Re “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” by Gary Steiner (Op-Ed, Nov. 22):
Mr. Steiner might feel less lonely as an ethical vegan — he says he has just five vegan friends — if he recognized that he has allies in mere vegetarians (like me), ethical omnivores and even carnivores. Some of us agree with his outlook, but just don’t have the fortitude to make every sacrifice he makes.
In fact, a whole lot of semi-vegans can do much more for animals than the tiny number of people who are willing to give up all animal products and scrupulously read labels. Farm animals also benefit from the humane farming movement, even if the animal welfare changes it effects are not all that we should hope and work for.
If the goal is not moral perfection for ourselves, but the maximum benefit for animals, half-measures ought to be encouraged and appreciated.
Go vegan, go vegetarian, go humane or just eat less meat. It’s all good advice from the point of view of doing better by animals.
Jean KazezAfter Steiner reads the letter, he says I must not appreciate the size of the problem, and he cites the 56 billion animals killed for food every year around the world (there are about 10 billion in the US). That puzzles me, because the huge number of animals killed actually seems to cut in favor of my tolerant stance. Considering the vast number of animals, and considering the tiny number of total vegans, how could you not want to build coalitions with everyone you can?
Dallas, Nov. 22, 2009
The writer teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University and is the author of the forthcoming “Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals.”
I think the coalition building approach doesn't appeal to "abolitionists" because they overdo the analogy between animal exploitation and American slavery (among other reasons). If you rewrite my letter so that it's about slavery, and change the date to Nov. 22, 1859, it reads like an appalling bit of pandering to spineless slave owners. If I'd been writing about slavery before the civil war, I would have been saying the wrong things.
But imagine another world instead of the US in 1859--a world in which almost everyone has slaves. In fact, imagine that there are 56 billion of them (maybe some of them are on another planet, like in the movie Bladerunner). Imagine also that the vast majority of humanity sees no problem whatever with slavery. In fact, they get great enjoyment out of being served by slaves, and prefer not to think about their gruesome living conditions and the way they are killed (maybe for organ donations, if not for food). Then would it be so misguided to hold out a welcoming hand to anyone who was willing to reduce their dependence on slavery or at least improve slave welfare? I should think not!
Now, I actually think the slavery/animal-exploitation analogy isn't apt, as I argue in my forthcoming book. The killing and mistreatment of animals is sui generis, and not easily assimilated to what we did to African slaves or what rapists do to women, or what people do the mentally disabled, or anything else. The point is just hypothetical. Supposing there really were a valid analogy, it would still be right to develop coalitions between all who are concerned about animals, to any degree. There is just way too much animal death and suffering in the world, and it's too acceptable to too many people, for it to be reasonable to adulate vegans and villify everyone else. (Villify? Yes, villify. Listen to the podcast.)