Vengeance Watch

I have two contributions to "vengeance watch" for today.

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.


s. wallerstein said...

As you say, it is untrue that vegetarians consume the quantities of cheese and eggs that the typical meat eater does of meat.
Meat eaters eat huge steaks; in fact, for many meat eaters, meat is the principle source of calories in their diet. I don't sit down and eat half a pound of cheese or six eggs. At times, to eat with my son, who does eat meat, I agree to go to a fish restaurant with him, and the portions of fish always amaze me: there is so much fish and so little salad, for example. I would have preferred, not only for ethical reasons, but also for reasons of taste, more salad and less fish. Vegetarians, as you say, mostly eat vegetables (including grains, beans, lentils, etc.). I need a little milk to flavor my coffee, but I don't go around eating kilos of ice cream.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm really puzzled by these folks. Truth doesn't seem to matter to them. They'll say anything if they think it might make someone feel bad about not being vegan. They're not living in the reality based community, as they say. You don't do animals any good by pretending that only vegans benefit them.

Faust said...

If the world was filled with rapists and you could convince some of them to reduce their rape rate by 90% wouldn't that be a good thing? Obviously if you had to pick between:

World A: 10,000 women raped a year.


World B: 1,000 women raped a year.

One would choose B no?

But Francione is concerned that this would lead to justification of rape.


Once again, Singer equates the abolitionist approach, which has veganism and nonviolent vegan education as its moral baseline, as “purist” or “fanatical” because abolitionists maintain that we cannot justify any animal use. Does Singer regard as purist an absolutist position on issues such as rape or pedophilia? That is, is the position that we cannot justify any rape or pedophilia, irrespective of the circumstances, purist or fanatical? If not, and if he regards it permissible or even obligatory to take an absolutist position on those issues, is he not merely begging the question about the abolitionist approach as applied to nonhumans and assuming that animal exploitation is less morally problematic than human exploitation? [empahsis mine]

Francione views vegetarians as rapists who say "well it's OK that I'm a rapist because I only rape one woman a month instead of one woman a day."

He views the core activity (raping, animal exploitation) as being justified by welfarist arguments (or rather, that welfarist are attempting to make such a justification).

I'm not clear though that everyone on the "welfarist" side is justifying animal use per se. They are simply saying that if we have to choose between a world

C: 10,000 animals exploited each year


D: 1,000 animals exploited each year.

That we should choose D.


Here is where you insert the zero zum argument.

s. wallerstein said...

Let's change the example so as not to get into the question of whether animal exploitation is less morally problematic than human exploitation or not. We could talk about climate change.
The ideal would be not to raise the temperature at all. At Copenhagen they talked about a 2 degrees C limit, as I recall, while environmentalists call for a 1.5 degree C limit. Let's say that we manage to limit global warming to 1.75 degrees C. Isn't that better than 2 degrees C, which of course is better than 3 degrees C?

Jean Kazez said...

On utilitarian grounds, Singer thinks it's wrong to eat meat and wrong to drink milk. (At least, for us who have healthy alternatives and when animals are being raised in factory farms.) He doesn't think it's "purist" or "fanatical" to deem these things wrong. They really are wrong, like rape and pedophilia are wrong. (Obviously all wrongs are not alike, a point that gets obscured when Francione jumbles together all these different wrongs.)

But now, there's a further question about communication. Singer would say we should be utilitarians about that too and we should focus no on creating rectitude, but on benefiting animals. We should communicate in the way that reduces the suffering of animals as much as possible.

From the point of view of getting results, Francione's "vegan or nothing" message is arguably counterproductive, I think. Very few people will heed that message. So I can imagine Singer saying that we should encourage vegetarians, or half-vegans, or people who eat less meat. If he said Francione's approach was "purist" and "fanatical," this wouldn't have been a matter of not thinking eating meat and drinking milk are wrong, but a matter of thinking that their message is oriented to the wrong goal.

This kind of thinking is very clear in Singer's new book "The Life You Can Save." Singer's view is that we should give to charities to the point of marginal utility, to prevent death and suffering from extreme poverty. If we do anything else, we are doing wrong. It is definitely not justifiable.

Yet at the level of messaging, it would be "fanatical" and "purist" to say this in the sense that it wouldn't have the best results for people threatened by death and suffering, but rather prioritize creating righteous donors. In the book (and at his website) he sets goals for donors that are well beneath the standard he thinks is really correct.

I think this pragmatic stance is appropriate when you're trying to change attitude that are ubiquitous, highly entrenched, and practically etched in our genes. Our attitudes toward giving and our attitudes toward using animals are like that.

As to rape--let's do what we have to do to decrease it as much as possible. That means putting rapists in prison. If there were some bizarre situation where we'd achieve better results for victims by asking rapists to cut back, I think that would be the right thing to do.

Jon Summers said...

If you agree that it is wrong to kill animals for food, then should you really feel pleased with yourself because you have killed 1 rather than 52? It's hardly much consolation, after all, for the one you've done for.

I think vegetarianism can be a useful stepping stone to veganism, but how many veggies don't know about how many animals are killed during dairy production, and so sit back feeling quite pleased with themselves? I was a vegetarian for 16 years before the truth about what happens to male chicks and calves dawned on me, and then thanks to TV. And so now I'm a vegan. I don't see how it is possible to take the first step without at least wanting to take the second.

Jean Kazez said...

Jon, I've been teaching an animal rights class for 10 years, and so I know what sorts of mistaken ideas people have about animal products. They think beef harms animals more than chicken, or they think there's no real problem with eating eggs, or they fail to realize that animals wind up being killed as a result of the dairy industry. Sometimes they have illusions about vegetarianism as solving all the problems associated with using animals for food. So--people should get their facts straight. I agree.

Now about the fact that I am still consuming eggs and dairy (the humane varieties), even though I know the facts, here's part of what I say about it in my new book--

"It's nothing to be proud of, but I can't give up the milk in my cappuccino rights now."

That's not exactly being pleased with myself! At the same time, I certainly don't feel appalled. If I were appalled with myself I'd have to be totally horrified by 97% of the population--all those people who have given up no animal products and find the whole idea ridiculous. That's just not an attitude I want to have. Change in something as basic as what we eat and how we see animals isn't easy. That's how I see it.

Jon Summers said...


I agree totally that it's not a good idea (or at all healthy) to be 'totally horrified by 97% of the population', and I'm not casting any aspersions about, just reflecting really on my own experience of moving from meat eater -> pescetarian (?) -> vegetarian -> vegan. Personally I think it's a good idea to encourage people along that kind of pathway towards veganism, but it has to be done with gentle nudges to keep people moving. As I said, I stalled for far too long as a veggie out of sheer ignorance.

While we don't want people to feel absolutely horrified with themselves, there must be the realisation that, sometimes, the harm done is either just being lessened slightly or merely being moved from one area of agriculture / farming to another. When I went veggie, I certainly upped my intake of dairy, because I was told that it was a good thing to do to keep myself healthy. I wonder how many others do the same?

When giving up food types, I've found myself that it's best just to take the plunge, actively looking for alternatives until you find one you like, or your taste buds adjust to them. Some foods are an acquired taste, vegan or not!


Bea Elliott said...

Oh, I have to sympathize with you Jon - Your story is much the same as mine... At 48 I became a vegetarian - No prompting or videos or internet information --- Just me and an "awakening" to animals as "food". Well, there I was for 6 happy years indulging on my "ethical" dairy and eggs. Never did I realize the harm I was causing.

From what I'm gathering the last 2 of my vegan years is that most people have gone this route - Most never imagining the horrible lives of dairy cows or egg hens. There's been a lot of deliberte deceit in these "farming" practices. When people get a hint that they've been hoodwinked and betrayed, it's only natural that most won't ever trust these institutions again.

Oh... BTW - I love that bowl with the dragonflies... Is it majolica?