|my favorite cookbook - full of fantastic vegan and vegetarian recipes|
If someone smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, they’re clearly a smoker; but if, once or twice a year, they get drunk at a party and smoke a cigar, then they’re a non-smoker who smokes every once in a while. We propose a similar way of thinking for veganism: if 95%’ish of the time you’re vegan, you’re vegan or veganish.
Do you see Catholics kicking members out for using birth control? Do you see Mormons 86’ing members who drink beer or coffee? How about public shaming of Jews who don’t eat kosher? And, these are effin religions! Hell, veganism isn’t even supposed to be a religion but we set far stricter criteria and far higher standards to live by. And we don’t offer an after-life, heaven, or any other nifty parting goods for participating.
And, by the way, what is the real difference between someone who eats 100% vegan vs someone whose dietary intake is 95% vegan? Does the difference really mean less animal suffering? Depends, but if the difference is just lots of misc ingredients in various meals during a given year, that is probably not the case.
In a world that is so crazy, so cruel, and so barbaric, why is it that so many vegans are hardest on fellow vegans who don’t meet the mythical standards of strict vegan?Good quesion!
But now, what about vegetarians? I nearly jumped when I saw this post--"Let's kill Vegetarian! Why Vegetarianism must go and VeganISH should ascend"? Phew, no, it doesn't say "Let's kill VegetarianS"! But Joe Haptas has a problem with vegetarianism ... as they say.
His main point is that vegetarianism is not a coherent ethical stance. In some cultural settings (rural India?) it might make sense to think "meat bad, milk-and-eggs not bad." After all, meat inevitably involves killing, and milk/eggs could be obtained with no killing and no cruelty. However in developed countries, that's not how things work. There's massive cruelty behind meat, but also behind dairy products and eggs. So vegetarianism couldn't possibly make sense as an ethical stance. If you can't be a perfect vegan (and few can), at least be veganISH, not vegetarian, he says.
But hold on. Yes, these points about eggs and dairy are important, yes, many omnivores don't know them. The uneducated omnivore might imagine eggs and dairy are innocent, so vegetarians have done all that is morally important, by giving up meat. This is a mind-set I do encounter frequently when I teach my course on animal rights. But people who actually take the step to become vegetarian have typically done a lot of research first and the facts about eggs and dairy are widely available. Vegetarians know that eggs and dairy aren't innocent. They consume eggs and dairy because (basically) vegetarianism is their way of being vegan(very)ish.
There are other ways, of course. You can just be a randomly erring vegan, lapsing at parties, or on special occasions, or by not reading labels, or when the spirit moves you, but there's something to be said for being a consistent vegetarian, not a frequently lapsing vegan. Vegetarianism is not (usually) driven by a mistake (the mistake of thinking eggs and milk don't matter), but partly by animal impact facts, and party by psychological considerations.
Vegetarianism is OK! Reason #1 - Animal impact
Here's what I wrote about this a while back--
If you eat chicken all year, the cost in chicken lives is 25-50. All those chickens will have endured what chickens go through to wind up on our plates--which is a lot if they were ordinary factory farmed chickens, though less, if they weren't. If you eat cage-free eggs all year, roughly one laying hen went through those same things, plus one male chick was killed (since the males have no economic value). That makes it a very rational choice to give up chicken first, before eggs.Now, there are other two-way decisions where things will come out differently. What if it's a choice between eggs and beef? If 10 people collectively decide between a year of egg-eating and a year of beef-eating, they will certainly kill less and cause less suffering if they eat beef. 20 chickens will die for the eggs, and maybe just one steer for the beef. Plus, the steer will have a more enjoyable year. So an eggless beef-eater would be in finer moral fettle than a beefless egg-eater.
If you think through the costs to animals and the environment of beef vs. milk, you will come to the same conclusion. Ideally, we should give up both. If you're not up to that, then your first priority should be giving up beef.
What if it's a choice between an omnivorous diet including a little meat, eggs, and dairy, and a vegetarian diet that's non-stop eggs and dairy? Again, the vegetarian diet isn't morally superior.
To ward off these arguments about egg-free beef eaters and eggs/dairy-crazy vegetarians, we've got to be a little more precise (is this getting excruciating?). A vegetarian diet of the sort real vegetarians typically eat--low in eggs and dairy (and with humane options chosen when possible)--is less harmful to animals than the standard omnivorous diet. There. That's the claim, and I think it's true.
Vegetarianism is OK! Reason #2 - Motivation and Sustainability
If you're going to adopt a challenging diet, psychology matters. An imperfect diet that you can maintain for decades or even a lifetime does more good than a perfect diet that you maintain just for a year. Vegetarianism is, I think, more sustainable than veganism or even veganishism, at least for many people. That, not ignorance about the impact of eggs and dairy, is presumably why there are far more vegetarians than vegans.
First, meat is actually easier to give up, and keep giving up, than eggs and milk. Meat inherently and obviously involves killing. You can see that, so finding meat repellent comes easily. That's motivating. Second, eggs and milk are everywhere, so abstaining from them requires a global change of diet. It's a much harder thing to do, on a long-term basis.
The -ish in being veganish might make the diet less sustainable than a vegetarian diet, depending on what sort of -ish is involved. Suppose you reject the distinction between meat and eggs/dairy. So you're anti-vegetarian about your -ish. Your lapses include occasionally eating a hamburger or pepperoni on your pizza, or whatever you fancy. One lapse might lead to another, because you've reminded your taste buds of these possibilities.
It's also self-reinforcing to have a set of rules and take pride in being able to follow them consistently. The lapsing vegan may ultimately get tired of feeling so fallen.
I think Carpe Vegan has a very helpful message for vegans. The main message is about tolerance and inclusivity--about not giving up just because you're "only" veganish. I can even accept that vegetarians are the ugly stepsisters of vegans, veganish or otherwise. But we're not naive, not unprincipled, and not not-helping. We're drawing a line in a place where it actually makes sense to draw it--both in terms of animal impact and human psychology. Vegetarians are imperfect, certainly, but have good reasons for their particular way of being imperfect.
p.s. I just had a look at the contributors list at Carpe Vegan and found Rhys Southan's name on it. Well that's interesting! Rhys is also my favorite bad ex-vegan. His blog (Let Them Eat Meat ... no, no, wrong conclusion!) is constantly smart and frequently hilarious.