Is “vegan hypocrisy” redundant?

I am reposting my response to a vegan soapboxing about animal rights and respect.  The title is provocative — I think there are plenty of ways and reasons to be vegan and vegetarian without being a hypocrite.  I just wish that the hypocritical thinking wasn’t as pervasive as it currently is — it doesn’t help anyone when vegans are constantly trying to position themselves amongst the “elite” of environmental activists, and it calls into question their understanding of the systemic nature of oppression.  To talk about the oppression of animals (and plants, and…), we need to talk about human power, privilege, and identity, and how that shapes our relationships with non-humans on this world.  It means taking a look at our spirituality and the spiritual connection we experience and share (or not) with all living things, regardless of their kingdom.

The argument I hear boils down to “I don’t eat meat because I respect animals.”  I believe it’s a dangerous and incoherent line of reasoning. “Oppose the injustice against the plant kingdom: stop eating plants!”  I.e., the injustice isn’t in what we eat, it is in HOW.  For examples, see many of the aboriginal cultures we are still systematically dismantling.  The full response is below.

What a bunch of ethnocentric, anthropocentric modern cultural condescension. I support people being vegetarian or vegan. But the self-righteous attitude and logical incoherency of some of what is written above…just plain sucks.

First about me: I am a vocal animal rights activist. And I eat meat. Not a lot of meat, and I have strict rules for myself: I don’t eat if I don’t know how the animal was raised, treated and slaughtered. My one exception is with items that will be discarded (e.g., my roommates leftover pizza).

Second, about strategy: Let’s talk “incremental progress.” Personally, I would LOVE (and strive) to see the end of ALL industrial meat production and industrial “animal husbandry/domestication.” Because I think it is inherently unjust. But we don’t get there overnight, and we don’t do it by lecturing people about how we are so much more just than they are. Let’s celebrate when a self-professed “carnivore” starts only eating meat twice, then once, a day. That is a huge improvement! And it is an ongoing process that we need to nurture and support, not pound, into people. I encourage people who eat eggs to by cage-free, free-range, not to stop eating eggs.

I agree with much of what was written:

“If you truly oppose something, you seek to not participate in it.” Agreed.

“If you believe in an ideal such as nonviolence, you don’t actively, daily make choices that stand in direct contrast to that belief.” Agreed.

“It’s not a choice of (a) devote yourself completely to activism against the injustice or (b) be a participant in the injustice.” Disagreed, somewhat. We can’t stay neutral on a moving train. If we aren’t “active” to some extent, our “passivity” supports the unjust status quo!

“If you love animals, you don’t kill animals.” Ok, let’s continue:  If you love plants, you don’t kill plants. If you love fungi, you don’t kill fungi. Have fun with your “level 5” vegan diet!

“If you respect animals, you don’t torment animals, emotionally, mentally, or physically.” Agreed completely. Vegans and vegetarians don’t have a monopoly on this, though.

“If you believe in nonviolence, you don’t engage in violence.” The motives for killing an animal for food needn’t be “violent.”  And, for the record, “nonviolence” is a horrible word — a negative of a negative.  What is the positive we want to see?

“And choosing to eat animals and animal products is to participate in torment, to participate in violence.” Not necessarily. Again, vegans and vegetarians don’t have a monopoly on this issue. In fact, vegans and vegetarians often rely heavily on a soy-based diet, which has significant negative impacts.

The basic idea is that we can — and must — learn to respect what we eat, whatever we eat. We need to give thanks for everything that gives its life to feed us. The industrial system does not allow us to do that — for anything that ends up becoming food. Hunting and fishing does.  Eating locally and seasonally does.  In this sense, we see another unethical dimension to the global spice trade: not only does it exploit humans, it exploits the plants, and the earth.

Another implication is that vegans participate in the “torment…emotionally, mentally, or physically” of everything that they DO eat…and just conveniently ignore it because it’s not specifically related to animals. So any vegan that supports this line of reasoning is basically accusing themselves of vast injustices against the fungi, microfauna and flora of this world. Ironically, all of these things that vegans do “oppress” are more important to the sustaining of life on this planet than are the animals.  Photosynthesis is more important than chemosynthesis. In the same way a lot of men don’t want to admit that women — on a biological level — are more valuable to our species.

The implication is that vegans are positioning themselves as the patronizing protectors of fellow animals — and not other kingdoms — from the “inherent injustice of consumption” simply because they are more like us than, say, plants. Which means that there is an element of xenophobia and anthropomorphosis operating in this line of vegan thought.

“We don’t have to brutalize and kill to be healthy and happy.”

We don’t have to “brutalize” — but we DO have to kill. Animal, vegetable, fungi, microfauna. Something. Are the birds of prey oppressors? What about the wolves and coyotes? Lions? Tigers? Bears? Oh my? The line of vegan reasoning above is a judgment against them, and stems from a mixture of cultural hubris and ecological naivety. For example, read about wolves and Yellowstone.

So let’s work together to transform this industrial culture of injustice. And give thanks for the spinach, beans and rice that gives its life to nourish us :)

We all serve a larger purpose. Some day, there could be another species that eats humans. And I would hope that they do it with more respect and care than we currently do.  Unfortunately, that’s not saying much right now — vegans included.

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11 Responses to Is “vegan hypocrisy” redundant?

  1. larry says:

    Here is a good video on veganism: http://meat.org

  2. ozob says:

    Larry — that is a great video, thanks for sharing it. I hope more people watch it.

    It’s not a video about veganism or vegetarianism, though — it is a critique of the unspeakable atrocities humans currently commit against most of the animals that become or produce food. Those atrocities are a new development in human history, during the last several thousand years, and intensified by the rise of industrial capitalism.

    McCartney’s narrative relies on the theme of “intelligence,” which we define in an egotistical, anthropocentric manner by comparing other species against the things that we do well. It implies that if we deem something “unintelligent,” it is not worthy of our respect! Also, it implies that humans should be mistreated because, say, we can’t smell cancer or explosives, or anticipate earthquakes, or fly, or run faster than 20mph, or walk immediately after birth, or…you get the point.

    Anything and everything is deserving of respect, regardless of the stupid qualities and categories we arrogantly project upon it. Vegans, vegetarians, anyone who perpetuates the fundamental attitudes underlying the atrocities they insist they are avoiding, that’s a red flag for me.

  3. Lawrence Howell says:

    “We don’t have to “brutalize” — but we DO have to kill. Animal, vegetable, fungi, microfauna. Something.”

    Not really. If we eat seeds, nuts, fruits, and some vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, squash, etc.) we do not kill the plant or tree to obtain those. And in most other cases we are harvesting the plant shortly before it would have died anyway (beans, grains, etc.).

    And of course if you are talking about killing, it takes many pounds of plant matter to produce a single pound of animal flesh so eating animals always involves more killing than eating plants directly.

    “Are the birds of prey oppressors? What about the wolves and coyotes? Lions? Tigers?”

    Oh please. One can’t blame natural carnivores for eating the only things they can eat to survive.

    Humans do not need to eat meat so even if you eat humanely raised and slaughtered organic meat you are still cutting an animal’s life much shorter than it would normally live and thereby harming it. Would it be cruel for an alien who didn’t need meat to kill a human teenager and eat it just because they liked the taste? What if the teenager was brought up “free range” and killed painlessly? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    -Lawrence

    • ozob says:

      Hi Lawrence,

      thanks for writing!

      “And in most other cases we are harvesting the plant shortly before it would have died anyway (beans, grains, etc.)”

      Same with animals (e.g., hens). It seems you are picking extreme cases and depicting them as absolutes. The same way vegans criticize our industrial system as the ONLY way it is possible to eat meat. Why in the meat.org video above are only the most extreme cases discussed? That’s where it stops being honest discussion, and starts becoming propaganda. As long as that continues, vegans will ironically hamper the ultimate agenda they portend to espouse.

      “One can’t blame natural carnivores for eating the only things they can eat to survive.”

      “Carnivore” is simply a degree, not an absolute. Human carnivorism is contextual, based on culture and environment. Will you be telling the Inuit to stop, because “it’s cruel” and “unnatural?” I’ve known plenty of vegans that feed their dogs vegan. Under your reasoning, that is cruel and unnatural — the only difference it is somehow OK for us to constrain their diets simply because they are domesticated. Bears eat salmon for their protein and fat stores. But we could put out beans and rice for them and they’d probably survive. They are still “causing pain and suffering needlessly,” so it appears that yours is an arbitrary distinction.

      And none of the above is “unnatural.” That is a distinction — that we somehow exist separate from “nature” — arose out of modern thought to support western, eurocentric humanity’s hegemony over the *rest* of the natural world. Nothing we do is unnatural. Stupid? Yeah. Cruel? Yeah. But not unnatural. So let’s hold humans to the same ecological standard as other organisms — both as predators…

      …and as prey.
      “Would it be cruel for an alien who didn’t need meat to kill a human teenager and eat it…” (your reason why is arbitrary)
      No, no more cruel than a wolf pack killing a fawn in front of his or her mother. The meat is more tender. That’s my point: your definition of “cruel” is anthropocentric and ethnocentric, and it misses the point. Let’s apply your reasoning to another situation: Violence against women. There is an epidemic of it (both sexual and domestic violence). In fact, it is a public health crisis and rather commonplace. Rather than focus on changing how men identify, interact, and relate to others, your solution, based on your reasoning, would be to have men stop interacting and relating to others, period.

      Yes, how WE do our killing is very cruel — it is unnecessarily thoughtless, grotesque, mechanized, etc. Since the dawn of evolution life has consumed life to survive. But arbitrarily, whenever or however humans do it, it’s morally repugnant? That disgust reaction is an outgrowth of modernity, not morality. We have been culturally conditioned into a state of being unable to kill our food, leaving us two extreme dichotomies. There is now a system in place that does it for us. One of the best things we can do for ourselves and the rest of the natural world is regain experience killing our food.

      That’s an argument for change, not for veg(*)nism. Veg(*)nism are possibilities within the range of change, but they don’t directly deal with — and often times even support — the same modern, industrial thinking that causes the suffering of so many animals (staples, industrial monoculture). So again, it’s not just “what” but “how.”

      And, as I said before, your moral framework passes judgment against countless aboriginal cultures that do kill some animals. Most often, most of their calories do not come from meat. But your argument is just another excuse for us to continue our racist crusade of dismantling indigenous cultures under the guise of “moral superiority,” even though they are the only ones that truly know (or knew) how to coexist with the rest of the natural world.

      Thanks again for writing and continuing the discussion!

  4. Lawrence Howell says:

    Hi Ozob,

    I said:
    “And in most other cases we are harvesting the plant shortly before it would have died anyway (beans, grains, etc.)”

    You said:
    “Same with animals (e.g., hens).”

    Factory farmed hens (where 99% of our eggs come from) are typically killed after 1.5 years when their production declines enough to not be profitable. Their normal lifespan is about 12 years.

    So-called “broiler” chickens are killed at 6-7 weeks!

    “Spent” dairy cows are killed after 5-6 years when their normal lifespan is 15-20 years. Beef cattle are killed at about a year and a half.

    Pigs are typically killed at 6 months old when their normal lifespan is at least 15 years.

    So what animal that humans eat do you think lives most of its normal lifespan?

    > “Carnivore” is simply a degree, not an absolute.

    Take a look at the table at the end of the following article. There are major anatomical differences between carnivores, herbivores and omnivores as described here:
    http://www.earthsave.ca/articles/health/comparative.html

    For one thing, humans and many herbivores have an enzyme to digest carbohydrates in their saliva. Carnivores (and omnivores) don’t.

    > Will you be telling the Inuit to stop, because “it’s cruel” and “unnatural?”

    Of course not. If killing animals is the only way a person can survive then fine. But how many people does that apply to in the modern world?

    > “It seems you are picking extreme cases …”

    I am glad you agree that factory farming methods are cruel and extreme. I and many other vegans focus on that because 98 or 99% of all the meat sold in the U.S. is raised that way.

    > No, no more cruel than a wolf pack killing a fawn > in front of his or her mother.

    Human nutrition does not require meat. So when humans decide to kill an animal to eat it they are doing so just because they like the taste, not because they need to do it to survive. There is no comparison to wolves who can only eat meat. I think you know that and are only trying to “pull my chain” :)

    And no, I do not think that there is any humane way to kill another animal when that killing is not necessary for our survival.

    I may answer some of your other points later.

    -Lawrence

  5. ozob says:

    Hi Lawrence,

    thanks for continuing the discussion.

    “So what animal that humans eat do you think lives most of its normal lifespan?”

    Most, if not all, animals that we eat, can live most their lifespan. That they don’t (and what little time they have is basically spent in hell) is a product of our current system, not a product of eating meat.

    Plus, implied in your response is that it IS ok when taking into account the “normal” lifespan.

    And for some reason, vegans think it is OK to eat the young and unborn of plants. How many vegans eat nuts, seeds, and sprouts?

    My position is that no animal (inc. humans) has any special protection against being food of another living thing. Eating sprouts is just as cruel as eating a lamb, ceteris paribus. That something looks and acts like us is, IMO, a very shallow line of moral reasoning, and I think we should be consistent with all living things, not arbitrarily with the same group (animals) that we belong to. This is NECESSARY in order to have an outlook that is truly “environmentally friendly.”

    “98 or 99% of all the meat sold in the U.S. is raised that way.”

    I bet the number is larger than that now, but point taken. What about the backyard and local forage-fed cage-free chickens that live incredibly cush, privileged lives?

    Thanks for the link about diet physiology.

    “humans decide to kill an animal to eat it they are doing so just because they like the taste,”

    That is complete bunk that is true only amongst the most privileged people in the world who can afford to separate diet from context. Animal products (e.g., eggs) are an incredibly important (and relatively efficient) source of fat and protein for many people and cultures.

    “I do not think that there is any humane way to kill another animal when that killing is not necessary for our survival.”

    That’s fine, but you are now using a completely different definition and criteria for “cruelty” than the standard vegan consideration of the “experience of the potential food.” We don’t have to kill plants — we could survive off of microbiota and fungi. Plants are more complex. It is cruel to kill plants, etc. That is the inconsistency I am talking about.

    Do you actually think that whether a lamb dies because its neck was broken and throat torn out by a wolf or it was killed by a human makes any difference to the lamb or its mother?

    It wouldn’t make any difference to me…this is what seems weasely to me — shifting logic and criteria in order to support an arbitrary ban only on humans

    Our planet is overpopulated. Modern culture is fucked up, drastically, and requires (or at least very strongly suggests to) us all to participate in the abuse of humans and every other living being on earth.

    Vegans don’t seem to have a problem using iPods, laptops, etc, even though those computer components (as well as those of any other advanced technology) cannot be obtained without massive environmental and human rights violations. So why stop at a ban on eating animals if the focus is cruelty, moral purity, and oppression?

    ethan

  6. ozob says:

    Here’s something that I think is more productive for discussion:

    “I don’t eat meat/animal products because I am trying to lower my footprint, I can’t bring myself to kill animals” etc is just dandy. Fine. and it is waaay different than

    “I don’t eat meat or animal products, which make me more pure, moral, anti-oppression and environmentally friendly than you.” Which is, at best, an interesting but untested hypothesis, and, at its common worst, just privileged, vapid moralizing that lets people who say this completely ignore the true extent to which they participate in unethical and oppressive thoughts, actions, behavior and culture.

    I look at human in terms of species privilege. We are privileged over many other living beings, and can decide with impunity whether they

    I think vegans get that, but it is frustrating that they arbitrarily stop at the border of the animal kingdom. Whatever privilege we have over animals, we have at least as much over many categories of non-animal beings. When vegans equate “respect=no kill” that means that vegans are disrespecting MOST LIFE on earth.

    We cannot boil environmental ethics, rights (whether human, animal, or my preference, universal), and privilege and oppression to a narrow subset of dietary considerations (what we eat, not even how we eat it), when there are so many other factors to consider (class, culture, beliefs, attitude, life history, etc).

    I think the argument that “it is easier to be an ethical eater by going vegan” is bumpkis. It’s not easy, no matter what dietary options are available to us. And it is far easier for some of us than others.

  7. davedandelion says:

    ozob, as an ex-10-year-vegan i can appreciate your arguments. I still don’t eat animals but I won’t guilt myself to death over some modicum animal ingredient. I find this liberation from an already dubious term has actually helped my work for the animals as a lot of the dogma has fallen away and I see a clearer picture. Organizations like Vegan Outreach and absolutists like Francione’s abolitionists think they have the market cornered on morality and approach a change in attitudes by a change in behavior. It took me 10 years of activism to find out this is not true. Veganism is not a movement or a philosophy although it tries to disguise itself as one. Also “animal rights” is rarely about that.

    BTW thanks for your level headed approach even in the face of frothing vegan apologists. It only made their arguments look that much weaker as they scrambled for high ground.

  8. ozob says:

    thanks for the feedback, davedandelion, and for your focus on the underlying issues.

    ethan

  9. Kris says:

    The link to the “significant negative impacts” of soy quoted in your article should be pointed towards meat eaters, NOT vegans.

    Most of the soy produced in South America is destined for animal feed to quench the ever growing demand for meat. The blurb on that page specifically mentions “biofuel and animal feed” as “main drivers.”

    Considering that the conversion from soy protein to animal protein via commonly farmed animals is ratiometrically anywhere from a tenth to a twentieth, it should be clear that switching to a plant based diet would provide immediate relief for the green desertification of South America.

    • ozob says:

      Kris — thanks for contributing to the discussion. I believe the trophic levels argument is sound in the context of industrial production, but makes less sense when we start talking about smaller scale, localized and integrated (e.g., permacultural) systems, which includes animals (and yes, some animal products and meat). On a related note, I don’t think it is healthy — either physiologically or environmentally — for us to rely on any one source or staple for our protein (or carbs, or…). Soy is one option, but I think the effort toward “fake meat” is insidious.

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