First, have a look at the comment thread that follows this essay by "mere vegetarian, but nearly vegan" Victor Schonfeld, director of the groundbreaking movie The Animals Film. What a drubbing!
Then we have this badly reasoned brief against vegetarians. Law professor Sherry Colb writes--
Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is no better than nothing, because it causes as much death and possibly even more suffering than omnivorism, if one is consuming the same quantity of animal products but merely switching from including flesh to increasing dairy and eggs, as many lacto-ovo vegetarians do.On every level, this is out in left field. First, there's no reason to assume that vegetarians simply replace meat with greater quantities of dairy and eggs. The meat that used to be in my spaghetti sauce got replaced by vegetables, thank you very much. The beef that used to be in my red bean chile got replaced with...more beans. What makes me a vegetarian, not a vegan, is that there's still parmesan on top of the spaghetti, and possibly some shredded cheddar on top of the chile. But omnivores would have those toppings as well.
But let's suppose, contrary to fact, that vegetarians are replaceatarians. So where omnivores eat chicken for dinner, vegetarians eat omelets. Her claim that vegetarianism is no better than nothing would still be groundless. As I say in the comments over there, if you eat one chicken per week, you kill 52 in a year. On the other hand, laying hens live about a year and lay about one egg per day. So eating a daily egg for a year involves the suffering and death of two chickens: the layer plus the male chick killed at the outset. If you have 3 eggs a day, the cost is 6 chickens (Those approximations are backed up at this Humane Society fact page.) Replacing chicken with eggs would prevent the death and suffering of a large number of animals.
The vegetarian-bashers are followers and associates of Gary Francione who fancy themselves modern day abolitionists working to emancipate animals just as their forebears tried to abolish slavery. I wonder, though, what the anti-slavery abolitionists would think of their tactics.
19th century abolitionists were certainly not slave owners, just as vegans and vegetarians aren't likely to be hands-on killers of animals. The analog of diet-activism in the world of anti-slavery abolitionism is the strategy of a boycott. You could try to end the institution of slavery by not using slave produced goods and trying to encourage others to do the same. If slave produced products had no buyers, abolitionists may have argued, slavery would have to come to an end.
I am reading a great book about slavery (Inhuman Bondage, by David Brion Davis) so perhaps I will soon know to what extent abolitionists were boycotters. But morally, maybe they should have. It's surely morally wrong to put slave produced sugar in your tea. Doing so makes you complicit in the horrendous things that took place on the Carribbean sugar plantations where most sugar was grown and refined. And don't say sugar was a necessity--of course not. Nor could abolitionists plead ignorance about which sugar was slave produced. All sugar was slave produced.
It's fair to say that sugar use would have been wrong, but did 19th century abolitionists give it up? And if so, did the most fastidious boycotters demand abstinence from others? Did the abstainers hold themselves up as the true leaders of the cause? Did they try to convince themselves that just drinking unsweetened tea, and not wearing cotton, etc., would put an end to the awfulness that was slavery?
Francione likes to say that vegetarians are like rapists on a diet ("I'll rape one woman today, instead of ten"). Did abolitionists accuse each other of being like rapists on a diet for still putting a little sugar in their tea?
Despite the wrongness of using slave produced sugar, abolitionists obviously would have been fools to spend their time monitoring the teaspoons full of sugar in each others' tea. Likewise, even if all use of animals for food is wrong, vegans should give up their crusade against vegetarians.
Take home question. What's the difference between putting slave-produced sugar in your tea and being a rapist? If we knew that, then we could explain the difference between putting milk in your tea and being a rapist. Your suggestions welcome.
More "defense of vegetarians" is here.