How Can Vegetarians, Vegans and Omnivores Learn To Talk With Each Other?

Last Monday, when I wrote the post Largest Beef Recall in US History a Natural Consequence of Industrial Agricultural Practices, I figured that there would be a fair amount of comments, but I never really thought about what kind of comments I would get. I did expect some kneejerk vegan responses which are always an exhortation to go vegan across the board, and those were in evidence. However, I never expected this thoughtful reply to my assertion that not everyone in the world -wants- to be a vegan, and should not be exhorted to become one at every given opportunity.

A reader named Sgt. Pepper replied to my statement that while I may, in the future, become vegetarian, I would never become a vegan, because I love dairy products and eggs a great deal, and I saw no real reason to give them up, since there are plenty of local farmers producing eggs ethically, and there are ethical dairies in existence. (One of which is even local!)

This is what Sgt. Pepper had to say:

This is a good example of how the subjectivity of experience causes omnis and vegos to clash and why it’s so hard for us to understand the other’s perspective. For me, I liked milk, cheese and eggs an awful lot when I ate them, but I don’t think I would have listed any of them in the top 100 pleasures of my life. Obviously, Barbara would. None of us can live completely cruelty free lives so we all draw our lines in different places. How can we get along?

It never occurred to me that it would must be inevitably impossible for vegans, vegetarians an omnivores to get along.

While some vegetarians and vegans may not recognize it, there are plenty of ethical omnivores in the world, and we are working toward some of the same goals they are: which is the treatment of domesticated animals with dignity, care and compassion. This statement is sometimes scoffed at by some vegetarians and vegans, because their definition of compassion means that animals must never be killed my humans for any reason, most certainly not to be eaten, but that does not render my statement false. Just because vegetarians and vegans may disagree with us, does not suddenly make ethical omnivores nonexistent–it merely makes our opinions marginalized in the discussions of ethical eating, animal welfare and environmental issues when there are militant vegetarians and vegans involved in the conversation.

This saddens me, because the truth is, in order to make the changes necessary in our society to secure the decent treatment of domesticated animals, and to lower the consumption of meat for collective human and environmental health, all people who believe in these goals, no matter what their personal philosophy, should work together to attain these goals.

In other words, instead of wasting time arguing with each other over who is more right than whom, and over which method of eating is more ethical than the other, we should be working together against the corporations and governmental lobbyists which favor industrialized agricultural practices which are dangerous to human, animal and environmental health.

How do we learn to shut the hell up and actually make alliances which will help attain our goals?

I think that if vegetarians, vegans and ethical omnivores of all dietary persuasions would try and adhere to a few simple “rules of engagement” when they talk with each other over the potentially heated subject of what we eat, we may make some headway in learning to come together, rather than driving ourselves apart.

I think that the first big step, which for some, may be a hurdle to surmount, is that we need to learn to view each other’s opinions with respect, even if we do not agree. In fact, I think it is essential to try to approach these conversations about what we eat and why with the honest and respectful understanding that each of us as ethical individuals who are trying to do the best we can for ourselves, our families, our environment, and other living beings.

In order to approach each other with this sort of honest respect, it means that we will all have to work hard to ditch our own ego-boosting feelings of self-righteousness. When we are certain that we are absolutely right, it often blinds us to the possibilities that while our decisions may be right for ourselves, they may not be right for everyone. Human beings are not all cookie-cutter-clones of each other. Our bodies are all unique and the diet that is healthful and beneficial to one person may be deadly to another. I am pretty certain that if I ate a diet mainly composed of blood, milk and meat, like a traditional Masai or fish, whale meat and blubber like a traditional Inuit, I’d probably not be very healthy, while these tribespeople thrive on their diets. And, nutritional studies have shown that when the Inuit, for example, eat a typical American style diet, they, too, become quite sick.

So, I think that in order to talk successfully with each other, rather than past each other, we need to loosen our grips on our deeply held, but divisive ideologies and focus instead on what we agree upon: that industrial agriculture is harmful to humans, animals and the environment, and then turn the conversation towards various strategies to combat the prevalence of corporate industrial farming practices.

We might also benefit from looking at each other as individuals, and not as stereotypes, and learning to let go of the bad experiences we may have had with individuals of various groups in the past.

In other words, let’s try and stop saying things like, “Meat-eaters are murderers!” or, “Vegans are a bunch of self-righteous freaks who abuse their kids!”

Neither statement is completely true. Yes, some meat-eaters are murderers–the cannibalistic Jeffrey Dahmer certainly counts as both a meat-eater and a murderer–a serial murderer, in fact. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, and while he may not have murdered anyone with his own hands, he did sign the orders for the extermination of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Poles, homosexuals, political dissidents and religious dissidents. Since it was his idea to kill all of these folks, Hitler counts as a mass-murderer–and he was a vegetarian. (And he was an ardent animal-lover–he adored his canine companions, in particular, and hated hunting, saying he could never shoot a hare.)

So, clearly, one need neither be a meat-eater, nor a consumer of vegetables to be considered a murderer. Murderers eat any number of foods, as any rational or thoughtful person could tell you, and truly, eating any one thing or another is no pre-requisite for the sorts of mental instability that lead to murderous rampages. If the case that all meat eaters were murderers was truly based upon fact, I believe we would be up to our armpits in murderers.

But what about the assertion that vegans are self-righteous child-abusers? This one gets trotted out fairly often after the unfortunate case of the couple who starved their baby to death and use their vegan lifestyle as an excuse. After this couple’s case came to light in the media, Nina Planck wrote a shrill, fear-mongering screed in the New York Times bashing all vegan parents as child-abusers at worst and neglectful at best, which I countered here. Even Planck herself backed off a bit from her rather–ahem–ignorant–assertions in her later response to the vegans who responded to her essay.

Vegan parents are no more likely to abuse their children than any other parent. In fact, if you look at the sorts of parents who abuse and neglect their kids, you will see that they run across a cross-section of society as a whole, and there is no one connection between them, certainly not a dietary connection. (Actually, statistically speaking, since vegans are such a small percentage of the population in comparison to omnivores, it is more likely that there are more omnivores abusing their kids than vegans. That is just how math works, folks. Even I know that.)

So, let’s just drop those particular stereotypes, shall we? Meat eaters can be murders, but so can vegetable eaters. Vegan parents can be abusive parents, but then, so can omnivorous parents.

And while it is likely true that vegans have run across obnoxious omnivores, and omnivores have run across vexatious vegans, and vegetarians have probably gotten the sharp edge of both vegan and omnivore’s tongues over the years, we need to drop those experiences and move on, realizing that there are assholes all over the place, and we need not make blanket statements limiting their appearance to the camps of whichever dietary group we choose to vilify at any particular moment. The truth is, omnivores, vegetarians and vegans can all be insufferable at times, and have all made nasty, untrue, unhelpful and just plain uncivilized comments to and about those who chose to eat differently than they do. This is not only childish, it is also stupid, because it distracts us from the real issues concerning the health and safety of our food supply.

This has to stop, because it does nothing but alienate each other when we could instead be working together toward a common goal: a food supply that is tasty, safe to eat, healthy for humans, animals and our environment, and which is fair to consumers and farmers alike.

Look at it this way: every time a vegan snipes at an omnivore for being a meat-eating murderer or an omnivore points a finger at a vegan and calls her a child abuser, or a vegan and an omnivore both spit at a vegetarian for doing “not enough” and “going too far” at the same time, the board of directors at Cargill or Tyson grins with satisfaction as they make another million dollars, and another thousand feedlot cows goes to their death in a place like Westland-Hallmark.

So, which is more important to you? Feeling self-righteous, or banding together to do something positive about our food supply?


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  1. I was a vegetarian for 20 years, only reverting to omnivorism when the local eating movement provided me with humanely raised and slaughtered alternatives. I now can SEE the chickens, cows, and pigs that provide my meat, dairy, and eggs. I have spoken face-to-face with the farmers about the slaughterhouses they use, and know that some of them do their own chicken processing. I understand the vegetarian point of view, but I am at peace with my decision.

    Comment by valereee — February 25, 2008 #

  2. Thanks for yet another thoughtful post. I agree there is too much knee-jerk reaction – sometimes based only on words or terminology without looking deeper. I am an omnivore, but in truth I eat mostly vegetarian. I tend to do better eating meat/seafood from time to time, but my preference in my heart would be for a typical South Indian vegetarian diet. I respect the vegetarian or vegan choice, but it is not mine. Instead in all things I try to think of where my food comes from and to honor the work that went into making it available to me.

    Comment by Diane — February 25, 2008 #

  3. I would add only one thing to this statement:

    “a food supply that is safe to eat, healthy for humans, animals and our environment, and which is fair to consumers and farmers alike.”

    and that is TASTY too! 🙂

    As a vegan I often get accused of eating “bland” food. I love serving these people my curries, as it reminds people that you don’t have to have meat to have a taste-filled meal.

    Comment by heather — February 25, 2008 #

  4. As always, a very thoughtful and insightful post. I eat meat but a lot less than I did when I was younger. My diet just changed naturally as I got older and knew more about what foods made me feel better. But I would never point the finger at people for their eating choices. For one thing, a lot of people are very poorly informed about food, witness the continuing popularity of McDonald’s and other fast food places which have been linked to obesity and obesity related diseases, yet continue to do land slide business. Another point is that a lot of people don’t live in places where they have easy access to grass fed beef, organic chickens or vegetables. Heck, a lot of people in the world eat food that is, heavily polluted because of their country’s lack of standards. So, yes – let’s talk to each other, let’s have a commitment to ethical actions and let’s all respect each other.

    Comment by Nancy — February 25, 2008 #

  5. Heather–I added “tasty.” You had a great point–thank you.

    And for those who think that vegan food is tasteless–I invite you to eat my vegan Chinese and Indian dishes, or the vegan dishes we serve at Salaam. They are anything but flavorless.

    Comment by Barbara — February 25, 2008 #

  6. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this is the first time I’ve felt moved to comment. Thank you for a thoughtful, well-written examination of ethical eating from all sides of the fence. I plan to share this essay with others.

    Comment by Liz — February 26, 2008 #

  7. Thank you for the thoughtful follow-up post. One of my biggest concerns I have in my journey to be an ethical eater relates to the environmental impact of my food choices. We have all read about the ecological horrors related to CAFOs, but what about the environmental impact of large-scale monoculture farms? Especially “conventional” farms. I ask you to envision photos taken of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico for proof of our addiction to cheap food sources.

    By shifting the focus of the ethical discussion from humane treatment of animals to humane treatment of the environment, I would argue that my choice for free ranging meat, where the animals can nourish the soil with their waste and prevent erosion by rotated grazing, is more environmentally sound than a strictly vegetarian (or vegan) diet where the majority of foods are grown in monoculture farms with excessive fertilizer runoff. Even monoculture organic farms can result in biological dead zones, where there isn’t enough biodiversity present to support a full ecosystem.

    Before people jump to conclusions and make judgmental statements about others’ choices, please make an effort to reach out and know that person and what motivates them. I have both vegetarian and vegan friends (and was myself vegetarian for a number of years) so I do hope that I don’t make rash generalizations about all people practicing that lifestyle. I would ask that you extend the same courtesy to me and my family, and try to understand where my values lie. I believe Barbara had posted an article many months ago discussing the inability for the U.S. to support an entirely vegetarian population on our current land mass, though I am unable to locate it at present time. While mass-vegetarianism (or veganism) would be environmentally friendly in some ways (lack of runoff from CAFOs, etc), it would be detrimental in many others.

    Comment by De in D.C. — February 26, 2008 #

  8. As an old, now meat eating, vegetarian I can only say that we need to respect each others’ different points of view and look beyond those to get to the common goal. Live and let live and that includes people with different opinions, not only animals!

    Comment by ilva — February 26, 2008 #

  9. As I enjoy reading the articles on this site, I’m glad to have inspired one. Cool!

    And I really like the sentiments expressed in the article.

    As I’m thinking about this, I can only conclude that the way to come together is to ignore our (major!) differences in philosophy and work together on the points that we agree on (of which there are many).

    I believe there are some logical flaws in a few things that Barbara has written and there are some others in the commentors’ posts (especially in De from DC’s), but why would I want to argue those here? This is obviously a place where folks have enough shared values and goals to ignore our differences.

    That said, it is difficult to ignore the differences when omnis post rationalizations and justifications for their meat eating habits (I use this example only because that is largely what is going on here–it would be similarly difficult if it were mostly vegos posting the arguments). This kind of post could only lead to a point, counterpoint type argument and would only serve to highlight the differences further. I say that if we’re going to ignore our differences, it’s best not to highlight them by posting these justifications at all.

    Comment by sgt pepper — February 26, 2008 #

  10. As I enjoy reading the articles on this site, I’m glad to have inspired one. Cool!

    And I really like the sentiments expressed in the article.

    As I’m thinking about this, I can only conclude that the way to come together is to ignore our (major!) differences in philosophy and work together on the points that we agree on (of which there are many).

    I believe there are some logical flaws in a few things that Barbara has written and there are some others in the commentors’ posts (especially in De from DC’s), but why would I want to argue those here? This is obviously a place where folks have enough shared values and goals to ignore our differences.

    That said, it is difficult to ignore the differences when omnis post rationalizations and justifications for their meat eating habits (I use this example only because that is largely what is going on here–it would be similarly difficult if it were mostly vegos posting the arguments). This kind of post could only lead to a point, counterpoint type argument and would only serve to highlight the differences further. I say that if we’re going to ignore our differences, it’s best not to highlight them by posting these justifications at all.

    Comment by sgt pepper — February 26, 2008 #

  11. I like this open conversation. It’s a really thoughtful and interesting post. A very good way to sound off and get in touch with readers. Well done!

    Back to the topic, I think I understand where you’re coming from. You’d like everyone who feels the current mass market meat system is very cruel, unhealthy and utterly flawed to come together to make it better (if not ideal in their own perspective.) But there in lies the problem. When people work effect change, we all hope to do it in the form of our own ideal. While you may not be satisfied with a system that allows animals to be treated so cruelly, many vegetarians and vegans cannot be satisfied with any system that allows for animals to become food sources. So while these two ideals run together for a short distance, ultimately they are entirely different goals.

    Comment by Jasi — February 26, 2008 #

  12. While I really do appreciate this post for it attempt to stick out an olive branch an co-operate, I thoughthat perhaps some of the vegan-omni clashes don’t necc. derive from vegans being closed minded, but from omnivores, and perhaps the “ethical” one in particular, not really understanding where we vegans are coming from.

    Firstly, the idea of working for animal welfare alongside people who eat animals and animal byproducts is one that is already hotly debated within the vegan community. Some vegans feel that doing this reduces suffering in the short run and also makes more people interested in animal issues (in an accessible way). Other vegans think that these measures only reinforce the idea that animals are property for humans to use and exploit for their own tastes, amusements and conveniences and that making “happy meat” a socially acceptable choice only makes vegans look more “extreme” and will persuade fewer people to actually consider going vegan. This latter category calls themeslves abolitionists and they call the former group welfarists or new welfarists.

    I generally agree with the abolitionist posiiton because, having read Bittman and Pollan’s writings in the Times (as well as Pollans books) it seems clear to me that simply reducing meat intake will never stop the cruel treatment to animals (not that it will end in my lifetime, but you know what I’m getting at). I think it’s wrong to use another living creature for their body since I certainly don’t need it to be healthy. The environmental and health arguments against eating meat are excellent, but I don’t know how possible it is for them to really change many Americans in particular. Eating “less” or “little” meat is quite relative; Pollan and Bittman say they eat fewer animal products, but they do still seem to discuss those foods (restaurants, recipes, etc) quite a bit. Considering the huge quantity of animal products the average American consumes, I don’t think eating some undetermined amout “less” will save us from environmental crisis of heart attacks as soon as we might need to.

    Sorry this is getting quite rambly, but it’s all to say that while some animal rights/ ethical vegan folks many appreciate the work of people like you (Sidenote: I like your blog very much! Thanks for the lesson on noodles!) it’s can be problematic and difficult to work with someone who feels so fundamentally different on a subject as basic to vegans as *not eating animals.* I would personally prefer projects that encorage people to become vegans too– like posting pictures of yummy vegan food to my blog, bringing vegan cupcakes to the office, talking honestly to people about how I feel about animal rights, nutrition and the environment and generally giving off the impression of a happy, healthy vegan who doesn’t have to compromise my beliefs to make a little difference.

    Comment by Jillian — February 26, 2008 #

  13. Oops, sorry about duble post.

    And also– Hitler wasn’t a vegetarian! If you google “hitler not vegetarian” I think you’ll come up with everything. Not that that’s a great advertisement for vegetarianism (“Be like Hitler and don’t wat meat! Yeah!”) but I just wanted to say 🙂

    Comment by Jillian — February 26, 2008 #

  14. Not having read Pollan’s book (though The Omnivore’s Dilemma is on my shelf), I think that whether the goals are focused on animals or on the environment it is easier to do more good by getting everyone to eat less meat rather than by getting a few people to go totally vegetarian.

    There are 300 million people in the US. Estimating the number of vegetarians at 5% (approximate, but unlikely to be off by more than a factor of two), that’s 15 million people.

    If they managed to double the number of vegetarians, that’s 15 million new vegetarians, or 210 million fewer meat meals eaten every week (assuming all the non-vegetarians eat meat twice a day, which is probably an overtestimate). Or they could convince everyone to eat just one fewer meat meal a week, and end up with 285 million fewer meat meals every week.

    Frankly I think the latter is a LOT easier. More refinements — smaller portions of meat or using it as a flavoring rather than the basis of a meal, the improved feasability of using the (more expensive) humanely and locally raised meat when you’re eating less of it — can go from there. But the all-or-nothing mentality really limits what you can accomplish.

    Comment by Andrea — February 26, 2008 #

  15. Actually, Jillian, Hitler’s biographers and first-hand witnesses, including his secretary, who worked with him on a daily basis, and his own writings on the subject prove he was a vegetarian. He ate meat now and then, but preferred not to.

    A lot of vegetarians have tried to say that he wasn’t a vegetarian, but a lot of their “research” on the subject has been debunked by historians.

    Not that it matters, really–I was merely making the point that murderers can come in all dietary preferences.

    I also respectfully disagree with your assertion that the “blame” for vegan/omni disagreements is all the “fault” of the omnivores. It is a two-way street–and there is plenty of blame to pass around all over the place for the inability to communicate with each other constructively.

    That said, I generally think that the vegans who refuse to work with omnivores are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but their insistence that veganism is the -only- way, is likely to keep their opinions marginalized among the greater part of society. No one likes hard-sell evangelizing–and such tactics are more likely to turn omnivores away than attract them.

    I like your methods better, personally, and think that they have more chance of success.

    Comment by Barbara — February 26, 2008 #

  16. Plenty of fault to go around, I think. Mostly from not hearing, or not wanting to hear each other, which seems increasingly common in today’s cultural climate in all spheres.

    My friends who eat a vegetarian diet for religious or ethical reasons strongly believe in ahimsa and it is their own personal path. Yet they don’t feel the need to castigate me for not making the same choices. We are able to have conversations about areas of shared concern (sustainable agriculture, cooking practices, recipes and food culture) without constantly battering away at the differences between us. I love the wonderful variety of vegetarian cuisine, and think it is exciting and vibrant. I don’t question any vegetarian or vegan’s choices. Yet I find that the converse is not often true and often the fight for an ethical way of eating becomes just a fight. Personally, I’m with Jillian. I think a hard-core meat eater might pretty easily be won over by a great South Indian traditional veg meal, but would hardly be won over by hard-sell, in-your-face confrontation.

    Comment by Diane — February 26, 2008 #

  17. I was wondering – would you perhaps be willing to discuss the hostile attitudes taken by some celebrity chefs against vegans and vegetarians? It’s a topic that I often wonder about, and I’m sure that, as a chef yourself, you would be able to provide a unique and balanced perspective.

    As a pescetarian (hated by every other dietary sect), I do agree with your call for empathy and unity against industrial factory farming. But I’m not sure such a thing is really possible. Some vegans really believe that eating a cow is on par with murder and cannibalism. I don’t share that belief, but I can certainly understand how someone holding that belief would have a hard time working with beef producers to ensure humane treatment. On the other hand, I’ve known omnivores that consider plant-based diets a kind of disease.

    Intolerance is, I feel, part of the human condition, though I wish it were otherwise.

    Comment by Karyn — February 26, 2008 #

  18. vegetarians have probably gotten the sharp edge of both vegan and omnivore’s tongues over the years

    I can testify to this! On the other hand, we also get cut more slack on both sides — vegans like us better than they like omnivores, and omnivores like us better than they like vegans.

    I’ve transitioned gradually from omnivorism to near-veganism (I have to take extra B12 — close enough, I think to claim it) but I still retain a lot of concerns about how to eat ethically and sustainably. I have found cheese very hard to give up, with its many varieties and unique flavors. And as has been pointed out, monoculture grains and soy, the foundation of much of a vegetarian diet, are no picnic for the environment.

    I have to admit that I don’t exactly understand the absolutist vegan point of view from a long-term standpoint, even if I comprehend it (though fail to agree with it) morally.

    It’s not feasible in some areas to live entirely on vegetable food. The fact that we can easily be healthy on a completely vegan diet owes some debt to modern food importation and technology, which may not be environmentally beneficial or sustainable over the long run.

    Lots of people in many areas throughout the world would face malnutrition if they tried to eat only vegan foods from those available to them.

    Sometimes it’s weird being in the middle, and understanding each side, yet just wishing that everyone would come and meet in the middle already because it’s clearly the most sensible place to be…and then you become an absolutist moderate! Yikes.

    Comment by Alexis — February 26, 2008 #

  19. What is important to me is not to think about vegans or veganism, because when I do, I am taken back to the days when a friend of mine attended a vegetarian rally with his vegetarian girlfriend. During the rally, a vegan turned to one of his friends and sneered, “Things would be better if all the meat-eaters just DIED!”

    If you accept the premises of veganism, then that conclusion is inescapable. There is no vegan who can deny that, according to their values, the death of a meat-eater, better yet ALL meat-eaters, would be a good and moral thing.

    Since I don’t accept Vegan premises, I recognize vegans as the hateful, misanthropic, religious zealots they are.

    That’s why there is no bridge-building or communication between me and vegans. None at all. Vegans may do as they please as long as they do it far away from me and as long as it never affects me at all.

    Comment by Jim — February 26, 2008 #

  20. I think it’s wrong to use another living creature for their body since I certainly don’t need it to be healthy.

    That’s terrific! But it leaves out people like me, and that’s why I have kind of a problem with the hard-line abolitionist vegan viewpoint. There are people out there who can’t survive, much less be healthy, on a vegan diet–I’m one of them. I can’t process iron adequately from non-meat sources, with the result that my years of vegetarianism nearly killed me. (And yet my best friend has been vegetarian before I was and all the years since, and never had any problems at all. Bodies are strange things.) So I do tend to take personally the attitude that eating only a little meat is still a horrible thing. Is it really preferable that I and others in my situation should die? I guess if you feel that the life of a chicken/cow/pig/turkey/salmon and that of a human are absolute equivalents, sure, but that does seem like an extreme position to me.

    Comment by alsafi — February 26, 2008 #

  21. Thank you for referring to meat-eaters as “omnivores”. I get so tired of arguing terminology with bread-fed, chip-and-dip eating ignorants who think that because they eat some meat, they count as carnivores.

    I’ve been vegetarian 20 years, myself. It was as easy as falling off a log for me, but it was impossible for more than one friend of mine. Whatever it is about me, my body chemistry enjoys vegetarian diet.

    And it was for my health that I went vegetarian. I became compassionate later, and now try to find eggs and cheese from free-range and natural food farms.

    Comment by Cai — February 26, 2008 #

  22. {Actually, Jillian, Hitler’s biographers and first-hand witnesses, including his secretary, who worked with him on a daily basis, and his own writings on the subject prove he was a vegetarian. He ate meat now and then, but preferred not to.}

    I am not a rapist. I rape now and then, but prefer not to. I am not a rapist.
    Love the logic, or rather lack of.

    Comment by Michael Prejean — February 26, 2008 #

  23. Michael–he was not a “perfect” vegetarian–does no self-professed vegetarian ever mess up and knowingly or unknowingly eat meat? No vegetarian ever backslides? You mean, you have to -never- ever eat meat to be a true, real, vegetarian?

    The truth is, Adolph Hitler was a self-professed vegetarian, and he often spoke about his views on vegetarianism among his inner circle. These dinner conversations were transcribed by a secretary, and later published. Martin Bormann, his second in command, noted Hitler’s vegetarianism and commented about not really understanding it.

    Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, in her memoirs, also mentions Hitler’s vegetarianism and says that his cook, who disagreed with his dietary choices, would “sneak” meat broths into his food, which would make him ill. This cook was replaced, and then later, his dietician, who absolutely hated his vegetarianism and looked down on him for it, started sneaking bone marrow into his food.

    This is all a matter of historical record whether you, or anyone else, likes it or not. He was a self-professed vegetarian, just like every other vegetarian I have ever known–there is no registry office where one goes to proclaim official vegetarianism, where one’s blood is tested in order to determine if you have or have not eaten meat in the last month or so, where your vegetarian license is revoked if it is found that you have “fallen.”

    My point is this–even if Hitler ate meat once or twice, knowingly or unknowingly, he still was a self-professed vegetarian who primarily ate vegetable matter and dairy products. I can understand why this would bug vegetarians, because I suppose some asinine omnivores could use that fact as a cudgel to say “all vegetarians are as moral as Hitler,” which is truly tortured logic.

    So, please, do not start on me about my logic when I am simply stating matters of historical record according to eyewitness accounts and the words of the man himself, just because you don’t like those particular facts. There is no need for you to be insulting.

    Comment by Barbara — February 26, 2008 #

  24. There will ALWAYS be those who disagree for the sake of disagreeing. But I really like everything you’ve said Barbara. It was said very nicely, and it’s a shame there are those who feel the need to pick it apart.

    Comment by Erika — February 26, 2008 #

  25. This is a smart, thoughtful post – I really enjoyed reading it! I have to admit, I haven’t gone near red meat since the story a couple of weeks ago – I am trying to sort out my feelings regarding meat right now. I’m doing as much reading as possible and posts like this definitely help. In the end, I doubt I’ll become vegetarian (definitely not vegan) but I will probably eat mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan but, oh, who knows!

    Comment by Courtney — February 27, 2008 #

  26. This is a smart, thoughtful post – I really enjoyed reading it! I have to admit, I haven’t gone near red meat since the story a couple of weeks ago – I am trying to sort out my feelings regarding meat right now. I’m doing as much reading as possible and posts like this definitely help. In the end, I doubt I’ll become vegetarian (definitely not vegan) but I will probably eat mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan but, oh, who knows!

    Comment by Courtney — February 27, 2008 #

  27. Courtney – I think that you’ll find eating a plant-based diet easier than you think. There are many, many flavorful and satisfying meals that don’t require meat – look at traditional East Asian and Indian cuisines for inspiration. I eat vegan dinners fairly often without intending to create a vegan meal. My blog actually contains more vegan recipes than vegetarian ones – and I eat fish!

    It might also help for you to think of meat as a “condiment” or as a special treat. Many traditional dishes call for a small amount of meat combined with larger portions of grains and vegetables or plant-based proteins – it stands to reason that you could enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet without completely giving up meat. For instance, I still eat dairy. But I find a tablespoon or two on top of salad or a grain pasta satisfies my cravings – cheese need not be center stage.

    You’re in the right place. Barbara has many lovely recipes that are plant-based, even if they’re not vegetarian.

    Comment by Karyn — February 27, 2008 #

  28. As always, Barbara – reasoned and thoughtful.

    I can’t tell you the vile hate mail that comes from vegans/vegetarians who visit my site that happens to be 100% vegetables but not vegetarian — even though, yes, of course, the site is likely 95% vegetarian and 90% vegan. Apparently the word ‘veggie’ has been co-opted by the veg(etari)an community and that I, as an omnivore, have defiled it and am “tricking” people by “pretending” to be a vegetarian and then “tempting” readers. Anyway, it’s frustrating and often hurtful and too often, very personal.

    It occurs to me that many with hard-line views about food will call for ‘tolerance’ in other areas of social/family controversy — but underlying this of course is intolerance for views that don’t match their own.

    And so as hard as it is, I work to accept — remain tolerant of — hardline, angry and hurtful intolerance. It’s my hope that kindness and generosity will overcome. With any luck, it will encourage the same.

    It’s a slightly different take than your suggestion that we need to “drop those experiences and move on”, which to me means ignoring others’ views entirely.

    Comment by Alanna — February 27, 2008 #

  29. Fascinating. I recently came into the vegetarian/vegan world as a new “ethical omnivore” looking for recipes and advice. Suprisingly (or perhaps not so much), I find that people are the same everywhere. I’ve been a part of the online muslim community for years, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve participated in simliar types of arguments and witnessed similar vitriol. Just substitute meat for God, and it’s all basically the same. I guess people are passionate about x and unwilling to compromise with y, no matter what x and y are.

    Comment by rahma — February 27, 2008 #

  30. Unfortunately, it’s those who are the most vitriolic who get the most attention, and who stick in your memory the most. I’m vegan, and I think I get along with people pretty well. I have friends, family members, and work colleagues who eat meat (and no, Jim, I don’t want them to die), and I’ve even had a meat-eating roommate with whom I shared a kitchen, and it worked out fine.

    But personally, I’m a bit skeptical of self-proclaimed “ethical omnivores.” I’m sure there are people out there who will refuse to eat any animal product unless they’re absolutely sure that the animal was raised in an ethical manner. Such people have my blessing and my admiration, because they’re doing something that for many people would be even harder than being vegan. But then there are other people who buy cage-free eggs and free-range chicken from the grocery store (picturing in their mind a small flock of happy birds peacefully clucking away on Old McDonald’s farm, when the reality is far different) and eat meat indiscriminately at dinner parties and restaurants, without thinking about where it came from at all. And to me, that’s not an ethical choice.

    It’s similar to people who say “I don’t eat that much meat.” Some people really don’t eat that much meat, and that’s great. Eating less meat is a good thing for almost everyone – for your health, for the environment, and for the animals. But there are also, inexplicably, people who eat meat at every meal, but who proclaim, “Oh, I don’t eat that much meat.” They’re being dishonest with themselves, and they’re giving the real meat-reducers a bad name.

    Comment by Johanna — February 27, 2008 #

  31. Barbara writes “Feeling self-righteous, or banding together to do something positive about our food supply?”

    This is very much like something I find myself asking certain of my friends quite often: do you want to make yourself feel better (by sounding off) or do you want to achieve your goals?


    Not everyone becomes vegetarian or vegan for the same reasons. Some do it for ethical reasons, others financial, others because they don’t want to eat something they couldn’t kill, and no doubt many more. There are many different ethical reasons: animals don’t exist for human’s use, animals raised for human use are treated cruelly, raising animals for human use is too hard on the environment, and no doubt many more.

    This leads, inevitably, to many different ways of dealing with non vegetarians/vegans.

    Personally, my inclinations lie with Andrea’s analysis. I don’t want to shout at people to make myself feel better. I want to achieve my goals. Many people eating a little less meat will “save” more animals than a few people going – dare I say it? – cold turkey.

    Comment by Harry — February 27, 2008 #

  32. I have an honest question for vegans or vegetarians who wish to reduce or eliminate human use of animals. I don’t know any v/vs who work to reduce others’ meat consumption so I venture to ask on this forum.

    If you succeed with this goal, there will be far fewer animals alive. (Both obvious from principal and easily verifiable from historical record; for example equine population bombed after the car replaced the cart.) To what extent, if any, does this factor into your thought process?

    Comment by Harry — February 27, 2008 #

  33. Harry,

    That’s a good question, and one well worth asking. I don’t claim to speak for all vegans and vegetarians, because I know that many of them disagree with me on this, but here is my answer:

    I would rather there be few animals living quality lives than many animals living lives of pain and misery. Right now, about ten billion chickens are born each year in the United States. The vast majority of them spend their six-week-long lives in cramped sheds, breathing in their own urine, sitting in their own feces, and never seeing the sun. I don’t know if a chicken has the brainpower to wish he’d never been born, but I think that if he did, he would.

    Some vegans feel the need to make it known that they wish for the number of domestic animals to be reduced to zero. I don’t. I don’t know what the ideal number of domestic animals would be in a world where all of their interests would be considered and respected, but I am confident that the number is far less than the number of animals on factory farms today. And that’s why I choose to contribute as little as possible to the demand for animal products, and that is why I encourage others to do likewise.

    Comment by Johanna — February 27, 2008 #

  34. Good one Barbara. Now I don’t mean to sound racist but as third party non-American, what I gather from all the veg v/s non veg conflict here in the US is that it is more to do with the attitudes of Americans (mostly Caucasians) than with the concept of vegeterianism. The attitude of ‘hard sell evangalism’ & ‘cultism’ is a pretty old trait in Caucasian (mostly Christian) communities….whether it is about religion or about any other issue.

    As an omnivorous Indian growing up in India, we never have had a problem with either vegeterians, vegans, meateaters etc etc. Live and let live is the philosophy which I am sorry & surprised to say I find lacking at times in the most progressive country in the world aka USA.

    Comment by Sonali — February 27, 2008 #

  35. I don’t find these particularly extreme stereotypes remotely useful to the conversation about how to get these three groups talking.

    How about take the conversation off the internet? I have never once, in real life, heard a person say to another person “Meat is murder!” or “You’re going to kill your baby!” (And, yes, I am certain any number of you can name any number of singular examples, but I certainly hope this isn’t happening on a daily basis in your real lives. I just speak from personal experience.)

    We all say we want to end extremism and then proffer these examples for what’s said in conversation; this then continues the very conversation we say we want to end. What about addressing comments that are less outright ridiculous but more detrimental to our inner lives and communities? As a vegan, I am regularly accused (again, always on the internet or in print) of not caring about local food, caring about animals more than food, being a hypocrite because I can’t live out my values fully, and on and on. Why not address these fallacies rather than the strawman statements that everyone wants to turn to?

    Comment by R — February 28, 2008 #

  36. Johanna,

    Since you are claiming to be more ethical than others (ultra-typical vegan attitude), then I will challenge your ethics and simultaneously test your honesty.

    Suppose there was a bus filled with committed, meat-eating people — people who will never, ever convert to veganism. Additionally, all of them are complete strangers.

    Suppose someone could snip the bus’s brake lines remotely such that the bus will careen off a cliff and everyone on the bus would die. Would remotely snipping the brake lines of the bus be an ethical choice considering that the deaths of committed meat-eaters will undoubtedly result in much less suffering for animals in the long term? (Yes/No)

    I’m not asking if you are a terrorist. I’m asking a purely hypothetical question, one designed to show precisely where your personal ethics lie.

    Comment by Jim — February 28, 2008 #

  37. Jim,

    Absolutely not – what a silly question. People are animals too.

    I suppose you’re about to prove that this implies something horrible about me. Go on – I’m listening.

    Comment by Johanna — February 28, 2008 #

  38. Barbara, thanks for bringing up a very thought-provoking question on ethics! I’m taking a Master’s-level ethics class right now, and I think I may do my final paper on food production. It will probably tend to go in the direction of using food that has been produced in ways beneficial to those producing it (fair trade, etc.), but you may have given me some new ideas for it. I spend much more time thinking about the abuse of humans than of animals, such as the slave trade and the problems of child abuse, but I know we shouldn’t ignore other kinds of problems in our society.
    My own religious beliefs state that this world and its plants and animals have been given us for us to use. But they also state that it has also been given us to take care of and deal well with. Thanks for opening my eyes to areas of this I haven’t known about before.

    Comment by Christy — February 28, 2008 #

  39. Incidentally, as I think about my diet, I realize I tend to eat somewhat vegetarianly, but mostly because I can’t afford to spend much money on meat. The problem with such wonderful things as grass-fed beef, organic foods, local foods, etc., is that they tend to be much more expensive than the factory-produced stuff you get at the grocery store, and I can rarely afford them. Not to mention that many have not been available in the areas of the country I have lived.

    Comment by Christy — February 28, 2008 #

  40. Jim–you needn’t be insulting to Joanna in order to ask her a question. Your experience with a vegan at a rally is just the sort of experience I meant when I said that we need to drop those experiences from the front of our consciousness and not let them completely inform our interactions with others. One vegan calling for the deaths of all meat eaters in a fit of passion does not mean that -all- vegans believe such a dreadful thing. In fact, the person who said it may not have really meant it upon later introspection, but instead blurted out a thought that came across the mind in a fit of high feeling. Are you going to tell me that you have never had some awful thought that was similarly uncivilized and horrific? We humans all have our shadows and sometimes they speak out of our mouths, often seemingly unbidden, and we later regret what we said. (I know I have had a few zingers pop out of my mouth in my life–it has been my lifelong task to work on curbing my tongue. As I have aged, I have found that it is easier and easier, but when I was younger and in a fit of anger or frustration–whew! I could say some wretched shit.)

    R–for the record, the reason I brought this conversation online is because I write a blog. Which is online. And I write about topics relating to food, and I can reach more people via this blog than I can by reaching out face to face.

    And yes, I have had people say to my face that meat eaters are murderers. And after the Crown Shukar case where the baby was starved to death by his supposedly vegan (but mostly stupid and insensitive, not to mention undereducated parents), I have heard omnivores in person parrot Nina Planck’s assertion that to be a vegan parent is to be at least neglectful of their children’s proper nutritional needs.

    So, while you may not have run across such strawman arguments face to face, some of us have.

    As for the charge that vegans don’t care about local food, I know several vegans here in town who eat locally produced foods. Of course, we are lucky in that we can get sustainably produced locally made tofu from locally grown organic soybeans, but how many vegans across the country can do that? Most tofu, tempeh and other meat substitutes are not local, and often come from huge monoculture corporate agribusinesses. Monocultured soy and corn are pretty bad for the environment overall–in fact, in some parts of the US, you are better off grazing cattle than growing crops, particularly large monocultured fields, because these lands should never be plowed or tilled. (Look up the “dustbowl” for more information on the kind of soil that should not be cropped.) Yet, many vegans show no understanding of these sorts of complexities when they say things like, “Everyone in the US or the world needs to be a vegan for the planet.”

    The truth is, everyone needs to eat more consciously and carefully for the planet, recognizing that humans live in many places which have environments which do not support monocropping or even massive scale grain or legume agriculture of any sort.

    And for the person who said she didn’t trust ethical omnivores to actually do what they say they do, which is eat ethically produced meats, dairy and eggs–that is just as much of a stereotype as people saying that vegans don’t care about people. Do you realize that?

    Comment by Barbara — February 28, 2008 #

  41. “And for the person who said she didn’t trust ethical omnivores to actually do what they say they do, which is eat ethically produced meats, dairy and eggs–that is just as much of a stereotype as people saying that vegans don’t care about people. Do you realize that?”


    That was me. And that’s a good point. Although I wouldn’t call it a “stereotype” so much as “some bad apples spoiling the bunch” – I’m not sure if it’s a few or a lot, because I’m not aware of any statistics on how many self-described ethical omnivores actively avoid factory-farmed restaurant meat, for example. But I do know that there are people who buy cage-free eggs once in a while and say (to themselves or out loud), “Hey, I’m an ethical omnivore!” I know this because I was one myself once.

    Just as there’s a need for sensible vegans to condemn and distance themselves from those who advocate violence or say nasty things about omnivores (I try to do this, but I need to do more), I think there’s also a need for the real ethical omnivores (such as yourself) to be more vocal about just how ethical is ethical. I hope you’d agree with me that “more ethical than the average factory farm” just doesn’t cut it.

    Comment by Johanna — February 28, 2008 #

  42. “How ethical is ethical”??? Isn’t it a continuum? As you say of yourself, Johanna, you used to do less and now you do more. Everyone starts somewhere. No one wakes up one day fully informed and able to execute perfectly all their vague wishes about behavior. By merely asking the question things change, as people who never have been aware there was a question previously are then made aware. And it goes from there.

    Personally I would never call such a person a “bad apple.” Even asking the question and attempting to start acting on it is better than remaining ignorant. It indicates a desire to learn more.

    Just like omnivores and vegetarians or vegans by talking and being more open to discussion can each learn from each other.

    Comment by Diane — February 28, 2008 #

  43. Diane,

    Yes, absolutely – I agree with everything you’ve said. And I should have been more clear. It’s not the people who are striving to educate themselves and do more that I’m calling “bad apples.” It’s the people who make a minimal effort and are satisfied that they’re doing enough.

    And that’s my question: At what point should an ethical omnivore be satisfied that she’s doing enough in her own diet? Is it enough to trust supermarket labels? Or should she talk to the farmers about their farming practices? Or is even that not enough, and she should visit the farms themselves?

    Is it ethical to support a poultry/egg farm that doesn’t let its birds outside? One that practices debeaking? One that keeps its birds in unnaturally large flocks?

    These are complicated questions, and maybe the answers are different for everybody. And taking it step by step is absolutely a great thing to do. But when do you stop stepping?

    Comment by Johanna — February 28, 2008 #

  44. Christy–

    I was raised also to believe that the world and its animals and plants were created for the use of humans, although, I was also taught that good stewardship was explicit in this gift of the earth. In later years, as I came to be less governed by my childhood religion–which, in truth, I questioned its absolute truth from day one, in large part because my father is agnostic, and he himself is a very rational, questioning person, I came to understand that while all of the earth does not belong to humans, and animals and plants are not ours to dispose of as we wish–the converse is true. That humans, plants and animals -belong to the earth- in the sense that we are all interconnected and are all part of the same larger system of living and non-living things that create the whole giant ecosystem of our planet.

    In that context, I think that we humans, because we have the ability to affect the entire ecosystem for both good and ill, need to be very careful with what we do, since we effect both micro and macro systems so easily.

    I also grew up on a farm, and my grandmother was very religious, and she taught me that God wanted us to take care of our animals and land, and to not do so was an affront in the eyes of God–an abomination. My grandfather was an atheist, but he taught me to treat the land and animals well, because to not do so was irrational–well treated, happy, cared for animals were more productive. Land that was cared for grew more and better food than land that was treated badly. Wild animals were to be cared for as well–because they also part of the land, and their health was linked to the health of the land.

    Being raised by farmers, and learning first hand how to care for animals and land, and grow food, led to me, as an adult to think hard about how food is produced in the majority of the country and I realized that it was the antithesis of how I was taught. So, I started seeking food out produced by people like my parents and grandparents, and started urging people to do the same.

    I am glad you enjoyed this essay and I urge you to think more and more about these issues, and write about them as well.

    And good luck on your paper! If you remember to, let me know how it turns out!

    Joanna–I agree with Diane, that any step toward developing ethics in regards to food is good, and I tend to, rather than point out negatives with my readers, friends and acquaintances, press the positives. AND, I am not above pointing out that organic, local, non-CAFO foods TASTE better–and since that is what I have at my house to eat, and I feed them to friends and family all the time, they get to taste the difference for themselves. And in several cases, this has changed the way our friends eat in their homes.

    I do think that the ethics of eating is a continuum, and that it is a journey. Some people -can- go cold turkey, as it were, and switch from eating omnivorously, to being vegans, but I think that these folks are in the minority. I have had more success eating a more plant-centered diet at home, and then when I am out, choosing to eat either vegetarian foods, or eating at restaurants that serve locally, ethically produced food (like Casa, here in Athens, or Zoe’s or Jana’s, also here in town, or Chipotle, a chain which uses ethically produced pork and chicken).

    Maybe I should write more about finding ethical food out sometime. That is probably a good idea. I hadn’t actually thought much about it.


    Comment by Barbara — February 28, 2008 #

  45. Wow! What a conversation we have going on here. I can’t call myself a 100% ethical omnivore, but I’m working on it, and it may take me years to get there! One hurdle is my husband who literally balks at spending so much money on free-range meat and dairy products. To get around it, I’m working on reducing the amount of mass market meat that we buy from the grocery store, and the amount of meat that we consequently eat. I have made it my personal decision not to buy meat that I don’t personally know is 100% free-range (I first have to empty my freezer of all the meat that isn’t free range, but I won’t be buying it anymore, and I can’t control what my husband buys.). I also would prefer not to eat beef that is grain fed for health reasons–this is what causes heart disease and other health problems. 100% grass-fed meat of all varieties (beef, buffalo, lamb, mutton, goat, elk, deer, etc) is acceptably healthy–in moderation.

    I can never be completely vegetarian. I enjoy vegetarian meals, but I have an intolerance to large amounts of soy. I can consume it in small portions (one or two times a week), but if it was a staple of my diet, I’d be sick all the time. I also don’t absorb iron from non-meat sources very well, so I have to consume a 3 oz portion of red meat a couple times a week.

    In the last week I have been sourcing local sources of grass-fed lamb and pastured pork–which is cheaper than grass-fed beef and buffalo. I found them through Western Spirits Ranch, just outside the Denver metro area. I have secured an order for the fall for a whole lamb (about 30-40 lbs of custom cut and trimmed meat, at about 7.50/lb–talk about a bargain) and for about 20 lbs of pastured Berkshire pork. This amount of meat will last me a good year and a half. I have also sourced some places for pastured poultry, and intend to supplement our diets occasionally with it.

    As far as eggs go, I really want to find someone in the area who would be willing to board a couple of laying hens for me. Laying hens, bought when they are chicks, are extremely cheap, and raising them on pasture is also cheap. I just need to find someone willing to rent me a couple yards of ground. Pastured eggs are extremely expensive for me otherwise (3.50 or more/ dozen, YIKES).

    In regards to getting vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores talking to each other in productive ways…

    This largely requires a reality check. Vegans need to realize that a completely meat-free world is never going to happen, at least I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. Extremism never accomplishes anything of lasting value, because society as a whole balks at anything extremist. Cultural habits change slowly, and moderate viewpoints and ideologies that create moderate solutions are what convinces people to accept change. That being said, working for an America that has a humane food production system is the moderate solution–one that is actually achievable, right now.

    Another philosophical difference between omnivores and vegan/vegetarians is the viewpoint on how humans should relate to animals. Most v/veg people believe that humans and animals are equal. I don’t subscribe to this ideology. Humans come first in my world, and food animals are for our benefit. But read this closely: use DOES NOT equal exploit. They are for our careful and judicious use, through thoughtful and compassionate husbandry practices. That is our mandate when we agree to consume any animal. It’s the deal each of us must make with our God or the Universe, or what have you.

    If you can live a healthy and comfortable life by not eating animals, good for you. Go forth and be merry, but realize that your viewpoint of how to live isn’t the last word. It should not be the last word, and it’s not going to be. It is unrealistic to expect it to be so.

    Comment by Roxanne — February 28, 2008 #

  46. Jim,

    Not all vegans are philosophical vegans who believe that eating animals is wrong. I have a friend who is vegan simply because she doesn’t feel good when she eats food that’s of animal origin.

    (I, personally, like meat, and feel unwell when I go too long without.)

    Comment by Azalais Malfoy — February 28, 2008 #

  47. Hmm. Coming back to this thread later I guess I have a few more thoughts. While I personally am a very social person who works at a non-profit job that involves working hands-on with people all the time, and the majority of vegans I spend time with are similarly minded, I constantly see this misanthrope stereotype with the especial focus on a supposed air of “moral superiority.” Maybe because I’m vegan I can’t see it, but I don’t think Johanna said anything offensive at all, it’s just that people get defensive around this issues pretty easily even if all you do is say; “I’m a vegan.”

    What I was trying to say earlier was simply that many people find the very idea of animal liberation offensive pr upsetting, so these feelings are often projected onto even the friendliest, compassionate vegan.

    That said and done, I know that without actively “campaigning” for veganism overtly I have helped 2 people to go vegan, 1 person to go vegetarian and many others to consider local, organic foods and/or eating less meat/more vegan in general. I have fed most everyone I live/work/play tons of healthy meals and vegan treats– and I’ve only been vegan one year. 🙂 I think this was all done by debunking two other common misconceptions– that veganism is especially difficult (all vegans I know who’ve been at it for more than a few months say that they don’t miss cheese much anymore– but its dealing with people being rude to them that’s hard!) by eating delicious food wherever i can find it, wearing cool vegan clothes etc. etc and the idea that vegan food doesn’t taste good which is *very* easy to counter once you learn to cook tasty vegan foods or just point out all the yummy things that are already/ or can easily be made vegan!

    I’m not saying it’s easy to eat more ethically for *anyone,* all I’m trying to do is explain the vegan POV to shed light on the common conflicts. Thanks again Barbara for opening up the discussion.

    Comment by Jillian — February 28, 2008 #

  48. Ergh, this is hard to ignore. Who says that vegetarians have to eat wheat or soybeans? True, many of us do eat lots of wheat and soybeans, but it’s probably not a good idea for health or the environment. There are many other protein sources and other legumes and other grains. You can be a healthy vegetarian without ever eating soy or wheat.

    Comment by sgt pepper — February 29, 2008 #

  49. Johanna,

    Yes, I’m aware that you believe that “people are animals, too”. But that doesn’t really explain why it would NOT be ethical for a person to cause the deaths of committed meat-eaters. Let me explain further.

    A committed meat-eater, as you already know, will be personally and individually responsible for the deaths and suffering of hundreds, if not thousands, of animals throughout his/her lifetime. If that particular meat-eater were to die early, then thousands of animal lives would be saved. This is simply a fact and you know it.

    Therefore, if it is ethical, as you claim, to limit animal suffering, wouldn’t it then also be ethical to shorten the lives of meat-eaters since it would necessarily save animal lives? You would be trading one animal life for many animal lives, and thus limit much suffering.

    This is NOT a silly question. I’m serious as a heart attack. If the answer to the question is “no”, then tell me why it is NOT ethical, particularly since the “no” choice would unquestionably lead to more animal suffering.

    Barbara, I’m not intending to be insulting. There simply is no way to frame this crucial ethical difference without asking a provocative question. The Vegan group PeTA has openly stated that if animal research would yield a cure for AIDS then they would oppose it, openly admitting that humans should die opposed to animals. That is their ethical position, and I am trying to find out if other Vegans adhere to it, particularly given that they accept the same Vegan premises. Am I saying that Johanna is just like PeTA? No. I have no evidence for that one way or the other. That’s why I’m asking a crucial but unfortunately provocative question, as the answer to this question will reveal exactly where this particular Vegan’s ethics lie.

    It’s also true that some Vegans, but not all Vegans, hate humans. I read one of them on a Vegan message board write, “I would rather kill a speciesist than an animal.” That’s not a fit of pique. It’s an expression of deap-seated and disturbingly sociopathic Vegan faith.

    Additionally, if a Vegan wants to posit themselves as both more rational and more ethical than omnivores (Johanna, I’m looking at you), then they should be prepared to accept someone rationally questioning them about their allegedly superior ethics. Vegans frequently do this to omnivores in their Vegan evangelization efforts, so what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Comment by Jim — February 29, 2008 #

  50. Jim: I don’t understand your tone. Not all vegans are PETA-o-philes. Some just feel better eating that way. And many, many vegetarians world-wide are not part of the dialogue you describe at all. A Tamil farmer would be completely baffled by your discussion. Some people eat vegetarian for religious reasons, some for health reasons, and some just because they prefer the taste of the food. You seem intent on forcing the kind of narrow, confrontational discussion that seems only to exacerbate tensions.

    Comment by Diane — February 29, 2008 #

  51. Jim,

    Let me answer your question with some other questions:

    Do you want to decrease the amount of human suffering in the world? That’s a good goal, right? Do you think it would be OK to kill a few humans to prevent even more humans from suffering? I’m not talking about killing in self-defense or going back in time and killing Hitler – that’s a whole different ball of wax. I’m talking about killing ordinary humans who have no malicious intentions, but whose deaths could prevent the suffering and death of many others. Let me explain:

    Lots of people die each year (sorry I don’t know the exact number offhand) for want of an organ transplant. A healthy person has a heart, lungs, a liver, two kidneys – that’s at least five people that you could save if you used all those organs for transplants. So would it be all right with you to kidnap and kill people so that their organs could be used for transplants?

    How about AIDS research? I guess you’re probably in favor of that, since you criticized Peta for opposing it. But how would you feel about research on humans that could lead to a cure for AIDS? You wouldn’t need a lot of humans – a few hundred or a few thousand would probably suffice. And you could use homeless people or orphans, so nobody would miss them. They’d each spend years living in agony locked in cages, and of course they’d all have to be killed at the end of the experiment, but their deaths could prevent many millions of people from dying of AIDS. So would that be an ethical thing to do, in your view?

    Many people, who describe themselves as “pro-life”, believe that abortion is murder. A few of them (fortunately only a few) go so far as to advocate the murder of abortion doctors, for the sake of preventing future abortions. Is that an ethical thing for them to do? Is it a “pro-life” thing for them to do?

    People who are not sociopaths generally agree that, although reducing suffering is a good thing, stepping on the basic rights of individuals is not the way to go about it. The vast majority of vegans are not sociopaths. A few are – I don’t deny that – and I’m sorry you had to run into some of them. Personally, I think they were probably sociopaths before they were vegans, and they would be sociopaths even if they weren’t vegans. But I don’t know.

    Jim, the very topic of this post was exploring ways to get vegans, vegetarians, and ethical omnivores to work together to promote more ethical practices in food production. That would seem to imply that all three groups – not just vegans – believe themselves to be more ethical than the rest of the population, at least when it comes to this particular thing. So how come you’re not picking on the vegetarians and the ethical omnivores, hmm?

    Comment by Johanna — February 29, 2008 #

  52. I enjoyed the well-written post and all of the comments. I’m not adding (except to say that I always chuckle at leather-wearing vegetarians).
    It would be nice to stop the self-righteous of all persuasions: food; education; religion; whatever. They do no good and alienate everyone!

    Comment by katie — February 29, 2008 #

  53. Johanna,

    I will be happy to answer your questions, but you should first answer the one I asked you. Right now, it looks like you’re dodging the provocative question, and I have asked that question so that I can understand exactly where your ethics lie.

    When I answer your questions, then the answers I give will explain precisely where MY ethics lie — but I am talking to you to discover YOUR ethics, as I’m already quite clear what my own are. Answer my question first, and then I will be happy to answer yours if you really want to know what my ethics are and aren’t merely trying to escape from what I’ve asked you to answer.

    Comment by Jim — February 29, 2008 #

  54. I already answered your question, Jim. No, it is not ethical to kill meat eaters, for the same reason as it’s not ethical to kill people for their organs or do lethal AIDS research on non-consenting humans.

    Comment by Johanna — February 29, 2008 #

  55. Jim wrote: “Since I don’t accept Vegan premises, I recognize vegans as the hateful, misanthropic, religious zealots they are.

    That’s why there is no bridge-building or communication between me and vegans. None at all. Vegans may do as they please as long as they do it far away from me and as long as it never affects me at all.”

    So the reason there is no bridge building for Jim is because he’s decided to tear down the bridge and then light it on fire and then pour acid on it and then stomp on it? I think that’s a pretty clear illustration of the communication problem right there.

    I do find it ironic that he’s written some of the most hateful comments here in his efforts to portray vegans as hateful people.

    And I am curious as to why, if he’s not interested in building bridges or communicating with vegans, he continues to engage in debate (and vitriol, mostly vitriol) with the vegans.

    Comment by sgt pepper — February 29, 2008 #

  56. I think Johanna is in the midst of a moral dilemma with herself. From what I can tell, she doesn’t believe animal research in medicine is appropriate, but then she turns around and proclaims human testing as inappropriate as well.

    It’s either one or the other; you can’t have both. What, the cures for the most ravishing diseases are just going to magically present themselves?

    I’ll rephrase Jim’s question, because it was a bit wordy and maybe a simpler version would be best: Do you believe animals and humans are equal in their rights and status, or should humans come first?

    There seems to be a great number of Vegans from Western cultures that want their own version of a perfect world, where humans and animals can be treated equally, while refusing to see the reality of the situation: this ain’t a perfect world, and humans have to come first. This doesn’t mean that we can abuse the Earth and gobble up Her resources and trample on Her creatures. On the contrary, our need for these treasures requires us to be responsible stewards, to harvest and use responsibly. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, the industrialized world has mostly forgotten this mandate. In our greed, we have largely forgotten our

    It’s not a coincidence that Veganism as a counter-culture in the Western world, rose out of the destruction of World Wars I & II, as more and more people began to turn to the Spiritual beliefs and practices of Asia for even a marginal bit of relief.

    You’ll notice that there is no conflict between omnivores and vegetarians and vegans in India (where there are various sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity), as most Indians grow up understanding the concept of balance and tolerance. Most Indians carry the viewpoint that it is wrong to push personal beliefs and lifestyle choices onto someone else. Most understand that they need to work on improving themselves, not other people. You can change your behavior–especially how you choose to react to situations–but you cannot change other people, so why waste energy attempting a useless endeavor?

    Anyway, I hope this didn’t get off the point too much. What I am largely getting at is that we cannot stand together, attempt to find solutions, and have a dialog while at the same time being each other’s moral police. There is a lot of murk that we have to wade through in order to see the middle ground, and we ALL have to realize that there is a middle ground to be reached.

    Can we all do that? That’s the question.

    Comment by Roxanne — March 1, 2008 #

  57. Barbara,

    That was a wonderful blog entry and I hope you don’t mind, but I cross-posted and linked to it.

    What a refreshing message! I have been fortunate that I am part of a smal on-line community that is focused on local eating. Of course ethical/sustainability/humane/organic is all part of the mix.

    We have vegans, vegetarian, and omnivores as members of the community and all are very respectful of each others choice. So I know it CAN be done that those three groups work together toward a common goal.

    Anyway….love your blog and really love this entry.

    Comment by Cara — March 1, 2008 #

  58. JIm- There are other ways to find cures for diseases, and some say that animal testing is actually misleading, distracting and ineffective. Techonology is already coming up with new solutions at this point . Some people among marginalized populations in our society, such as those living with HIV/AIDS can identify with tortured animals. It’s not so black and white as you say it is. It’s not always animal vs. human. I see various social justice struggle as related– and for me, cruelty to animals both leads to and is a consequence of cruelty humans inflict on each other. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Here are some links, the first is a great interview:

    Comment by Jillian — March 2, 2008 #

  59. Another thought: it’s just this kind of adversarial, and more importantly hierarchical view of relationships that abolitionist vegans like me are working against. If you do a little research I’m positive you’ll find that all the questions you have are all already addressed by a variety of vegan authors, scholars, bloggers, activists and others… You won’t ever find the elevation of anima;s rights and needs “over” humans’ from any reputable and popular vegan source however– because you’ve created a straw man supported only by a stereotype. Abolitionist vegans don’t priviledge the interests *over* humans,’ they simply consider them as importantly as they would a humans.’ As I said earlier, this is they very fact that many people become defensive about. I don’t hate or judge people who don’t agree, and I don’t pester anyone or say hateful or inflamatory things either. I simply relate my views when they come up, and most all my activism is of the culinary sort– which I find most effective in any case. People don’t respond well to judgement or insults, but to thoughtful answers, patience, and above all, the most freaking delicious food I can offer them: homemade baked goods seem to go over well.

    I loved Johanna’s answer above, but I just wanted to add a little more 🙂

    Comment by Jillian — March 2, 2008 #

  60. As I stated in a previous comment, abolitionist veganism is a form of extremism, and extremism doesn’t accomplish anything of lasting value. You can sit and talk and dream, but in the end what you want to accomplish won’t come to pass because it is extremist, and most people balk at extremism (sorry kids, fact of life). So why do abolitionist vegans subscribe to this philosophy? Seems like a complete waste of time and energy to me. They have a hard moral line, and they won’t cross it. They strive to be everybody’s moral police. They want to force their standards of living onto everyone else with no negotiation (like most extremist groups, this is why they remain on the fringe). They equate all “nonhuman animals” with “personhood” and believe that animals should have the rights of life, liberty, and property. Right. The day my cats can constructively contribute to society is the day I’ll consider them to be people. I’m sorry, but this would essentially leave us, the human, thinking population (read: the only species on earth capable of taking care of the environment and all that it contains), with our proverbial balls in a squeeze. We would be unable to control, manage, and govern our environment, which is necessary for a healthy civilization. No hunting allowed? Fine, we’ll just watch our forestland be completely deforested from an overpopulation of deer, elk, and moose. Not allowed to control problem bears, so we’ll just allow them to break into people’s homes to ransack them for food and possibly kill the owners (which has happened multiple times in Colorado). Not allowed to break up beaver dams and relocate beaver families to more appropriate locations, so we’ll just let the little buggers horde water resources and strip down a whole area of trees that the Parks Department just planted (a true scenario that happened in my town last spring).

    Even pet ownership isn’t allowed under an abolitionist vegan philosophy.

    These people won’t even contemplate a middle ground, so engaging in a dialog with them is pointless. I’m inclined to think that their rhetoric is not worth listening to. I’d rather deal with the “vegans for health reasons” any day of the week.

    And yes, Jillian, I have read enough about abolitionist veganism to make my eyeballs bleed. Joan Dunayer is probably one of the worst of them, IMO.

    Comment by Roxanne — March 2, 2008 #

  61. Roxanne,

    I never said I opposed all medical research on animals. I actually don’t know enough to have an opinion on that one way or the other, and I’m very skeptical of anyone who thinks they do, because it’s an enormously complicated issue and nearly all of the “information” available to the general public is horribly biased, either for or against. I only mentioned research on humans in response to Jim’s question about the bus: If you, as an omnivore, want to reduce human suffering (and I hope you do), but you’re generally not willing to kill people in order to do it (and I hope you’re not), then why on earth would you think I would condone the killing of people to reduce animal suffering?

    About whether humans “come first”: Why did you ask the question, if you’re so convinced that you already know the answer? But as it turns out, you’re wrong. I see nothing wrong with a world where humans come first, in situations where humans and animals are in truly parallel positions. Confronted with a choice between killing a human and killing a chicken, I would say kill the chicken. Torturing a human and torturing a chicken? Sure, torture the chicken. But more often, it’s a choice between torturing a chicken (on a factory farm) and leaving a human’s KFC craving unsatisfied. And there, I do think that the balance tips in favor of the chicken.

    Changing other people’s behavior is impossible, you say? Then why do we bother talking to each other at all? Weren’t you trying to change my behavior by lecturing me about how I shouldn’t try to change other people’s behavior? Wasn’t Barbara hoping to change people’s behavior by writing a post encouraging omnivores and vegans to stop sniping at each other? Aren’t we all just presenting our own points of view, and the reasons behind them, and hoping that other people will read them and think about them and find them persuasive? That’s not pushing your beliefs on people – that’s just having a conversation.

    Comment by Johanna — March 2, 2008 #

  62. Roxanne

    It seems to me that we are doing a rather better job of deforesting our forestland on our own than the deer, the elk and the moose could manage. Perhaps, if we did not assume that we were allowed to kill them whenever they got in the way, we would have a better chance of leaving any forestland at all to our descendants. Well it was said by the bard:

    We must expect posterity
    to view with some asperity
    the marvels and the wonders
    we’re passing on to it,

    but it should change its attitude
    to one of heartfelt gratitude
    when thinking of the blunders
    we didn’t quite commit.

    Comment by David — March 2, 2008 #

  63. Also, “behavior change” (though I don’t put eating more ethically quite so dryly) doesn’t exactly have to be so confrontational and joyless. I’m happy I “changed my behavior” after reading The Way We Eat: byt Singer/Mason, I’m happy I knew a few supportive vegans, I’m happy that all my other family and friends have become positive about it. I enjoy the new foods and recipes I’ve explored and am able to share with people. I’ve never, ever lectured anyone on animal rights, I have only answered their questions espectfully or joined in conversations others have started for me… I’m not saying that being vegan means being apologetic for yourself, but only that this pushy vegan stereotype seems like it may be born out of people’s defensiveness and not out of *all* vegans’ supposedly angry tactics. Unless you call cupcakes pushy, in which case, yeah, guilty.

    Comment by Jillian — March 2, 2008 #

  64. Jillian, you may be the only person in the world who likes both Singer and Francione. You’re certainly the only one I’ve ever encountered.

    Comment by Johanna — March 3, 2008 #

  65. Hah. Neither is perfect and I don’t take either at 100% of their word; I do think they have both offered some valuable thoughts. In my philosophy I would tend to resemble Francione much more than Singer though.

    Comment by Jillian — March 4, 2008 #

  66. Roxanne:
    As an African-American, I am so very grateful to the abolitionist movement that resulted in the abolition of slavery. I imagine you might have different views on that as I am sure you would not mind owning a slave or two provided they were sufficiently different from you, i.e. people that look like me. Heck, you might have my black ass out in the field picking your cotton.

    Joan Dunayer is a close friend of mine and I think it would make her proud that you view her as even “worse” than Francione.

    Comment by Michael Prejean — March 4, 2008 #

  67. Overall, I am pleased by the responses to this post, but, as usual, there are a few people who cannot seem to either let go of past experiences or resist the urge to generalize those specific experiences and thus paint every person they later encounter with the broad brush strokes shown by the troublesome one or two individuals in their past.

    In general, everyone else has managed to remain respectful, some even under duress, and for that, I am quite pleased and proud.

    However, I have to say, I am quite disappointed in Michael Prejean’s insistence upon using inflammatory rhetoric in his every posting here.

    Michael, I personally, would think that it would be insulting to African Americans to liken the abolition of slavery to the issue of animal rights. That is essentially likening them to -animals- which was, strangely enough, the view of slaveholders at the time. Slaves at that time were viewed as less than human.

    I somehow doubt that every African American would welcome being likened to animals again in the name of animal liberation.

    In addition, I am rather tired of your insulting tone. The first time you joined this discussion, you insulted me. Now, you are insulting someone else posting here. That is unacceptable. If you do it again, I will remove your posts and send all further posts directly to the spam filter.

    Heated rhetoric is one thing–blatant insults is another, and telling someone that she would like to own human slaves goes way over the line of what is acceptable, and I will not allow it on my blog.

    Comment by Barbara — March 4, 2008 #

  68. Jillian wrote:

    “About whether humans “come first”: Why did you ask the question, if you’re so convinced that you already know the answer? But as it turns out, you’re wrong. I see nothing wrong with a world where humans come first, in situations where humans and animals are in truly parallel positions. Confronted with a choice between killing a human and killing a chicken, I would say kill the chicken. Torturing a human and torturing a chicken? Sure, torture the chicken. But more often, it’s a choice between torturing a chicken (on a factory farm) and leaving a human’s KFC craving unsatisfied. And there, I do think that the balance tips in favor of the chicken.”

    I asked you this question because I wanted to know where your beliefs lay. I already know what my answer is, and I gave it, but I wasn’t understanding you early, and I wanted a more simple answer. Also, I think your logic is quite good and quite acceptable. It’s not my conclusion, but it doesn’t have to be.

    I admit, that I don’t know much about animal testing either–except for the fact that it is mostly unnecessary for cosmetics and probably unnecessary in AIDS research (from what news I’ve been reading over the last couple of years), but I am not so sure about animal testing and cancer research. Mostly because cancer is still extremely unpredictable in many cases; so it may not be in our best interest to abandon animal testing in cancer research just yet.

    Barbara: Thank you
    Michael: I’ll get to your rather insulting post and why I think your argument is completely illogical, tomorrow. For now, I’m going to bed.

    Comment by Roxanne — March 5, 2008 #

  69. Roxanne:

    I didn’t type that bit about the chicken… that was Johanna. I am not going to be able to say I’d kill anybody– period. That all said, I’m pretty much positive no one will ever put me in a room with a chicken, another human, a gun and say; “three enter and only two may leave!!!” so I think it doesn’t honestly matter too much. It seems more like a hypothetical (“if you lived on a deserted Island where it rained chicken fingers, and no vegetables grew in the sand– then what would you do?!”) that is meant to trip up vegans, to mess a “purity” no AR vegan is really all that concerned with, but people seem to precieve us being overly concerned with. Bottom line, I ain’t killing anybody precisely because I don’t have to. I mean, other hypotheticals that compare which humans you would kill (based on age, gender, race, nationality, whether or not you are friends, biologically related, etc) would be offensive, right?

    I did post the stuff about animal testing though. I recommend you check out the links. I’m not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems that disease being unpredictable *is* exactly the problem with animal testing. I mean drugs and vary between human men and women even– why do we think a mouse or a cat, or even a monkey could be so close? Chimps can’t even contract human HIV/AIDS for example, and they are more alike to humans than any other animal. There are also some unique politics to animal testing that aren’t immediately apparent. Animal testing tends to get a lot of funding for a variety of entreched patterns, but more and more it seems that many mainstream scientists are moving away from it.

    As for MIchael’s post? I personally believe that the debate should not be about the “oppression olympics” i.e. who has suffered most/worst– but about seeing how these oppressions are interrelated. Some scholars, with backgrounds in Holocaust studies, women’s studies and Africana studies for example have all pointed out a commonality in that oppressed groups are *objectified* and *commodified,* both things humans do to animals. These writers and activists have compared factory farm systems to concentration camps and torture operations, meat advertisements to sexist advertisements and gestation crates and commercial egg production to conditions slaves were kept it. The idea is not that Jewish people, women or African Americans are more *like* animals (or at least any more than any human is) but in fact that when we treat people “like animals” that is doubly meaningful; we should not treat people like animals– it means we torture, beat and muder them because we have objectified them and perhaps commodified them too. But in fact it means we shouldn’t treat animals “like animals” because torturing, beating and murdering them, which also stems from objectification and commodification, is wrong too! Also, calling groups of people animals says a lot more about what humans think of animals than it does of any particular groups who have been called animals. If you don’t think animals are stupid, or inferior to humans, and you belive that should have the right to live, and to live as they please, (i.e. you’re an AR vegan!) the power of the insult is diminished… That calling someone an animal is an insult says a lot about our attitudes toward animals– it’s not neutral, it’s pretty violent. I mean, if I call you a tomato, that’s just nonsense, but if I call you a dog, a bitch, an ape, a cow, a pussy, or another animal derived insult, I have launched a hisorically based hateful slur rooted in racism and/or sexism into the world… very charged.

    Personally I never make these kinds of arguments or bring them up outside of serious discussions with ther AR people. I don’t think it’s worth it; people of color who don’t happen to be vegan can be very upset by this and I don’t want to hurt people. Also, when people are hurt and upset they are less likely to listen to a new message at all. They will simply see vegans as tactless and insensitive. These are comparsons people have to make/accept/seek out for themselves. This all said, I am a white person, but perhaps if I were not, and felt I could claim the experience of being treated “like an animal” more, I would say this things myself to others. I do certainly identify with some of the gender based critques of meat-eating, do not appreciate being treated like “a piece of meat,” (objectified, commodified– presented for sexual consumption instead of literal consumption).

    I’m posting a few links because, as usual, part of what I feel is a barrier between omnis and vegans is that omni’s don’t always know that vegans have already had all of these conversations… But it’s ok, I didn’t know before I went vegan either. 🙂 Anyway, it’s all out there, trust me!

    Also, there are unique gendered and raced issues regarding food to consider while we are on the topic of identity and animal products. Though some see veganism as a predominantly white movement, that is not entirely true. Nor is it truw that veganism cannot serve a variety of populations, or that inequalities in our current food system are not related to racism and classism. Marion Nestle discusses the racist (or, at best ethnocentric) focus on dairy products as an integal part of the food pyramid when most people of color can’t even digest them and that poorer people (people of color are at a higher risk of poverty) are offered the fewest healthy food options from the age of the school subsidized lunch that included grade d rejected usda meats purchased as part of a beef industry subsidy to the age when people begin to grocery shop and cook for themselves– only to find that they live in veritable “food deserts: where no fresh healthy affordable food is available in the neighborhood.. Indeed, there is a higher percentage of vegetarianism is communitites of color than amongst white Americans.

    Check out this link:

    *Whew!* 🙂

    Comment by Jillian — March 6, 2008 #

  70. One more link:

    an interview with activists on where the question of comparing opressions is addressed… Scroll down a bit.

    Comment by Jillian — March 6, 2008 #

  71. One more link:

    an interview with activists on where the question of comparing opressions is addressed… Scroll down a bit.

    Comment by Jillian — March 6, 2008 #

  72. sgt pepper,

    It was Vegans, not I, who burned the bridge with their “Things would be better if all the meat eaters DIED!” and “I would rather kill a speciesist than an animal” and “Humans are a virus” and “Holocaust on your plate”. Instead of fervent disavowal and shame for these revoltingly common Vegan beliefs, we have tacit agreement from the Vegans here that it is, after all, the meat-eaters who are in the wrong, so whatever Vegans say, no matter how horrible, can be attributed to a trivial fit of pique. Face it: you *are* the company you keep. There is no shortage of Vegans who viciously hate human beings, and if you don’t own up to that, then how can you critizize me for casting aspersions on your character when you regard those freakish misanthropes as your brothers and sisters?

    It is not hateful of me to repeat what Vegans say and think. The hate comes from Vegans, not from those who hold them in contempt precisely for their proud and unrepentant hatred.

    To answer your question, the reason I continue to dialoge with Vegans is to show that their ethical position is completely bankrupt and that the contempt they garner is well-earned. If they want to be treated with respect, then they must learn to first treat others with respect. They have much to account for, that specifically being the abhorrently anti-social behavior of those they count as brethren.

    Johanna, your answer is incomplete. Is killing a human being just as wrong as killing an animal, or is it more wrong to kill a human than it is to kill an animal?

    Comment by Jim — March 6, 2008 #

  73. Jim,

    By your logic, I’d be justified in concluding that all omnivores are as absurd as you are. It’s lucky for them that I don’t do that. 🙂

    I’m happy to keep answering your questions, though: I do think it’s more wrong to kill a human than to kill an animal. This is implicit in what I said to Roxanne above – that if for some strange reason I was forced to choose between having a chicken killed and having a human killed, I would choose to have the chicken killed. Fortunately, though, such strange situations rarely if ever crop up in real life.

    But the ethics of killing is a complicated business, to the point where people profoundly differ in their opinions of why it’s wrong to take a human life, and what exceptions might be made. Is abortion OK? Euthanasia? Capital punishment? Suicide? Is there a moral difference between killing someone and allowing her to die? Is the right to life like pregnancy, where either you have it or you don’t, or are there shades of gray? These are all things that people disagree about. And since people have such very different opinions about what makes it wrong (or not wrong) to kill humans, they’re naturally going to have different opinions on how the differences between humans and animals figure into the wrongness of killing.

    But my reasons for being vegan have very little to do with the ethics of killing. In my view, what’s wrong about animal agriculture is not that animals are killed, but that the vast majority of them suffer enormously while they’re alive. And because of my circumstances (I live in a city, I don’t drive, and I like vegan food), it is just easier for me to avoid all animal foods than to seek out some that have been produced without suffering.

    Is there anything else you’d like me to explain?

    Comment by Johanna — March 6, 2008 #

  74. I would like to say that I am proud to be a member of a group that can discuss such a sensitive topic with sensitivity, honest questions and answers, and real dialog. And that can continue not to allow trolls and unsensitive posters to lower the tone.

    Comment by Harry — March 7, 2008 #

  75. Hi,

    This debate is very interresting indeed. And I loved most of what I read.
    This post is a good position for me, and may actually bring some peace in the debate. I should say I am trying to be a ethical omnivore which seems to me a more moderate position. And I also like very much meat.
    I would say I quite agree the ethical position really depends on where you draw the line. Personally, I’m a human not any other animal, and I think it’s easier to be healthy with the possibility of meat. I agree for the less pain as possible, but see no wrong by eating meat, if the animal had been well-treated. Where should we draw the line? Good question, but hard to convince any one that you can have the good answer. Tolerance is key.

    Comment by AudVoo — August 5, 2011 #

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