I have been asked a few times recently to explain the link between our western meat (and by extension, dairy) habit and the problems of poverty and starvation on a global scale. Generally, I tie myself in knots because of the complexity of the connections. Any explanation is going to be an over simplification but I think this video animation by Denis van Waerebeke, aimed at 9-14 year olds is a good starting point. It is just under 10 minutes long but worth a watch.
Also this week I have been digging into some of the abolitionist/vegan points of view over at Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach . Abolitionists appear to take an ethical stance based on the personhood of animals and come out on the extreme end where the arguments for veganism from an environmental point of view are very much secondary to the ethical untenability of a speciesist approach. They are highly critical of the concept of “happy” meat and dairy products that just make the consumer feel better about themselves without addressing the core moral issue of exploiting animals in any way whatsoever.
I have not aligned myself anywhere yet, I’m just feeling my way. Animal rights carries more weight with me than I usually let on in conversation because most people I know find the environmental arguments more accessible.
I find the abolitionist’s biting tone a bit offputting but I can understand how when something is a clear cut matter of right and wrong to you it can make you feel very cross and upset. For me, abstaining from meat and dairy is a “no-brainer” ethical matter and I find it very frustrating when others can’t see my point of view but I think it is really important to be engaged in conversation and trying to present viable alternatives. I would like to know the overall plan for an abolitonist planet. If we shut down all the meat and dairy farms tomorrow, what would happen to the animals? What is the vision for the future of those milk and beef monsters we have created and made dependent on our systems, for instance? How would they fare in the wild?
I am increasingly convinced that we need to move in a direction of people producing food on a local basis all over the world and for that food to be exclusively plants – but how do we get there? As a Christian I am transfixed by the vision of Isaiah 11:9 and 65:25:
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. (NASB)
“The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD. (NASB)
and seeing this as God’s ultimate desire, I believe working towards this is part of bringing his kingdom here.
There are a huge variety of reasons, religious and otherwise, why people are choosing to abstain, where are you on this scale?
Ethical Omnivore – I am concerned about the environmental and economic effects of modern agriculture and about animal welfare so I therefore continue to eat meat, eggs and dairy but only from “happy” ethical sources. I like to be sure that my meat and dairy comes from animals that have enjoyed their lives and have been sustainably farmed but I can’t see any reason to abstain completely.
Wild Caught Pescetarian – My main objection is with farming higher level mammals that have more capacity to suffer and also with farming fish that is damaging to the environment. However, if something is basically fishy and hunted and caught in the wild, having a fighting chance of escaping in the process, then it is fair game. I have also been known to consume roadkill.
Environmental Vegetarian – I don’t eat meat, mainly because of what it does to the planet and the effect it has on our fellow humans. I don’t believe that most of the arguments in favour of vegetarianism should also mean that I don’t eat dairy either (or I just can’t give up cheese). If more ethical farming practices were widespread, I could be persuaded to eat meat again in the future.
Straight-up-veggie – I wouldn’t eat my dog so why would I eat a pig that has just as much intelligence and personality in spite of the opening scene of “Pulp Fiction”? Meat and all that goes with it is repulsive to me. I don’t like biting into flesh, it feels like eating my own arm, it’s wierd. I do like cheese though even though I wouldn’t suckle a cow. I don’t think it is wierd to eat curdled cow juice but on some fundamental level it just doesn’t feel right to eat animals.
Ovo-Vegetarian – Milk and meat are no-nos for all sorts of reasons but I have not found a good reason not to eat free range eggs, especially when they come from my own hens or a local farm where they really are genuinely free range. Don’t talk to me about what happens to male chickens please. Animal rights arguments weigh in about 50/50 with environmental ones when I am making my food choices.
Raw Vegan – Meat and dairy are off the menu mainly for health reasons. Humans are not really designed to eat either of these and the optimum diet is a raw fruit and vegetable one. Animal rights and environmental considerations may form part of my persuasion but principally I am in it for the sake of my health.
Vegan on the fence – Animal rights are my main consideration in my choice of diet. It is safer to abstain from animal products than to make some ethical faux-pas in the minefield of choices. I am aware that the vegetables I eat may have had insecticide used on them so I am wondering about “insect rights” too and it is all very confusing.
Vegan – There is no such thing as humane slaughter and non humans animals are entitled to the same rights of personhood as human animals. As far as possible I avoid all animal products. This is a very hard path to follow but I take comfort in our growing numbers and I have a dream that one day the whole world will be vegan, too. My commitment to veganism is indistinguishable from an overarching philosophy of non-violence and equal rights for all creatures.
Thank you for listening. Feedback is appreciated and the offer stands if someone from any of the above persuasions or with a particular insight on dairy, for or against, would like to do a guest post – please comment or email me.
- Picky Eaters, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- Dietary tribes — who eats what (eatocracy.cnn.com)
- Response: Adopting a vegan diet will improve our health – and the planet’s (guardian.co.uk)