Why aren't you a vegan? (results)

HERE are the results of my survey.  88 people took the survey.  I asked--
This survey is aimed at people who are not vegans. You qualify as "not a vegan" if you deliberately consume some or all animal products (meat, eggs, milk, cheese, fish, oysters, clams, etc.) Which of the following statements capture your reason(s) for not being a vegan? Select ALL of the answers that express your viewpoint to any degree at all.
Note, responders could give multiple answers, so the percents don't add up to 100.

The most popular answer (43.2% gave it) was
I believe I am obligated to treat animals humanely but also think some animals raised for food are treated well enough
Next most popular (40.9%) --
I believe I should be a vegan, but I find it too difficult and so I am just a part-time vegan or vegetarian or part-time vegetarian.
Another 25% cited difficulty as their reasons for being omnivores.
I believe I should be a vegan, but I find it too difficult to limit what I eat, so I am an omnivore.
Those two answers are mutually exclusive, so I can (probably!) add the numbers together:  65.9% of those surveyed believe they should be vegans.

Responders rejected an obligation to abstain from animal products for a variety of reasons.  The most popular reasons (26.1%) was that "consuming animals is natural."  Another 25% gave a Kantian reasons for not being obligated to abstain--
I don't believe I am obligated to abstain from animal products because animals are not persons, so I can use them as a means, as long as I am not gratuitously cruel to them.
20.5% think animal products are nutritionally necessary, and therefore ethically acceptable--
I don't believe I am obligated to abstain from animal products, because they are nutritionally necessary, and we can't be obligated to abstain from something we need for our survival.
19.3% have their energies focused on problems they consider more important.
I don't believe I am obligated to abstain from animal products because there are many other problems in the world and my energies are currently directed at problems I consider more important.
30 people selected "other".  Some of the explanations:
1) I don't believe I am obligated to abstain from animal products because not every ethical issue is a matter of obligation: still, it might be good to abstain from animal products, or it would be morally better to do so.
2) There are upland areas of Britain (where I live) which are only suitable for grazing by animals. If there was no market for these animals, not only would the animals not exist, also the economy and environment of these areas would be detrimentally affected, along with the lives of people living there.
3) For reasons incomprehensible to me I cannot care about the rights of animals. I know that I should but I do not.
4) Very roughly: if for example I accept some animals have a right to not be killed or only to be killed humanely, then this should extend to wild animals too. If one takes a consequentialist type view that omissions are not that different from comissions, then we should maximize the welfare of animals in the wild, if it not too onerous. Since in fact, I think of the lifestyle of animals in the wild as the "baseline" good life, then a domesticated life at around that level is acceptable to me.
5) I believe that vegans make a category error by privileging the actions of humans over the actions of other animals. To elaborate: 1) If eating other animals is wrong, and 2) Humans are animals Then either all animals eating other animals is wrong (which seems absurd) or humans are in some way a special kind of animal (which seems contrary to the notion that animals should be treated with the same respect as humans).
6) For ethical reasons I don't eat sentient creatures. I doubt oysters feel pain, but still don't consume them because of yuck factor of eating any animals. Most people would describe me as vegan, but I can't see a serious ethical objection to silk or honey, so I guess I don't qualify as a real vegan. Boo hoo.
7) I am slowly transitioning into being vegan
8) I am not vegan because the ethical satisfaction I would derive by going vegan again would be minor to nonexistent, and so provides little to no motivation for me now that I enjoy eating animal products. If I got nothing out of eating animal products, and could achieve even slight ethical satisfaction from being vegan, I would be vegan -- but that's not the case at the moment. Also possibly relevant is that I don't believe in moral obligations (although it is of course possible to want to be vegan for ethical reasons without believing in moral obligations).
9) It's too exhausting to try to eat completely the "right" way. The rising demand for quinoa is apparently detrimental to the farmers who grow it (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/20/quinoa-boom-bolivian_n_2724251.html). Brown rice has arsenic. Unless you grow your own food, which I have neither the knowledge, skills or desire to do, you're hurting someone, somewhere. So I try to buy local, consume animal products in moderation (and pay extra for humanely raised, cage-free, etc. etc., to show that there is a market for these products instead of abstaining entirely), and live my life without constant anxiety and second-guessing at every meal. It's the best I can do right now. I also believe that everyone eating half as much meat would be the same as half the people abstaining entirely, which seems more realistic.
10) Admittedly, I don't try very hard. And clearly I don't feel that omnivorism is very wrong, as wrong as other things I refrain from doing, like murder or theft, or I would be more motivated to comply with my moral reasons. Rationally I believe veganism is the only morally defensible position - however I don't feel strongly enough motivated to comply with that, especially as I'm a lazy and unimaginative cook, and really love dairy.
You can find out who these responders were (philosophers? with background in ethics? knowledgeable about the treatment of animals?) by looking at the survey results.

Why did I create this survey?  I am a vegetarian (20 years now!), but not a vegan, and have a longstanding puzzlement about why I cannot make myself go further.  I like the milk in my cappuccino too much--I am a sinner!  But is that all there is to it? Periodically I ponder the possibility that I am not actually a sinner.  We all have a right to food that's "nutritious and delicious"--and our obligation is only to exercise that right in the most humane way possible. For me, given my taste preferences, that means being a vegetarian, not a vegan. That sounds a bit lame and "spin"-ish, so I wondered what other non-vegans have to say in their self-defense.   Several of the "other" answers strike me as food for thought--especially 4) and 5).


Jon Summers said...

I'm been vegetarian for 20 years now, and have tried to go vegan at least 3 times. Each time I got very ill, despite making sure I was getting all the different food groups I needed. I wonder if some people just do need the animal products in their diet?

Anonymous said...

Great job! I think that is a very useful survey. I am a vegan (two years, and loving it)!
If you are toying with being vegan, I say 'go for it' and try substitutes. If you fall off the wagon one day, you can always get back on. When I started, I didn't know if I could do it. I took one day at a time. After two months, I realized I could do it! Plus, I learned it is healthier, which really got me excited. I hope I am vegan forever - it is hard to say, and I do make mistakes from time to time (little ones, like eating something made in butter at a friend's house because I didn't know better or didn't want to be rude). I am more strict that many vegans, but there are many who are less strict than myself. I think every effort we make towards veganism and reducing harm to animals is just wonderful. I certainly don't regret it! Plus, I found nutritional yeast is a delicious dry cheese. It is sooo good in a white sauce, with extra salt. You'd never know it wasn't melted cheese!

Aeolus said...

Hmmm... Your justification for having milk in your cappuccino sounds like something that could be subscribed to by a cannibal exercising their alleged right to "nutritious and delicious" human flesh in the most humane way possible.

4)looks like an incoherent mishmash of ideas to me.

5) is double nonsense. It misrepresents veganism (for allegedly holding that eating animals is wrong regardless of what species one belongs to) and, in a related fault, it misunderstands the idea of respect (by failing to understand the distinction between moral agents and moral patients).

One of the positions you quote is mine. Can you guess which one? (Hint: it's the best one.)

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks for the comments, all.

Aeolus, you've got to be #6! Perhaps vegans exploit bees too--think about all that uncompensated labor!

OK, about the cappuccino. I can't imagine it ever being true that cannibalism was the most humane way to exercise the right to eat nutritious and delicious food. It would have to be some situation in which the alternative was pretty horrific.

But setting aside cannibals--here's what I'm thinking. Vegans are always talking about what delicious food they've been eating. They rave about vegan restaurants, vegan cookbooks, etc. All this raving sends the message that taste matters. Well, how does it matter? Does it matter enough so that if I disagree about the tastiness of vegan food, that matters? Must I opt for a vegan diet even if that would give me, say, 10% of the eating pleasure I currently have? I don't find that vegans take that possibility seriously. I recently talked to a good friend of mine who is vegan and told him I dislike the taste of soy milk (or any other faux milk) in cappuccino. He just dismissed it. The fact is, it's great! With this dismissal, the discussion of how taste matters can't even get off the ground.

This is a thought experiment I find intriguing-- Suppose future scientists create Good Gruel, the best possible food from an ethical and environmental standpoint. It's concocted in a lab and causes no harm whatever. The only problem is that it looks and tastes like oatmeal. For the huge benefit to animals and the environment, am I morally obliged to consume a diet of nothing but Good Gruel? (Please assume the benefit is greater than the cost to me of giving up my usual diet.) If not, why not? It seems to come down to there being a right to one's own basic pleasures, even if they come at some cost to others.

Suppose there is this right--I get to eat in a way that's both nutritionally sound and aesthetically pleasant. Well, it doesn't follow I can do anything. I should exercise that right in the most humane way possible.

I think most people (even vegans) would agree that there's a right to a nutritionally sound diet. That's one reason folks think it's OK for lions to eat zebras--they need to to survive. There's some sort of entitlement to one's own survival (why?!!!). Taste is treated as trivial by comparison. Perhaps there's a puritanical element to that and there's also a right to food enjoyment (within some limits).

There we go. I don't quite endorse this line of thinking (yet) but think there's something to it!

Aeolus said...

Yes, you caught me, I'm #6. If a "vegan" is simply someone who refuses to eat any animal products, then it's not clear what the rationale is for being vegan. (Because Donald Watson said not to eat any animal products?). If it's someone who refuses to use any animal products (or, more generally, any products that involve harmful exploitation of anyone), then there are no vegans in our world.

You're right to ask about the ethical weight of taste. It's a difficult question, perhaps akin to deciding how much weight should be accorded various cultural traditions that we might on other grounds find morally dubious. Suppose our ethically inclined cannibal just doesn't find any substitute for human flesh tasty enough, but says, "Of course, it doesn't follow I can do anything. In exercising my right to eat tasty food, I should raise and kill people in the most humane way possible." What then?

After the revolution, everyone will eat oatmeal and love it.

Rhys Southan said...

"I think most people (even vegans) would agree that there's a right to a nutritionally sound diet. That's one reason folks think it's OK for lions to eat zebras--they need to to survive. There's some sort of entitlement to one's own survival (why?!!!). Taste is treated as trivial by comparison. Perhaps there's a puritanical element to that and there's also a right to food enjoyment (within some limits)."

The survival exemption is one of the big question beggers in vegan philosophy. Convenience, habit, tradition and taste are not reasons to exploit and kill animals for food, but immediate survival is.

(Well, according to most vegans. Some vegans say they wouldn't kill animals even if it was necessary to survive -- similar to Jonathan Safran Foer's mom turning down pork when she was starving in "Eating Animals," because there was no point in living without the meaning her religion gave her life. And some vegans desire human extinction. Yet even among this latter group, not everyone would be against killing an animal to survive. Just so long as you're not breeding.)

For vegans who are okay with killing animals for survival, this is presumably true no matter how many animals you have to kill. Is it really worth 100 wild bunny lives so a human lost on Bunny Isle can live another month or so? (You have to eat a lot of bunnies to not starve.) Why is all this carnage worth it to sustain a single being's life? Why are we so important?

Vegans often call survival "necessary." "It's necessary" is also the excuse for all the animals we kill because of plant agriculture, and the habitat destruction that would exist even in a vegan society. But as you pointed out... why?!!! What is the grand purpose of the human presence on earth that makes it so vital that we continue as a species? We don't *have* to be here, do we? It's not like we have some important mission that needs to be fulfilled that simply must go on even if that means killing animals because there are no plants around.

Without this mission, why is human survival so important? Because we want to live? Because we enjoy it? Because life is... pleasurable?

Isn't killing for survival ultimately killing for pleasure?

Perhaps Aeolus would point out that it's widely accepted for humans to kill each other in self defense, and we don't interpret that as an open invitation for cannibalism. But defending yourself from a human who is trying to kill you isn't exactly the same as killing a bunny who is hopping by when you're starving. In the first scenario, you're stopping a killer. In the second scenario, you're devouring a bystander who has nothing to do with your bad luck. Plus, in lifeboat and stuck-on-a-mountain type scenarios, cannibalism is tolerated because if no one eats each other, everyone on the boat or mountain will die. Cannibalism in these instances leads to more potential survivors. But on the island that has bunnies but no veggie burgers, the bunnies aren't facing the same imminent starvation that the human is. So if the human eats the bunnies, there will be far fewer survivors. To endorse this is to say that the human's life is more important than the lives of all those rabbits. And if life has no purpose other than that it's enjoyable to live, it's hard then to draw a firm line to say where the enjoyment and pleasure is too frivolous to allow for the exploitation or killing of a nonhuman animal.

David Duffy said...

I was #4 ;) My "argument" was actually two separate bits. The first was a sketch of a reductio, if suffering of non-human animals is important in itself, than minimizing it by interventions in the natural world should be intrinsically a good thing eg vaccination to remove animal diseases, or contraception for predators so they die out and stop killing prey animals. To me at least, this doesn't seem particularly sensible.

The second bit overlaps, and is more along the lines of what is the good life for other animals? Is it OK for most individuals of many species to die from starvation or predation in the natural way of things? For many conservationists it is, so that individual animal lives are not quite as important as ecological system survival - it seems to me that this broad way of thinking can extend to farmed animals. Anyway, I am sure all this has been thrashed over many times.

Jean Kazez said...

Rhys, I agree this is puzzling--most agree that we can kill hundreds of harmless bunnies to save our own single life. Yet--some vegans claim--I may not kill any bunnies just for the pleasure of eating them. They might say: it's "serious" to need to save my life, but "trivial" to prefer the taste of bunnies. You ask--but why do I want to save my life? Isn't it for pleasure? How can it be permissible to save it by killing bunnies, but impermissible to improve my quality of life at the expense of bunnies?

I think there's something to this, but there had better be some limits on what I can do to improve my quality of life. What if I simply enjoy killing bunnies --it makes my life more exciting. That seems different from wanting my food to be palatable.

Maybe I would say this: we are entitled to get the food we need for our health in a package we find pleasing. In other words, food isn't just medicine, it's one of life's basic pleasures. I would be reluctant to say there could be an ethics of eating that requires us all to routinely eat a non-pleasing diet. This is different from occasionally having that duty (you're lost in the woods with moldy crackers and a delicious human companion).

David, I think it's interesting to ponder what the good life is for other animals--and I agree with you that their lives in the wild can be good, despite all the violence and deprivation. This might tell us something about what we're allowed to do to animals ourselves....though even on the most humane farm, animals don't have anything like the life they would have in the wild.

Aeolus said...

Jean: Not trying to be personally pesky but only philosophically pesky -- of course you are entitled to nutritious food, but surely not to any food at all that happens to be nutritious. That milk in your cappuccino is not needed for good nutrition; it's there just for your pleasure. So it's not at all clear what the difference is between your ethics and those of the "happy meat" cannibal. And if your milk isn't sourced from happy cows, then score one for the cannibal. Perhaps a way out of this equivalence lies in your sliding scale of intrinsic value?

Jean Kazez said...

Aeolus, You never answered my question about Good Gruel. Assume this is tasteless stuff, but it fulfills all a human's nutritional requirements. Any other diet causes much more death and misery (either directly or indirectly). Suppose you choose a vegan diet instead of Good Gruel. Are you really like a cannibal, or a "happy meat" cannibal (at best)? If you admit we're not required to choose Good Gruel, you're admitting there are situations in which we can cause harm for the sake of taste. This is all I'm prepared to argue for at the moment: in principle, taste is allowed to matter, independently of nutrition--that's as much as I'm prepared to sign on for at the moment. I would not necessarily use that to try to defend every single non-vegan choice I personally make.

Aeolus said...

Good Gruel (organic, fair trade, stone-ground by Bolivian peasants, and certified GMO-free). It seems to me that whether we are morally obligated to eat nothing but this righteous pablum depends on at least two factors: (1) the amount and extent of harm to others that is prevented, and (2) whether by eating it one's own life is unacceptably diminished.

Given that you specify that any other diet causes much more death and misery, it arguably comes down to whether one could still overall live a flourishing life on Good Gruel. A tricky one. But aren't you loading the dice with your thought experiment? A vegan diet is far from tasteless: although it forbids certain food pleasures that many people value, it still allows a vast array of other food pleasures. A Good Gruel diet is a much greater threat to one's flourishing than a vegan diet. So the fact that we may be justified in causing harm to others to avoid the serious deprivations of a Good Gruel diet does not entail that we are justified in causing harm to others to avoid the lesser deprivations of a vegan diet.

Bottom line: I'm willing to entertain the idea that there are hypothetical situations in which we could justifiably cause harm for the sake of taste, but I'm not convinced that gets us very far in the issue of exploiting animals.

Aeolus said...

The survey is mentioned today on James McWilliams' Eating Plants blog.