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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