Vegans, Donans, Greenans

Following up on another thread (see "In Defense of Vegetarians")--

The abolitionist crowd has a very strange attitude toward vegetarians.  We are  actually worse than omnivores, they think. Unpublished comments from these people (last month) dismissed both my new book and my Animal Rights course as worthless, since I'm a mere vegetarian.  Yesterday Alex even compared vegetarians to embezzlers. Not only do we contribute nothing to animal advocacy, but we actually take away.


I worry these people are single-issue moralists. They never think about any moral issue besides the treatment of animals.  That's my suspicion because nobody would dream of having the "vegans only" type of attitude on comparable issues.

Let's make up some new words.  Donans are people who do all that they should with regard to preventing death from poverty and disease. They give to the point of marginal utility, just as Peter Singer says we should in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality." They may not do so for exactly Singer's reasons (perhaps they're more persuaded by the arguments in Peter Unger's very interesting book Living High and Letting Die), but they never ever do anything like buying an ipod rather than sending $200 to Oxfam, an amount that will save at least one life.

Donatarians don't do as much. They are just as convinced by Singer or Unger (or by other arguments) but find themselves sometimes buying ipods. They are simply not up to doing everything they should.

Greenans are just as exemplary as Donans, but their focus is on the environment.  These are people who recycle every single thing that's recyclable, ride bicyles rather than drive cars, never ever fly, and otherwise reduce their carbon footprint to the absolute minimum. 

Greenatarians don't do as much.  They are just as convinced of the obligation to be totally green, but they recycle as much as practically possible, drive hybrids, limit family size, etc.

Imagine saying that donatarians and greenatarians do nothing for the poor and the environment. Nobody would take this view seriously. It's just as silly to dismiss what vegetarians can do for animals.


Mike Almeida said...

If someone were to come to me and say, "Alex, I can either spend the next year doing nothing at all for the animals, or I can spend the next year urging everyone I know to become a vegetarian [or urge them to eat cage-free eggs, pasture-fed beef, etc.]", I would answer, "Please do nothing."

This is wildly counterproductive, and frankly a bit silly. I thought he was concerned with "real world" answers? The fact is that the real world (assuming we are living in the same world) is not filled with this brand of zealotry. The rational approach to this problem has to include the acceptance of incremental change and the encouragement of all forward movement on the issue. "I'm all or nothing" impresses people with one's uncompromising virtue, I guess, but it finally sinks any hope of real change. All major social change involves coalition building. So, being realistic about the matter, we ought to be applauding any change for the better that we can get.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Jean, you misrepresented my position.

In my earlier comments, I thought that I was being quite clear in drawing a distinction between people who practice vegetarianism without advocating it to others versus people who advocate vegetarianism as some sort of morally acceptable (if not exactly morally ideal) method to help the animals.

I don't have much to say about the former group, aside from the obvious position that -- everything else being equal -- less suffering/death is better than more suffering/death. I'll refrain from making another comparison to less-prolific serial killers.

As to the latter group, those are the people I compared to someone who steals from a charity (in the sense that they're hurting the animal-rights cause rather than helping it).

I continue to maintain that advocating vegetarianism does nothing but delude people into thinking that there is a morally relevant distinction between eating flesh on the one hand versus eating eggs/dairy on the other hand (there is no such distinction), and it reinforces the idea that it's OK to exploit animals as long as we pick and choose the ways in which we exploit them.

Furthermore -- and this is something that I didn't mention in my previous comments -- activism is a zero-sum game. Every dollar and every minute that you spend advocating vegetarianism is necessarily a dollar and a minute that you did not spend on vegan education.

I've encountered a fair number of vegetarians, and as far as I can tell, most of them think their job is done -- they believe that they're not complicit in the suffering or death of animals. So why should they become vegan?

Those who promote vegetarianism as some kind of half-way acceptable measure make it that much harder for people like me to engage in vegan education.

To sum up, I do think that those who advocate vegetarianism are spreading misinformation, squandering valuable resources, and putting roadblocks in the way for those who work to put an end to all animal exploitation. Thus, I stand by me assertion that vegetarian activists do more harm than good.

For a longer discussion, see here.

And for the record, I was not among the people who called your book and your course worthless.

s. wallerstein said...

Embezzlers! That's a promotion. Let's break out the champagne. Just a month ago they were comparing us vegetarians to slave-owners and the SS at Auschwitz.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Mike, I'm not concerned with "uncompromising virtue". I'm an abolitionist primarily for pragmatic reasons. Welfare-type reforms fail on their own terms. See here for a discussion.

I'm all in favor of incremental reform, as long as those incremental changes move us in the proper direction. See the discussion here.

There's nothing wrong with building coalitions, but there is obviously no point in collaborating with those whose approach is counter-productive.

Mike wrote, "we ought to be applauding any change for the better that we can get." Indeed. The dispute here centers on which changes are for the better and which ones are for the worse.

Sorry about posting links, but I simply don't have the time to write another long post.

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, OK, so you think quiet vegetarians are not embezzling. But people like me are not quiet vegetarians. I speak out (here, in my book, in my class) about the value of "doing better" even if one isn't ready to be a vegan. So you are (in effect) calling me an embezzler. Obviously, I do have to take exception to that.

I take it your view of the donatarians and greenatarians (why aren't you talking about them?) is that they should give and be green, but shut up about it, and never commend other donatarians and greenatarians. Only donans and greenans should ever speak about poverty and the environment.

That (obviously) would be a recipe for disaster. There are just too few donans and greenans around for serious issues like poverty and the environment to be left in their hands. We need the efforts of donatarians and greenatarians, and to encourage them we must commend what they do, even if it's not perfect.

All the same things are true about vegans and vegetarians. The vegetarians must speak out too, and it's all to the good if they commend the efforts of vegetarians. (And no, that doesn't mean saying anything silly and benighted about how meat is bad and milk is OK, or chicken is bad and eggs are OK.)

So how about it--do you think donatarians and greenatarians should shut up too (like Al Gore, Peter Singer, Jeffrey Sachs, Peter Unger...and almost every one addressing poverty and the environment), or is it just vegetarians who should shut up? And if just vegetarians, why?!

Faust said...

Well played Jean, imo.

Having said that I appreciate Alex defending his position, I think I actually get it now, though I don't agree with the argument at a pragmatic level.

Melissa said...

In the words of Kathryn Paxton George, "The 'vegan ideal' is not a *moral* ideal at all. It may be adopted as a personal lifestyle, but it cannot be a moral ideal because it would idealize those of a particular age, sex, class, ethnicity, and culture; that is adult (age 20-50), middle-class, mostly white males living in high-tech societies--the group with the most power in our world."

from the book "Animal, Vegetable, or Woman?"

Vegans are creating a "moral underclass" (children, women, the elderly). The 'vegan ideal' is a myth.

rtk said...

C'mon Alex, a dollar spent here is not a dollar unspent there. Many of us have multiple piggy banks. 50 cents spent on an orange is not 50 cents taken from the apple budget.
I've also wondered, when reading your posts, if you would refuse to diminish a cancer by medication, waiting until its growth convinces the doc that surgery is the only option. Lots of pain may lie in that path.

Jean Kazez said...

Melissa, Hmm! I've read an article of hers making basically that argument, but find it puzzling. It may be true that Tom Regan and others with a rights view think that eating animal products is always wrong. So they disapprove of anyone who uses them, whatever the reason. And maybe that will mean their disapproval will fall disproportionally on the some groups and less on others. But I'm not sure that alone is a reason to be dissatisfied. Some kinds of wrongdoing are more prevalent in some groups than others. Must I really have views of wrongdoing that make it just as prevalent in every group?

On the other hand, a utilitarian advocate of veganism like Peter Singer would not make a generalization like "using animal products is always wrong." If there are subgroups with serious enough reasons to drink milk (for example), he will say it's permissible for them to drink milk. There are many other ethicists with this sort of "case by case" ethics for deciding whether using animals for food is permissible...which is far more plausible, I think. (My approach in Animalkind is "case by case" like this.)

Of course, even if you take the "case by case" approach to deciding what's permissible, you need some nutrition science to figure it all out. People will disagree about what the science shows. But I'm inclined to think there really may be special reasons to consume animal products in some populations.

True confessions: when I was pregnant with twins I did not want to take the chance of consuming insufficient protein, and did not want to spend all my time eating beans. So I took a leave of absence from being a vegetarian and added "humane" chicken to my diet.

If anybody wanted to chide me for that, my answer would be..."go ahead, make my day."

Alex Chernavsky said...

Jean, I didn't address your analogy to donatarians / greenarians because too much depends on what, exactly, they are doing -- and whether their actions are helping to bring us closer to a true solution to poverty and environmental problems, respectively.

The other issue is that it's extremely difficult to donate most of your possessions and to give up all use of cars, airplanes, etc. In contrast, I do not think it's particularly difficult to become a vegan, especially given today's wide availability of vegan products (even moderate-sized supermarkets usually have a decent selection of vegan foods). So urging people to become vegans is not in the same ballpark as urging them to give away 95% of their savings or to forswear all use of petroleum products.

As for my comparison to embezzlers, I simply wanted to run with your analogy of donating money to a charity. I wasn't trying to offend. Well, maybe I was a little.

Jean Kazez said...

How do you tell whether it's hard or easy to be a vegan. You ask lots of people who are willing to try, and see what their experience is. My experience is that it's hard, and that's what I hear from students too.

The reason it's hard is that we have a lifetime of taste-habits and those are hard to break. I don't get it when vegans say they're just as happy with all their substitutes. I'm not.

So--I say veganism is hard (for many people). Not as hard as greenanism and donanism, but still hard. The hardness is a good reason to commend the vegetarians, greenatarians, and donatarians even if they don't do all that they should.

I think I do understand your misgivings--you think vegetarians are perpetuating wrongheaded ideas. I just don't think that's necessarily the case. Though of course we may disagree about what's wrongheaded and what's rightheaded.

s. wallerstein said...

Melissa: I agree with what you say. It would be almost impossible for me to become a complete vegan where I live, Santiago de Chile, since the foods eaten by vegans are not available. When Alex claims that there is a vegan section in most supermarkets, I suggest that he travel a bit. The world is bigger than the U.S.A, and I would bet that in poor rural areas of the U.S.A, especially those with basically a latino or african-american population, there is no vegan section either in supermarkets either.

Melissa said...

Excellent point, Amos. I couldn't agree more.

Jean, a few thoughts about making "exceptions"...
As KPG explains in her book, both the abolitionist view and the case-by-case approach look to adult male physiology as "the norm." So isn't there a problem with making exceptions for those who just can't quite live up to the "vegan ideal" (children, pregnant women, the elderly). They are then "less than" ideal, flawed, not as good just by virtue of their very being.

I've been as vegan as a vegetarian can be and yet I still do not advocate a vegan diet for children or others. I believe vegetarianism or perhaps semi-vegetarianism is the "ideal" and veganism is the exception. I say, "Are you a strict vegan? Hooray for you (really)", but moralizing about the mythical vegan ideal strikes me as arrogant -- that is in my humble opinion. Or as KPG states it's more "a bald argument for power rather than for justice, moral virtue, or caring."

If we want to talk about eliminating suffering, let's discuss factory farming. Omnivores and vegetarians alike actually agree that the cruel practices involved are unacceptable, immoral - no arguments there.

I used to host a yahoo group for vegetarian mothers and I learned that it's not uncommon for a woman to return to eating some meat while pregnant. For example, one woman was on bedrest for most of her pregnancy and couldn't cook for herself, so she ate the meat that her friends/family prepared. I'm glad I didn't have to return to meat-eating while pregnant -- not that I wouldn't have if I felt the need, however I started eating free range eggs and organic yogurt again.

Incidentally, as a child we kept chickens as pets and I honestly never witnessed any suffering when we or the dogs swiped an egg or two.

Jean Kazez said...

Melissa, When I say "case by case" I mean that one of the things we have to look at is why THIS individual wants to eat THIS animal product. I think reasons of health do make a difference to the moral equation. My reasons of health (as a woman pregnant with twins) weren't the same as the standard male's.

Re: children. I wouldn't want my kids to be vegans--my instincts just tell me no. So basically I agree--veganism isn't the One And Only Way by which everyone's eating habits should be judged. Yet for me right now (because I have no special health issues), I can say--yes, that would be the best thing, morally speaking.

I must read more KPG. I've been meaning to read more of the feminist animal ethics literature.

s. wallerstein said...

Thanks, Melissa. You have a very fine/subtle ethical eye and I hope that we can hear more from you.

Melissa said...

Thank you, Amos!

Jean's comment:
"Re: children. I wouldn't want my kids to be vegans--my instincts just tell me no."

Jean, I feel the same way.

I've met only two or three strict vegan parents in my life, and the woman I knew best is a teacher, certainly educated enough. She told me once how she was forcing her son to eat avocado (I guess she realized he needed more fat in his diet or something) and her son was having eating issues. Her three young children were all on her strict vegan diet and from what I witnessed it was not working very well. She was exhausted, tired all the time and cooking was a real chore. I never said a word, but I must admit I found it deeply disturbing and I fortunately never see or hear from her now.

Jean Kazez said...

Yeah, just not appealing. There are health issues, but also "fitting into the world" and happiness issues. I don't want my kids going around feeling like all the tantalizing goodies are forbidden. The only thing that's off limits (and it's by their own choice) is obvious meat. This is enough of a challenge and a sacrifice. I don't want them having to look at every cookie and piece of cake and thinking it might be taboo. This would make them like kids that keep kosher--and I don't think you can do that and really feel like you belong to this world. In fact, that's part of the point of kosher--to separate yourself from the mainstream. I don't want that for my kids...besides there being possible health issues.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Melissa wrote, "If we want to talk about eliminating suffering, let's discuss factory farming. Omnivores and vegetarians alike actually agree that the cruel practices involved are unacceptable, immoral - no arguments there."

From an animal-rights perspective, I think it's counter-productive to focus on animal suffering, because doing so sends the implicit message that it's OK to exploit animals as long as we treat them well.

I think our focus should be on the use of animals rather than their treatment.

I believe it would be immoral to eat a cow that lived a completely idyllic life and then was slaughtered painlessly. Why would it be immoral? Because cows are like dogs, cats, and people -- they have an interest in living out their lives without being used as a means to an end.

I may have posted this link before, but I really like this article about the surprising complexity that scientists have discovered in the intellectual and emotional lives of farm animals:

"The secret life of moody cows"

Getting back to the issue of animal suffering, I'm reminded of the movie, Food, Inc.. The central message of the movie seems to be that it's perfectly fine to eat animals as long as those animals are raised and slaughtered by charismatic, camera-friendly hippie entrepreneurs.

So, yes -- I agree with Melissa's point that factory farms are "unacceptable, immoral" places. But then again, so are organic, free-range, pasture-fed, cage-free farms.

Alex Chernavsky said...

"my instincts just tell me no".

I'm not a big believer in the power of instincts or intuition. Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich wrote an excellent book called, How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. He provides all sorts of examples of people whose instincts led them astray, such as basketball coaches whose instincts about the game were easily disproven by reviewing videotapes of past games (needless to say, the coaches remained unswayed, despite hard evidence that they were wrong).

On a more tragic level, psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson provide examples of police and prosecutors whose faulty intuition resulted in the conviction of innocent people. See, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (this is probably one of the best books I've read in recent years). What's interesting is that some of these law-enforcement people cling to their beliefs even in light of new evidence, to the point where they go beyond mere pig-headishness all the way to full-blown irrationality.

Jean Kazez said...

To me it just sounds horrendous to say "it's counterproductive to focus on animal suffering." Suffering matters, period. We should focus on it just because it's an awful thing. We shouldn't be first figuring out whether it would be "productive" or "counterproductive" to focus on it. Empathy requires us to respond--now, and without strategizing. That certainly doesn't mean we can't care about other things as well (rights, respect, etc. etc) and work toward them simultaneously.

Melissa said...

Alex, I realize I'm new here on Jean's blog, so I should perhaps let you know that I'm actually very familiar with the arguments presented by Gary Francione/Friends of Animals and others. I've read books about the emotional lives of farm animals. So I understand the arguments, yet I disagree with the so-called abolitionist approach. I have a different worldview, a different perspective.

I've mentioned this article once before, but I'll post the link again just in case you're interested. "Abolitionism versus Reformism: or which type of campaign will lead to animal rights eventually? Animal welfare and animal rights"

Jean Kazez said...

Re: instincts. Yes, maybe that's the wrong word. "Instinct" makes it sounds like we're born knowing what's nutritious, and that's surely nonsense. I'm all for learning, reading, listening. But what I'm saying is--having acquired lots of information and experience for many years (yes, I'm over 18), the conclusion I draw is "no vegan kids." That's for health reasons but also for the sake of their happiness.

Melissa said...

Alex: I wonder, do you know many adults who have been vegan from birth?

Melissa said...

Just one more thing. I've often thought that if I were a farm animal I would not want an abolitionist vegan representing me.

"Miss Piggy - it's Attorney Francione on the line. He says you'll have to give birth in that sow stall. He's not settling."

I would want the lawyer fighting for my welfare during captivity as well as fighting for my release/freedom.

OK, that's me being silly, but really.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Melissa, your arguments about "Attorney Francione" and the sow would make more sense if welfare "reforms" actually made some appreciable difference in the lives of farm animals (see here, for an example of the horrific conditions that are present in a "humane" farming facility).

Jean: suffering clearly matters, but basing campaigns on suffering leads to steps backward instead of steps forward (see the link above, for instance). Talking about slaughterhouse atrocities, factory farm practices, etc. just causes consumers to be duped by the "happy meat" industry.

Melissa, the husband-and-wife heads of the Rochester-Area Vegetarian Society (actually, it's a vegan society, but they call it "vegetarian" for historical reasons) have three children -- one adult, one in college, and one in high school. To the best of my knowledge, all three were raised as vegans from birth (and continue to be vegans). They're all quite successful and attend society functions.

As for living outside the mainstream, I'm all about that. It's like the song about the boy named "Sue".

Taylor said...

Evelyn Pluhar has debated Kathryn Paxton George at some length about George's nutrition claims. And Sheri Lucas says the following in "A Defense of the Feminist-Vegetarian Connection" (Hypatia vol 20, no. 1, Winter 2005):

"George’s central feminist challenges rely on a problematic principle of nonarbitrariness, equivocate between dietary and ethical vegetarianism, make unwarranted assumptions about human perspectives, appeal to odd claims about 'authentic' diets, are based on outmoded science, and draw sexist inferences about the relationship between this science and the overall health prospects of women and men. George’s global challenges rely on imperialistic assumptions, moot hypotheticals, and an unfounded theory of environmental degradation; correctly fault a base mode of judgment, but wrongly take it as intrinsic to ethical vegetarianism; and finally, along with her central feminist arguments, beg the question against the main issues of the debate. Given these and other major flaws, the weight of George’s arguments is nil."


Jean Kazez said...

"basing campaigns on suffering leads to steps backward instead of steps forward"

I think for the abolitionist crowd this is an "idee fixe" and not supported by evidence. It is just wild to claim that all the different animal welfare laws, from the Humane Slaughter Act, to the Animal Welfare Act, to all the state animal cruelty laws, have been steps backwards. I see this claim as entirely ideological and polemical--bordering on delusional.

Part of the abolitionist fantasy is that there are all these people out there who were reluctant to eat meat and experiment on animals before all the animal welfare legislation came along. They were holding back because of their concern for animal welfare. Then, because of the legislation, they felt much better and used even more animals.

So (the abolitionists say) it's because of animal welfare legislation that we are now eating more meat, using more animal labs etc.
Good heavens, no. There's no holding back, because almost everyone feels entitled to use animals in any which way. Most people do want animal welfare legislation, but not as a precondition to using animals. There are 1001 reasons why animals are being used more today.

s. wallerstein said...

I've never managed to raise a vegetarian or even less a vegan child. First of all, all the kids I've dealt with go through a stage, from say, age 4 to age 14,
when they absolutely refuse to eat vegetables and when they are very fussy about eating fruit. Since a healthy vegan or even vegetarian diet requires a wide assortment of non-animal foods, it is difficult to get those kids to eat in a healthy fashion, unless you do it at gun point.

Second, kids always find me weird and want to be "normal". My being a vegetarian is another example of my weirdness that my kids (and my step-child) have wanted to avoid in their own lives.

Finally, I think that a child making his or her own decisions, even bad decisions, is important. It's surely part of my weirdness but I prefer a child who independently decides that he or she will eat meat (for bad reasons, but his or her own reasons, even those reasons may not be rational) to one who decides not to eat meat because father knows best. I don't trust children who always say that father knows best, even if it is an a priori and necessary truth that I always know best.

Melissa said...

Taylor: I am not familiar with Evelyn Pluhar, nor have I read Sheri Lucas's "defense."

But "Ouch" is right. That's quite the defense, however I do not think it says much at all about KPG's actual arguments. I would suggest that those who attack KPG's position take a listen to Secretary of State Clinton's recent speech on the 15th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.

The way I read KPG is she is saying vegetarianism/veganism is not *required:* "I am merely arguing that people not idealize the vegan life nor urge it upon others in the belief that the practice is necessary to being truly ethical, to being a consistent feminist or ecofeminist, or to live by the principle of equality. Quite the contrary. It is *impossible* to honor equality and claim that equality demands ethical vegetarianism." (p 132 Animal, Vegetable or Woman?).

For vegan-feminists to argue that veganism is the “ideal” for children and women of all ages and circumstances and anything less than veganism is immoral ... How is that a feminist position?

Re: Nutrition
Excellent case in point from Amos:

"Since a healthy vegan or even vegetarian diet requires a wide assortment of non-animal foods, it is difficult to get those kids to eat in a healthy fashion, unless you do it at gun point."

Jean Kazez said...

What Amos said...I agree on all fronts. My kids made their own decision to be vegetarians. It's their decision to not fit in 100%--not mine. I think I'd draw the line, though, if they wanted to be vegans. I don't think they'd get enough protein because they're not terribly fond of beans and they dislike all the animal product substitutes that vegans eat (as I do). I also would not want to see them feeling that out of synch with the world.

Melissa and Taylor--Ouch indeed.

I think it's true that discussions about animal ethics tend to focus on the behavior of the affluent western adult. A good way to get focused on a much greater variety of circumstances is to watch Heifer International videos.


In these videos you see a vast variety of ways that using animals can make a vital difference in people's lives. One interesting statistic (that I learned from a movie last night) is that only 3% of farmers worldwide own tractors. Animals are still used for vital reasons all over the world. So "the animal question" is not just about me and my choice about what to eat for dinner.

I don't think all vegans will say that using animals for our purposes is always wrong--that's only the view of a certain sort of absolutist rights position that Tom Regan originally put on the map. Utilitarians can easily say that veganism is morally required in some circumstances but not in others. The outlook of my book is not utilitarian, but it is also case-by-case in the same sense.

Taylor said...

Melissa: For the record, Evelyn Pluhar is a philosopher and the author of Beyond Prejudice: The Moral Significance of Human and Nonhuman Animals. (Her debate with George is not part of that work.) A number of feminist philosophers (e.g., Josephine Donovan, Lori Gruen) have taken issue with George.

Jean: You probably know that the American Dietetic Association says: "Well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation. Appropriately planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth." Would you forbid your children to be vegan even if it were their own choice, they were happy to eat lots of beans and other good sources of protein, and did not mind being considered a bit odd?

Jean Kazez said...

I would discourage it, because I don't in fact think my kids would succeed at eating a balanced diet, but more than that, because I don't want them going around feeling like all sorts of yummy things are forbidden. I think it would be sad for a kid to miss out on every slice of birthday cake at every birthday party. This is not the way to feel like a part of this world.

I would also worry that even though a kid decided to be vegan, he or she would constantly feel pulled toward "forbidden foods." My kids do feel tempted by meat, though they are very disciplined about saying no. I'd hate to see them struggling with those feelings in the face of ice cream, yogurt, cheese, cake, cookies as well...in short, all the time. My kids are willing to think about how animals are treated, but I don't want that intruding into their daily lives relentlessly. Childhood should be more relaxed and fun.

That's just how I feel--and I think there needs to be some level of respect between parents as to how they decide to raise their kids. So--no disapproval of parents raising vegan kids intended. You asked about my attitude, and that's what it is.

Melissa said...

Taylor: I think it would be more accurate to say that a number of *vegan*-feminist philosophers (all ten of them) have taken issue with George, not "feminist philosophers" as you state.

No doubt there will be a number of vegans who disagree with Jean's latest work -- which, incidentally, I received in the mail from Amazon today.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm gratified to hear my book is "out in the world"! Thanks very much for ordering it.

s. wallerstein said...

You seem to care about your kids a lot, in an Erich Fromm (Art of Loving) kind of way. That's rarer than it should be.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Sorry, I've been away for a while. Catching up now.

Jean wrote, "It is just wild to claim that all the different animal welfare laws, from the Humane Slaughter Act, to the Animal Welfare Act, to all the state animal cruelty laws, have been steps backwards. I see this claim as entirely ideological and polemical--bordering on delusional."

Delusional? I see the non-abolitionists the ones who refuse to accept the evidence that's plainly visible to all.

See, for example, this recent blog post titled, "Is Vegetarianism Dead?". I've posted an excerpt below. This is what happens when people come out in favor of "happy meat":


Is Vegetarianism Dead?

Eating animals is apparently hip again. The ever-growing bacon trend coupled with the rising popularity of meat-loving chefs means that vegetarianism and veganism are out [...]

...part of the shift away from vegetarianism has to do with the rise of so-called "conscientious carnivorism," a movement in which diners favor local farms and butcher shops over factory-farmed livestock. Even the editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan abandoned her decade-long boycott of meat products. "I suddenly woke up to the fact that I had access to meat I feel great about," said Gabrielle Langholtz.


This is what welfare reform does. It makes people feel better about consuming animal products. It also increases the profitability of those who sell allegedly-humane flesh, eggs, etc. The result is that the animal-exploitation industry becomes more entrenched, more animals suffer and die, and the end of animal exploitation becomes a more-difficult goal to attain.

It's somewhat of a mystery to me why this isn't obvious to everyone who stops to examine the evidence.

For more empirical evidence that welfare reform hurts animals, see www.humanemyth.org.

What's the answer? Instead of advocating in favor of ovo-lactovegetarianism, or cage-free eggs, or whatever, start doing creative vegan education. My wife recently designed a t-shirt the front of which says, "Grass-fed is still dead" (with a drawing of a dead cow), and the back of which says, "There is no such thing as humane meat. Go vegan!". It's a great conversation starter and gets the message across in a concise way. We give the shirts as gifts.

There is also VegFund, which has another excellent approach to vegan education (I've mentioned it here before).

I do not question the intentions of the non-abolitionists. I'm sure that they sincerely think that what they do is helping the animals. Unfortunately, the reality is different.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Amos wrote, "Alex claims that there is a vegan section in most supermarkets".

That's not exactly what I said. I said that even moderate-sized supermarkets typically have a wide variety of vegan foods. I'm not necessarily talking about the specialized, niche products like faux meats. I'm talking about fruits & vegetables (both fresh and canned), rice, nuts, pasta, tomato sauce, peanut butter, etc.

My wife and I are fond of Asian food -- stir-fries and curries. Most of the ingredients can be found easily without going to a specialized store like Whole Foods. Occasionally, the flavorings or spices have to be purchased at an Asian grocery store (we've also ordered them by mail). I've never been to South America, but I suspect that with a small amount of creativity and research, one can come up with a large number of delicious vegan recipes that can be prepared from commonly found ingredients.

That's why I like the idea of Vegan Mondays (rather than Meatless Mondays). Eating vegan food once a week should be enough to convince people that veganism is much easier than commonly believed. It's also good for your health and for the environment. Hopefully, being vegan on Mondays will translate into being vegan the other six days of the week.

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, The anti-welfarists say that major pieces of legislation like the AWA, the Humane Slaughter Act, and state animal cruelty laws have done no good for animals. As I said, that strikes me as delusional.

To counter my charge, you tell me that some vegetarians are starting to eat "humane" meat. How can that possibly be relevant? It's a total non sequitur.

There are two completely different questions here--

(1) Has major welfare legislation benefited animals?

(2) How is the humane food movement helping or hurting animals?

On question (1)--I do think it's totally delusional to think the legislation hasn't been beneficial. Francione has no evidence at all that people were holding back from eating meat and experimenting on animals priori to the AWA and the Humane Slaughter Act. He has no evidence at all that these laws are responsible for increasing the use of animals. This is all just ideological and not evidence-based.

But as to (2), and whether the humane movement is attracting former vegans and vegetarians. A few anecdotes don't add up to much. There's room for debate there, but we need real data.

There's also room for debate about whether a bigger humane meat industry is good or bad. If it becomes a model for the the rest of animal farming (and that may be how things are going), then the other 25 billion animals stand to benefit.

I think vegan education is fine, and I agree with you that grass fed is still dead--nice slogan. I just don't think (sadly) that this message is going to save more than a handful of the 25 billion. So welfare improvements have to be appreciated, even if they're not all we would want.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Maybe it wasn't fair to lump your legislative examples together with the "happy meat" movement, but I see them all as being related in the sense that they reinforce the exploitation of animals.

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (together with the 1985 amendmants) is a fraud. It's essentially a free pass to the vivisection industry -- it's government-sanctioned permission to continue experimenting on animals, while giving the public the illusion that vivisection is now conducted in a humane manner. Heck, rats and mice aren't even covered under the regulations -- and these animals make up the bulk of experimental subjects.

The vivisectors get great PR -- they can stand up and say, "Hey, we're the good guys here! The government approves us! We have animal-care committees that oversee us!". And the public buys it all.

The "Humane Slaughter" act is analogous. All it did was make industry more profitable by implementing changes that made economic sense, anyway (cows that flail around are likely to cause expensive damage to slaughterhouse facilities). Legislation doesn't promote social change (it follows social change), and truly beneficial legislation would never get passed. The laws that do get passed are watered-down and ineffective.

So it's a charade, just like the "humane meat" is a charade. The suffering and death of lab animals has only increased since 1966, just as the abolitionist position would predict. We're using more animals today, in a more-horrific manner, than ever before. I don't have time right now to look up the reference for that, but I don't think that this is a controversial assertion.

So yeah, maybe I should have addressed your legislative examples explicitly, but I just happened to see that blog-entry about the death of vegetarianism, and it reminded me to reply to this thread.

"Humane" meat and toothless legislation -- it's all a symptom of the larger problem of welfare "reforms" being viewed as the solution instead of the problem.

By the way, nobody is asserting that people were holding back from eating meat or experimenting, only that the superficial changes make it more difficult to stop people from eating meat or experimenting in the future.

s. wallerstein said...

Alex: People concerned with what is hip or what is in or what is back are perhaps the most irritating group of human beings around (and there are many irritating groups of human beings).
However, in trying to convince people to become vegans or vegetarians or to do anything else, one should not concern oneself with those who see it as a fashionable trend, but look for those who are capable of commitment to an ethical project.
Do you know the song, "I've got a little list and there's none of them be missed", from the Mikado?
If so, those who stupidly repeat "bacon is back" or "SUV's are back" or "God is back" are on my little list.

Jean Kazez said...

Before the AWA, researchers could do surgery on live animals without anesthesia. Do you really want to say that because the AWA now makes an abolitionist's job harder, it would have been better for the animals to go unanaesthized? I sure hope not.

In any event, the issue is whether animal welfare legislation has increased the use of animals in labs, etc. Is there more killing, etc., now, than there would have been without the legislation?

That has not been proved. In fact, the trend seems to be just the opposite in animal research. Carbone (p. 26) shows that the numbers of animals used in research has held steady or decreased for all species covered by the AWA from 1993 to 2001. But the number of mice and rats, which are uncovered, has increased from 10-20 million to 80 million.

So--less welfare legislation in this instance means more killing. Why? Probably because it's much easier to use rats and mice--fewer rules, less paperwork, etc etc.

It's this kind of evidence that makes me see abolitionist anti-welfarism as an ideology. It's maintained despite the evidence against it, not because of evidence supporting it.

When you say that all the Humane Slaughter Act did was make the meat industry more profitable, you leave out what it did for the animals. Just wondering--if you were going to have your throat slit after being hoisted up by your back leg, would you want to be stunned first? I don't think we should discount the importance of stunning.

The notion that there's beef consumption now because of the Humane Slaughter Act has no evidence to support it. Chicken consumption has increased massively, and chickens aren't covered by the Humane Slaughter Act.

There are lots and lots of factors going into increased meat consumption around the world. The notion that this is because of welfare legislation really does require us to believe in the hordes being held back by animal welfare concerns, and then eating more because their qualms have gone away. Obviously this is extremely implausible.

The basic abolitionist ideas about property, personhood, respect, etc., really do seem worthwhile to me, and I'm interested in them. It's the anti-welfarism that I find downright perplexing. You can think that animal orgs are too focused on animal welfare, but to go further and say animal welfare legislation hurts animals or doesn't help them is going about 100 steps too far.

Jo Tyler said...

I would just like to point out that the notion that there are places in the world where "vegan options" aren't available at supermarkets is an absurdity. If you have a supermarket, you have vegan options.

- vegetables
- fruits
- grains
- nuts & seeds