Thoughts on Veganism: A Reply

While browsing geminispace, I came across this article by negatethis. Below is the text of the email I sent in reply, lightly edited. This is by no means a complete explanation of my thoughts on the subject; for example, I spend little to no time on the ethics of animal domestication.


I read your "thoughts on veganism" post on gemini, and I wanted to share my perspective and hear your response.

For context, I've grown up on a blueberry farm. We also have dairy goats which we love dearly, and we raise chickens for meat. Our motivation for doing this comes from a belief that we must eat meat and consume dairy in order to be healthy and adapted to our environment, and we think that if we are going to do this then we should take full responsibility for the harm which we cause these animals by making it direct. This also allows us to hopefully minimize the harm we cause.

You say "we eat animals purely for pleasure". I personally don't see things this way. I think that the nourishment which comes from meat and dairy is necessary for our health. I've heard people say that it's not necessary in warmer climates, but especially in cold weather I've found animal fats to be integral to good body temperature regulation.

This is just one example of a way in which I find eating animals to be necessary. I believe there are many more, as we have evolved to hunt and eat meat, but I'm not a nutritionist and I won't be any good in a debate over this. I assume you disagree.

The central point which I wish to hear your thoughts on is a broader idea about the acceptance of death as an inevitable part of life. Let's lay aside the oppression involved in domestication for the time being, and consider hunting instead. Death is inevitable and the natural end to temporary life. As life is good, and with the existence of life comes death, I believe that there is a sense in which death is good as well. The moral argument against taking life seems to me to rest on the assumption that to die in another way, "naturally", would be a better death. However, when a person takes an animal's life with wisdom and compassion, they will make decisions which take the wellbeing of other beings into account.

This means, for example, that a hunter of deer will choose to shoot a mature buck who is socially dominant and has many mates, thereby allowing the gene pool to remain diverse and the deer population to be resilient against disease. Moreover, the animal's body will contribute very significantly to the well being of those who eat it. In contrast, if the hunter refrained from killing, the animal would still die, and its body would be eaten by other nonhuman animals or would simply decompose, a fate which is not better or worse in any sense I understand. The duration of life would be at least somewhat longer, but to me this is not clearly a morally important point.

Now consider a vegan person. This person is still alive, and requires food to survive. They will eat only plant based foods, but this does not mean that they do not cause animals to die. Whether it's deforestation and other habitat destruction caused in creating land to grow the food they eat, environmental pollution caused by the fertilizers and pesticides used, or even something as simple as the earthworms killed accidentally while harvesting carrots, we cause harm when we eat. We cannot remove ourselves from other organisms' cycles of life and death.

You might point out that the reality of animal consumption in our world causes far more harm (by unit of nutrition or some similar metric) than plant consumption, and I would agree with you. Our world's food systems are horribly broken, and one of the worst parts of that is the inhumane exploitation of animals. But I firmly believe this is something that can be fixed (on a side note, it is true that many people eat meat multiple times a day, and this is something which I find to be deeply out of balance and wasteful). It is not a universal argument against meat consumption.

Finally, I'd like to say with regard to the domestication of animals for food, I do not agree with your statement that "once the goal of an animal's life from birth is to be slaughtered, there's no real concept of humane anymore". This is because that is not the goal of an animal's life, or at least it shouldn't be. Even our chickens, which we raise expressly as meat chickens, do not have a singular such goal around which their life is structured. Their meat is the reason we brought them into existence, and their utility to us as humans; but as animals they encompass more. Every day which they spend wandering the pasture and woods on our land, eating plants and insects, and interacting with each other is not a day defined by their death, but simply a day of life, full of goodness and beauty.

I hope that you can see why I might come to this perspective and appreciate the way in which I hold true respect for animal life while still being willing to kill them for my own benefit.