The Conscious Case Against Veganism: A Reader Rebuttal

Editor’s note: Laura Hooper Beck is a vegan writer, the founding editor of Vegansaurus, Editor-at-Large for VegNews Magazine, and the community manager of VegWeb. Laura tweets @mrpenguino. We appreciate her constructive contribution to this important conscious lifestyle issue.

The Conscious Case Against Veganism is missing a critical element: the author’s understanding of “veganism.” The “fundamentalist” “orthodoxy” of “illogical presuppositions” she references is a straw man. “Veganism” as a concept doesn’t equate to a religious cult; there is no leader, no book of dogma, no retribution council (except maybe internet comment threads.)

The simple and classic definition of veganism is that you don’t consume or use products derived from (non-human) animals. As the concept evolves, veganism has come to mean living in a manner that does not exploit animals. Regardless of the minute variance in definitions, the basic premise is that vegans seek to do as little harm to animals as possible.

The author isn’t arguing against the concept of veganism, only justifying her own personal choice not to be vegan. The “conscious case against veganism” is really just an argument in favor of what’s lately termed locavore, which doesn’t logically equate to the opposite of vegan. The article quotes Slate’s Christopher Cox as saying, “Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest,” and I have to ask, why is she making it one?
Point by point, a vegan response:

SAD

How are the rampant abuse and toxic methods in our mainstream food supply chain a case against veganism? Do these problems not occur in non-vegan food production? Quite the contrary, meat and dairy industries are some of the biggest offenders of workers’ rights and environmental degradation.
The author’s SAD stance is simply an argument for knowing where your food comes from. You can both be vegan and be an educated consumer.

Oysters

I’m unsure where the author got her rosy research on oyster cultivation as a panacea for ocean ailments, but disease and over-harvesting have contributed to the functional extinction of oysters in many places. A Nature Conservancy study found that overfishing and coastal development have caused 85 percent of natural oyster reefs to disappear, making their ecosystem one of the most threatened in the world. In addition, oysters provide habitat for many marine species, and so destroying their populations endangers other animals who DO have documented nervous systems. And if the concern is “local” or “sustainable,” an extremely small percentage of commercially available oysters are harvested in that way.
That said, you could be an almost-vegan who DOES eat oysters, but that doesn’t make a case for not eating cows and pigs. I’m not sure what the author’s point is here. Because oysters maybe have no feelings we shouldn’t be vegan?

Vegan Meat

Vegan doesn’t mean you abstain from processed foods, it means you abstain from animal body parts. As above, the availability of vegan meat substitutes on the market might make it easier for many people to transition to a more humane diet, and they’re just a small part of the variety of foods available to a vegan. That said, compare the ingredients, practices, and nutrition in a Field Roast sausage to that of a Jimmy Dean, and let me know which you feel more comfortable eating.

Wool

As a justification, the author links to an article about organic wool within this same blog, which asserts that organic wool equals cruelty-free. In reading the wool fact sheet that isn’t clear.

Confusing sustainability, organic, and cruelty is an increasingly common fallacy in this genre. As seen with Horizon and other “organic” dairy and egg farms, organic rarely equates to humane. Buying “sustainable” wool in no way confirms the wool is cruelty-free.

As far as I know, there are no legal guidelines for “humane” wool, and even if there were, I certainly wouldn’t trust industry regulation. Profit over animal welfare is the standard, in almost every relevant industry.

Backyard Chickens

Backyard egg production: the trump card for every Slow Foodie worth their weight in bathtub-fermented kombucha.

Chicken hatcheries, where most people can access chicks, are the avian equivalent of puppy mills. Males who don’t produce eggs are often buried alive in dumpsters. Lucky ladies who survive are thrown in boxes and shipped via USPS to their new homes, often packed with extra chicks as “packing peanuts,” since it’s assumed a few will die in transit.

And if you do have all the resources to give hens a safe haven (which is no easy task), they only lay eggs for a few of the ten or so years they live. Would most people continue to expend the effort and resources to keep them as revered pets? Considering the cost-benefit analysis of owning chickens who don’t lay, we’re guessing they’d end up in a coq au vin with a side of quinoa and local kale.

Compound this with the fact that unwanted male chickens are often abandoned at animal shelters, and raising one’s own chickens suddenly seems a lot less ethical.

Honey

Honey is hardly the most divisive issue between vegans and omnivores; a distal argument at best. Further, to say that procuring local honey is the opposite of eating large production sugar from the third world is just a fallacy. Most vegans I know consider this a C-list issue.

Goat Milk

Wait, I’m confused. Because we’re the only species to consume trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, we should also drink the milk of other species? I don’t see the connection. But onto goats.

In order for lady goats to produce milk, there needs to be baby goats (you may remember this from our own species’ 6th grade sex ed.), and for goats to regularly produce enough milk to share with their friendly human “companions,” they need to be pregnant a lot. What happens to the male offspring of continually pregnant goats? Most small-scale (read: happy clover fields) goat farms can’t assimilate the kids, and they end up in less accountable locales. Clearing off suburban hillsides, maybe. Or curry.

Vintage Leather

I know a number of vegans who recycle leather goods from their pre-vegan days, and nobody’s been kicked out of the club yet.

Some vegans see it more as conserving resources than directly contributing to animal death and torture, others see it as promoting and validating leather and steer clear. Vintage leather doesn’t make or break a vegan, it’s a matter of personal choice. Personally, I leave the used leather for non-vegans, and buy the used everything else. It’s true, vegans need to be careful about where our clothing comes from, as does everyone else. This isn’t a specifically vegan issue, it’s a first-world issue. We all need to vote with our dollars.

Conclusion

I’m missing the part where the article lists good reasons to eat cheese, eggs, or wear wool–it just proposes scenarios where these products might be procured more humanely. What are the actual reasons to consume these products? Because it tastes good and it’s more socially acceptable? Those don’t really stand up to the many compelling reasons to be (or at least try to be) vegan.

The author recounts an experience of veganism as “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” and that’s too bad. It should feel good not to exploit other beings whenever possible, and it shouldn’t feel like an excommunication if you don’t succeed 100% of the time. Striving towards veganism is what author Kathy Freston calls, “progress, not perfection.” It’s impossible to be 100% absolute purist vegan (the bacteria we inhale, the animals killed during the farming of even organic plant foods, the tires we bike or drive on), but we have an ethical opportunity to champion a lifestyle that aims to harm the fewest sentient beings possible.

Image: Valerie Everett

 

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DISCUSSION

45 thoughts on “The Conscious Case Against Veganism: A Reader Rebuttal

  1. Eating bacteria is vegan because bacteria aren’t members of the animal kingdom. Good post, though.

  2. HAH! You’re too good, darling. I read The Conscious Case Against Veganism and felt overwhelmed by her poor reasoning, I came over here, read this, and calmed myself right down. Thanks!

  3. A lot of the people posting on these two articles seem to fall into that category. They are so stuck in this way of thinking that eating meat is cruel. It’s friggin not people! What’s cruel is the torture and abuse of living animals. Vegans and vegetarians seem to think eating a veggie burger is helping animals. It’s not.

    Y’all have your energy focused on the wrong thing. Imagine if all that vegan “love and compassion” energy were focused on getting animals the rights they deserve during their LIVES – like the right to a life free of pain and torture. Then we might actually be getting somewhere. And I hate to break it to you, but all of those animals that you aren’t eating are going to die someday anyways, because guess what, WE ALL DIE.

    But don’t kid yourself by thinking you are helping animals by not eating meat. You’re not.

    One could argue that by relying on harvested grains and other vegan products you are contributing to more deaths since wheat threshers kill more voles, mice and other field animals every year than slaughter houses. I say be humane, eat a cow!

    http://web.archive.org/web/20041107084521/http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/news/food/vegan.html

  4. It’s easy to claim oneself as an ex-vegan, former vegetarian, etc., which is convenient for people seeking to appeal to readers and editors looking to validate conventional eating (IOW, whatever one wants, regardless of the pain and other costs to other beings). The people I’ve met who’ve made such claims gave ample reason to doubt them. In addition, as one admitted, the vegan trial could be “a couple of days.” Those who claimed they got sick or felt weak during their supposed veg period don’t tend to be paragons of vitality.

  5. 1. Oyster cultivation has not been correlated with destruction of wild oyster populations. And it wouldn’t be cultivation if you destroyed the oysters- you harvest part of the population, not all of it and you encourage further growth, thus increasing the services that oysters provide to the oean.
    2. Hmm, great unbiased source for that “wool fact sheet.”
    3. You can raise poultry without buying from a hatchery if you breed animals yourself. Hatcheries are a modern development and people got along quite well without them for a long time..it’s called animal sex.
    4. Scientists have developed technologies so that dairy farmers will be able to chose the sex of the offspring. There is also work being done on perennial dairy, which means that the goat/cow only needs to produce one kid/calve for lifetime production to be ensured. But just admit it, even if science made this better, you wouldn’t be for it, because this issues are tangential to your believe that using animals is wrong.

    Both articles are pretty ignorant of agriculture, economics, science, and pretty much just ignorant. It’s clear the axes to grind are more important than the truth.

  6. actually animals won’t die “no matter what” if they haven’t been purposely bred to be slaughtered in the first place.

    as for humans doing “what comes to them naturally and biologically”…consider this, if you give a child a bunny and an apple, he’ll eat the latter and pet the former, NOT the other way around. I will bet my house on that!

  7. THANK YOU for this. That other article was extremely ignorant.

  8. You know, I agree it’s not good to be militant, but a large amount of vegans and vegetarians are kind open minded people. You only think of “vegan nazis” as you call them because the crazy vegans are the ones you hear about. I certainly don’t think I’m better than meat eaters and lots of other vegans are the same way. Don’t be so quick to judge.

    On your comment about animals eating other animals and not us, yes we DO have options because we are a highly evolved species who make choices everyday that non human animals do not and we have opinions and values. Plus we’re omnivores, we can eat meat and vegetables, we don’t depend solely on meat.

    I respect someone disagreeing with veganism but I don’t understand people attacking it. Simply put, it’s just people who try to minimize animal suffering as much as possible, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

  9. Godwin’s law in action. Nothing sells an argument like telling someone they’re a genocidal Nazi! I’m sold – let’s slit the throats of some baby sheep and pigs and go to town!

  10. It’s immaterial whether I’m a vegan (or trying to be one) or not, but I have to agree with the balanced view that the author presents here. That the author of “The Conscious Case…” Mr Wick calls self an evangelist and fundamentalist, hints at an attempt to follow something of a doctrine than understanding the concept.

    I do agree with him when he says “veganism stopped being synonymous with ethical treatment of animals and people.” I do feel the same when I pass the Vegan food section of Whole Foods or other stores. Eating stuff supposedly harmless to animals, that was grown a few thousand miles away and shipped via the usually environmentally unfriendly means of transport, isn’t vegan in spirit. Sustainability/eco-consciousness and Vegetarian/Veganism have a lots in common. In the end, unsustainable and eco-unfriendly practices would result in reduction/destruction of habitat for animals at the origin of production. And a degrading environment will first affect the animals and then be a concern for humans. Thus it would indirectly beat the spirit of being animal-friendly.

    But where Mr Wick failed, I thought, was what followed afterwards. Nothing seemed relevant to the topic ‘Why Not to be Vegan’ – but only stresses ‘why certain vegan practices need to be scrutinized’. And then there’s the mention of why Oysters are better to eat than other bivalves and this line – “with oysters, go ahead and shuck ‘em and suck ‘em.” doesn’t seem to be words of someone who ever took the spirit of not hurting animals seriously.

    I believe Laura succeeded in highlighting what Abigail Wick failed to, and it’s that: “It’s impossible to be 100% absolute purist vegan (the bacteria we inhale, the animals killed during the farming of even organic plant foods, the tires we bike or drive on)”.

    I feel, there should be no guides or testaments to be a Vegan. Until people understand the spirit of being one, the -ism will fail like other ‘religious’ -isms.

  11. Hi Gabrielle – I didn’t say a baby… I said a child – Let’s even say a “tween” or teen would not have a “natural” or “biological” instinct to kill a living being to survive. Even most adults would likely opt for the plant based foods as the first (best) options.

    And so I’ll re-phrase: It is difficult if not impossible “to guilt” someone unless they are already predisposed to think/feel a certain way. I’ve heard many people say that when they eat meat they try not “to think” about the animal that was killed. This implies that there is a willful disconnect from “the guilt” that already exists.

    “And I challenge any militant vegetarian or vegan who thinks they are better than me to make a good for why it’s ok that animals take “innocent lives” for food, but it’s not ok for humans. And don’t give me that “options” crap – animals have “options” to eat whatever the hell they want too. Btw, don’t you think a hungry lion would eat YOU if he had the chance?”

    I never implied or said I was I was “better” than anyone. However, I do believe that kindness is a virtue that most of us are taught since birth. I do believe that being compassion whenever possible is the best for all concerned. Now, aside from the fact that lions, alligators and bears have no “option” as to what their bodies require them to eat in order to survive… They also are not moral agents. They don’t have the understanding that all life has value. Humans being the “thinking” species do. And if we can judge that life is precious we should try to “preserve” it whenever possible. But why should I care if a lion would eat me? Especially when the animals people choose to eat are not the “predators” but the meek herbivores – No “threat” from cows, pigs or chickens… So your point escapes me. (?)

    “Let’s get back to the real topic: How can we improve the lives of ALL animals?” We can do that by simply refraining from seeing them as “things” to be used. Your suggestions of eliminating factory farms to get back to “a kinder” model of a “farm” – Is not only impossible (unless we drastically curtail our meat consumption), but it still does require a certain amount of victims. “We have rights in place to protect our poor, our handicapped, minorities, next we need to FIGHT for animal rights.” Continuing to see and use animals as commodities and as means to our ends is not “animal rights”. You want to “fight” for animal welfare – Go ahead… But please call it what it is: It’s regulating “how” we use animals. There most fundamental “right” is not considered. – I want to work towards a world where we don’t “use” them at all. I do not have their “welfare” as an end goal. But rather their “well being”. And that IS “animal rights”.

  12. BeaElliott – I love the preposterous argument that vegetarians like to bring up that if you leave a baby to his own devices he would not kill and eat and animal. Why don’t we continue this hypothesis? If you leave a baby alone – it will die – it needs parents’ help on living until it can take care of itself.

    There IS a biological instinct to eat meat. The species from which we evolved (non-human animals) ate meat! You are doing yourself a great disservice if you allow yourself to disagree with science and evolution. If you want to argue with that, then you belong in a group with all the religious nuts and cultists.

    Also you are using the word “force” in quotes, when I never actually used that word.

    And I challenge any militant vegetarian or vegan who thinks they are better than me to make a good point for why it’s ok that animals take “innocent lives” for food, but it’s not ok for humans. And don’t give me that “options” crap – animals have “options” to eat whatever the hell they want too. Btw, don’t you think a hungry lion would eat YOU if he had the chance?

    Let’s get back to the real topic: How can we improve the lives of ALL animals? I say pass regulations that make factory farming practices ILLEGAL. We have rights in place to protect our poor, our handicapped, minorities, next we need to FIGHT for animal rights. Eat whatever the fuck you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is what we NEED to do if we want to make any kind of difference when it comes to the welfare of animals!

  13. Hi Gabrielle – I don’t think you can “force” people to feel “guilt”. Either they honestly do feel a certain way or don’t. All that words/ideas can do is expose what people often repress. And yes, “food” is a very emotional subject for many. And so is taking innocent life.

    I don’t have a problem with human or nonhuman animals “dying” it is the killing I’m opposed to… Animal rights is about not using animals as resources or property. It’s about the negative right to be left alone to live out one’s due time on this earth.

    Finally, I disagree that on it’s own humans would “naturally” eat animals. If you left a child to fend on his/her own in nature — If they had not been pre-programmed to see flesh as food — The odds are they would select plants for nourishment. There is no “biological” instinct to eat meat… It’s a cultural indoctrination that makes it appear that it’s “natural” or “normal” or “necessary”.

    I think it’s great that we’re living in a time when we can question these notions and make better decisions. ;)

  14. Yes. Because the all-or-nothing attitude put out by Veganism (yes, I know, they are not all like that, and I give everyone a fair chance) reminds me of Fascism. They use emotional tactics (like “meat is murder”) to guilt people into thinking they are innately evil when they are, in fact, just doing what comes to them naturally and biologically. Whatever you want to call it or compare it to, it’s emotional manipulation.

    Animal rights isn’t about animals dying. They will do that no matter what. It’s about quality of life of the animal. Vegans get so caught up in thinking that the death of the animal is the root of the problem, when it’s not.

  15. Are you comparing people who actively work towards not causing living things harm to people who actively attempted to destroy an entire race and religion?

  16. I am a brand new vegan, and follow this with interest. My reasoning for vegan change was to better my health.

  17. I could comment about everything you’ve posted since I disagree with Vegan-Nazism and the idea that you are somehow holier than people who consume meat even though we have the same interest in animal welfare – that somehow the two cannot go hand in hand.

    But your passage about back yard chickens made me pretty outraged. My boyfriend and I have been raising chickens and ducks for the past year. Not only do they produce a plethora of delicious eggs (that they themselves eat too! That’s right, chickens naturally eat their own cracked eggs), but they are wonderful companion animals. If you are making the argument that people should not raise them this way because there will be cases of neglect or that the sources will start out abusive, then maybe you can translate that to the dog and cat population since that sort of thing happens in that sector all the time. Why stop at domestic birds?

    And by the way, when my chickens die of natural causes, they will not be consumed by humans (they’ll be consumed by bugs and bacteria in the ground). But would that be so bad? What makes human consumption of animals so innately evil (according to Vegan-Nazis) and animals consuming other animals ok?

    How about this one: If eating meat became illegal for humans, wouldn’t we still have to have farms to produce meat for out carnivorous pets? Without meat, kitty will go blind!

    Or maybe we should let all domestic animals that have evolved to live with humans suddenly go free! They can all suffer and die!

  18. Pingback: Vegan Uncensored: Are You a Vegan Bully? | Vegan Mainstream

  19. Thank you for your well reasoned responses. Especially the information about the newest eco-fad for loca-vores that can’t live without hen’s eggs… Unless these ladies are “rescues” and lovingly kept long after their “laying days” are over – There’s just no way to fit them into an “ethical” diet.

    I am very certain and proud that my vegan community and friends represent themselves in an honest light! :)

  20. I really loved this article. I read the original article and couldn’t believe it actually got printed. Who made that call? I read the previous article aloud to my roommates (meat eaters) and everyone couldn’t believe how ridiculous it was. This article in contrast was well thought out and to the point. Good job on taking the high road.

  21. Love: Progress, not perfection. I identify with this so much. Somehow, a lot of omnivores believe that how vegans identify themselves should be very black and white.

  22. Great argument, and brilliant points. Not a pissing contest indeed!

  23. “You can both be vegan and be an educated consumer.”

    Right on! One of the biggest issues I had with the linked article was that it did what I see such arguments doing all too often: it painted a picture of the most ethical omnivorous diet possible and weighed it against a ‘junk food vegan’ one. It’s just inappropriate and unfair to make such a comparison, especially in the name of unbiased or informed journalism.

    News flash: Vegans can live quite happily without Oreos and fake meat shipped from overseas!

    People who are ethical consumers in some respect – a significant number of vegetarians and vegans, and those who choose free-range and local animal products products – are much more likely to be aware of the environmental effects of other consumption choices. Rather than call for others to choose x diet over veganism, the author should have instead highlighted the environmental benefits of local and organic options. We should all be looking at ways we can reduce the negative impacts of our lifestyles, but we can address this as a whole, allowing everyone to participate in fixing our food system, to move forward, together, in harmony, rather than alienating a minority group who already has to deal with the social stigma of their lifestyle choice – and for what, to publicise a complex and logically questionable justification for going back to exploiting other beings? I don’t see how this serves to benefit anyone other than those who just want an excuse to argue against the vegan movement.

    By definition, vegans _are_ educated consumers. Like all arbitrary groups, the degree of this varies between individuals, but many, many of us are eating local and organic already – we’ve just chosen to additionally factor the effects of consumption of animal products into our lifestyle choices, too. And, I would argue, this has extremely significant and positive consequences for ourselves, the environment, and the non-human animals we should be treating with the respect they deserve.

    Thanks for your rebuttal!

  24. Absolutely.Thank you for taking the time to do this. That had to have been one of the most ridiculous pieces I have read in a long time (and the comments had me almost banging my head against the wall)

  25. hi “fancy” – I meant for this to be put on the first post, my mistake. I have had to delete dozens of horrible comments from name-calling vegans. The ones you see are tame.

  26. sara – i am missing where the negative comments you speak of are. i’m not even vegan and i think the first article was just awful, but i don’t see anyone here calling names. why are you attacking vegans? i think your whole post is very strange, but maybe i’m missing something!

  27. By the way, I do think it’s sad that not one fellow vegan has stood up to say “Hey guys, let’s not call names, let’s be civil and gracious and show what great people vegans are.” Has that never occurred to anyone? Success for a cause tends to come through kindness and patience, not name-calling. Imagine how this thread looks to a meat eater who is learning about veganism for the first time. I’m surprised not one vegan here is a little embarrassed at the way the vegans in this group appear towards their fellow humans.

  28. As the person running this site I will remind everyone to be civil. No name calling. I doubt anyone here, vegan or not, is an idiot/moron/crazy person, except maybe the people who feel the need to use those names. Many sites would not do what we have done, which is graciously and openly publish this rebuttal without critical or emotional response, and we hope that speaks for our character and the kind of website this is. Your own behavior and verbal abuse speaks for yours, so just think about that when you’re claiming to believe in a particular cause or lifestyle that is ethical – bear in mind how you appear to those you have not yet persuaded. I’m personally very supportive of the vegan lifestyle, and in fact, Abigail is, as well. This is one person’s honest recounting of why her lifestyle has changed, and I published it because it is worthy, for look at the conversation it has generated! And Laura’s rebuttal is likewise honest and worthy. In fact I haven’t seen anything but thoughtfulness in either piece, regardless of which one you might agree more with. When it comes to thoughtfulness, I wish I could say the same for some of the commenters, vegan and carnivore alike. Let’s raise the standards, folks.

  29. Thank you for writing this. I’ll never understand why so many “ex-vegans” get press for simply externalizing their off-base rationalizations. At least she didn’t pull the “I got so sick!” card. Eating animals is already what the majority of people are doing. So you’re not vegan, great, neither are 95% of other people. Maybe we should start calling ourselves “ex-carnivores”, or “ex-omnivores”. Could be good PR.

  30. After reading this clearly written, persuasive response, I’m inclined to agree with the author that the argument that one can be an ethical omnivore is deeply flawed and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Food for thought, indeed.

    Also, even from what I’ve observed, I know that there are meat-eaters just as fanatical/intolerant as the picture the first essayist painted of vegans (hi uncle bob! Lay off my little sister!) and, judging by the numbers, there are probably more of them out there.

  31. This is a fabulous article on so many levels. I love that you took the high road in your tone. And I love this last clause “but we have an ethical opportunity to champion a lifestyle that aims to harm the fewest sentient beings possible.” Thank you!!!!

  32. Brilliant response! Thanks for correcting the misconceptions in the other article.

  33. Excellent rebuttal! Too often anti-vegan sentiment is really all about feeling better about eating animals and makes no valid points about veganism. Thanks for seeing through these straw man arguments!

  34. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

  35. *thunderous applause* I made similar points about the egg/wool issue in a comment on that blog and I’m REALLY glad to see them outlined here and given proper attention. Kudos! Very well said. :)

  36. Hi Mynah (hope I’m getting that right),

    We are happy to publish all the sides of an argument. It’s the fair thing to do, regardless of who thinks which side is ludicrous.

  37. “The article quotes Slate’s Christopher Cox as saying, ‘Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest,’ and I have to ask, why is she making it one?”

    WORD.

  38. Pingback: An Ex-Vegan Buys a Thesaurus

  39. Thanks for posting this well-reasoned response to that totally ludicrous and off-base post from Abigail Wick the other day.

 

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