The Indefensibility of Vegetarianism.
I’ve previously written an essay on vegetarianism, and I wanted to write some additional thinking about taking the logical next step, veganism.
I’ve been vegetarian since I was 20, for approximately 11 years, and I have also been vegan in my early 20s for around a year while I lived in Europe, but that stopped when I moved to Asia as I found it more difficult due to limited food choices.
It was not impossible; I just didn’t want to make the hard choices every time I went to a restaurant. So I stopped and returned to vegetarianism.
I continued this on-again, off-again relationship with veganism for a few years, but it was always something that I thought about returning to at some point.
And then, recently, I started considering the decision to go vegan again. And this time, I’m unsure if I can justify not making a choice.
Almost every single ethical argument against eating meat can be applied to eating animal by-products such as eggs, milk, and cheese. If you believe that it is morally wrong to kill animals for food, then it stands to reason that it is also morally wrong to support the industries in which these animals are raised and killed.
The egg industry, for example, is one of the cruellest and most inhumane industries. Chickens are crammed into tiny wire cages, where they can barely move, and are given just enough food to keep them alive until they are ready to lay eggs.
After they have been forced to lay eggs for a few years, their bodies are so exhausted that they can no longer produce eggs at the same rate, and so they are considered “spent hens”. At this point, they are typically sent to slaughter.
The milk industry is no better. Cows are kept in cramped and dirty conditions that are often covered in their faeces. They are also routinely given hormones and antibiotics to keep them alive in these conditions and are typically kept pregnant so that they will produce more milk. After they give birth, their calves are taken away from them, and the calves are either killed for veal or sent to live in tiny pens where they cannot move around.
And when they can no longer produce milk at the same rate, they are sent to slaughter.
As you can see, there is no way to justify eating animal by-products without supporting the industries responsible for animal mass suffering and killing.
So, if you believe it is morally wrong to eat meat, you should also be vegan.
There is no other logical choice or defence.
Some go even as far as honey, but I am still in two minds about whether insects are, in fact, conscious and can suffer, as this is the ultimate litmus test to determine if there needs to be an ethical framework applied to something.
The reason why it is not controversial to throw a stone off a cliff, is because that stone does not suffer; it cannot feel pain. If we break a stone into two, we destroy the identity of that stone, but that does not matter. All that stone is a labelling, in our minds, of a group of atoms in space that has been relayed via photos hitting our retinas and perhaps the nerves in our hands.
But throw a human being off a cliff or a sheep, and things are not so easy. Because humans are conscious, we play by different rules, which apply to certain degrees to the other animals we share the planet with.
The interesting question is whether a certain baseline of consciousness is required before we can attach an ethical framework of harm towards something or if it is all about relative levels of consciousness. If a bee is genuinely just a collection of biological sensors that react to stimuli and cannot truly “feel” the pain that we may inflict on it, but it just reacts to that type of stimuli by flying away — does it matter if we hurt it?
Or what if aliens land on earth and are several orders of magnitude more conscious than humans — whatever this may mean? Does that give them the right to treat us in the same or similar way that we currently treat pigs, cows, or chickens in industrial farming complexes?
These are not easy questions to answer, but they are important ones that we need to consider as we move forward into the future. With technological advances, it is becoming increasingly likely that we will create artificial intelligence that surpasses our level of consciousness — so these questions will become even more important then.
The reason why I titled this essay the indefensibility of vegetarianism is that, from an ethical standpoint of view, it may be worse than eating meat.
At a minimum, at least a meat eater is being honest. They don’t care about the harm being done, or at least they accept it as part of the way things are. Vegetarians, on the other hand, likely do understand the harm to the animals that provide the meat they seek to avoid but do not have the discipline to take that further regarding other animal byproducts.
If we stand against eating meat, we must be consistent and avoid all animal byproducts. Otherwise, we are just being hypocrites.
Of course, most vegetarians will want the so-called ethical brownie points of being a vegetarian without the hard choice of giving up a significant amount of the food they enjoy eating that contains animal byproducts.
I would go as far as to say that it is virtue-signalling at its worst, but it is undoubtedly virtue-signalling.
So what’s the answer here? Go vegan or go home?
Certainly, vegetarianism is less harmful to the planet, animals, and ourselves than regularly eating meat. But, it should be seen as a temporary stepping stone to having a truly ethical way of eating, one that is based on a whole-food, plant-based diet.
The planet will thank you, and you’ll thank the planet.