I’m not particularly talkative about my veganism. I’ve never been much of an activist for any cause (I refuse to count posting facebook links as activism). I prefer to do my best to be rational about my opinions and ethics and let my life speak for itself. It certainly doesn’t help that “pushy vegan” is a common cultural trope (and, let’s be honest, silencing technique) that I would rather not play into. So, generally speaking I just do my thing and try my best to ignore the overwhelmingly meat-obsessed culture around me.
But the thing is, I don’t just hate needless animal suffering. I also hate shitty, irrational arguments and I find it really hard to shut up and let people make them. Exposing shitty arguments is part of the reason I’ve written for Crocoduck (the rest of my reasons are the sexual favors and casual Fridays). So, I feel compelled to discuss the shitty, irrational arguments about veganism. I say about, not against, because the bread knife cuts both ways, and I find shitty arguments in favor of veganism to be every bit as rage worthy as the ones against it.
I want to start with a rather specific definition of veganism. It comes from the British Vegan Society, which was founded in the 1940s and is the oldest such society in existence. In 1979, they adopted the following as their official definition of veganism, “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.”
I bring this up (and bolded and underlined that specific clause) for a few reasons. First, because it’s a definition from an organization that’s as close as one can get to an authority on veganism. Second, because it effectively describes my own understanding and practice of veganism. Third, because I get the sense that it is how most vegans feel about veganism as well. And finally, because so many of the arguments that people bring up against veganism fail to address this approach to it.
You see, that bit about “as far as is possible and practicable” is really important. It means that veganism is about doing your honest, personal best to avoid exploiting animals and it allows that there may be circumstances in which it is impossible to avoid that suffering. So, when I hear the tired cliched arguments that meat eaters use about being stranded on deserted islands with only a rack of spare ribs and a grill or starving people in Africa (the only place that people starve), I kinda want to murder them. They are terrible arguments because they don’t actually address the point of veganism. My honest answer to the deserted island gambit is, “I don’t know what I would do in that situation, but if I ate meat to avoid starving to death, that doesn’t make me any less vegan. It falls under the ‘not possible’ category.” The same goes for starving people in Africa or anywhere else.
The myriad nutritional arguments people try to bring up against vegans, including how literally everyone seems to have some rare medical condition that requires them to eat a BigMac twice a week, also fail when held against the “possible and practicable” line. Not only is it quite possible for the vast majority of people in developed countries to get all the nutrition they need on a vegan diet, it wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t. The argument here is that we should do the least harm we absolutely must to survive. So, if you legitimately have some medical reason that prevents you from avoiding all animal consumption, you still can (and I would argue, should) be vegan. You can still avoid animal products as much as possible in your diet and you can still avoid animal products in your clothes, household products, etc…
Another shitty argument against veganism that people actually say out loud with embarrassing frequency is that “humans evolved to eat meat” and “we have canine teeth for a reason.” People love to pretend that humans have stopped evolving and that our technology isn’t part of that evolution. Guess what, we did evolve to be omnivores, but we also evolved with brains that let us create alternatives so that we are no longer required to eat animals. And, again, this doesn’t actually address the claim that we should avoid harming animals as much as possible.
I could go on, but I think (I hope) you get the point. It seems to me like many people who eat animals are at least a little bit uncomfortable with the idea. The only honest argument I know against my understanding of veganism is that eating, hunting, and wearing animals is enjoyable to some people. But almost everyone knows on some level that pleasure isn’t a valid excuse for violence against animals. I don’t know why else they would continuously cling to such terrible, and I suspect disingenuous, arguments in favor of that violence.
I promised I would turn my focus on shitty arguments in favor of veganism, so here it goes. The claims about veganism and health are dubious at best. It’s certainly possible to be an unhealthy vegan, just like it’s possible to be a healthy omnivore. You may win over some people to a plant-based diet for their health, but that’s only part of the issue. How are you going to convince them to give up leather for their health, or their favorite animal-tested shampoo? Further, veganism isn’t going to cure someone’s cancer or magically grow their amputated limbs back. There may be some moderate nutritional benefits to a plant-based diet, but let’s be rational and scientific about this.
I’ll also state a warning against the growing number of “video essays” (I can’t bring myself to call them documentaries) in favor of veganism. I’m not completely against them, but I think they should be regarded with adequate skepticism and caution. Filmmakers specialize in editing footage in order to present the most emotionally powerful effect upon their audience. Sometimes this involves cherry picking quotes or data, taking footage out of its original context, etc… I’m not saying that every filmmaker is dishonest, but rather that we should always be most skeptical of things we are predisposed to agree with. Further, I feel like we should do our best to have valid arguments for our stances and be able to articulate those arguments. I cringe whenever I see people saying, “Just watch Cowspiracy,” or some similar film, because it’s such a lazy, ill-prepared approach to advocacy.
Anyway, the point is, if you’re going to argue for or against veganism, or anything else for that matter, do us all a favor. Start by establishing an understanding of what the claims actually are, and then logically address those claims and only those claims.