Vegans and Ethical Omnivores, Unite!

Full disclosure: like the rancher, hunter and butcher in a recent story in The Atlantic, I am what some would call a ‘reformed vegetarian’, or a ‘born-again carnivore’, as this less charitable vegan would describe me. I consider myself an ethical omnivore.

My story is not unlike many who spent years as a vegetarian only to resume eating meat – I chose a vegetarian diet for ethical and environmental reasons, and returned to meat for health reasons. I had two very healthy pregnancies while vegetarian and breastfed my first two children with no issues, only to become severely anaemic early in the third pregnancy. I tried Floradix Herbal Iron Supplement, which had seen me through the final trimesters before without dropping into the anaemic range, to no avail.

As I sat in wan exhaustion at work one day in the third month, it came to me: a burger will fix this. Considering I hadn’t eaten nor craved meat for over six years (and no pork or poultry for even longer because of my particular concerns about the horrific conditions these animals face in intensive systems), this was a pretty weird thought. But moments later, I walked into a little burger joint in Smith Street, Fitzroy and ordered a burger and asked them to slather it with hot English mustard. I’ll be honest, I felt absolutely nothing except exhilaration and a sense of well being. No guilt – I think my body was thanking me, again, weird, I know, ‘cos it was a burger after all, not a scotch filet, but, hey, that iron slid into my blood cells and brought colour to my cheeks for the first time in months.

For the rest of the pregnancy, I ate red meat two or three times a week, as well as my usual high intake of leafy greens and vitamin C-rich foods, and my iron levels returned to normal – I didn’t even have to take any supplements in the final trimester. And I felt fabulous. I slowly took up sustainable fish and lamb, but it took another couple years before I could eat poultry or pork, and only when I could find free range. I really never even considered returning to a vegetarian diet – I had started to better understand the role that livestock plays in sustainable farming, and I became increasingly aware of where to source meat that had been sustainably and ethically raised. Of course, these days in Australia the options are improving all the time, especially for those with ready access to farmers’ markets and armed with the knowledge to frequent them and seek out ethical producers.

On the sustainability question I can cite a lot of research that supports systems that integrate livestock into holistic agricultural systems. My post on agroecology and food security has links to some of that research, as do my notes from the 2011 Sustainable Food Summit, and I’d strongly recommend reading ‘Meat: a Benign Extravagance‘ by Simon Fairlie, which even converted the previously staunch vegan George Monbiot to advocating for sustainable agricultural systems that include livestock. Monbiot’s post is an excellent overview of Fairlie’s book, and captures the key messages about inaccurate reporting of feed conversion ratios, livestock water consumption, and other fallacies that lead to the conclusion that one shouldn’t eat meat.

So while it’s easy these days to counter the ‘animal farming is unsustainable’ furphy with an increasing body of evidence that show how we can feed the world with small-scale, integrated, ethical agricultural systems (because of course the vegans and ethical omnivores already agree that intensively farming animals is both unsustainable and unethical), the ethical disagreement seems harder.

My recent twitter debate with vegan activist @MSizer reminded me what an impasse we come to when his position is ‘it’s immoral to eat animals’ and mine is ‘no it’s not’. Although I have some background in philosophy, it’s not my discipline, but there was an excellent article in the Conversation that went through the very difficult and complex philosophical arguments around eating animals that I recommend you read.

The fundamental question is whether one believes it is okay to take an animal’s life for our nutrition and pleasure. @MSizer does not believe it is morally defensible to do so, but like many other omnivores, I believe it is, so long as the animal has lived a pain and stress-free life on the paddock in an environment that allowed it to engage in its instinctive behaviours, and that its slaughter is quick and painless, and preferably done without the animal knowing it was about to happen. I am comfortable with humans eating non-human animals in the same way that I am comfortable with birds eating worms or lions eating antelope.

I have a pang of sadness for the life lost, especially at such times as we face that death in person, such as when we slaughter our own chickens, just as I have a pang when I see footage of a predator taking its prey in the wild. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it should happen. The more deeply engaged I have become with these ethical concerns, the more mindful my meat eating is – I am horrified these days if I overcook a piece of meat, and have recently caught myself saying, ‘this animal gave us its life, we should cook it with the respect it is due’. I am also a strong advocate for and practitioner of a reduction of meat and dairy consumption in the average Australian’s diet (and other members of high-meat-eating societies, of course). If we all simply ate less then the demand pressures that got us into this unsustainable, unethical industrial food mess would diminish, and our global food security issues would with them.

But that is my position, and I should address the position put forward by the likes of Animals Australia, PETA and @MSizer, that is, that it is immoral to kill and eat animals. I don’t really think I could convince vegans with this ethical code that it’s not immoral, and frankly, I’m not really interested in trying. I have great respect for people who have chosen a vegan diet out of compassion, and I’m definitely not interested in trying to get this very small minority to take up meat eating again. But I would like to put two important questions to them.

First, if you believe it is immoral to eat animals, does that mean that people in the global south on subsistent diets who are able to access some meat in a very nutritionally limited diet are immoral for doing so? Would you begrudge the one in six people in the world who are food insecure or starving the right to eat meat if they can? And if not, is your ethical position perhaps not so absolute as you suggest it to be?

Second, I think it’s wonderful that groups such as Animals Australia fight for animal rights, but to draw attention to the worst abuses of industrial farming and then draw the conclusion that therefore we shouldn’t eat meat is totally unproductive in the campaign to improve animal welfare in agriculture. I know their premise remains ‘but you shouldn’t eat meat’, but the very simple reality is that the majority of those who can eat meat in the world will continue to for a very long time to come, perhaps forever, and no amount of activism will stop that. There are deeply rooted cultural, social and economic reasons why it is so, as well as the environmental ones whereby livestock are healthy contributors in agroecological systems such as these examples in China.

The most positive impact any of us can have on the majority omnivorous culture is to fight for stronger animal welfare measures in agriculture right now. A personal decision not to eat animal products is a powerful statement in itself, and will cause a level of reflection amongst those with whom you engage, but if you don’t join the vocal fight for ethical animal agriculture, in my opinion, you’re wasting a valuable opportunity to work with ethical omnivores to change policy, regulation and awareness of improved production models amongst producers. By starting the conversation with, ‘I think you’re immoral’, you alienate most omnivores immediately, and are then far less likely to actually influence their decisions.

I’m a free-range pig farmer. I despise intensive farms with pigs in huge sheds on concrete, the use of sow stalls, routine castration, docking and the entirety of how those poor animals are treated over the course of their short lives. The ‘outdoor bred’ farms are an improvement, and one that I am happy to acknowledge and indeed even promote as a better option than the former. I still want pigs raised outside on pasture their whole lives, but I’m glad the outdoor bred growers have sprung up to provide more humane treatment for the millions of pork eaters out there. I’d like eventually for all pigs to be free range, just as I want all animals to be. We may not get there, but I’ll keep fighting.

Vegans such as @MSizer want no animals grown for our consumption and I don’t begrudge you that position, but in the meanwhile, you could still acknowledge the vastly better conditions under true free-range production models and push for all animal agriculture to be to those standards. So long as animals are raised for food, I reckon its unconscionable not to.

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Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community…

57 thoughts on “Vegans and Ethical Omnivores, Unite!”

  1. Thanks for that post Tammi.
    My experiences include a complex combination of: half my family living in a third world country, my mother doing the majority of food buying and preparation, my father from a farming background, and Buddhist philosophy.
    I’ve come to similar conclusions about the best ways for me to be mindful about what I eat. My diet is based on health, economics, and philosophy. Sounds like we eat similarly.
    I socialise with a big bunch of vegans who range from tolerating to understanding my position. We survive with mutual respect. Agreeing to disagree on the concept of economic levers, or the white privilege exercised by the west in diet. Finding common ground has been important, and simply agreeing that change is needed, and being able to articulate how that flows from my actions has been helpful in bridging that gap for me.

  2. Nice summary of issues Tammi. So much of the debate is over boundary issues, as with all difficult ethical issues. Agreement over the clear cut blacka nd white issues are a no brainer. So while I commend your stance as an aspirational goal, do those of us in production agriculture that feeds into the current perverse food supply system just pull the pin and leave those we supply go hungry? What is the transition plan?

  3. Great post Tammi, agree with all you say. Would add that the biggest morality issue is the amount of unsustainable and unhealthy junkfood eaten by a growing proportion of the global population, and the food politics that perpetuate it. Vegans and ethical omnivores alike should join forces and not only vote with their feet, but actively work together to proselytise for food production which does not ruin the environment, make people unhealthy or cause misery to animals.

  4. Thanks, Marian. I think it’s a really vexed question as so much of the research and activism we see is based on the American context, where CAFOs are common even for beef cattle. In Australia, where our beef and dairy cattle are primarily still pasture-raised, I think you’re right – also for lamb. But pigs and poultry remain real ethical concerns for those who don’t want to support a system that confines animals, which when they stop to think about it, seems to be the majority, though they aren’t necessarily pushing for change with their purchasing habits. I do also think, however, that even in pasture-based systems, it would be great to see improvements in the treatment of animals in transport and slaughter, and some of the increasing attention to these aspects of animal ag may help.

  5. Thanks, Vanessa. Your diverse cultural background must offer you insights that those who’ve only experienced a middle class Australian-only life don’t easily have access to. I have a number of vegan friends whom I respect and most of whom say they respect my position as well. My concern is about those who, in their attempt to improve matters for animals, eschew the ethics and advocacy of people like us, to the ultimate detriment of a focused campaign. Even if a person truly believes that my stance is immoral, to attack it and disavow it does nothing for the animals, in my view, which is a very sad irony. I’d like to work with everyone interested in promoting better standards of animal welfare, even if our diets are different.

  6. Great question, Ron, and not necessarily one I can answer, though I’ll offer my thoughts. As a dairy farmer, I gather things have changed a lot for you since de-regulation in 2000? I think there are some really interesting things happening in dairy in response to declining or plateauing farm gate prices, such as the dairy in Ballarat that just commenced operation of its own processing plant, though that’s clearly not feasible for every dairy, and it’s arguably not even the best option given the amount of embodied energy to build and operate another processor – I would think regional cooperative processors would still be the best outcome for the farmers and consumers – knowledge of provenance, decreased transport, etc. However, your industry is so heavily reliant on export it makes everything even more complicated, of course. I’m not remotely expert in the details of dairy, but I guess there are principles that I would apply to any production system – improving the regenerative ag and increasing biodiversity on the farm, seeking options for decreasing distance of transport, whether of product or live animals, and where possible, more direct to consumer sales – I really believe the stranglehold by the supermarket duopoly in Australia must be held accountable, and where possible, farmers should seek to sell their produce elsewhere. The big retailers have not proven to be on side with supporting producers to make a decent living while raising animals and crops sustainably and ethically – some of the theory on corporations and the agency they’ve been vested by regulation so that they have rights like individual people without the same responsibilities of a person would be interesting to read and think about here. You’re much more likely to get consumers to pay for sustainable and ethical where there is a real connection with the producer than where it is filtered through a non-place full like Coles. I don’t think I’ve really answered your question – this is really hard stuff about how to change an entire system, but if producers engaged in the conventional systems don’t start chipping away at it, we won’t get there.

  7. This is topical for me because I’ve just introduced meat back into my diet after 15 years (I introduced seafood back in ~8 years ago). My goal is to eat meat on my own terms, that being ethically produced meat. I had free range ham on Christmas day and haven’t gone much further than that. I can’t imagine eating chicken just yet. The main challenge for me will be the fact that my partner still buys supermarket meat and is going to expect me to eat it too. So I’ll be reading these and future posts closely (and perhaps I’ll be a customer of yours)!

  8. Yes, I did (I read EVERY post while you were away, fascinating), and it was horrifying. Whilst big supermarkets keep unethical practices propped up and prospering (and I refuse to go near them), I really think it is a drop in the ocean compared to junkfood’s market share, particularly as we see this food is becoming cheaper than healthy meals in some cases. The politics of government collusion in perpetuating this trend is a big worry.

  9. Wonderful article, Tammois, and something I’ve bookmarked to return to when I have a bit more time to explore. I plan to follow all those links – recently I came across one of those articles dispelling some of the ideas about the resource cost of meat, and was going to link it to you for discussion, but of course you’re already all over it!

  10. Thanks for an interesting post.

    I’m not sure about one item – why is it cruel to castrate animals? One has to control breeding, and castrated males are both happier and easier to handle.

  11. A very informative article and excellent commentary. I am a born and bred Canberra girl with no real idea about farming and, frankly, I guess I am too lilly-livered to think about animals being slaughtered.

    I hate, in fact abhor, animal cruelty in any form, but am a realist and am with you completely on the belief that “as long as an animal has lived a pain and stress-free life on the paddock in an environment that allowed it to engage in its instinctive behaviours, and that its slaughter is quick and painless, and preferably done without the animal knowing it was about to happen”.

    Thank you for such a thought provoking, well researched post.

  12. Hi Sheila – the issue around castration is that intensive piggeries routinely castrate without anaesthetic, causing pain to the animals. Free range growers rarely castrate at all – debunking myths about boar taint, etc. The boars are usually slaughtered before they reach sexual maturity anyway unless they’re to be used for breeding.

  13. I feel silly commenting, because I always agree with everything you say on these topics 🙂

    But tell me more about “myths of boar taint”, curious, as I’ve had a bad experience of it.

  14. I’ll tell you a little story one of my permaculture lectures told us during our course.

    He’d come to stay and teach at a permaculture farm in WA. They had use of a small farm in return for managing a larger farm that had been planted with native timber. The main thing was keeping the undergrowth clear of grass and scrub as fire was a real hazard to the plantation.

    The best way, practically and in a permaculture sense was to run beef cattle with electric fencing in strip grazing. This kept the undergrowth very clear. To keep the herd healthy and working they had to breed. This farm was vegan, for some of the principles you’ve touched on. However you can’t run cattle and keep all the young in the system, they are population positive, so to speak. So the vegans were selling the yearlings to a local abattoir.

    This caused a bit of a dilemma, as there was transport involved and the meat was then probably shipped all over the state. They decided, that from a permaculture perspective, that the best thing, for the land, the environment and themselves was to kill and eat the yearlings themselves.

    So a hardcore vegan permaculture community became a community that ate beef, because the circumstances demanded that within the ethics and beliefs that was the best thing to do. They couldn’t get rid of the cattle by the way, the task of keeping the trees clear was too great for humans to do by hand, the only other alternative was broad scale poisons.

  15. Most of the free-range growers in Oz have told me they have no issue with boar taint, I think mostly because they slaughter before sexual maturity. An example down the bottom of this page: http://www.spencersbrookfarm.com.au/FARM/berkshire-pigs.html. I’ve also read that actually the majority of the breeds don’t produce boar taint, and that it can even be selectively bred out of the line if it does occur? We’re still such greenhorns we can’t speak from the experience of our own pigs, but it’s a topic I really look forward to having firsthand experience of soon! And thank you, darling Zoe. 🙂

  16. Nice article, Tammi. In response to your questions about people in the global south – no, it is not immoral for them to eat meat. We who are economically and geographically privileged can make ethical choices about what we eat, including to eat meat or not, but we should not hold the whole world to the same standard. Food ethics are always contingent on circumstance.

    I say that, of course, as a non-absolutist vegan, but I’ve actually never met a vegan, abolitionist or otherwise, who has advocated for malnourished people living in poverty to not eat meat if that’s all they have access to. I think there’s hope for humanity yet 🙂

  17. I love this story, Beeso. Loads of the research I read (and linked to in this post) about global food security points to exactly this – livestock are an important part of land management, and a good, sustainable source of protein in the diet of those raising the animals. It’s acknowledged a few times in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report I summarised earlier and cited here. Thanks heaps for sharing this!

  18. Great article. Your passion about this topic is wonderful and you address it so well!

    I am vegetarian. Have been for a very long time. My partner was vegan for about 7 years and recently went back to eating meat (all ethically produced). I eat very little animal product, I think out of habit from all that vegan time. Plus, cheese and dairy never agreed with me. I would never call myself a vegan though.

    Long introduction with plenty of background just to say, I agree with you 100%. I think what you’re doing is great and it’s wonderful to see more people getting interested in where their food comes from and how it was grown/what kind of life it had… or maybe they’re just the kind of people I know (and I follow on twitter!).

    I seriously hope this is the way of the future. Fighting for stronger animal welfare is the key. But I also think cutting back on consumption is probably a good idea for a lot of people too. They are easily tied together. Eat less, but of the better stuff. Easy!

    Whilst I’m not sure I will ever eat meat again – I never liked the taste or smell (and as a side note, my father unknowingly blessed me with a genetic blood condition which means my body doesn’t get rid of its iron, meaning eating meat and getting too much iron wouldn’t be so great for me), I wish you every success and know of many people who’d love to get their hands on some of your happy piggehs! (when they’ve become pork!)

    Keep up the fight!

  19. Thank you, Kelly. Most vegans I know hold the same view you do, and I suspect that ultimately, in the pragmatic sense, so does @MSizer. However, he seems unable to relinquish the fundamental belief that even under those circumstances, the person eating the meat would be considered immoral. I find this elitist anathema. And I am comfortable with the fact that most vegans will think that because I have a choice, I should be making the choice not to eat animals. I just disagree, respectfully, while respecting your belief. 🙂

  20. Thank you, Kate! I too am happy to see many people caring more about where their food comes from – it’s critical for so many reasons. And I’m sad when those described as ‘militant vegans’ put people off from learning and doing more. I want all the respectful and reasonable vegans to speak up more! 🙂

  21. Raoul Vaneigem, former member of the Situationist International, wrote of revolution in his book The Revolution of Everyday Life: “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth.” You might wonder what this has to do with Tammi’s post, however, when put in the context of the discussion and witnessing some of the comments made by Tweeter @msizer, it becomes clear that when one thinks and operates in abstract and absolute terms you fail to address everyday life — the very thing you are attempting to influence. Love is constrained by an abstract, rational idea of love, subverting any positive orientation toward, in this case, the animal other.

    The abstract and absolute does not force us to deal with the ethical implications of our decisions in any positive way. It dictates to us, having control over us that predetermines our thought and behaviour. The “everyday,” on the other hand, does force us to. deal with our choices, choices the individual alone must face. Those of whom fail to address everyday life are the ones with the corpse in their mouth.

  22. I really appreciate you telling that story, Beeso. I’ve found that as our farm has become more intensively managed, our environment has improved too.

    We have another issue in dairy farming. As a dairy farmer, I do not breed our animals for slaughter but understand that many will end their days at the market.

    The big ethical question vegans need to face in these circumstances are how farm animals should be treated at the end of their natural lives. A slow death (as a consequence of old age) and carcasses wasted or a quick, painless death before painful disablement and carcasses used to feed people. I opt for the latter.

  23. Love your story on your return to meat! The body wanted that burger 🙂 And adored Beeso’s too. Says a LOT, and it’s my understanding too, that livestock plays a role in regenerative agriculture.

    The boar taint issue, there are those ways you mentioned that manage it… but also reminded me of this ‘lil post. Italians may have sorted it out in the kitchen http://bit.ly/rZIN39

  24. Nathan, this is such an excellent comment that gets to the heart of my post. I left literary studies for cultural studies for the sheer relevance of addressing matters of everyday life. Spot on. Thank you.

  25. Thank you, Lauren! In my opinion, you don’t need to feel guilty so long as you’re eating meat at sustainable levels, but that’s a matter for you, of course. 🙂

  26. Well done Tammi, I have no issue with diversity of diets, same as cultures, we just need to encourage diversity and complexity in our environment and society in general. I too feel sad when I take the life of a sheep, pig or cow in order for us to eat, I say a prayer for their soul and move on. I feel sadness as someone who spends their life looking after animals and making sure they are “happy in their environment” should, I also enjoy the flavour and health that meat grown on native diverse pastures brings. We should question the source of our food, the way it is cooked and the portions constantly so that others know we care so they should as well. Thanks again for posing great questions and telling a meaningful story.

  27. Thank you, Gus. I really appreciate feedback from farmers who’ve been out there raising animals for us omnivores to eat through a very tough period in Australia’s history, climatically, economically & socially. I have great respect for the work of those on the land, as I think you know, and hope that in the things I write I show that respect while advocating for best practice in animal welfare. Thanks again.

  28. Your burger story made me smile Tammi. It was the first thing I ate after 5 years as a vegetarian. Not proud to admit I sat in the car outside McDonalds waiting for it to open for that burger.

    I try to eat only ethically raised meat . I worry about the meat served in restaurants especially cheaper ethnic venues. And thinks like bacon icecream, bacon jam, bacon lipstick as the ‘in thing’ horrify me.

  29. Hi Tammi,
    I love what you have written here and agree with what you say. I have some firm opinions of my own in relation to sustainability and the omnivore diet but am too lazy to articulate it this well.

    Like Zoe, I too have had a bad experience with boar taint. It is real and you know it when you come across it. That being said, if animals are slaughtered before sexual maturity then perhaps no need to castrate.

    Katie

  30. Tammi, it’s wonderful to see you stimulating this kind of discussion! Loved Nathan’s ‘corpse in the mouth’ and each person who has a reflection or new link to broaden the experience. Well, I’m joining the fight and reckon’ I know where to keep myself informed and thus engaged in the fight. Tammi, I agree and, ‘tell me more’ xox

  31. While it may be true that an absolute position about the wrongs of eating meat might alienate some people from caring more about animal welfare, I think that for many vegans that are not utilitarian, but rather believe in animal rights based on their ability to have preferences, such as Gary Francione, the fact that this might increase suffering in animals is irrelevent. The killing of animals is just as much a breach of their rights, regardless of whether it is pain free or not. Influencing people to eat “humanely” farmed meat is irrelevant.

    I don’t know what such people would think regarding your ethical question about meat eating in the global south, however I expect they would also view it as wrong and that it is the moral responsibility of humans to never use another sentient being, human or otherwise as property. From what I have read of Francione the fact that many would rarefy pastorialism to be some type of “natural” state would have no impact on this ethical judgement, any more than the financial constraints that people use to justify buying cheap meat. Sustainability issues, arising from being ethical and not using animals as property can also be addressed by reducing the human population.

    From a utilitarian perspective, in regards to the ethical questions you pose, I think a thought experiment would help explain the position of some vegans. Imagine that instead of requiring non human animals to be eaten, perhaps due to a lack of large mammals or some form of environmental catastrophe, circumstances required the killing and consumption of a human in order for others to survive. From a utilitarian point of view such action may be justified, however if such a situation could be avoided and we knew what the likely outcome of our actions would be but we allowed such a situation to occur, would the killing of that person within a larger context be justified even if those humans were humanly killed?

    Should utilitarian vegans promote animal welfare? I think many vegans already agree with working to achieve animal welfare reforms. Interestingly PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk has said

    “The goal for many activists is simply to get more people to eat less meat. “Absolute purists should be living in a cave,”“Anybody who witnesses the suffering of animals and has a glimmer of hope of reducing that suffering can’t take the position that it’s all or nothing. We have to be pragmatic. Screw the principle.”

    Additionally, there is nothing magical in meat that makes it satisfying or put the colour back into your cheeks as you describe. Merely carbohydrates, protein, fat and vitamins. A vegan diet is suitable for all stages for the human life cycle(so says the American Dietetic Association). If you had a varied diet, were taking adequate vitamin supplements with food if required(I noticed that the supplement you mentioned doesnt contain folic acid, deficiency in which can also cause anemia), the main worries are not getting enough protein and calories. While your anecdote is interesting, it should be pointed out that all available evidence suggests that an appropriately planned vegan diet is a healthy diet.

  32. “I am comfortable with humans eating non-human animals in the same way that I am comfortable with birds eating worms or lions eating antelope.”

    Is this an appeal to nature?

  33. Lastly, you want vegans and ethical omnivores to unite, and you suggest that many vegans should stop alienating meat eaters and join animal welfare campaigns, yet you, and indeed others within the animal welfare movement, alienate vegans by bring up outdated justifications of meat eating, such as health or appeals to nature/tradition/culture. Perhaps many vegans take on a slightly more confrontational approach because of this?

  34. Sorry for slow reply, J, and thank you for your thoughts and questions. I actually agree with most of what you’re saying – and in fact said something similar in a post I wrote about something else – A Cosmopolitan Morality. That is, I do accept that many vegans’ moral position makes the pragmatic approach I’m calling for anathema. But as someone with a different morality on this question, I will continue to do my bit to persuade all parties to lobby for the humane treatment of farm animals during their lives – and am happy for vegans to continue to try to persuade all of us not to kill animals for consumption. I do tend to think though that the aggressive approach, no matter how strongly you hold your position, is simply not that productive. But everyone’s entitled, etc. 🙂

  35. “I am comfortable with humans eating non-human animals in the same way that I am comfortable with birds eating worms or lions eating antelope.”

    Please, to show your commitment to this claim, raise a dog humanely and “humanely” slaughter it. I believe it is legal to do so in your state. If you do this, I will believe that you are, indeed, committed to your position.

  36. Paul, it is difficult to respond to this comment without being as absurd as you, but I’ll try.

    I don’t believe it is any more wrong to eat a dog than a cow, if the dog is humanely raised and slaughtered (and I accept and reject that you think ‘humanely slaughtered’ is a contradiction in terms). I don’t choose to eat dog because of my particular cultural history, just as I don’t eat cat, snake, or possum. That’s not to say I wouldn’t if it were offered in certain cultural contexts – I’ve eaten balut and century eggs when offered, but wouldn’t choose to again now that I know I don’t like them. I imagine there are some vegetables or fruit you don’t care for, but it doesn’t weaken your position that one should eat fruit and vegetables.

    Go back to Nathan’s comment:

    “The abstract and absolute does not force us to deal with the ethical implications of our decisions in any positive way. It dictates to us, having control over us that predetermines our thought and behaviour. The “everyday,” on the other hand, does force us to. deal with our choices, choices the individual alone must face. Those of whom fail to address everyday life are the ones with the corpse in their mouth.”

    I am, in case you missed it, an ethical pragmatist. And I have taken my ethics and everyday praxis to its logical end as an ethical omnivore – I think you should be willing to raise and slaughter your meat if you want to eat it (whether or not you actually have an opportunity to do so), and so we became pig farmers. We want to contribute to the undersupply of ethically raised pigs in this country, and though what we’re doing is hard, we’re doing it and learning an extraordinary amount as we do.

    One of the things I’ve learned that has surprised me is a great deal more empathy for conventional farmers. Those casting stones from the inner suburbs of Australia’s cities should spend some times with the realities of food production. Even though I came from a cattle ranch when young, I had lost touch and had some fairly ignorant views on the environmental, social and ethical issues facing farmers and those who buy their produce. I’m working very hard to correct that.

    Eating our dog won’t make my ethics more consistent, but perhaps spending some time on farms, talking to farmers, and reading up on agroecology, food sovereignty and food security would help yours.

  37. One absolutely vital point is consistently ignored by ‘save animals by not eating them’ preachers. Fact: native animals co-exist harmoniously with extensively grazed livestock. Whereas monoculture crop growing means a dearth of native species (plants & animals). Diets consisting of only plant material thus impact far more heavily on native species than balanced diets (moderate amounts from all food groups). Or is it that vegans are only concerned about large, furry & cute – not small lizards, frogs, birds etc?

  38. Fiona has touched on a very important aspect of animal ethics that is somewhat ignored by vegans –a contention that is usually leveled at absolutists. Let us take as our example a loaf of bread, whether bread bought from a store and a loaf baked at home. The main ingredient aside from water is flour, and looking at the processes to achieve the end product of flour, there are various stages in which animal life is exterminated. The maintainence of wheat crops involves the extermination of a varitey of animals ranging from birds to mice/rats through the use of pesticides, etc. The harvesting process is also a process of extermination, killing again a small variety of animals, predominantly rodents and small marsupials (in Australia at least). Storage of wheat and flour after it has been ground again amounts to the extermination of animal life in an attempt to preserve the product. Even if I have missed a step here, the process of prduction of one simple yet vital staple food item amounts to the systematic eradication of hundreds if not thousands of animal lives. Of course, this is not just for the various types of flour that we use for bread, which include ‘organic’ flour, it also includes the the processes and production of other grains and seeds used in the making of pasta, beer, biscuits, coffee, oils, etc. Every vegan I know, including myself, consumes at least one of these products. Surely this would mean they have the blood of these animal lives that are lost in the process of making these staple food items on their hands? The simple fact is they do.

    How do vegans account for this loss of life? Is this simply a case where there is an inability to follow through with the normative committment to not kill animals? So what is a vegan to do? Obstain from one of the most basic of all food staples? Don’t eat bread, pasta, drink beer or spirits, coffee, eat various nuts and legumes? All these items a produced on a large scale. I feel there has to be a level of acceptance: a level of violence and killing (murder/slaughter, however you want to put it) you are willing to accept for your poisition as a vegan to be credible.

  39. @ Fiona –

    1. You state that vegans preach. What you said follows a similar vain and intensity as what many vegans–myself included–have to say. Surely that means you’re preaching too?

    2. Please don’t resort to strawman arguments. I’m well aware of the damage that intensive farming practices can do. Thus, I try to lead my life in a way that minimises the net damage / suffering. I’m not perfect. I ought to do better. I’m trying. I think vegans have a responsibility, along with everybody else, to make ethical decisions about where they source everything!

    @ Nathan –

    “…I feel there has to be a level of acceptance: a level of violence and killing (murder/slaughter, however you want to put it) you are willing to accept for your poisition as a vegan to be credible.”

    I think you will be hard pressed to find a vegan that doesn’t agree with this. However, rather than accept and ignore, I think most conscientious vegans will do their best to abstain as best they can in the event that they receive this information. At the end of the day, we all must eat. If we can eat and cause a minimal negative impact and suffering, surely this is the best position? Sometimes we will fail at this, but that isn’t grounds to stop trying and to do better.

    What you ought to also mention, Nathan, is that it isn’t only vegans that eat bread, pasta and oil; but vegetarians and omnivores too. The way in which you write is as thought vegans are chiefly responsible for the colateral damage that goes on in agriculture. Let’s not forget the amount of plants that are fed to livestock.

  40. Hi Paul,

    My point of course was to add a some perspective. As a vegan this is something I have had to come to terms with, not so as to turn a blind eye or for it to be something I can overlook, but to reflect on and take this material evidence to try and transform and modify my actions. Not because I see all my actions in terms of consequences, in this regard I feel the practice of consequentialism is insufficient when dealing with the complexities of everyday living, but to act in a way that I am comfortable with as a moral agent. I’m not willing to suggest that any or all vegans are happy to agree with what I’ve mentioned above, so again, some perspective is necessary.

    I think within the context of what I have written, that is, addressing the issue of vegan attitudes towards animals and violence, I did not feel the need to add other instantiations. That said, aside from fuitarians, the dietary practice of veganism is a base dietary practice; meaning, everyone who is vegetarian or omnivore eats what a vegan eats. If we can accept that on some level this proposition is true, we can also accept, then, that vegans are not chiefly responsible for the colatoral damage resulting from agricultural practices. But again, my comment was to introduce some perspective as it pertains to vegans like myself.

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