, did you ever have a lot of homework? Usually we all have at one time or another. Alright, now was there ever a time when you had a lot of homework (say, a project or 10 page essay) and when the day came for you to turn in your homework, you were excited? You invested so many hours worth of your time studying, writing, and doing all of the required work that finally you see the due date as a time of reward. You see it as your prize- you get the good grade.

      Now, suppose the day the assignment is due, your teacher tells the class the work is not going to be graded. She says the assignment was just to keep you busy, and so she collects the essays from everyone and dumps them in the trash.

      Imagine how this would make you feel. You’ve completed the work, you’ve done your due diligence, you think it’s one of the best essays you’ve ever written, you’re looking forward to your good grade- but then you find out it all was for nothing. Be honest with yourself. Would you say,

      “I want to write essays as much as I can…I don’t care if what I do won’t be rewarded with a grade (indeed I think it’s selfish to do it only for that).” ?

      Of course not. All that time you spent working toward achieving your goal, only to find out it made no difference at all… You could have just as easily not written the essay and it would have made no real difference whatever.

      Much in the same way are our lives. On atheism, our lives are like the homework assignment. We spend decades upon decades doing the work (we’re “good”, “loving”, “caring”, etc)- but what does it all add up to?

      It adds up to nothing.

      We die and it is all for nothing. We neither benefit nor are punished for how we live. You may say, “But your life could have positively affected the lives of others.”– and you’d be right. But what is the significance of doing that?

      If ultimately every person I positively affect shares my same fate, what ultimate difference will it have made whether I lived as a Mother Teresa or a Stalin? Things will continue for a short while, our species will inevitably die out, the earth will eventually be burnt to a crisp because of the expansion of our sun, our galaxy will die out, and eventually our entire universe will die off as it goes through its heat death.

      There will be nothing but the debris of a lifeless universe in ruins, expanding forever into nothingness, affecting nobody. Having existed for nobody.

      This isn’t science fiction. This is reality. This will happen.

      Our lives we live now are nothing but the early introductory chapters to that story. We can be grateful we won’t be there to experience it in the end, but let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that as long as we push these unpleasant realities out of our minds, things will be changed. They aren’t. They won’t be.


      “Yes it might all end in the grave. But that won’t make what I ‘ve done worthless.”

      It most certainly will.


      “Did all those people who’ve died so that we can be free and live a decent life died in vain? Did all those who sacrifised themselves or gave from the little money they had to the poor and suffering or were ridiculed from trying to change the status quo to be a more free and just nation and did not live to see the day their efforts gave results lived(and died) in vain? No they didn’t.”

      Yes, they did. If this is the only life we live, all of those people did the stupidest thing possible, namely, giving up the only life they have for someone else. If there is nothing but this life to live, it is stupid to do anything other than live out of pure self-interest.


      “I disagree completely with what you said about not making a difference. We tend to think in numbers and how indidivuals aren’t doing much comparably but that is misleading. One person’s actions might change another’s life. Or nations. So yes there couldn’t be a greater difference between Hitler and Ghanti.Their actions are etched in other people’s lives (literally in Hitler’s case).”

      Right, and this shows a relative purpose or significance, not an ultimate one. When the human species is extinct, to whom will it matter that Hitler exterminated millions? There is nobody.


      “And don’t forget there’s also the matter of integrity of acting in one’s values. If you believe that we shouldn’t condone unnecessary murder, whether or not you’ll go in heaven for stoping it or whether there’s someone to judge you for what you deside to do is irrelevant. It’s your actions that matter.”

      Please rephrase this as its meaning is not apparent. It has the appearance of a hypothetical proposition but I can only make out the antecedent.


      “Interesting. Are you talking about universal change, as in every single person in this world could change completely and we can tranfrom it into a perfect utopia?”

      No. I’m saying the statement had good intentions but is, again, made up. It’s artificial, and not real in the same way maths is.


      “And while we still have a long way to go and we are doing baby steps we can get there. We WILL get there. And might I add to that that it wasn’t cynics who made the revolutions. While they offer valuable insight and pose chalenging questions that need to be answered, they do nothing, the don’t act or fight.”

      Of the two, the cynic is likelier to think about the revolution more (and more critically) and conclude the insignificance makes it not worth partaking in- opposed to the impulsive idealist who jumps to action because he lacks his wits.

      Think about your military. If any group is likely to bring about a revolution, it is a military. Violence changes things. Now, I don’t know if you’re a US citizen, but I am and I can say that the majority of soldiers I’ve met are not the introspective, critical thinkers you may like to posture them as. In reality, most of them have been barely educated, carnal, future-less rubes who serve because they have no other option (though, admittedly, “patriotism” is often cited afterward- most of them will confuse newly-learned latin mottos, green t-shirts and war stories with being a “patriot”). Hardly the bright revolutionary idealists that are needed, soldiers instead glorify stupidity, blind allegiance (with especially stupid phrases like, “You may not like the war, but you gotta support the troops!”– if the troops didn’t have the wherewithal to object to war, they neither get my respect or adoration), and the inability to value one’s own autonomy. In my opinion, it is these factors which make them expendable. And while it may be harsh to say they deserve the pointless deaths they have, I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say their “sacrifices” are significant.

      The only nobility the death of a soldier has is from the consequent weeding of our gene pool that naturally follows it.


      “It is idealists, who are changing the world, believers of love and anything that’s good, it’s people who try their best without looking for rewards, who often don’t live to see what they managed, are not recognised until after the die and they die too often tortured while fighting for their vision. In short it’s people who actually act on what they believe. And the most important
      thing of all? we don’t need to do grand actions to do our part.I used these examples to show you how we got this far but it’s not necessary. Personal is political and we vote with our money. Every single and simple thing we do we added up it a LOT. Couple that with a few other’s. That’s how you get a revolution.”

      Less rhetoric, more reason, please.

      “As I wrote above I disagree completely with the notion that we only do good because we believe in god.”

      Did you even read what I wrote? How did you miss my point so gloriously?

      Quote:

      “As unpleasant as this may sound, a lot of these issues (and ethics in general) boil down to the question of God. And not merely the shallow disbelief in the existence of God, but knowing the fact of the matter on truth of the statement, “Does God exist?” If God exists, then you would be able to build a convincing case for the ethics of animal/animal byproduct consumption because there would be a purpose behind animal/human existence.

      It’s not the mere belief in God that permits us to behave morally, it is the existence of God which does. Surely people can behave in ways we would call “moral” and not believe in God. My objection here is much deeper than I think you realize.

      I’m not saying we need to believe in God to be moral- I’m saying God needs to exist in order for us to be moral.

      If God doesn’t exist, humans are only another species of animal on earth. We’re different from other animals, no doubt, but are existentially no more valuable than earthworms.
      If God does exist, however, and if God created man, then man may be more special (the Judaeo-Christian claim that man is made from God’s image, for example).

      In the animal kingdom, there is no moral dimension to behavior:
      When a lion forcibly copulates with a lioness, he forcibly copulates with her, but he doesn’t “rape” her.
      When a seagull takes a fish from another seagull, it takes the fish, but it doesn’t “steal” the fish.

      These acts have no moral dimension to them because they are neither forbidden nor permitted in the animal kingdom. They just are. And if humans are just another species, then why would be so special as to have our behaviour be any more meaningful than theirs?


      “Not only that is false logically, (there are many who believe in god but cause others pain and misery if not downright hurting them as evidenced by the many examples of christians who hurt others in the name of their god, who by the way send his son to teach us love and not hurt others-this part always baffles me) but is insulting to all those of every religion and non religion whose primary if not only reason of helping others is because they want to lessen other’s pain and misery.”

      If it’s false then give an argument. Citing examples of non believers giving aid is not an argument. Understand my argument and critique it.

      “Whether god(s) exist is irrelevant to whether or not we should condone unnesessary suffering.”

      No, it isn’t. The existence of God changes the worth of humanity.
      If God doesn’t exist, man has no purpose. He is an animal, existentially no different from any other.
      If God does exist, and if God created man, then man may have a purpose for his existence.

      If we have no purpose, it is senseless to talk about what we ought or ought not to condone.
      If we have a purpose, it is meaningful to discuss what we ought and ought not to condone.


      “And lacking a specific and unquestionable set of quidelines for ethics doesn’t mean we can’t use our own hearts and brains to understand and at least attempt to live as compassionately as possible. “

      Not saying you can’t. Only that it is artificial.


      “About the purpose, what exactly do you mean? That you need someone to do their biding and follow their instructions? Isn’t simply living your life to the fullest while helping others do the same and protecting the innocents purpose enough for you?”

      It’s not “for me”. It’s for reality. And no, it is not enough.

      “Why would we care (or want) to have someone tell us what to do?”

      It’s not caring/wanting someone else to tell us what to do. It has to do with the ontology of morality.

      “Some might think if their lives don’t have a purpose and set of quidelines to force them to live without causing suffering so they feel free to do whatever they want. I beg to differ.”

      Beg all you want. The condition of man is directly related to his ethical obligations.

      As Richard Taylor said,

      “A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone.”


      “Whatever might be up there is none of my business and nor is what might happen after I die.”

      But what if it was your business?


      “What matters is what I do now, in this life, with the choices I make each second, the lives I can change for the best or for the worst, and the trail I’ll have left behind when I hit the dust.”

      A poeticism is not an argument.


      “This part confused me a little.”Do I live for self, flouting the socially agreed upon morals concocted by my peers, or do I abide by the established, arbitrary rules knowing full well they are nothing more than social constructions?” Which are which ? religious rules, laws, ethics like the ones I ‘m talking about? Are you saying perhaps that there is a choice between being selfish and live without a care for others or trying to be selfless and help others regardless of whether or not this will be recognised by anyone? Cause if you are saying this then I my answer is obvious.”

      I was saying that human behaviour ruled by arbitrary ethical principles is, essentially, behaviour which has no meaning. If I decide to go against an arbitrary ethical rule (say, that it’s wrong to steal), I’m really doing nothing wrong other than doing something you all think is wrong. There isn’t any real moral dimension to it- you just don’t like it. This reduces ethics down to personal taste, like choosing between chocolate or vanilla.

      “Attempting to live selflessly to the best of our abilities (which are far greater than we think) is the path that has the most integrity, self worth and growth than any other.”

      Unjustified, unprovable, arbitrary claim is unjustified.


      “It’s a read less traveled for sure. But choosing this path of love and kindness will transform you
      and the world around you. No ,it won’t become a utopia and neither will we become perfect beings with no flaws who make no mistakes, far from it. But if only judging by how far the world has come because of the efforts and/or sacrifices of those relatively few people who make the desicion to TRY to make the world a better place for them and for us there’s hope we can make it.”

      Question: Why ought I care about the welfare of others? Answer the question without aspersions or a distracted tangent, if possible.


      “You mean that your whole value resides in how far you ‘ve come biologically? Meaning what if you were born thousands of years ago were we weren’t that much different from animals it would be ok for someone to kill you?”

      Precisely.


      “In that case would you consider someone who is more evolved than someone else (or a genius e.t.c.) to be more worthy of living than someone else who is not than smart?”

      Yes. Why not? If homo Sapiens are < homo Sapien Sapien, why wouldn’t homo Sapien Sapien Sapien be > homo Sapien Sapien?

      “Or if another species were to show up in earth more avolved it would be ok for them to kill us?”

      Yes. Might makes right in the animal kingdom. The strongest survive. The weak die off. It’s natural selection.

      “Serisously? That’s the only reason someone would be allowed to live their lives as they see fit? Genes? What about their sentience, personalities,dreams?”

      Evolution cares little of these.


      “If someone were to kill you now you’d say no, come on we’re both evolved so you shouldn’t touch me?”

      If someone intends to kill me, and they succeed, they have bested a competitor in their gene pool. My death brings about, theoretically, a stronger species in the end, as the victor of the fight is clearly the stronger of the two of us. His offspring are likelier to succeed in the struggle for life than mine would.


      “Not I want to live my live I want to be happy in peace? and what about disabled people? Many
      consider them disfunctional, faulty, worthless (eek). Do they make your list of pure bloods or do we leave them to die?”

      When did “survival of the fittest” become such a corrupted concept? Do you really think that the politically correct belief that all people are created equal would hold up for a single day in the wild? Of course not. Physically handicapped would die off quickly if they had to live in the wild among predators.


      “I find your notion deeply troubling. More than being speciesist, it reduces us into mere things,
      robot like creatures who have no sentience nor feelings, whose worth is in genes, and comes from mere luck, being born in the lucky few who make your list.”

      To this, I quote Lewis Wolpert,

      “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no good, no evil. Nothing but pointless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every living creature’s sole reason for being.”

      It is not speciest, by the way. If you look at the definition again, specieism is the prejudicial judgment that one’s own species is more valuable than another. My position levels the playing field, saying we’re all (all species) irrelevant.

      “It is our sentience,our personalities and most importantly our choices that define who we are. And might I add to this that this notion you believe in has been widely used (though by no means I am accusing you of supporting it) to demean groups and minorities, women as being less evolved than men so they are being used by them, queers as disfunctional and so second class people, blacks than as being less than in everything by people who were too blind to see that we are all the same and physical differences as well as genes have no importance at all?”

      The subjection of women and lesser races is impossible to condemn meaningfully. All you can do is say you do not like it. You can not demonstrate that it is wrong in the same way a mistaken mathematical equation can be demonstrated to be wrong.


      “And now I have a question. What did you mean by this will be fun? You thought I was someone who just wrote down a few il-considered things and you ‘d show me the way by picking apart what I wrote?”

      No, I meant that the ensuing discussion was likely to be lively and enjoyable (which it has been).


      “Actually, in a way I have to thank you for giving me the chance to write back and explain properly what I meant since at first I was too tired to write a commet(a proper one would take long) but was too important to pass by.”

      You’re welcome.

      • Roselie

        Cynic, I find our discussion extremely interesting. I am unable to reply thoroughly right now, but I will in a few days time. Please check back for my answer if you have the time.( I think I will post it again in a new comment, it’s easier to read like that.)

      • Fiona Young

        I know I’m a bit late, but wanted to add something after reading all of
        Cynic’s comments and the comments of those who replied to Cynic.

        It is an indisputable fact that actions have consequences. It’s also an
        indisputable fact that many beings prefer pleasure over pain and prefer
        to avoid pain. (Some beings don’t have the capacity for this preference,
        but most, if not all, of the animals humans eat prefer pleasure over
        pain and prefer to avoid pain. If pain were preferred to pleasure many
        beings wouldn’t mind dying and wouldn’t make it to an age capable of
        reproduction, so it’s been an evolutionary advantage to prefer pleasure
        over pain in order to stay alive and reproduce.)

        Many humans have a choice about whether or not to cause pain to another
        being, knowing that the other being would rather avoid pain. While it
        may not ultimately matter whether or not we cause pain to others in the
        sense that we will all end up dead anyway, whether or not we cause pain
        absolutely does matter to the being who is the recipient of pain, while
        they are still alive and conscious. Our actions absolutely matter to
        those who are affected by the consequences of our actions. This was
        really my only disagreement with Cynic’s view, which is summed up fairly
        well by his/her quote, “If ultimately every person I positively affect shares my same
        fate, what ultimate difference will it have made whether I lived as a
        Mother Teresa or a Stalin? Things will continue for a short while,
        our species will inevitably die out, the earth will eventually be burnt
        to a crisp because of the expansion of our sun, our galaxy will die out,
        and eventually our entire universe will die off as it goes through its
        heat death.” To say this is to trivialize suffering. It may not seem to
        matter after death, but causing pain matters to the recipient of pain
        while it is alive. For example, any sane human being (including Cynic)
        would prefer a life
        with less pain that resulted in death over a life filled with torture
        that resulted in death.

        So far, morality has nothing to do with what I have said. The only place
        where morality comes into the issue is whether a being who is capable
        of realizing they are causing pain and has the power to stop causing
        pain (most humans have this capacity) chooses to continue or to stop
        causing pain. But “morality” is an idea created by humans, much like
        “good”, “bad”, “should”, and “shouldn’t”. They are all mental constructs
        and can’t be proven. Like Cynic said, other animals don’t think in
        terms of right or wrong, things just are as they are. Humans draw
        circles around events/people/actions and label this one “good” and that
        one “bad”, when really the events/people/actions just exist, simple as
        that. In the end, you can’t prove eating animals or animal products is
        right or wrong. But you can prove that the action of eating meat has a
        consequence: pain to other beings. And you can also prove that most
        beings would avoid that pain if they could.

        So, while it’s neither “right” nor “wrong” to choose to eat vegan, I
        choose to do so because I am compelled by a feeling of compassion. I
        know that I wish to avoid pain, so out of compassion I try to avoid
        causing pain to others. Many people throughout history have lessened the
        pain in others lives by acting from a feeling of compassion, and that
        matters to the people whose lives were positively affected. But it’s
        possible and probable that each human experiences the feeling of
        compassion differently, or that some perhaps are capable of only a weak
        feeling of compassion, or none at all. It’s important to not assume that
        those with more compassion are “better” people, or that people who have
        less capacity for compassion are “bad”, or even that compassion is a
        “good” quality. Again, those are mental constructs. We simply have
        different levels of compassion, that motivate us or don’t motivate us to
        live vegan. It’s pointless to be upset with each other for choosing to
        eat vegan or not eat vegan. Neither choice can be proven right or wrong.
        For people who do have a large capacity for compassion (and I guess
        that’s a fairly large percentage of the human population), I encourage
        thinking about and trying a vegan diet/lifestyle. I certainly wouldn’t
        consider it a person’s “fault”, or that they are lesser than I, if they
        didn’t have the level of compassion necessary to desire living vegan.

      • Fiona Young

        I know I’m a bit late, but wanted to add something after reading all of
        Cynic’s comments and the comments of those who replied to Cynic.

        It is an indisputable fact that actions have consequences. It’s also an
        indisputable fact that many beings prefer pleasure over pain and prefer
        to avoid pain. (Some beings don’t have the capacity for this preference,
        but most, if not all, of the animals humans eat prefer pleasure over
        pain and prefer to avoid pain. If pain were preferred to pleasure many
        beings wouldn’t mind dying and wouldn’t make it to an age capable of
        reproduction, so it’s been an evolutionary advantage to prefer pleasure
        over pain in order to stay alive and reproduce.)

        Many humans have a choice about whether or not to cause pain to another
        being, knowing that the other being would rather avoid pain. While it
        may not ultimately matter whether or not we cause pain to others in the
        sense that we will all end up dead anyway, whether or not we cause pain
        absolutely does matter to the being who is the recipient of pain, while
        they are still alive and conscious. Our actions absolutely matter to
        those who are affected by the consequences of our actions. This was
        really my only disagreement with Cynic’s view, which is summed up fairly
        well by his/her quote, “If ultimately every person I positively affect shares my same
        fate, what ultimate difference will it have made whether I lived as a
        Mother Teresa or a Stalin? Things will continue for a short while,
        our species will inevitably die out, the earth will eventually be burnt
        to a crisp because of the expansion of our sun, our galaxy will die out,
        and eventually our entire universe will die off as it goes through its
        heat death.” To say this is to trivialize suffering. It may not seem to
        matter after death, but causing pain matters to the recipient of pain
        while it is alive. For example, any sane human being (including Cynic)
        would prefer a life
        with less pain that resulted in death over a life filled with torture
        that resulted in death.

        So far, morality has nothing to do with what I have said. The only place
        where morality comes into the issue is whether a being who is capable
        of realizing they are causing pain and has the power to stop causing
        pain (most humans have this capacity) chooses to continue or to stop
        causing pain. But “morality” is an idea created by humans, much like
        “good”, “bad”, “should”, and “shouldn’t”. They are all mental constructs
        and can’t be proven. Like Cynic said, other animals don’t think in
        terms of right or wrong, things just are as they are. Humans draw
        circles around events/people/actions and label this one “good” and that
        one “bad”, when really the events/people/actions just exist, simple as
        that. In the end, you can’t prove eating animals or animal products is
        right or wrong. But you can prove that the action of eating meat has a
        consequence: pain to other beings. And you can also prove that most
        beings would avoid that pain if they could.

        So, while it’s neither “right” nor “wrong” to choose to eat vegan, I
        choose to do so because I am compelled by a feeling of compassion. I
        know that I wish to avoid pain, so out of compassion I try to avoid
        causing pain to others. Many people throughout history have lessened the
        pain in others lives by acting from a feeling of compassion, and that
        matters to the people whose lives were positively affected. But it’s
        possible and probable that each human experiences the feeling of
        compassion differently, or that some perhaps are capable of only a weak
        feeling of compassion, or none at all. It’s important to not assume that
        those with more compassion are “better” people, or that people who have
        less capacity for compassion are “bad”, or even that compassion is a
        “good” quality. Again, those are mental constructs. We simply have
        different levels of compassion, that motivate us or don’t motivate us to
        live vegan. It’s pointless to be upset with each other for choosing to
        eat vegan or not eat vegan. Neither choice can be proven right or wrong.
        For people who do have a large capacity for compassion (and I guess
        that’s a fairly large percentage of the human population), I encourage
        thinking about and trying a vegan diet/lifestyle. I certainly wouldn’t
        consider it a person’s “fault”, or that they are lesser than I, if they
        didn’t have the level of compassion necessary to desire living vegan.

  • I’ve been radical for 20 years, when I first became Vegetarian. Thank you Gena and JL for taking me back to my roots. I honestly disengaged myself from these issues a long time ago because it’s so obvious to me that treating animals like objects is horrific. Now I am remembering what it was like to “announce to the world” that I was a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I haven’t thought about it in so long, because becoming Vegan was about me. Selfish me. Thanks for bringing this full circle.

  • Peacocksandmoonshine

    Beautiful. You so eloquently summarized the core of veganism without getting lost in the sensationalism and narrow-mindedness that plagues too many vegan articles. Bookmarking this page for life 🙂
    Thank you Gena

  • Marla

    I am finding ALL the comments fascinating!
    Thank you to everyone who is writing here.I love reading points of views and debates.

    In fact I vote this the most interesting set of blog comments I have seen in a LONG time!
    (many blogs just have readers saying hi or complimenting the blogger’s choice of morning
    oatmeal toppings….which is fine,but not too much stimulation for the brain!) 😉

    • Yes, Marla, I agree! I’m delighted to see so many responses to Gena’s post! I simply can’t get the topic off my mind (and that makes me immensely happy!)

  • I’m reading the responses within the context of religion with particular interest. I am Buddhist and while not all Buddhists are vegan, I have found that being vegan is consistent with my personal Buddhist practice to try my best to do no harm–that is, to help stop suffering. But there are inconsistencies in how I live, outside of diet, that I personally want to work on. Thank you, everyone, for the stimulating comments and conversation!

    • Very beautiful honesty, JL. I can respect that.

  • Recently I wrote a blog entry offering a leftist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, animal rights activism, eco-friendliness, and lifestyle politics in general (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” etc.). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.

    • Please share the link.

      • If you hover over his words “blog entry” you will find the link. (I can’t edit comments so I had to approve the comment as it was posted by Ross)

  • Jane

    Dear Cynic
    You are displaying the classic signs of a Freudian ‘defense mechanism’, identified as INTELLECTUALIZATION , whereby reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and it’s associated emotional stress. Like most people who eat animals, your ‘unconscious conflict’, is that you most likely believe you are a non-violent person and when confronted with Gena’s ideas you feel threatened because on a deeper level you know that eating animals is an act of violence that you are participating in. Your threads are being provoked by your ego as a distraction and defense because you are in conflict about this issue. Please get help.
    Jane

    • Jane,

      Your reasoning employs tell-tale signs of the genetic fallacy- you dismiss the claims I make by attacking (what you think to be) their origin rather than addressing their merit. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, feel free to engage with a thoughtful counter-argument. Otherwise, your criticism is irrelevant.

      Thoughtfully yours,

      Cynic

  • What an excellent post! The animals were at the forefront of my decision to go vegan. I started to learn about these considerations, and like Gena said, I “made the connection.” I continued my research to health and environmental benefits and honestly, I couldn’t think of a reason NOT to try veganism. Once I started down the path, I never looked back and it has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    Bravo ladies!

  • What a beautiful post. For me, vegan eating is *all* about the animals. I sometimes wish that I didn’t like meat…it would make it so much easier! I love the taste of meat. I miss cheese. I don’t think that animal protein is necessarily unhealthy. I just can’t justify eating something that can feel pain and fear. I’m not vegan. There’s still leather in my life and I do eat honey and – sometimes – eggs, but I’m really trying to phase out animal products. I have to admit that I slip up a lot – something that isn’t easy to live with…and that is often met with disappointment by veg*ns and with glee by omnis. It’s interesting that you mention the pets vs food double standard. I actually never even thought much about animal rights until I got my dog. When I realized just how much I loved this animal (and I LOVE him, as fully and as fiercely as I love my human family members), I just couldn’t come to terms with being the cause of another animal’s suffering.

    • Stephanie, I think your perspective is really interesting. You are very clear what being vegan means to you — and that you’re not there. Thanks for jumping in on this!

  • Brit Chick Runs

    This is an AWESOME post. You write so incredibly well Gena, and you’ve just written out perfectly my feelings about the subject. One of the reasons I went vegan was because I fell in love with my own pets – how was my horse any different from a cow? Pigs have been proven to have high intelligence, and in all honesty they’re probably smarter than my own cats…so why would we cause them so much pain?
    SO well said girl!

  • Deb

    Wonderful, wonderful article. And what a phenomenal, thought provoking, consciousness elevating dialogue it has sparked! Thank you!

  • I.G.

    A great article and amazing discussion.

    But something I thought of when Gena shared how uncomfortable it is for people to equate human and animal life, and how we usually don’t even go there, is the possible danger, or unintended consequence, of this argument:

    Yes, we are talking about compassion here so it seems that if we made this connection, we would treat animals more humanely. However, human history is full of violence, both in the past and the present. What if part of our reluctance to accept this connection has to do with the taboo on murder? Could there be a risk that if we made it, as a society, then instead of moving towards compassion, we instead made it more acceptable to kill other human beings just as we kill animals?

  • Lfj208

    There is error with the very assumption that animals feel concepts such as pain, empathy, and love. These are human constructs. I am not doubting that animals are sentient and may indeed “feel”, whatever that may mean, but it is wrong to personify animals in an argument. Animals are not mirrors for humans. Their consciousness is not ours. Veganism points out the distinction we make between farm and pet animals, which I do agree allows harm to some animals and not to others, but aren’t vegans doing just the same thing? They are seeing all animals as humans or pet animals, just personifying animals for their own values.

    I am interested in veganism and the ethical arguments behind it as someone who eats mostly vegetarian. I wonder why people never just simply argue that because humans have the ability to not eat animals is good enough justification? But when it becomes a ethical-political argument I find the structure to just fall apart.

    To the arguments featured here I immediately think: What about the inherent violent logic of nature, the cycle of destruction and rebirth? Sentient animals kill other sentient animals for their very existence. That is not to say violence is acceptable, but to ignore that logic of violence is a bit of a pipe dream and Utopian.

    • Well no one can deny that violence is inherent to life and living: I’m not sure that investing violence with “logic” rings true to me. I don’t think vegans deny that violence exists in natural order: I think we deny that we must partake in it. If we humans say that we’re not going to rape, kill, steal from, and take advantage of each other–and most human beings I know agree that we’re right not to do these things–then it’s equally valid (on the terms I’ve tried to lay out here) to say that we’re also not going to rape, kill, imprison, and take advantage of animals.

      I also think it’s important to be mindful of my language. I did try to emphasize that sentience and human consciousness are not the same things, and if we never have any reason to believe that animal life is anything like ours, I would still argue we shouldn’t destroy it on the grounds of sentience alone.

      I did want to note, though, that animals have been shown to exhibit some of the markings of behavior that we humans find familiar. Why? Because the division we’ve created between animal and human consciousness may actually be less dramatic than we once thought: that’s a fact. If it weren’t–if animals were sentient but still wholly unlike us–I’d still say we should offer them compassion. But is it so wrong to point out ways in which they may experience the set of sensations and cognitive experiences that we humans label “pain and pleasure”–as long as science points us in that very direction? I don’t think so.

    • Adamryan

      “I am interested in veganism and the ethical arguments. I wonder why people never just simply argue that because humans have the ability to not eat animals is good enough justification?”

      Because, as Hume famously said, you can’t derive an ought from an is.

      How things are tells us nothing about how things ought to be. The “ought” requires additional premisses to be justified.

      Example: A rich man happens to live in a town with a damaged community pool. The town has a meeting. Everyone agrees, they want to repair the community pool for the quickly-approaching summer.

      It is well known among the townspeople that the rich man could afford to pay to have the pool repaired out of his own pocket.

      Therefore, they conclude, he ought to pay for the repairs out of his own pocket.

      Their argument goes like this:

      i) The pool repairs cost a lot of money.
      ii) If anyone has the amount of money which the pool repairs will cost, they ought to pay the amount.
      iii) The rich man has the amount of money which pool repairs will cost.

      Therefore, the rich man out to pay for the pool repairs.

      (See? Four premisses we may not have even had to think about!)

      While at first this may seem right, we have to concede that the man has no real obligation to fund the pool repairs.

      There need to be other things taken into considerations (or other premisses, if you will). An example of additional premisses which would make the argument valid could be:

      i) The man decides he ought to fund the pool repairs IFF he says he cares about his community.

      ii) The man says he cares about his community.

      Therefore, the man decides he ought to fund the pool repairs.

      This is just a simple example to show how often the conclusions we make do have an argument behind them- only, the argument we’re employming (often times) is a patently invalid one.

      “But when it becomes a ethical-political argument I find the structure to just fall apart.”

      That’s what makes ethics so impossible to ground. Philosopher William Lane Craig has an interesting article which I recommend, its called The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality. You can read it here.

      It illustrates this frustration perfectly.

      “To the arguments featured here I immediately think: What about the inherent violent logic of nature, the cycle of destruction and rebirth? Sentient animals kill other sentient animals for their very existence. That is not to say violence is acceptable, but to ignore that logic of violence is a bit of a pipe dream and Utopian.”

      Very true. There almost seems to be an additional syllogism behind the vegan mindset:

      i) Eating animals may have been necessary for our species’ survival in the past.

      ii) Our species no longer requires animal consumption to survive.

      iii) We ought to adopt diets which cause the least amount of suffering.

      iv) Animal consumption causes suffering.

      v) If we adopt diets which avoid animal consumption then unnecessary suffering is avoided.

      vi) It is important that we spare the suffering of animals.

      Therefore, since the consumption of animals is no longer a requirement for our species’ survival, and it is important to spare the lives of animals, we ought to adopt other diets which avoid animal consumption.

      This argument is perfectly valid, and follows logically from the premisses.

      Its weakness, however, is that both premiss #3 and #6 beg the question. They are required to make the conclusion follow, but they can’t be proven or demonstrated in the same way the other premisses can.

  • Hannah

    This is amazing! I’m directing everyone to this post. Thanks so much, Gena!

  • I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I am on the ‘cusp’ of both. A lot of time I don’t eat meat just because I don’t feel the ‘need’ to. I also have a big problem with dairy production and the life of a dairy cow is a most unpleasant one. So, it’s soy marg and soy yoghurt for me, or at least non-cow dairy. I’m a runner and triathlete too so I have the odd race report, training tip, kit review and vegan recipe that might interest you. All the best, KG.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kooky Girl. I’ll check out your site!

  • what great information! So VERY true.. Too many people don’t understand the ethics of veganism!

  • SarahBR

    Great post, especially to share with others who may wonder why the heck I believe what I do. This post was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak (yikes, such violent language!). I made the decision to finally take the plunge and become vegan! I’ve been vegetarian for years but couldn’t manage to go all the way. But I’m finally sick of living with my own ethical hypocrisy and I’m ready to give the vegan thing a try. I’m only on day two, but so far so good! Thanks for the post and I look forward to keeping up with this blog as I try to figure out how to be the best vegan I can be.

    A related question, for any who may have an answer: What’s the deal with honey? I understand not wanting to eat if from a we-shouldn’t-use-animals-for-our-purposes argument, but is it actually cruel? it seems like if bees are able to live happily as they normally would and we take honey that is surplus, then it’s not hurting anything. But maybe I’m not understanding the issue. I’m new at this, and would appreciate any help understanding this issue – thanks!

    • Sarah, congratulations on your decision to go vegan! Just remember that it really isn’t complicated. You can eat a huge range of foods (my diet has such a wider variety of food now that I AM vegan!) Be sure to ask questions!

      As for honey. Check out this article from Peta.org on honey: http://www.peta.org/issues/Animals-Used-for-Food/honey-from-factory-farmed-bees.aspx As for me, I can tell you that I do my best to avoid honey but have found it’s the one thing I most often unknowingly eat. For me, it’s a lesson to read labels even more carefully.

  • Pingback: Unsurpassed()

  • Pingback: VeganMoFo 11: AR Activism + Tuesday = Lunch (Black-Eyed Peas over Cabbage Salad)()

  • Pingback: Vegan news you can use, the New Year edition (1/1/12)()

  • Pingback: All is Revealed Part 2: New Book (Recipe Testers Needed) + Professionalizing Your Passions()

  • Pingback: It’s about the animals()

  • alex

    Thanks. I’m vegan + Fish for health reasons. . You explain the gradual process that happens where you feel better and better about not eating animals and are not an absolutist. Thanks for explaining so clearly.

  • Bernat

    I really liked your article but I think you forgot to mention an important argument vegan opponents use, wild animals eat one each other in nature, and some of them could not live without eating other animals, so isn’t that natural? Why shouldn’t we do the same thing?

    I want to become vegan anyway because I don’t like the way farm animals are treated, but I don’t think it would be wrong not to be vegan if I lived in the jungle and chased my preys. Their suffering would be small and on the other hand I might suffer if I didn’t eat them.

Previous post:

Next post: