by Adam Kochanowicz
I was once a vegetarian who believed so strongly in vegetarian education, I continued to recommend others go vegetarian even when I was a vegan. Eventually, I came to my senses and realized the ethical implications of a vegetarian diet are no better than an omnivorous one.
Yet advocates today are happy to tell people to go vegetarian due to some faulty logic which I will examine. Advocates believe vegetarianism is useful because it leads to veganism and anyone who disagrees is "infighting."
I've been accused plenty of times by vegetarians of being "anti-vegetarian," I was once a vegetarian myself and I wish someone would have written this article for me. For those of you who truly take the rights of animals seriously, I'm asking you to read this article with an open mind.
1. Should animal rights activists promote vegetarianism?
Of course advocating an entirely vegan lifestyle can be overwhelming to some, but should advocating vegetarianism be our response? While an individual may not be persuaded to give up all animal products, we should keep our message vegan, never recommending vegetarianism as a step. I will explain why I believe this momentarily.
Truly, there are no sets of animal products which are more ethical to animals than another set. All require exploitation which puts an animal in the situation in which poor treatment is inevitable. The general public is lead to believe, for instance, dairy can't be so bad because you don't have to kill the cow to get the milk.
However, pretty much all food animals will end up in the slaughter house once they no longer fulfill their previous role as existing for our use. When a cow stops giving milk, a bird stops producing eggs, an elephant stops doing tricks, what do you suppose a business which relies on these functions will do?
In the case of dairy cattle, you can also add the physical torment of bruised and infected udders, paralysis from long-term standing, and consider the suffering and death inflicted on the calves produced from keeping that cow pregnant. Just like a human female, constant lactation requires constant impregnation. Calves of dairy cattle are sent to veal farms where they are locked up and eventually killed.
2. What if they just won't go vegan?
So to this person who simply doesn't want to go vegan, I would not say to them "would you at least go vegetarian?" because this implies there is a moral distinction between the effects from vegetarian and an omnivore. Some advocates do recommend vegetarianism because they wish to ease them in with a gradual approach. I also support gradual approaches but vegetarianism is a poor one. Instead, I would tell them, in so many words, to be as vegan as possible.
If you are as surprised as many of my readers are by the statement that there is no moral distinction between the effects of a vegetarian and an omnivore, consider what a vegetarian is asked to do. Vegetarianism essentially says that only food consumption and only food in the form of meat is unethical. This is simply not true. Animals are used for a variety of purposes like labor, chemicals, textiles, entertainment, and research. Meat is only one such product that comes from animal use. All require torture, all require death.
3. Why is vegetarianism fundamentally inconsistent?
Vegetarianism does not even demand that an individual eat fewer animal products. In fact, vegetarians often consume more because they are replacing their diet with secondary animal products like dairy and eggs. So vegetarianism is a rule of consuming animals as much as one wishes as long as its not in the form of meat. This does not prevent or speak out against animal exploitation whatsoever.
You may suggest that someone will inadvertently consume fewer animal products as a result of vegetarianism. While that is highly unlikely, an individual will consume fewer animal products not because they're a vegetarian because they're eating fewer animal products. If someone inadvertently consumed fewer animal products because they started eating at a different restaurant, should we advocate to people to eat at a different restaurant?
You may also suggest that vegetarianism is a "step" towards veganism in that it eliminates a part of one's animal palate in preparation of a vegan diet. Indeed, this is the only way it could be a step towards veganism. However, why should meat be the first wave of elimination? I believe it would be more practical for us to tell an omnivore to take out as many animal products from their diet/life as possible.
If we instead tell them that specific products should be eliminated, what does this tell them about these products over non-food animal products and non-meat food animal products? And if we tell them to stop eating meat, we may have missed an opportunity to bring someone to veganism by having them remove other things they could easily get rid of right away!
I'm reminded of a vegetarian friend of mine who was looking over a menu. She read the ingredients of a product and saw it had milk and said to herself "oh, that's vegetarian, I can eat that." So you see that vegetarian advocacy in this particular case prompted the person to abstain from non-vegetarian products rather than to abstain generally from animal products. A false moral distinction is made.
4. "But isn't veganism extreme?"
Vegetarian advocacy also strengthens the mindset that vegetarianism is the default way to object to animal use and veganism is simply an unnecessary extreme for the truly dedicated. Veganism must be the starting point. Veganism by definition is the only lifestyle choice which seeks to exclude as far as practical and possible all forms of animal exploitation.
Let me suggest to you to just try this. Recommend veganism. If someone asks you about vegetarianism, be politely upfront about the inconsistencies of vegetarianism and see what happens. If you don't tell them, who will? I've been doing this for a long time and I have quickly proven my old mindset incorrect that people will be scared away.
It is for this reason I am passionate about writing these articles. Most of the people to whom I talk about these issues feel offended or that I am fighting with someone who wants the same things as me. However, as you can see, these are important arguments to consider.
5. But I don't eat meat so that's good, right?
I rarely use the word "meat" alone in my discussion of veganism. I think meat consumption is just as unethical as leather, wool, honey, animal-labored, animal-tested products, etc. I basically use the word "animal product" where others say "meat".
As for breaking the mainstream image, I think this person has transcended from one mainstream image to another. Now this person sees "meat" as the culprit of animal cruelty even though animal death is just as involved in the production of other animal products like eggs and dairy, sometimes with even more cruelty.
Are vegetarians more open-minded to learn about other forms of cruelty? Maybe, as they may also be more close-minded for thinking there are the moral distinctions I listed earlier. For the purposes of this discussion, we're considering someone who is a complete omnivore and is not appealing to veganism. We have the choice of accepting their reluctance by recommending them vegetarianism and the abstinence from meat instead, or reinstating veganism as the only starting point and telling them that only the increased reduction of animal products (any animal products) can be a positive step, a choice they can reasonably consider.
Try recommending just eating vegan at their next meal. Tell them they should try having a vegan breakfast or master a vegan recipe they can make from time to time. Tell them where vegan restaurants and options are. If you're satisfied with them being vegetarian, you'll find that someone who 'can't go vegan' will end up vegetarian by these suggestions without your recommendation. In fact, they may end up smart enough to call themselves someone who abstains greatly from animal products (if not completely).
6. Does vegetarianism lead to veganism?
Often, the "proof" given that vegetarianism leads to veganism is that a certain number of vegans were vegetarian initially. But does this really prove anything? Does it support vegetarianism as an effective technique for vegan advocacy? As I mentioned before, I was a vegetarian before I was vegan. Even if something about one's personal experience helped him/her to become a vegan, this should be considered along with the very negative impacts vegetarian advocacy has. Why wouldn't you switch for a more logically consistent and efficient form of advocacy?
7. Shouldn't we be working together?
"Infighting" is a word I hear too often. This word is very problematic in its implication of a unified message. Vegetarian advocacy is often performed by groups who have a fundamentally different position than an abolitionist vegan. We are not in the same boat! Most vegetarian advocacy organizations are not concerned with the fact that animals are used but how they are used. That is, these groups find no moral objection to the use of animals. That is an entirely different position which does not work toward the same goal.
Sometimes disagreements come off as harassments but understand articles like these are bold in their disagreements in order to arrive at the truth. Without a sound logical approach, action goes to waste and can even hurt the movement. This may be the first time you've heard such a disagreement and I'm asking you to consider it with an open mind.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians, are you aware of these facts?
There is more cruelty in a glass of milk than a pound of beef. The milk industry is directly related to the beef and leather industry. Every cow that gives its milk, gives a child. Remember that in order to continue lactating, a mammal must continue to have children. When those children are born, 9 times out of 10, they will end up on someone’s plate.
Purchasing "battery hen" eggs supports an institution that cages up to nine birds together, debeaks them, and forces them to continually lay eggs until they are calcium depleted and on the verge of death, at which point, they are slaughtered. Most free range hens are not "free" at all. In fact they are packed into houses, where they have minimal access to the outside. "Free range" eggs also supports an industry which looks upon male chicks as "waste products" - they will either be killed after birth or fed to a particular weight and then slaughtered.
If you truly care about animals, please go vegan.
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