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.